By Jerry Harris
Some might argue it’s a fine point to draw a line between the “n” and the “s” in the word missions, but I have always felt it there. Having graduated from a Bible college that emphasized the need of going “to the uttermost part of the earth,” I felt my commitment to Christ was measured by the space between where I started and where I went. There were mission requirements for my degree, and I remember asking the head of the missions department whether he valued foreign mission work over domestic ministry.
I chose a domestic path for my professional work, but an international component has always been a part of my ministry. A percentage of our budget historically has been for international missions, and a committee is in charge of spending it. That money usually has been between 10 and 25 percent of our total budget, and it is considered “hands off”—the church doesn’t dip into those funds, even if there are financial needs in other areas. We have had mission-emphasis weeks, mission moments, faith promise rallies, display tables, guest speakers, and multiple events with special giving from Sunday school classes, camps, and VBS programs.
When I started ministry, mission involvement largely meant sending or giving. Many of our mission partners had some relationship to a present or past church member, the list of missions and missionaries supported was very long, and the amount designated for each was typically quite small. Missionaries periodically went on furlough; they visited supporting churches in the States to share accomplishments overseas and to cultivate relationships and support.
My ministry career has seen massive changes to the mechanics of foreign mission work. The need for incorporation, the rise of larger multi-mission organizations like Christian Missionary Fellowship and New Mission Systems International, the explosion of short-term mission trips, the focus on indigenous missionaries, and the shift from large lists of token support to short lists of major support have completely changed the missions landscape. My nearly 40-year involvement in those works has moved from sending token support to direct involvement through many short-term trips, and also serving on stateside boards that oversee particular efforts.
Here is what I continue to believe: There generally should be no “s” at the end of mission. The church of Jesus Christ has just one Savior and one mission. There is only one Great Commission and one gospel message. There is a symbiotic relationship between domestic churches and the incredible work that goes on in faraway lands.
No special honor should be afforded to those who feel called to one specific field over another. I have seen people serving as missionaries in foreign fields who live in beautiful homes with hired help attending to their needs, and I have seen domestic ministers living in abject poverty. I’ve seen the reverse, as well. I have seen domestic ministers take advantage of their role for inappropriate financial gain—due partly to insufficient oversight—and I have seen those on the foreign field living in destitution.
I have seen the devastation wrought by inappropriate sexual, financial, and leadership behavior among both foreign and domestic church and ministry leaders . . . and I have also seen much selfless, sacrificial, and awe-inspiring behavior. No matter where we are or where we go, sin and selflessness will remain with us.
We are on mission for Jesus Christ every waking moment, and whether it’s a passionate young couple heading up a Bible translation effort in a remote area who receive financial support or a fixed-income widow in the Midwest who writes and sends a check, we all are called to one mission. We join Jesus in his work to call God’s lost children home . . . no matter where we might find them.