By Rev. Rich Leatherberry, Associate Pastor for Mission
Recently I met with a guy who told me about a bicycling group he was part of. It started with a few friends from the church but grew to include neighbors and colleagues from work. Some are Christians but some are not. They meet on Saturday mornings and ride off on these long excursions. Up and down hills. For miles and miles. If you ask me, it would be a whole lot easier by car. Maybe a convertible. You’d get nearly the same effect right?
Well, these guys start every trip off with prayer. They invite everyone to huddle around and then one of the three guys who started the group prays. Then they hop on their bikes and the adventure begins. The coolest part, he told me, is that several of the guys have talked with him about beginning the bike ride with prayer. Turns out they love it. And talking about prayer has opened up conversations to a lot of other topics like church, family, seeking God, etc.
Today I read this article from Relevant Magazine, titled Is Missions About Words or Deeds? and my gut reaction was “Both!” Missions is both! Without deeds, our witness about Jesus lacks credibility but without Words, our deeds lack a witness. People are never going to guess why we are helping them, unless we tell them. And, they aren’t interested in what we have to say about the love of Jesus until we care enough to serve in ways that meet their real life needs. Missions is both.
The debate in Missions has historically been an either/or debate. On one side are those folks who argue missions is about preaching the gospel, saving souls, converting people to faith in Jesus and planting churches. On the other side are those who view missions as serving people’s needs; providing an education, clean water, food, health care, housing, etc. They have adopted some version of St. Francis of Assisi’s famous quote: “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.”
The problem with the either/or debate is that we reduce missions to one or the other; either telling people about Jesus or serving people. Door number one or door number two. And as Presbyterians, let’s face it, we prefer door number two; “I’ll take acts of service please.” Talking about Jesus feels scary, because we have been taught faith is a private thing and because we live in a culture that prefers we keep it to ourselves.
One of the reasons I like missions as both is that it is respectful and loving. Respectful because we are building relationships with people and helping them where they need it most. Loving because we are deeply concerned about them physically and spiritually.
So what can missions as both look like for you? Who needs your help? What would you say that points to Jesus? Maybe you know someone who is going through a difficult season, giving you the opportunity to reach out to them, stick with them and offer to pray with them. Maybe it’s volunteering for a ministry here or maybe God is putting something else on your heart.
Missions as both is an adventure. Words and Deeds are a life changer for everyone. Just ask my friend who’d rather ride his bike than drive a convertible.