High Point Church has always been a missions church. We have never been afraid to believe the gospel is for all people. And there have always been people within our movements who have risen up to answer the call to foreign fields. High Point is just over 50 years old, and over 50 years global missions has changed a lot. Very few new missionaries hear what John Paton (sailed from Scotland to the New Hebrides April 16, 1858) was told, “You will be eaten by Cannibals!” (He almost was.) Missions looks a lot different, even though we are often doing many of the same things we have always done. We are translating the Bible into new tongues. We are helping people and economic squalor apply basic technologies for better lives. We are teaching indigenous missionaries to preach the gospel. We are sending Western missionaries into countries with no indigenous witness – especially in Muslim lands.
But much has changed. Letters no longer have to be put on ships and sailed across the world. Missionaries can get decent healthcare. Missionaries very rarely see more than half of their children die as was entirely common in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Missionaries have high definition video cameras, laptop computers, blogs and websites, and much better support an organization than ever. And in some places, the work of former missionaries has open fields wide for the gospel’s influence, and the prayers of the first missionaries are happening beyond even their dreams in some places.
And yet, staying on mission is still hard. I think of John Piper’s metaphor of Adrenaline Christians versus Cardiac Christians. Christian to live from emotional high to emotional high cannot really engage in the type of missions that transforms the world. They will move from one fad to another, seeking the cool thing that is happening now and their support will be fickle and unpredictable. Very few real ministries can be built on their support. Most of the exciting results in missions now are the fruit of seemingly fruitless missions working for generations. Cardiac Christians, Christians that are committed and disciplined to serve based on conviction and heart can see the importance of many ministries that look ordinary and unexciting.
In every decision I make at High Point I ask something like: “What action will produce cardiac Christians?” I am constantly struggling to lead a people to be emotionally vibrant Christians but not emotionally grounded Christians. I want us to see the mandate for missions. I want us to see that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Jesus, and that on the basis of that authority he has sent us and told us to send. I want us to see relationally that he has promised to be with us to the very end of the age. (Matt 28:18-20). I want us to have the proper proportion in our missions priorities. I want our motivation for each decision to be the glory of God and the true eternal good of all people. I don’t want us to react to a fad, and I don’t want us to react against a fad just because it is one. I want to see our hearts beating steadily, so we can be the kind of church people can count on when they make huge sacrificial life decisions to risk something for the glory of God and for the good of people.
I want to be the sort of church that sends John Paton’s into the world willing to be eaten by Cannibals, or killed by anyone. When Mr. Dixon confronted Paton about going to the New Hebrides he said “the Cannibals! You will be eaten by Cannibals!” Dickson did this because in 1839 both John Williams and James Harris were clubbed to death and eaten by the residents of the New Hebrides only moments after arriving as missionaries. Dixon and Paton reflected on this event differently. Dixon apparently believed no more missionaries should be sent. Paton recorded in his journal when he heard the news, “thus where the New Hebrides baptized with the blood of martyrs; and Christ and thereby told the whole Christian world that he claimed these islands as his own.”
To Mr. Dixon’s exclamation Paton reports that he replied,
“Mr. Dixon, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms. I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the great day my resurrection body will arise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.”
And if God should grace us to raise up this kind of man or woman among us who is willing to lovingly confront those of us who send, then we may not only have great missionaries, we might even have great Christians. We don’t just do missions, we need missions.