The Labourers of Mission
Author, John Dickson, tells the story of an American Airlines pilot who was eager to share his faith. The story is real, but Dickson uses a fictional name for the pilot.
American Airlines pilot, Angelo Keen, had just returned from a mission trip in Costa Rica. He was fired up and excited about the prospect of witnessing for Jesus at every turn.
Angelo had been wondering how he might apply his evangelistic zeal at work. He had an idea—and a rather innovative one at that. As flight 34 took off from Los Angeles headed for New York, Captain Keen welcomed the passengers over the PA system and then announced:
“Ladies and gentlemen, would the Christians on board please identify themselves by raising their hands.”
Keen then urged the rest of the passengers to use the four hour flight to discuss the merits of Christianity with those who had previously identified themselves as Christians by raising their hands. Keen added that he would be happy to discuss Christianity with any who were interested.
The response from the passengers, as you might imagine, was not what Keen had hoped for. One passenger recalled how, at one point, Keen referred to the non-Christians onboard as ‘crazy’ for not wanting to follow Jesus. In the wake of September 11, some passengers wondered if this was a veiled threat and began to use their cell phones to call family members. The rest of the American Airlines flight 34 crew were scrambling, making every attempt to communicate to the passengers that there was no danger, and that everything would be fine.
Of course, everything was fine. Angelo Keen merely wanted his passengers to know about Jesus, and did not well anticipate how his invitation would be received.
No doubt, some of you are completely aghast from just hearing the account after the fact. What I worry about, however, is how these inappropriate evangelistic efforts deter the people of God from engaging in evangelism.
We’ve seen the Angelo Keen types before. Perhaps on a street corner in Toronto, we have heard an individual yell through a mega-phone, “Repent! For the kingdom of God is at hand”.
Recently, on my way into the Rogers Centre for a Jays game, I noticed three young men circulating the stadium wearing huge signs. On the front of the sign, on their chest, was a phrase like, “Follow Jesus”. On the other side of the sign, which they wore on their back, was a corresponding Bible verse.
We have seen people attempt to witness in ways that made us uncomfortable and so many of us, as a result, have altogether retreated from the act of witnessing. We’re afraid that if we begin to talk to someone about Jesus, we’ll be lumped in with the Angelo Keens of the world, and with those Street Preachers shouting messages of hellfire and brimstone.
Of course, we need not witness for Jesus in this manner. And we certainly should not endorse methods like those employed by Angelo Keen. This does not mean, however, that we totally refrain from speaking to others about Jesus.
Those of you who were here last Sunday know that speaking to another about Christ is often the final step in the process of evangelism. First, we have to be clear on our reason for evangelism.
The logic behind our mission, according to Scripture, is the greatness of God (see sermon notes from July 30). Yes, people need God—but more than that, every human being needs to acknowledge that they are living in the presence of a God who is infinitely glorious.
Secondly, now understanding the reason we should bear witness for Christ, we begin to employ a variety of methods to promote the Gospel. We commit ourselves to pray—we pray for God to raise up more evangelists; we pray that those sharing the Gospel would do so clearly, and we pray that those hearing the Gospel would respond by placing their faith in Jesus Christ.
Prayer is one of the key languages of mission. Giving money is another key language. It is far easier to mobilize money than it is to mobilize people. We become partners in evangelism when we direct funds to those who are strategically positioned to share the gospel with others.
Good deeds is another language of mission. The walk of the Christian legitimizes the talk of the Christian. Our behaviour, if positive, can effectively promote the message—or, if negative, our behaviour can detract from our message. Good deeds is an indispensable component of evangelism.
These languages of mission are the fuel for the language that is required to close the deal. As the apostle Paul has said, “How can people have faith in the Lord and ask Him to save them, if they have never heard about Him?” (Rom. 10:14).
At, one point or another, the fulfillment of biblical mission will require people talking to people about Jesus.
We readily confess that some are more adept at this than others. In Ephesians 4:11 Paul says that Christ chose “some to be evangelists”.
That is helpful to know—not everyone has been wired by God to be an evangelist. It might be the case that God has gifted you for a very different kind of ministry.
But the wrong way to apply this would be to dismiss evangelism as something best left to the experts. The wrong way to apply this would be to conclude, that since God has especially gifted some for evangelism, I need not ever concern myself with talking about Jesus to another.
Our text in 1Peter 3 confirms our responsibility. While not every Christian is an evangelist, all are required to give a reply for our faith when called upon. Bear in mind, also, that Peter is writing to a group of Christians who have been intensely persecuted. These Christians did not harbour a fear of ridicule and rejection, like many of us do—they harboured a fear of being thrown in jail or killed!
Even with the threat of persecution looming, Peter exhorts them, “Stop being afraid and don’t worry about what people might do. Honour Christ and let Him be the Lord of your life. Always be ready to give an answer when someone asks you about your hope” (1Pet. 3:14, 15).
Peter’s exhortation was a timely one for the people of his day. And, as a part of the Holy Canon, Peter’s instruction is timeless for every Christian in every age. Peter is telling you, and he is telling me, ‘Stop worrying about what people will think about you. If you must worry—worry about what Christ will think if you refuse to speak up for Him. Be ready, at all times, to give a response when one is required.’
I read an interesting statistic the other day. According to this study,
97% of the world has heard of Coca-Cola
72% of the world has seen a can of Coca-Cola
51% of the world has tasted a can of Coca-Cola
Coca-Cola has only been around for just over 100 years
One can’t help but wonder if the Gospel might spread more quickly if God had entrusted the message to the Coca-Cola Company rather than the Church.
More seriously, though, I fear that the modern church—in many corners—has lost her urgency to share the message. This loss of urgency to share the message with others has been the ‘death blow’ for some congregations. And, in others, it has been the chief reason for decline.
By way of illustration, I regard the image of a fire burning to be a helpful one. Fire ignites other material. And a fire that does not spread eventually goes out. Likewise, a congregation without evangelism can be compared to an isolated fire that is destined to go out.
But again, our primary motivation for mission should not be self-preservation. Our grand reason for evangelism should be that we have come into contact with a God who is infinitely glorious, and it is God’s greatness that compels our speaking out.
The fact that evangelism causes numerical growth is a wonderful bi-product. Unfortunately, some congregations focus on numerical growth as if it were the end game for their existence. Our ‘end game’, if you will, ought to be the promotion of Jesus Christ and His glory.
And the testimony of Scripture, and church history, reveals that when a congregation effectively proclaims Christ, they are likely to grow. When a fire is stoked and fanned, it is likely ignite nearby substances.
Of course, all of this presupposes that there is a fire within us to begin with. Peter says to “always be ready to give an answer when someone asks you about the hope that is in you” (1Pet. 3:15).
It could conceivably be the case that the reason we are never prepared to share the hope within us is that we have yet to discover the hope! It could be the case that the reason we have never set another aflame with the Gospel message is because there is not yet a fire for Christ burning within our own heart.
In such cases, the expectation of God is not for you to share what you do not yet possess. The expectation of God is for you to turn to Him and be saved (Isa. 45:22). The expectation of God is for you to turn to Christ in humble submission and He will make your righteousness shine like the noonday sun (Ps. 37:6; Mt. 13:43).
Or, perhaps, in some of us, there is a fire, but that fire has become dim and weak over time. If you recognize within yourself a fire for Christ, but one that is flickering, be comforted by what has been said of our Lord Jesus, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Mt. 12:20). Our light may be dim, but Christ is not done with us. Christ will never give up on one of His own.
Jesus says of His followers, “You are the light of the world” (Mt. 5:14). Notice that Jesus does not ask us to be the light of the world. And we remember from Isaiah 43, that God does not ask us to be His witnesses. By virtue of our union with Him, He says, “You are the light of the world”; He says, “My people, you are My witnesses” (Isa. 43:10).
For better of for worse, we represent Jesus Christ to the world. By our words, and by our behaviour, we either promote or we hurt His reputation.
All of us, who bear the name of Christ, are labourers of the mission. We’re not all evangelists, but we are all partners in the work of evangelism.
This is a blessed work with a blessed aim—to glorify Jesus Christ. Let us all be committed to taking part—because every human being is living in the presence of God’s greatness, and there are many who have yet to realize it. Amen.