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A Disappearing Missionary Impulse

Summer presents a wide array of missionary opportunities for those attuned to how the Spirit of God might be at work in the places they live, work, and play. The pace of life changes—providing more time for interaction with neighbors, coworkers, friends, and even seemingly random strangers that we might encounter on a summer vacation. Each block party or time at the local pool is an occasion when God can bring into our paths those in need of the hope that only Jesus can bring.

These seasons, however, often expose how infrequently most of us are actually looking for missionary encounters. Imagine that you are serving in an international context that had, as a part of the culture’s annual rhythms, a time when people from all walks of life would meet and have occasion for meaningful conversation. You’d likely plan your evangelistic work to take full advantage of this season, knowing that you need use every chance you get to engage the lost because it’s difficult to manufacture such opportunities on your own.

Can the American church regain such a missionary impulse? If we are to do so, the hope rests on common people of God—missionary disciples—infusing their lives with a missionary impulse.

An Unhurried Life

There is perhaps no greater obstacle to missionary living than the breakneck pace of most of our lives. Rather than slowing down, we actually schedule a whole host of events and activities that keep our RPMs up even when we don’t have to. We’re often guilty of overloading even our vacations with so much activity that it’s hard to take a deep breath, look around, and engage in conversation without having to consider where we are going next. The church is a culprit as well. We pack a summer schedule full of events for believers to connect with one another, all the while inadvertently stealing time from meaningful missionary activity. Most of us would find far more margin for missionary practices if we simply slowed down, took a stroll through the neighborhood with no agenda, cooked out with a few neighbors, or hosted a game night and invited a few people we met at the pool. These unhurried rhythms allow us to live as normal people on mission.

Break Free

Next up, we need to find ways to break free from our incessant connection with the chatter of the world. There’s a place for critiquing the ills of social media, which is not my goal here. Rather, I’d merely like to point out how many conversations most of us squander because we are living in a fantasy world of conversations online. Even if we are unhurried, we can be perceived as preoccupied if we always bury our faces in our phones or stick buds in our ears. Simply having our eyes up, looking for people in line behind us at the coffee shop or walking past us in the neighborhood, can provide inroads into far more meaningful interactions than the world of social media will ever provide.

Creative Experimentation

Finally, we should empower all of God’s people to dream as missionaries again. The era of church growth created the illusion that it was the church, as an organization, that designed and implemented events to reach the lost. This impression rendered the majority of the church passive. But, who better to know what would best connect with someone than a neighbor or co-worker who knows and interacts daily with them? Why would we think that three or four leaders in a meeting could come up with better ideas than all of God’s people working toward the same goal?

Missionary disciples own the work and take risks to create and experiment on what would best reach those they are praying for and living around. Risk, creation, and experimentation all anticipate a high likelihood of failure. We try things hoping that along the way we stumble upon a few best practices that can be useful to engage those far from God. And, as we live in community with others in the church, we share these best practices with others so that they might replicate them in their spheres of influence as well. Church leaders, then, should create ways to empower members to such creative experimentation by fueling the fire of ideas that bubble up from the people. For example, churches can fund the well-thought-out projects that various members create rather than throwing money at the same programs they’ve run year after year. By coming alongside of the church’s members and lending strength, church leaders can create a culture where such activity is normative.

What if the church lived with such a missionary impulse this summer? Simple practices multiplied by thousands of believers in countless places around North America could saturate our geography with missionary intentionality.

Matt Rogers is a father of five living in Greenville, South Carolina. He pastors The Church at Cherrydale and serves as an assistant professor of Church Planting at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Matt writes and speaks throughout the United States on issues ranging from discipleship, church leadership, and missions.

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