Local vs. International Missions

Some choices represent mutually exclusive options – I can either feast or fast, but I can’t do both simultaneously.  I can move to Florida, or I can move to Bangladesh, but I can’t do both (at least not in the same time and dimension).   Other choices are not of this variety, however.  Most, in fact, involve choosing among a range of options.  I can eat pizza.  I can eat bratwurst.  I can eat pizza and bratwurst.  I can eat bratwurst pizza.  I can choose to eat neither pizza nor bratwurst.  Many choices here.

One common fallacy is the “fallacy of the excluded middle.”  This occurs when people take what is not an either-or type choice (see pizza and bratwurst above) and view it as a feasting-fasting type choice (option 1 above).  In so doing, they miss the fact that there are other options to be considered.

One tragic example of this occurs commonly in local churches when we consider missions.  Some Christians feel very strongly the need to support international missionary efforts.  The orphanage in Haiti, the evangelist in Honduras, the bible translator in Africa, etc.  After all, Jesus said to make disciples of all nations (Mt. 28:18-20).  The promise to Abraham indicates that God’s plan from the very beginning was that all nations would be blessed through his covenant promises (Gen. 12:1-3).  Clearly, the gospel has implications for all peoples and nations.  If God’s intention for his gospel was international, certainly ours shouldn’t be smaller.

Other Christians argue that it’s all well and good to care for lost, poor, and broken people on the other side of the world, but…there is a mission field at our doorstep!  What about the lost, broken, poor, broken people who live across the street!  Compassion should begin at home!  We should love our neighbor as ourselves.  We don’t need to leave the country to show love to our neighbors.  This is a difficult point to argue.  Indeed, we can, should, and must, recognize the implications of the gospel for those in our immediate proximity.  Jesus says so (Luke 10:27ff.).  James says so (James 2:15-17).  It is less than God’s will to withhold our love from those on the home front.

I’ve heard numerous debates within local churches on this point.  One side says, “We’ve got to support these missionaries – we’re called to fulfill the Great Commission!”  The other side says, “I think we shouldn’t be tying up all these resources impersonally with people we’ve never met, we ought to roll up our sleeves and use these resources to bring Christ to our neighbors.”  Perhaps you haven’t seen this tension, but I assure you it is real – just sit in on some Missions Committee meetings, or listen to people grouse when they assume you are on the wrong side of the right side of the “missions question.”

But surely this is the fallacy of the excluded middle?  This shouldn’t be framed as an either-or.  There are other possibilities.  Indeed, there is one necessary way to reconcile these competing positions.  Rather than persist in an either-or debate, we should gladly embrace a both-and (see pizza and bratwurst above).  We must embrace both local, regional, and international missions.  We should reach out to those around the world and across the street.  If God cares about both the nations and the specific individuals close to us, if Jesus himself gives us marching orders that include “all nations” and “your neighbor” then our understanding must include both as well.  Unless we know more than Jesus (we don’t).  Unless we have a grander vision for the plan of redemption than does God (we don’t).

Let’s get with God’s program for missions.  Let’s gladly embrace and eagerly engage opportunities to minister the gospel, to love the lost, both near and far.