If It Isn’t Personal, It Isn’t Mission


“On Christmas Eve I went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral….It had dawned on me before, but it really sank in: the Christmas story. The idea that…Love…would seek to explain itself and describe itself by becoming a child born in straw poverty…I was sitting there, and…tears came down my face, and I saw the …utter genius of picking a particular point in time and deciding to turn on this…love needs to find form…Love has to become an action…There must be an incarnation. Love must be made flesh.”—Bono

“The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.”—John 1:14 (The Message)

Most churches raise large amounts of money for mission projects in their own community and all over God’s world. Money is an essential ingredient of those projects. The folks who’ve raised the money feel a genuine sense of accomplishment, both from their shared work and also from the difference their gifts make in someone else’s life.

Sending a check is a good start. But too many people and churches fail to move beyond that ‘good start”. Fundraisers evolve into annual events. Over the years “missions” becomes synonymous with “charity”. Those annual fundraisers fail to create a connection between the givers and the recipients of their generosity. They (we) gladly support a good cause at arm’s length, without getting dirty or disrupting our comfortable lives.

It does take money to feed the hungry, to house the homeless, to provide clean water, to treat and ultimately eliminate diseases like AIDS and malaria, to build schools, hospitals, churches, and other institutions, to provide disaster relief and rebuilding, etc. Money is necessary, but never sufficient, for accomplishing the mission of God. Mission isn’t our “charity”, our “good works”. Authentic mission is our participation in God’s mission of healing and reconciling all people and all creation in Christ. David Bosch says that “Mission…is the alerting of people to the universal reign of God through Christ.” That’s where Jesus began: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe the good news.” (Mark 1:15 NRSV)

Michael Frost  goes a step further. He says this “alerting” involves both announcement and demonstration. We tell the Good News—and we show it by acts of sacrificial love and service. These days most folks need to see some credible “showing” before they’re receptive to our “telling”. Our walk and talk are most believable when they’re seamlessly integrated.

That’s hard to do from a safe, check-writing distance. If I were leading a church today, I would challenge my people not to settle for sending mission donations. “Let’s make that ‘check in the mail’ the exception rather than the rule,” I’d say. “Let’s deliver those checks personally when we bring a team of volunteers to serve at the local food bank, homeless shelter, urban ministry center, disaster relief site, etc. Let’s not settle for collecting school supplies and backpacks at the beginning of the school year. Let’s also pray regularly for that neighborhood school’s students, their families, and for the teachers and staff. Let’s volunteer to serve in whatever ways we can be most helpful–in a classroom, an after-school event or carnival, a maintenance project. “

In other words, let’s give ourselves along with our monetary and material donations. Not everyone can go. But some of us can—many more than we might think at first. If we’re participating in God’s mission, let’s follow God’s method: “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.” Let’s build authentic relationships with the folks we seek to serve. Let’s live alongside them long enough to know how life feels in their shoes. Let’s work, worship, and pray together.  Let’s be willing to be grateful receivers as well as generous givers. After all, those we seek to serve also have gifts to share with us. Reread 1 Corinthians 12 if you wonder about this point.

Missions isn’t “charity”. It’s having some skin in God’s life-changing, world-changing game. The technical theological term for having skin in the game is “Incarnational Mission”. I’m increasingly convinced that’s the only kind of authentic mission. A few years ago a man in our church got excited about a mission project in Northern Mexico. Within a few months he had organized a team to go down and work during Spring Break. That team made a meaningful difference in the life of the church and community where they served. Many went back the next year.  All of them came back different people.

That’s why I urge folks to get involved serving somewhere. It changes us as much or more than those we serve—because we have some skin in the game. Folks who’ve experienced Incarnational Mission know mission isn’t merely sending checks to “worthy causes”. Mission is personal—as personal as God wrapping Love in human flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. If it isn’t personal, it might be a good deed. It might be charity. But it’s not mission. Authentic mission happens wherever followers of Jesus act out Bono’s Christmas Eve insight: “…love needs to find form…Love has to become an action…There must be an incarnation. Love must be made flesh.”  

5 Responses to “If It Isn’t Personal, It Isn’t Mission”

  1. 1 Tom Bolton October 18, 2012 at 9:44 AM

    I’m hoping to reblog this on my blog this week. It captures a theme that I have been praying about recently, and writing about too.


  2. 2 Betsy October 19, 2012 at 6:26 PM

    In his book “Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream”, David Platt shared his experience with going as opposed to sending money:

    “I remember when I was first preparing to go to Sudan…The trip was going to cost me around three thousand dollars. It wasn’t easy to travel into Sudan since they were still at war…I remember one dear lady in the church coming up to me and asking ‘Why don’t you just send the three thousand dollars to the people in Sudan? Wouldn’t it be a better use of money than your spending a week and a half with htem? Think of how far that money would go.’ I wrestled with that question. Was I wasting these funds in order to go when I could simply give the money instead?.. I continued wrestling wiht that question until I got to Sudan. There I had a conversation with Andrew that shed some light on the question….He had known war since he was born and he described facets of the suffering and persecution his people had been through. He told me about the various groups…who had brought suppies to them during that time, and he expressed thanks for the generosity of so many people. But then he looked at me and asked, ‘Even in light of all these things that people have given us, do you want to know how you can tell who a true brother is?…A true brother comes to be with you in your time of need.'”

    And I would like to add that one does not always have to go a long distance to be with someone in their time of need. I was in a desperately dark place emotionally and spiritually, overwhelmed, lost and confused. An unexpected friend appeared out of nowhere; someone I would have ordinarily considered a Samaratin; someone I really did not know “came and walked” with me through the worst of it. He could have sent a card, he could have said he was praying for me, but instead this “stranger”, became a desperately needed presence in my life. Nothing will ever be the same for me again. When I came to the above quote, I had to stop and email him a thank you.


    • 3 soulmanlv October 21, 2012 at 5:11 PM

      Thanks for this, Betsy. God can and will use anybody, even the folks someone has labeled “useless”; even us when we feel “useless”! I also will go back and look at Piatt’s book again.


  3. 4 soulmanlv October 21, 2012 at 5:06 PM

    Looks like we had a glitch. Please try again.


  1. 1 Personal Mission | Hopeful Trackback on October 18, 2012 at 4:01 PM

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