I was sitting in a hotel lounge in Johannesburg during a meeting for a mission trip I lead about this time last year. I had arranged for one of the local staff members, Karl, to come and talk about native African religions, and how to properly approach that topic with African people.
He began his talk by asking this simple question: “Why did you come to South Africa?”
After an awkward pause, someone said, “To share the love of Christ.”
Karl quickly said, “No, you didn’t.” Everyone looked at Karl as if he had broken the unwritten Christian rule, “Never offend anyone at a meeting.” Did he really just tell her no! The nerve!
But just as soon as Karl said, “No,” he said, “You came to share the message of Jesus.”
After a quick explanation, everyone got the point: If we only speak of Jesus’ love, we can be fluffy and avoid of the call to receive him and repent. If we speak of Jesus message, we share his true love, the love that comes with his hard call to intense discipleship.
So often, as Americans, we say, “I want to share Jesus’ love with little African orphans!” And that is good and important, but it is not ultimate. The ultimate thing is to share the message of God’s redeeming work that he has accomplished in Jesus’ life and death on the cross. This work makes us right with God, removes our sin, saves us from a life of guilt, keeps us from eternity in hell, and does a thousand other things I don’t even know about. That’s a glorious message.
We cannot allow missions to simply be the “Christian” way to do social justice. If our mission teams are not centered on the gospel message they will fail to show Christ’s true love. And that would be a tragedy.