“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” John 20:21
In the church of my childhood, we had an annual missions conference. It was one of the cool things we did in the church. It was usually in February and for me, it was seriously like the return of the holidays. There were cool people who showed up who spoke foreign languages and told adventurous tales. The whole church was “on”. People met during the week. The preaching and teaching were (sometimes) really good. There was always good food, an air of celebration, and a sense that God was on the move. Oh, and did I mention that the food was great!
My church, First Presbyterian Church, Leesburg, Florida. My dad was the pastor, and he believed in missions. I don’t know if it was due to his influence or if it was in the water before he got there, but in the 1970s and 80s, the church was an over-the-top mission minded church. And it was balanced. We supported at one point about a dozen overseas missionaries. But regionally, we supported Campus Crusade staffers. Locally, we hired Ed and Becky Bonner and Dave and Sherry Groves who brought Young Life to Leesburg. And we helped start new churches by giving money and sending people. We helped start three in Leesburg and one in Orlando. The annual missions conference raised lots of money for mission AND it breathed new life into the church. My dad believed there was a tight connection between having a mindset for missions and the health of the church. And he was right.
And I don’t want to take away anything from those annual missions conferences. Not long ago, they honored my dad there by renaming the annual conference for him. I am so appreciative. But there was a problem with that approach to missions. We saw other people as the ones who were sent – not ourselves. We were doing missions in abstentia. Missions happened “out there.” Personal involvement in mission was limited to financial support, education, and prayers. I don’t want to take away from that at all. But there was no hands-on-face-to-face mission engagement. And Jesus’ engagement was very much physical and present. He was with us. He came to know us and he let some of us get to know him. The word for what Jesus did is “incarnational.” God put on flesh and lived, worked, and moved among us. And if we are his disciples, he is sending us the same way. As he was sent, he sends us.
But there was a corrective. There were a few opportunities for face-to-face hands-on mission. For example, we had a clothes closet – at first it was about gathering clothes for missionary families. Later, the clothes mission was more broadly understood. And we offered sewing lessons. The church turned a room into a sewing classroom. They had ten sewing machines in there. And my mom and one or two other ladies from the church taught some women from the poorer part of town how to make clothes for their families. And we developed a partnership with Medical Benevolence Foundation. Eventually, a medical family from the church, Pene and Jim Hardy began traveling and working with MBF, returning to stir up hearts with stories of what God was doing in Africa and with ideas of how others could join in what God was doing. I may be mistaken. This is remembering what happened decades ago. But I believe they brought others into that mission and took them with them for some hands-on, face-to-face, with-you, mission. That is incarnational mission.
At FCMC, we believe that mission should be incarnational. (By the way, it’s the “out” of the up-in-out triangle.) So last week, a group of us from the 210 MC began engaging with Young Lives (Young Life’s ministry with teen moms and their kids). Heather, Kent, Kris, and I (Jesse) will be serving in anyway we can to support Jordan Simpson, who is clearly gifted and called for working with Young Lives. Heather is going to lead a Young Lives Campaigners group (a Bible study). Kent, Kris, and I will be helping with child-care, and building relationships. It is cool to be engaged in something that changes futures. God is at work there. How fortunate and blessed we are to be able to join Him there! And we are hoping some others can join in, too.
Here are three questions for reflection as you mind the mission into which God has called you: 1) Do you see yourself as “sent” for hands-on-face-to-face-incarnational mission? 2) How’s the mission going? 3) Is there anything you need to adjust?