Shattering the Myth of Missions -- By: Jerry Rankin

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 015:1 (Fall 1997)
Article: Shattering the Myth of Missions
Author: Jerry Rankin

Shattering the Myth of Missions

Jerry Rankin

International Mission Board
Southern Baptist Convention
2107 Dabney Road
Richmond, Virginia 23230

The seminary class on Mission Methods and Strategy was discussing the question, “What is a church?” The unit of study dealt with church planting as the focused priority of missions. The class had been challenged with the idea of knowing what a church is, since the objective is to start one. At first, students felt the assignment was a trivial waste of time. After all, they reasoned, everyone knows what a church is. However, the discussion quickly digressed from a purely biblical and spiritual understanding of the church to incorporate superfluous organizational programs and traditional forms of what has become accepted as the Western model of ecclesiology.

The class professor, Dr. Cal Guy, intervened in the free-flowing dialogue to ask a seemingly irrelevant rhetorical question. He queried, “If you called a dog’s tail a leg, how many legs would the dog have?” A brash, extroverted student immediately succumbed to the trap and replied “five,” only to hear the retort of the professor. “Wrong. The dog would still have only four legs; calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one.” The lesson was not lost on the class which realized that calling something a “church” did not necessarily make it one. Often what are considered the essential elements of being a church actually diverge from the spiritual reality of what it means to be the local body of Christ.

So it is with missions. No other program and involvement of God’s people has been subjected to such distortion as that of missions. We think of missions as anything we choose to call missions whether or not it has any relevance to the mission of God and purpose of the church. However, missions is what it is regardless of what we call it. Calling a very valid and important ministry “missions” doesn’t necessarily make it so.

I am reminded of a conversation between Alice and Humpty Dumpty in the familiar childhood classic, Alice in Wonderland. Humpty exclaims, “Whenever I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.” Alice responds with a valid observation, “The question is, whether you can make words mean different things.” To this Humpty replied, “The question is, which is to be master; that’s all.” The implication of presuming to impose arbitrary meanings to words is obvious, but for the church and missions it is disastrous.

Few individuals have had the impact on Southern Baptist missions that Dr. Cal Guy, for many years Bottoms Distinguished Professor ...

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