From the language of mission to the language of blessing

Recently a friend in Southeast Asia asked me to review a portion of their new ministry website—the page dealing with their “mission.”

Here’s what I recommended:

Focus on the word BLESSING as the means for your mission. Describe the various facets of how you are blessing the peoples [of your region].

Here’s why I recommend the language of BLESSING over the language of MISSION.

First and foremost, the word “BLESSING” is biblical, whereas the word “MISSION” is not found in Scripture. In fact, the key action in the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 12:1–3 is BLESSING, and this theme is repeated over and over again in the Old and New Testaments. Let’s look at these ancient verses in Genesis—foundational to understanding God’s global purpose:

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3 ESV)

To many secular-minded Westerners, the word BLESSING is abstract and archaic—like it’s from another time. But to non-Western peoples, “blessing” is a most beautiful thing that everyone desires for themselves, their families, their communities. In most Eastern cultures the pivotal cultural value is honor and shame; and the word BLESS essentially means an action that reinforces or adds to one’s honor, one’s identity, one’s position in society, one’s heritage or legacy. So BLESSING is a treasured, vitally important, aspect of life.

The word MISSION, however, is often connected to the negative aspects of colonialism or even militarism. It is linked with empires of mission, and powerful countries imposing imperial goals on weaker peoples and nations. Unfortunately, the words “mission” and “missionary” are loaded with negative connotations for people who are not followers of Jesus Christ.

The April 2011 issue of EMQ had four articles devoted to this thorny issue about the word, MISSION. The cover had this title: “The Death of Missions: A Symposium.” Colin E. Andrews wrote:

You might be asking, “What in the world are you talking about?” Does this mean that God’s covenant to bless the nations has been canceled? That the call to make disciples of all nations is no longer the mandate of the Body of Christ? Absolutely not! If we confess the authority of scripture, we must also confess that God’s ultimate plan for this world involves blessing the nations, redeeming all of creation, and gathering men and women from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation around his throne in the New Creation.

But, these terms that we insist on using (missions, missionary, etc.) just do not describe the biblical vision. They are awkward and embarrassing when we use them anywhere outside our church buildings and conference halls. They stir up anger and resentment when we use them with the very people we hope to serve.

So why not consider the word MISSION as something to avoid when possible, and replace it with the words and ideas of BLESSING?

Today, the users and viewers of our agency websites are not just partners and donors. We should also include in our list of constituents: government officials, community leaders—the representatives of the families, communities, peoples, and nations we are seeking to bless. Are we able to use the same language with them—as as the language we would use with donors—to present the goals and activities of our organization?

It is tough to stop using the terminology of the Christian “missions” subculture and replace it with a language that can be meaningful and respectful for everyone with whom we speak. Should that preclude us from trying?

What if your agency has “mission” in its name? (I serve with the organization, “Mission ONE”.) Does this mean we change our name? I see no chance of us changing our name. The cost to the organization is probably not be worth it. I imagine the same would be true for most other organizations with “mission” in their name.

But I would suggest it does mean this: When describing the good work of our Christian non-profit organizations, we should carefully and intentionally use the “language of blessing” rather than the “language of mission”. It honors the Bible, God’s Word. It is honorable to those who are serving and blessing others. It is likely to be more honorable to those being blessed.

For example: Here’s how to incorporate the language of blessing into a description of a Christian “mission” ministry. Note the inter-related emphasis on blessing, family, and honor.

[Agency name] blesses individuals, families and communities through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our ministries of blessing happen in many ways:

  • Providing high-quality Christian education to children while honoring indigenous culture and blessing many families—through [name of Christian school].
  • Training leaders to be faithful to God’s Word—to be honorable and skillful in blessing their families and communities—through [name of Bible college or training institute].
  • Giving aid and relief to leaders and their families who are suffering for the honor of Jesus Christ—Supporting the Persecuted Church.
  • Equipping nationals to share the blessing of Jesus Christ with their families, friends, and communities—National Pastors Training, Evangelism, and Church Planting.
  • Using Christian radio to inform, serve and bless the surrounding community—through [name of Christian Radio Ministry].

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