Some may think of a missionary as one who trudges through dangerous jungles. Others may think of one who builds a missionary compound complete with living quarters, a school, and medical clinic so that the natives can come for treatment, teaching, and training.
Whatever image comes to mind of the ideal missionary, there really is only one model missionary, Jesus Christ himself. According to John 1:1-18, God's plan to save the world was through Jesus Christ, who was God in the flesh, in a human body! Thus God is the God with a mission and there are some lessons here on missions and evangelism from our missionary God.
1. Identification. When the Word became flesh and lived among us, our missionary God identified with us. He didn't just share the message from a distance, but came and spoke Aramaic, ate Hebrew food, lived in a Hebrew house, and worked in a local trade. He became intimately acquainted with suffering, hardship, and temptation. He didn't build a missionary compound and wait for people to come to him. He became an "insider" in order to share the message with his words and life. He became all things to all men, like them, yet not of them.
2. Contextualization. Jesus presented the message in a way people could understand and relate to. He used simple illustrations and parables from every day life from their own experience and culture. He used his very life as a lesson, eating with tax collectors and sinners, loving the unlovable, doing only God's desire and making God's will his own will. This is why the first paragraph in the book of Hebrews says that God has ultimately spoken to us "in his Son."
3. Mission more important than comfort. Jesus placed the good of people before his own because God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son. Jesus stepped way, way out of his comfort zone when he left Heaven and came to an unjust, dangerous, wicked, selfish world. He knew it would be difficult. He had no home or money, and people were out to destroy him. However, it was God's plan to use suffering as "redemptive suffering." Christ's redemptive suffering was exemplified in his Apostles and continued throughout the early church.
So, when Jesus became flesh and put on a human body, he demonstrated the missionary character of God. Since the church is the body of Christ, the implications for this are astounding. What would it mean for the church to "identify" with its neighborhood? How would the church "contextualize" God's message? What would it look like when the church makes God's mission to the world more important that what makes her comfortable?
The most effective missionaries use the local language, symbols, and idioms. They live among the people and grow to understand them from within rather than from without. They sing songs in the native language and style because it is resonates with the locals most. They may even eat many of the local foods, even acquiring a taste for it. This allows him to be more effective and reflects the missionary method of our Lord.
Spend some time in reflection this week. America is still a mission field, even more so now than fifty years ago. What would it really mean to truly apply the mission principles of our missionary Lord right here at home? What would it mean to be the body of Christ right here?