We Are All Missionaries
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18-19).
Generation Z is the new horizon of young adults today. The term was first coined in a 1994 book about Clinton’s presidency, predicting: “they will be like steerage passengers on the Titanic, trapped in the watery bowels of a sinking ‘unsinkable ship’” (H. S. Thompson). Born after 1996, the iGeneration, Gen. Z, is reported to spend 9 hours a day online. 52% believe gender is based on a person’s preference. 78% believe in God, but only 41% attend regular church services. The religious landscape that once emphasized sacrifice and suffering now emphasizes therapy and entitlement. We blinked and we found ourselves in a world of mud-flinging, radical ideologies, and technologies advancing faster than anyone can keep up.
How does Jesus’ Great Commission apply in our times? His final words before ascending: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18-19). The stories of early missionaries sound so romantic. St. Paul preaching beneath the Acropolis about the unknown god. St. Patrick lighting the Pascha fire on the Hill of Slane. Even Billy Graham’s crusades had something picturesque about them. The generation in his tents had strayed from Christ, but grew up attending Sunday School and saying the Pledge of Allegiance in class. Somehow, our world today simply feels different. What can we do?
To be Christian is to be a missionary. The Church’s vocation in the first century is no different than its vocation in the 21st. Every spirit of Christianity that is not mission-minded, is not Christian. St. John Chrysostom put it bluntly, “I don’t believe in the salvation of anyone who is not concerned with the salvation of others.” A contemporary priest in our Archdiocese put it in sharper words:
“If you don’t have a missionary spirit, it’s because you don’t care that people are dying in their sins. You’re literally willing to let that happen and not do anything about it…It’s a betrayal of what the Church is in her very essence” (Fr. Stephen Damick).
Whatever terms we give people, Generation Z, millennials, baby boomers, or the like, everyone is a person desperately in need of God. The people around us are starved for truth and sanity, and we owe it to them.
How can the Church be the Church today? There are three parts of our missionary work: (1#) you, (2#) the parish community, and (3#) our presence in the world.
“The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way” (Luke 10:1-3).
Jesus Christ sent seventy servants ahead of him to prepare the way. These represent you and me. Seventy symbolizes fullness; it is a foreshadowing of the Church. The dilemma: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” People around us are dying spiritually. The people you see in the grocery store, your neighbors, your friends and co-workers, are not satisfied with life. No one really feels fed by the consumerism and cyber-world. Christianity, wherever watered-down, where it does not consist of sacraments, meditation, asceticism, and solid dogma, is not filling in the gap. Our peers are starved…but the laborers are few.
This is where you and I need to start. Evangelism begins with holiness. You cannot give what you do not have. The world today does not need more televangelists. It does not need more church signs with cliche messages about love. What the world needs today is holiness. “If anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21). We have to shatter the lie that mediocrity is okay. The world has one hope, that you and I fill ourselves with Christ.
The second part of evangelism is the parish community.
“[He] sent them on ahead of him in pairs” (Luke 10:1-3).
The gospel is spread through community. Little by little, in America, we have turned religion into something private. There has never been a greater tragedy. Christianity is community. This is why so many have stopped going to church. They left because they got their feelings hurt, they did not like the music, or they lost the fuzzy feelings. When church becomes our personal vending-machine, we have ceased being Christian. We come to church for two simple reasons: to learn to love God and to love our peers.
What is the most effective tool of accomplishing God’s work? “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). People are starved for community. What do you think Generation Z is doing for 9 hours a day online? They are building social networks. They are talking to people, the only people who will listen, on facebook, twitter, and the panoply of social sites on the web. They are looking for relationships. But, however convenient social groups are online, none of them will ever truly replace face to face conversations. The world is desperate for real community. Our job as the Church is to be that community.
The third and final need in evangelism: presence. Fr. Luke Veronis is an Orthodox missionary who spends his time in the states trying to wake up sleepy Americans. During one of his talks, he gave a message that shocked a few:
“One of the greatest dangers in our churches today is parochialism…limiting our focus to ourselves or our own interests. It is a deadly heresy.”
Too easily, church becomes a hideaway rather than a military front. Christ says to us:
“[Yes] I am sending you out like lambs in the midst of wolves…Go on your way” (Luke 10:3).
We must become holy, we must become community, and we must be present in the world.
You, parish community, and presence in the world. The world is scary. We are wounded, but we are not alone. The world is not so changed after all. At its core, today is little different than yesterday or 2,000 years ago. Hearts beat the same way. The world longs for community and love. Our souls are restless till they rest in God. “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18-19).