The Thessalonians Stayed Home

Friday, February 21, 2014

By Steven H. VanderLeest

I’m a natural introvert.  On the Myers-Briggs personality test, my E-I axis shows up slightly towards the “E” for Extrovert, but my guess is that it slowly nudged toward E over the last couple decades due to my classroom teaching and my involvement with a business or two.  Am I anti-social?  Not at all.  But I don’t seek out the center of the party either.  The slow degradation in my hearing is probably moving me back toward “I” for Introvert, since I now find it difficult to catch all the words of conversations in large, loud crowds.  Given my own predilections, I’ve sometimes wondered:  does the Great Commission apply to introverts? 

When the gospel came to Thessalonica, the first believers formed a local church.  Having done so, they did not immediately depart on mission trips. They stayed home.  Remaining in their neighborhoods and retaining their jobs, they became salt and light to the world—right there in Thessalonica.  The great commission to bring the gospel to all the world does not mean we all must travel as far as possible from our starting point.  The lost are not only in far-away developing countries, they are also in our own communities.  They live next door.  They are the poor and homeless on the corner.  They work in the same building as we do.  They are the banker, the real estate agent, and the coffee shop barista. 

Yes, the Thessalonians only heard the gospel in the first place because Paul arrived and told them the Good News.  There is certainly an important role for missionaries to foreign locales.  Likewise, there is an important role for the rest of us as local missionaries.  My point is that mission does not equate to remote location.  It is a calling for all Christians, wherever they are and wherever they go.

This broad calling to mission not only denies any geographical distinctions, it also denies temporal or category distinctions.  We are called to mission on Mondays as much as Sundays.  We are called to mission at work, at play, at home, and at the mall.  Work is not merely to pay the way for missionary trips.  Work is a mission trip.

Engineering students taking the senior design project course at Calvin often choose “mission” projects as the focus of their capstone design experience.  By this they usually mean an international humanitarian project, such as creating an improved sewage system for a village in the Andes foothills of Ecuador or a community lampost and cell-phone charger for hot and sunny Ghana.  I am delighted to see these projects come to fruition and encouraged to see our students serving others using their engineering gifts.  However, I cringe at the label “mission” because it implies the other projects are not mission-based.  If all the world belongs to God (it does) and if Christ rules every aspect of our lives (he does), then every aspect of our lives and every facet of our vocation should fall under divine dominion.  Think about the way God made us as bodies, not simply spirits.  We have a need to eat and drink.  We need rest.  God could have made us without those needs, but since he did, then aren’t those functions as holy as praying, preaching, or proselytizing?  Further, I believe God made us with an innate ability and need to work, to create, to build.  Then isn’t our work also holy? 

This is not to say that anything we do at work is pleasing to God simply because it is part of our job.  Sin can warp our work so that it is no longer in the direction God intended.  Nevertheless, in principle, every engineering project is a mission project.  Developing a new computer for a large corporation is a mission project. 

As a closing thought, today I can stay home in mission and also reach out to remote communities. Technology now connects us with the far flung corners of the earth.  Our global communication technology provides tools for introverts and extroverts to witness to the ends of the earth. Derek Schuurman puts it this way: “Indeed, technology has made the question, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ even more broad, since we are able to reach anywhere on a global scale as never before.” (Derek C. Schuurman, Shaping a Digital World:  Faith, Culture, and Computer Technology, Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2013., p. 118)  When we consider the breadth of our calling as Christians to be all-encompassing because it all belongs to God, then when I am traveling the digital highway, I can and must be the good samaritan who offers a helping hand to those I encounter who are in need.

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(c) 2013, Steven H. VanderLeest