One of the best friendships cultivated while in seminary was with my missiology professor, Dr. David Sills. It doesn’t hurt that we served in the same church, but our hearts really did not come together until I went to Ecuador with he and a group of other seminarians. Dr. Sills is the Director for Great Commission Studies at SBTS, along with being professor of Christian missions and cultural anthropology. He is also the author of a new book, The Missionary Call: Find Your Place in God’s Plan for the World (Moody Press).
Last week, Dr. Sills wrote an excellent article, part of which I want to post here below. He speaks to something that I feel needs to be said–something which few if any are willing to say. We are having conferences, seminaries, and book publishers today in the Reformed wing of the evangelical world that needs to say “hello to the mission”. There’s a whole lot out there to fill the calender and the bookshelves, but very little to fill the gap between the lost world and a scholarly journal. We are more impressed with a conference about a conversation than we are about a calling about a commission.
Dr. Sills explains it best when he wrote the following (emphasis mine):
A fascinating and encouraging movement has been growing among young evangelicals. There is a renewed zeal for sound theology, responsible exegesis of the Bible, expository preaching, and a devotional life patterned after the Puritans’ example. Young people by the thousands are attending conservative seminaries, expository preaching conferences, and are reading sound theological literature. The most interesting element of this to me has been the number of young people who tell me that they believe God is leading them to be missionary scholars. That may be a new term to you, but I assure you it is becoming commonplace. These young men and women are seeking to know God deeply and to make Him known internationally. God is stirring hearts to reach the nations. These young people are zealous for Truth and burdened for the nations.
However, when these same young men and women attend many of the conferences that claim to be a renewal of sound theology for our generation, they find these conferences being led by pastors, Bible scholars, and theologians. What is wrong with that? Nothing! As far as it goes. But where are the missionaries and missions speakers among them? When young people model their lives after these modern day heroes who promote one another’s conferences and ministries, missions is left out of their plans and visions for ministry because there are no missions-minded models to follow on the platform, none among the contributors of articles, and none among those in the inner circle. Many young people leave these conferences struggling with God’s call on their life. Many times, the speakers may challenge them to consider missions, but it comes across as “do as I say, not as I do.” These young men and women look up to these leaders, admire what they have achieved, and aspire to similar ministries. The current slate of leaders are godly men—pastors, theologians, and Bible scholars, but not missionaries or missions scholars. It is amazing to me that the most eloquent Bible expositors and scholars who exegete so beautifully the missionary journeys of Paul have often never been on one themselves. They relate how Paul must have felt to preach where Christ had never been preached, to extend the reach of Christianity, and the zeal for establishing sound churches among pagan peoples, but they have not done so and have no plans to start. Missions is talked about, but not for any of the ones on the platform. They model a ministry that talks about the nations but does not walk among the nations.
One may hear an occasional sermon or read some teaching that encourages the work of missions, but always in the abstract. In actual practice, missions is something better suited for challenges and admonitions. Don’t misunderstand me, these men have lived lives that are worthy of emulation. We should indeed give honor where honor is due and learn from them. However, when none of them speaks for missions from experience and life investment, the resulting lesson is that missions is peripheral to serious ministry. When it comes down to actual practice, how serious are we about reaching the nations? Unbelievably, two of the leading evangelical publishers (one of which would arguably be the most popular publisher among the crowd of self-proclaimed missionary scholars, and the other could be) have recently remarked that they do not publish missions books. One stated the opinion that “no one buys missions books.” The other claimed that they had no missions audience, i.e. their readers are not interested in missions.
Or as Sills puts it, living what we are exegeting.