The auditorium was jam-packed with visitors for a dead man—my father, in fact. Students, teachers, engineers, taxi drivers, businessmen, nurses ... all lined up to pay their respects to a fallen hero. Hundreds came to the memorial service, with more waiting outside amid an overflow of familiar faces. All this for a simple music teacher.
The scene was both gripping and telling, partly because of all the things my dad wasn’t.
He wasn’t a pastor, preacher, prophet or politician. He wasn’t cool or hugely popular. At times he wasn’t even liked by his peers because of a tendency to challenge authority and tradition. He certainly wasn’t a smooth-talking networker that might explain why so many people showed up to memorialize him.
He was, however, a remarkable friend who had a unique way of connecting with people one-on-one. During his 30-plus years as a missionary in Hong Kong, he left such an impression that many would appear 10, 20 and 30 years later to attest to how his simple approach to sharing Jesus forever changed their lives.
My dad was missional long before it became a buzzword. He taught music at a Chinese university and, as the department’s first foreign professor, did things a little differently—particularly when it came to relating to students. In traditional Chinese culture, teachers don’t show care or concern toward students, much less befriend them. Yet I can barely remember a holiday when my dad didn’t invite a student over to our house, or a Sunday in which another of his pupils wasn’t joining us for church. He was known on campus for his camaraderie with a younger generation that was unaccustomed to a foreigner—a foreign professor, no less—taking hours out of his day to listen to them, empathize with their struggles and (eventually) share the hope of Jesus Christ.
Countless church leaders talk about being missional today as if using the term earns them street cred. Just as words such as discipleship, apostle and prophetic have had the juice sucked out of them from abuse and overuse in recent decades, missional has become the trump card of authentic Christianity. Forget old-school witnessing, power evangelism and foreign missions ... a “missional lifestyle” is what’s hot, baby.
I can hear my dad laughing now. Not out of spite, mind you, but out of the silliness of our unspoken belief that we’ve finally found what the Great Commission really means—namely, that local community must be the primary focus of our going and sending. If we can’t make followers of Christ in our own neighbors, the theory goes, how can we win the world?
The truth is, it’s not an either-or but a both-and. My dad came from an era that considered missions a global function of the church. Though at times his generation idealized foreign soil as the most fertile for the gospel—at the cost of losing ground at home—they never forgot the sent aspect of missions. Sadly, I know of many churches today who, in the name of being missional, consider their own community as the far-reaching corners of the world they must reach.
I hope this missions-themed issue of Ministry Today reminds you of both fields that simultaneously need tending: the local and the global. Yes, our neighbors are our mission field, and our lives our greatest tool. But as my father proved with the soul fruit he accumulated even after death, our going is still just as important.
Marcus Yoars is the editor of Ministry Today.