Goers and Senders

How can a Christian live out his obedient, quiet life in suburban America (1 Thessalonians 4:9–12), and also participate in radical, global, cross-cultural missions (Luke 24:45–47)?

This is an important question, but it’s also a question loaded with tensions — healthy tensions I think. It seems to me the best answer is found in the trinitiarian categories of sender and sent, or goer and sender.

Here’s how the point was articulated back in the late 1990s at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, and published as an appendix in the book, A Holy Ambition: To Preach Where Christ Has Not Been Named (2011), page 159:

Driving Convictions Behind Cross-Cultural Missions

John Piper
January 1, 1996

… Conviction #13 — Our Aim Is Not to Persuade Everyone to Become a Missionary, But to Help Everyone Become a World Christian.

There are only three kinds of people: goers, senders, and the disobedient. It’s not God’s will for everyone to be a “goer.” Only some are called to go out for the sake of the name to a foreign culture (e.g., Mark 5:18–19).

Those who are not called to go out for the sake of the name are called to stay for the sake of the name, to be salt and light right where God has placed them, and to join others in sending those who are called to be cross-cultural missionaries.

In God’s eyes both the goers and the senders are crucial. There are no first and second class Christians in God’s hierarchy of values. Together the goers and the senders are “fellow-workers with the truth” (3 John 8).

So whether you are a goer or a sender is a secondary issue. That your heart beats with God’s in his pursuit of worshipers from every tribe and tongue and people and nation is the primary issue. This is what it means to be a World Christian.

Of course this all assumes (1) a commitment to a local church, and (2) a local church’s commitment to the global advance of the gospel. When those are in place, the goer and sender categories help make sense of it all.

Assurance and Gospel Ministry

I really appreciate how J. C. Ryle connects personal assurance to bold mission. Ryle writes this in Startling Questions (NYC: 1853), pages 328-29:

Faith is life. How great the blessing! Who can tell the gulf between life and death? Yet life may be weak, sickly, unhealthy, painful, trying, anxious, worn, burdensome, joyless, smileless, to the last.

Assurance is more than life. It is health, strength, power, vigor, activity, energy, manliness, beauty. … Assurance is, after all, no more than a full-grown faith; a masculine faith that grasps Christ’s promise with both hands.

Notice how this two-handed assurance is connected to two-handed mission. He writes in The Upper Room (London: 1888), pages 78-79:

We want throughout Christendom a return to the old paths of the early Christians. The first followers of the Apostles, no doubt, were, like their teachers, “unlearned and ignorant men.” They had no printed books. They had short creeds, and very simple forms of worship. I doubt much if they could have stood an examination in the Thirty-nine Articles, or the Creed of Athanasius, or even in the Church Catechism.

But what they knew they knew thoroughly, believed intensely, and propagated unhesitatingly, with a burning enthusiasm. They grasped with both hands, and not with finger and thumb, the Personality, the Deity, the offices, the mediation, the atoning work, the free and full grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the inseparable necessity of repentance, faith, and a Christlike life of holiness, self-denial, and charity. On these truths they lived, and for them they were ready to die.

Armed with these truths, without gold to bribe or the sword to compel assent, they turned the world upside down, confounded the Greek and Roman philosophers, and altered in two or three centuries the whole face of Society.

Can we mend these “old paths”? Can we improve them after eighteen centuries? Does human nature require any different medicine? I believe the bones of the oldest human skeleton that ever was unearthed are just like the bones of men in these days, and I believe the moral nature and hearts of men, after the lapse of ages, are just the same. We had better ask for the ‘old paths.’

The Marks of A Healthy Missional Church

Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way (Zondervan, 2011), pages 899–902 [his|mine]:

In Acts, the mission of the church and its actual growth are always attributed to the means of grace, which the so-called marks of the church (preaching, sacrament, and discipline) identify.

The preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments have (or at least should have) such preeminence in the church not because of the desire for clerical dominance over the laity; on the contrary, it is because of the unique and essential service that this ministry provides for the health of the whole body and its mission in the world. So instead of treating the formal ministry and marks of the church as one thing and the mission of the church as another, we should regard the former not only as the source but as in fact the same thing as the latter.

Throughout the book of Acts, the growth of the church—its mission—is identified by the phrase, “And the word of God spread.” The regular gathering of the saints for “the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship,” “the breaking of bread,” and “the prayers” (Ac 2:42) is not treated in Acts merely as an exercise in spiritual togetherness but as itself the sign that the kingdom had arrived in the Spirit. …

The mission of the church is to execute the marks of the church, which are the same as the keys of the kingdom. Where the gospel is being preached, the sacraments are being administered, and the officers are caring for the flock, we may be confident that the mission is being executed, the keys are being exercised, and the attributes of “one holy, catholic, and apostolic church” are being exhibited. Preaching, sacrament, and discipline are singled out in the Great Commission and, as we have seen, in Acts 2:42. If these are missing, marginalized, or obscured, there is no office, no charismatic ministry, and no innovative program that can build and expand Christ’s kingdom. God may use many means, but he has ordained these and has promised to work the greatest signs and wonders through them. …

There is a gathering—an ekklesia—because there is a work of God through preaching and sacrament called the gospel that does its work before we can get around to ours [personal evangelism and societal transformation]. We cannot create the church by our acts of service, missionary zeal, church orders and liturgies, pragmatic programs, authenticity, or romanticizing efforts at generating community. Rather, it is God who creates his own unique community in the world by speaking it into existence and sustaining it in its pilgrimage.

We must therefore resist the false choice between looking after the sheep already gathered through preaching, sacrament, and discipline (the marks) and reaching out to the lost sheep who have yet to hear and believe (the mission). The church is created and sustained by the Spirit through preaching and sacrament, and the church grows numerically—expanding in its mission—by these same means. …

The Word that is preached, taught, sung, and prayed, along with baptism and the Eucharist, not only prepare us for mission; it is itself the missionary event, as visitors are able to hear and see the gospel that it communicates and the communion that it generates. To the extent that the marks define the mission and the mission justifies the marks, the church fulfills its apostolic identity.