Most of our readers are connected with missions in some way: having taken a mission trip, attended a conference or presentation at your church, or are friends with some missionaries (hi!) or partner with a missions agency like Gospel for Asia or Pioneers. I'd be willing to bet, though that for the vast majority of Christians, their experience of missions comes from mission trips. Mission trips are an incredibly beneficial expression of missions: Believers are blessed to leave their locale and comfort zone to minister to the lost. The poor are fed and clothed, the truth is preached, and those who go are strengthened in their faith. Many full time missionaries were first set alight with passion for the lost by a short-term mission trip. I know that is true for me. Here's a photo of me on the mission trip to Utah that started it all:
What about the other major aspect of missions: full-time missions? When an individual or family makes it their primary focus and vocation to reach the lost, it is a very different experience from a mission trip. Although the goal is the same- preaching the Gospel- full time missions has a very different approach and set of expectations. As Sarah and I have been in Utah for full-time missions for five weeks now, I have some reflections on both short-term and full-time mission work.
It may be a tired analogy, but there is none better than good ol' footrace analogy. Mission trips are more like a 200 meter sprint, whereas full-time missions is akin to a marathon. These races have completely different strategies. In the 200 meter sprint, legendary sprinter Usain Bolt will get his heart pumping to the max before the pistol fires, give it his absolute maximum effort for 200 meters, and then drop to his knees after the finish line to catch his breath and let his body recover. A mission trip's timeline mirrors this: those who go attend training and team-building exercises leading up to the date that they leave, then for a few days to a few weeks, pour out their hearts and bodies to have the maximum impact during their limited time. And then, who remembers the rented vans finally pulling into the church parking lot and the weary (yet glad) trip-goers oozing out, giving hugs, and returning home to recover? While there is amazing variety in these kinds of mission trips, I think anyone who has been on one could relate to this caricature.
Now, before I compare full-time missions to a marathon, let me pause to communicate clearly that there is no value judgment here. Mission trips and full-time missions are approaches that the Lord calls people to according to his plan, and one is not a higher calling than another. Remember that the body of Christ needs all sorts of members serving in many different ways to be effective. So don't think that full-time missions is some kind of major league recruiting out of the minor league mission trips. It just ain't so. Usain Bolt's gold medal for the Men's 200 meter race isn't any smaller or less shiny than Eliud Kipchoge's, the winner of the 2016 Olympic marathon. Both are athletes doing their best according to what their training and opportunities led them to.
How would marathon runner Kipchoge do if he treated his race like Bolt's 200 meter sprint? Jogging in place at the start line, staging alone on starting blocks he brought with him, then tearing away from the pack at maximum speed? He'd be in first for a while, then slow to a crawl after a mile, exhausted and unlikely to even finish the race, much less do well over the remaining 25 miles. That's not how he won! He worked hard, but paced himself wisely and conserved energy to go the long distance.
Even though we all experience pressure (from ourselves or from others) to go-go-go and do more-more-more, that's not how a life-long goal is achieved. Our Lord rested on the seventh day of creation to set an example for us, knowing that we do not have an infinite well of energy and charisma from which to draw. So, like Kipchoge the marathon runner who starts off at a steady and maintainable pace, the full-time missionary must also keep the duration of the race in mind. As he also races to achieve, like Paul says, we must run the race with discipline and self control. The wise full-time missionary neither allows the sin of laziness to tempt him into procrastination and self-indulgence nor the sin of pride or foolishness to tempt him into trying to outdo himself and burn out in the process.
Sarah and I have been here for five weeks now, and we might have been tempted to set off at a sprint pace if not for the guidance and counsel of the more experienced staff here at Tri-Grace. By their encouragement, we have been taking time to help Flint adjust to his new surroundings, establish our home, and deal with the massive life change that we're experiencing. At the same time, we are diligent not to neglect the ministry opportunities that the Lord has put in front of us: building relationships with our unsaved neighbors, guest teaching the college student Bible studies, fixing broken light switches, and taking on shifts at the Solid Rock Cafe.
The work that we have begun and the work that lies before us is a complement to mission trip work that the Lord plans to reach the lost of rural Utah. When mission teams come to visit, we spring with them to distribute DVDs or literature, go door-to-door for prayer on the porch, and witness on the streets: all in the same day. Then, when the mission team goes, we rest- and we build the relationships in the community that allow us to minister in an entirely different way. We make lattes, host and lead Bible studies, and we trim foliage back for winter. By the Lord's grace and wisdom, the many different kinds of ministry harmonize to make one beautiful song of worship to our savior. As we run together in the ways that the Lord has led us, we reach the goal he has set before us: that his name be made great among the nations, and that many worshippers are added to his family.