I have never cared for the assumption that the foundation for Christian Missions is the Great Commission. There are reasons for this, some of which I have talked of elsewhere. However, let’s take a fairly simple case as shown in two options:
1. Great Commission is given priority over the Great Commandment. Behavior is given priority over the heart. So what is valued?
- Preaching the Good News
- Baptizing (drawing people into the unity of the church body)
What happens if behavior is given priority over heart? Missions would not be easily differentiated from secular marketing. Good missions is effective missions, and effective missions is one that which brings positive results (converts/adherents).
2. Great Commandment is given priority over the Great Commission. If the Great Commandment is given priority over the Great Commission, then the heart is given priority over behavior. In this case then, the attitude and motivation of the Christian is to guide the behavior. We share the Gospel of Christ because we love the people we share with.
In this case, good missions is that which is motivated by love of God and love of Man. Missions must be done in good faith and good will to be considered good missions.
Let me give an example. For several years, my wife and I were part of a group that we helped found with others that did medical missions throughout the Philippines. Medical Missions is a great mission ministry from the standpoint of statistics. We were with the group from 2005 to 2009 and we treated around 30,000 people. Those who came had the gospel shared and over 50% responded. The Philippines takes seriously the idea of implied debt (“utang ng loob”) so many will respond as a way to please those who provide care.
If we are simply motivated by the Great Commission, we are simply focusing on getting as many to respond as quickly as possible and get them into the church. We are then not focused on proper medical care. We are not focused on providing what we promised. We can do “bait and switch,” deceptive marketing, and pressure tactics. But in so doing, although we might get more positive responses, we probably would be getting more negative responses as well. Unfortunately, negative responses can be poisonous in the community.
If our missions is motivated by love, then we are focused on providing good wholistic care, keeping promises, and demonstrating good will in the community. Might it get less measurable missional results? Probably… but it is likely to have more positive long-term results. People respond to divine love more over time than top-notch marketing.
I would suggest that the second case here is the correct one. While we tend to applaud big results… there is a certain “creepiness” (I swear, I can’t think of a better word) of Christian missions that seeks to be judged by numbers rather than love. Even if one desires to value “success metrics” one should take the time to view not only positive numbers, but negative numbers. When love is not the motivation, success of converts is likely to be balanced by those who have been driven away.
- Three “L”s from Missions History (munsonmissions.org)
- From Strangers to Missionaries: A Neighborhood Strategy for Mission (timmybrister.com)