The Death of Missions: Response 4: We Need to First Ask Questions

by Alex Araujo

It is true that the word “missions” has become confused in the minds of many today, and a change of vocabulary might help clarify things. Yet I would not press for change too quickly; instead, we first need to ask questions.

First, English is used in many different cultures, and evolves differently in different places. What Andrews is addressing may reflect a change in a particular cultural setting for reasons not relevant in other settings. We know, for instance, that English is used extensively in South Africa, Nigeria, Singapore, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. Has the evolution of the mission vocabulary occurred equally, or is it primarily located in one country?

Second, English is also the dominant language of the evangelical, international, mission community. This international, supranational, specialized community may constitute a unique “people group” in its use of English. Is it possible that the confusion is more visible in that group than among Christians of the nations where English is used?

Third, analysis may reveal that the dilution of the term reflects certain peculiarities of American, evangelical culture. In America, we have taken outrageous liberties with the term “missions” to justify just about any form of ministry. If this is true, then I am not sure that we won’t do the same thing with the next word we use to replace this one. Before making significant changes, I would want to explore whether the problem is not largely an American problem. If it is, the solution need not disrupt the global mission movement, but rather be locally addressed.

Lastly, I am assuming that Andrews’ concern is with the vocabulary, not the reality of missions. Could it be, however, that the activity we call “missions” has also changed significantly enough to warrant a change? I believe much of the mission world has changed. While as recently as fifty years ago there were large regions of the world without a definitive Christian presence, today the gap has been narrowed. Nations formerly at the receiving end of missions are now senders.

Does this significantly change the nature of what we have traditionally called “missions,” or does it simply narrow the field? I suggest the definition of missions given us by the prophet Isaiah,

I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations—to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians [famous as archers], to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations. (Isaiah 66:19)

Are there still people who never heard of his fame or seen his glory? If so, we must continue sending those who have been saved to them.


Alex Araujo, senior partnership consultant for Partners International, is committed to cross-cultural partnerships in missions.

EMQ, Vol. 47, No. 2, pp. 240-241. Copyright  © 2011 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.


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