It was a Tuesday night I will never forget. Tom and Alice had invited me
over to talk about "something important." As I sat and drank a diet
Coke in their comfortable living room, I couldn't help but wonder
what was in store for me.
Our conversation shifted back and forth--serious, then light, then serious
again. We talked about Alice's father and his untimely death. We talked about
the encouraging new church where we recently had met, laughing about some
hilarious incidents that resulted from holding our church services in an
elementary school. We talked about the previous Sunday's Bible message and how
puzzling it was that the same loving, sovereign God described there could also
be the God who allowed Alice's father to die. "Aren't there thousands of
criminals in prison who deserve to die more than my dad?" Alice asked. I took
another sip of my soft drink and considered her point.
Minutes turned into an hour, and I found that as the questions grew more
complex and difficult, my answers could only be more simple and
loving--rational, yet straight from the heart. I talked about the character of
God, what He's like, what He did through Jesus. I talked about the hopeless
condition of all people--not just criminals and fathers, but me too--until we
meet Christ. As I discussed Who Jesus Christ is and what He means to me
personally, I could sense a light bulb going on for Alice.
Then her question forever froze in time that moment for me: "Well, Nate, if
I wanted a personal relationship with God like the one you're describing, what
exactly would I do?"
I don't know if I've ever experienced a moment which held greater
significance than that moment when her question lingered in the air. She was
asking me if she could meet God and know Him now. She was asking if she too
could live with Him forever.
I quickly prayed for help, and for Alice and Tom to "get it," to understand
they could find Him in their living room that very night. It wasn't the first
time I'd prayed for them. In fact, long before this opportunity came along, my
conversations with God had led me to hope for it. Now I keenly sensed my own
helplessness and asked God to do what only He can do. Then I briefly explained
what the Bible says about entering into a personal relationship with Jesus
A few moments later Alice--and then Tom--prayed and asked Jesus Christ to be
their personal Lord and Savior. I found the next few minutes were almost a blur
for me. We located an old Bible Tom kept on a shelf. We outlined passages they
could begin reading to understand more. We identified a small group in our
church in which they would feel comfortable. We talked about this thing called
baptism. I prayed with them once more before I left, and in my heart I imagined
Then I was back in my car driving home. Part of me was elated. Yet part of
me was puzzled, even troubled. I had been a Christian for more than 30 years. I
had taught Sunday school classes, been a youth director, served as a deacon,
sung in and directed the choir. Yet, until the past few months, this incredible
experience of leading people to Christ was one which I had rarely experienced.
Now I was experiencing it every month or two. What was happening?
On that drive home, I began to analyze and think about the differences in
the kind of Christian I had always been and the kind of Christian I was
becoming. In my case, the transformation seemed to be closely tied to my
involvement in a new church--one that really was trying to reach "unchurched"
people. But I decided that I had known other Christians like this who hadn't
necessarily been part of starting a church, but who were--to describe it in one
phrase--Christians who were on mission.
What do I mean by an on mission Christian? Well, I certainly don't mean a
higher class of Christian, or a second or third work of grace, or even a deeper
maturity level. If I were to describe it with my emotions, I would simply say
that my heart yearns to see people come to know God personally. The experiences
I've now had with people like Tom and Alice have become "addictive" to me--I
need more of them. I've started seeing people differently. I intuitively
approach others looking for clues to whether they know God personally or not,
and when they indicate they don't, I just as intuitively start speculating
about which barriers may have hindered them from truly hearing the gospel. And
I really, really want to help remove those barriers.
But that's a description of what it feels like on the inside for me. And
while I know there's no magic formula or uniform process, in the months that
have passed since that drive home from Tom and Alice's house, I've tried to
think more analytically and objectively about what it means to be on mission.
There are not only people, but churches, who have the evangelistic zeal and
mission-minded passion that is newfound in my life.
What makes them that way? What does it mean to be on mission?
An on mission Christian spiritually awakens.
"...I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are
ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the
crop for eternal life..." John 4:35-36 NIV
An on mission Christian starts as a regular Christian. By that I mean he or
she has come to know Christ, is growing in relationship to Him, and is serving
in a local church. And that describes where I was when I started becoming an on
mission Christian. Coming to Christ for forgiveness and renewal when my life
strayed from Him. Growing--sometimes steadily, sometimes in surges--as I spent
time in Bible study and prayer and obedience. Serving others in the church by
using my gifts of teaching or organizing or leading.
...living as a daily disciple in a personal relationship with Jesus
Christ...giving to evangelistic mission efforts through my local
church...praying for people who need to know Christ and embracing the
Great Commission personally
...living as a daily disciple in a personal relationship with Jesus
...giving to evangelistic mission efforts through my local
...praying for people who need to know Christ and embracing the
Great Commission personally
Still, I have to admit, missions studies never kept my attention. Witnessing
courses sounded too intimidating and too demanding. Church visitation was a
matter of duty, not desire. Most of those opportunities--and most of the people
leading them--left me feeling guilty and uncomfortable. Though I knew it wasn't
completely true, I felt they were trying to get me to do something that worked
for them, but not for me. And, to be honest, I wondered why they didn't seem to
make more of a difference. My church was seeing very few people become
Christians. I was personally seeing even fewer.
But because I was committed to my church, I continued to listen, and study,
and pray, and to give help to people I sensed were on mission reaching others
for Christ. I wasn't awake yet, but I was stirring.
Increasingly, I couldn't miss the dissonance between what the Bible was
describing as normal and healthy, and what I was experiencing personally. The
Great Commission was emerging to me as the direct responsibility and mission of
all believers, and I was beginning to realize that coming and growing and
serving in the church weren't all that God wanted for me. Somehow He wanted me
to be involved in leading others to Christ. At first, I just couldn't figure
out what that meant for me personally, and I couldn't find my style with others
who seemed to be doing it.
About that time a handful of Christian friends, including my wife and me,
started talking and praying about why our churches didn't seem to be impacting
our community and why our lives weren't drawing others to Christ.
And for me, that's where it began. I believe the Holy Spirit was stirring in
our hearts and creating an "awakening," a realization that was very real and
very personal. I began to realize that people need to know God--no, it was more
than that--people around me need to know God, and loving Him meant letting Him
use me to make that happen.
As Henry Blackaby writes about in Experiencing God, the Lord was bringing me
to a "crisis of belief" where I had to reconcile what the Bible says with my
own life and experience. My relationship with Christ was not only to be "come,
grow and serve." It was to include "go." And, frankly, that scared me to
An on mission Christian continually adjusts.
"To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all
things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some." 1
Corinthians 9:22 NIV
"Upward" spiritual awakenings always lead to "inward" spiritual adjustments.
On mission Christians are not evangelistic "square pegs" that have been
whittled and hammered into evangelistic "round holes." They are God-crafted
pegs of all shapes and sizes who have adjusted--twisted, turned, rotated--until
they discover how God has uniquely positioned them to "go" and bring others to
Christ rather than "stay" an insider whose faith is only connected to God and
...discovering and accepting how God has uniquely created me to
...adjusting inwardly to prepare myself for opportunities to share
...adapting outwardly to create opportunities to share
When I was "awakened" with a new sensitivity to the people around me who
needed Christ, my initial fear led me to deep spiritual introspection. How
am I going to do this, God? You know how I feel about this! I'm willing to
"go," but I feel so inadequate and I don't know how to start...
Have you ever noticed how many times in the Bible people say something like
that to God? Yet it is in that moment of weakness and submission when God
raises up on mission Christians. Using an obedient, broken disciple who has
been newly awakened and committed to the mission, God begins the inward
adjustments. Where there's a will submitted to God, there's a way provided by
My inner adjustment led me to start asking myself why the people of my
community weren't coming to my church, or my house, or my desk at work to hear
the gospel message. That may sound kind of silly--doesn't everyone know that
you have to go and meet people where they are? But the reality is that most
coming, growing, serving Christians like me are doing very little to go to the
places where people don't know God personally. We need an adjustment in our
habits and patterns of thinking.
Adjusting means re-evaluation. How am I living my life or leading in my
church, and to what degree are those plans and processes designed to reach
people who aren't "churched" already?
Adjusting means research. What are the people around me like? How do they
spend their time and what interests have a hold on their hearts?
When an on mission Christian commits to inward adjustment, he or
she is committing to teachability, to learning new ways of thinking and acting,
often because the old ones weren't fruitful. Perhaps the most painful
adjustment an on mission Christian makes is the commitment to change, and to
embrace new patterns and create new strategies in order to reach new
That's not to say that the age-old strategies of leading people to Christ
aren't valuable. In fact, the most effective new ways of sharing Christ are
usually a simple return to New Testament principles. But applying those
principles to today's situations and people often requires the Spirit-led
creativity of on mission Christians who are learning to adjust so that those
timeless principles may find personal, practical incarnation.
Adjusting, on mission Christians learn to hate the obstacles that
stand between people and the gospel so much that they learn what those
obstacles are, and they form creative strategies for removing them. An
adjusting, on mission Christian is a lifelong learner who twists and turns and
flips and rotates until his or her unique style as a Christian forms a creative
bridge between Jesus Christ and people who don't know Him--yet.
An on mission Christian evangelistically
"How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?
And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can
they hear without someone preaching to them?" Romans 10:14
...building bridges of relationship and affinity over which the
gospel message may flow
...inviting people to now Christ personally, using my unique gifts
...cooperating with other believers who are purposefully sharing
Christ with targeted groups
An on mission Christian discovers that an "upward" spiritual
awakening and "inward" spiritual adjustments inevitably result in "outward"
spiritual activity. And the liberating discovery that God made you personally
to share Christ often leads to wonderful innovation. Examples:s
In other words, activated Christians find increased opportunities to share
Christ. They develop patterns of living and disciplined behaviors which somehow
utilize their unique shape and situation to create occasions of divine
That doesn't mean it's always easy. The professional athlete who gives glory
to God on camera has to endure the scorn of the locker room. The attorney who
shares his faith or stands on her integrity becomes the target of unscrupulous
methods. The teacher who speaks of eternal truth or a creative personal God is
accused of being less intellectual, less objective or even less safe for the
students. Those natural avenues, an on mission Christian discovers, don't make
sharing Christ any easier, they just make the opportunities more frequent.
Being activated--actually developing a personalized lifestyle that results
in regular opportunities to share Christ--is where the rubber meets the road
for an on mission Christian. There are lots of Christians who talk about it.
Many long for it. Some have even been trained for it. It's curious that so few
of us experience it.
An on mission Christian passionately
"He told them, `The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are
few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his
harvest field.'" Luke 10:2 NIV
I really wish I had discovered earlier in life that actively leading people
to Christ did not have to be an unusual, occasional experience reserved for a
minority of Christians. And I wish I knew more about how to "activate" regular
Christians like me. In fact, that's something else that describes on mission
Christians. They long to see other believers leave the sideline and "get in the
game." They become passionate advocates for the awakening of more and more on
...volunteering for mission projects
...mobilizing and sending on mission Christians to all people and
people groups of the world
...helping train others o be personally on mission with
Of course, only God can do the awakening. Yet I can't help but believe it
would please Him immensely to see more Christians sharing Christ. And I have a
couple of hunches about how that might happen--how God can multiply the
minority of on mission Christians into a majority.
The first hunch is that each of us "regular" Christians, with God's help,
has to discover a personalized path to being on mission. Someone else's
inspiring story, someone else's creative method, someone else's magazine
article--well, those allow the mission to remain at arm's length. If we choose
to be on mission, it is because God has intimately touched our hearts with the
profundity of our salvation and opened our eyes to the personal way He created
us to be on mission with Him.
For me, and for many others, being on the ground floor of a new church gave
me opportunities and put me in positions where it was very natural to share
Christ. God had gifted me to help plan and organize a new church, and then to
teach many "unchurched" people whose natural questions drew the gospel out of
For others, the activation process might be entirely different. For
you--well, how might God do it for you in a way that matches your personality,
your vocational skills, your setting, your unique gifts and abilities?
My second hunch is that if God is going to activate more of us regular
Christians into on mission Christians, it will take not only personalized
paths, but purposeful partners. An on mission Christian recognizes that God
made Christians to work in teams. The team may be as small as two people or a
team of leaders within a church. It may be a whole church. Or it may be a
worldwide network of churches--cooperating and volunteering and sending and
sharing and reproducing.
But "missions" can't be defined as something that someone else does.
"Evangelism" can't be defined as something for which only certain Christians
are gifted. Christians who are awakening and adjusting and discovering personal
ways to share Christ must passionately advocate that process in many, many
others. And churches must advocate focused, deliberate, creative, versatile
ways to empower everyone in their church to be on mission.
The reality is that even the heartiest on mission Christian won't last long
in isolation. The Bible is clear that to be actively sharing Christ means to be
attacked by many adversaries. And the inner strength that God provides by His
Spirit is augmented by the strength that comes from being active together with
other on mission Christians.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC