The goal of this article is to cause readers to probe their mind and emotions; to examine their attitudes. One recognized author asserts that “A central tenet in the concept of attitudes is that they predispose one to behavior” and that “Most definitions of attitudes include some aspect of behavior” (Rhodes 2006). It truly is a fact that attitude predisposes behavior; that how we think and feel about something ultimately determines how we behave toward that consideration.
What are your thoughts when you hear the term “missions”? Do you immediately consider a lost world and its need for salvation? Has your perspective about missions changed over time? If so, how has it changed and what caused it to morph? As I asked (and answered) these questions introspectively, I found that my perspective of missions has certainly changed. This change was brought about because my attitude was transformed. My attitude was transformed because my exposure to certain things had changed. Exposure to what you ask?
Over the past five years, I have been exposed to God in a way that has altered my attitude and therefore my behavior. The limitations of this article do not permit me to expound on the breadth of what I have uncovered, but be assured that my attitude has changed. There is a personal enlightenment that accompanies studying God’s Word and His character for the purpose of relaying truth to others. Having the privilege to teach others about God has caused me to change my attitude about Him. God has revealed His character to me so intimately and in such a way that I cannot help but see Him differently. What particular mystery have I uncovered? The mystery that God has always planned to save all peoples! The Apostle Paul puts it this way in his epistle to believers in Ephesus:
“Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:” (Ephesians 3:5-9).
God planned to save the Gentiles when He formed this world. The Greek transliteration for the word “Gentiles” is “ethnos” and literally means “nations or people groups”. This mystery was not known to man in other ages. In fact, I did not fully comprehend this mystery until my pastor asked me to change ministry assignments several years ago. It may seem to you as a poor testimony when I relay that my pastor had to move me in the work of God (within our local assembly) before I was challenged to change my attitude about missions. To me, it was a miracle! What event will cause someone reading this article to fully comprehend God’s will and missions? May I recommend to you that God’s will and missions are one and the same?
The term “culture” can be traced back to the mid-15th century and is derived from the Latin word “cultura”. The meaning of this word originates with the idea of cultivating or “the tilling of land; the act of preparing earth for crops” (www.etymonline.com). This same source reveals that the term “culture”, as it relates to environment, has only been in existence since the late 1700’s and its meaning then dealt with microorganisms and not people. This source further clarifies that the word “culture” was likely not used in the closely related sense of “collective customs and achievements of a people and their intellectual development” until perhaps 1867.
Understanding culture as it relates to people is instrumental in our ability to reach them for Jesus Christ.
Why the lesson in Anthropology? Understanding culture as it relates to people is instrumental in our ability to reach them for Jesus Christ. Now that God has revealed the mystery in our Church Age that He has always been a God of all people, we find that our obligation to reach them in this present era is an anthropological assignment. God has worked in my mind these past few years and has shown me the significance of understanding the customs of people. These customs form their attitude about life. Without understanding a particular people group’s view on life, how can we expect to engage them to change their eternal life perspective?
I recall a conversation I had with a fellow believer as I was preparing to teach a portion of a Cultural Stress module. The person remarked, “What do you know about culture?” I responded that I had worked in a jail for 20 years and that the experience was cultural. I suggested to my fellow laborer that I had experienced things that were difficult and challenging and that only those that had my life’s experience in such an environment could really have true empathy. My interaction (good and bad) with charged and convicted persons, and my dealings with the Criminal Justice System, was “cultural”. Had I not received training that affected my attitude (and ultimately my behavior) to function successfully in such a culture, the environment could have caused me to form a mindset that would have manifested in complete and utter failure. My friend and I did not part in frustration. He understood that my role in the instruction was to define culture and stress and then let the missions professors relate how best to deal with the challenges associated with integration and assimilation. The point is that each believer must come to grip with the understanding that the relationship between culture and missions is inseparable. When I truly came to the understanding that Satan’s goal is to blind the lost forever, and to bind the born again believer so as to limit or retard their desire and ability to fight for the lost, missions became very real to me.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
When God revealed to me that each believer was to bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ, my perspective on world evangelism changed.
Allow me to relate another experience that helped to form my attitude about missions. I remember the first time I was exposed to teaching about spiritual warfare. I am not referencing a time when I experienced spiritual warfare; rather, the first time I was required to instruct in this area. Little did I know that I was embarking on a study that would change my life. I recall not wanting to teach the course. I recall thinking that doing so would invite spiritual darkness and oppression. Actually, I found the opposite to be true. When I allowed God to lead me in Truth and came to realize that the primary battle in spiritual warfare is in the believer’s own mind, I found revelation and peace beyond any that I had ever before experienced. When I learned to allow God to help me pull down strongholds (arguments and reasonings that I make in my own mind to fortify my own selfish will), my idea of missions changed drastically. When God revealed to me that each believer was to bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ, my perspective on world evangelism changed.
What if every believer gained a better understanding of God and missions? What if our attitude toward the lost was based upon our attitude toward the character of God and not just His commands? What if our disposition was such that the purpose of Christ’s death consumed our mind? What would we then think of missions? I suspect our behavior would change.