Russell Sutherland, President, Board of Directors, MSC Canada
Russell is a computer network engineer who has served as an elder in his local assembly for thirty years. He and his wife are passionate about integrating Christian mission with their normal daily life of family, work and pleasure. Russell serves as President of MSC Canada.
I am interested in BIG ideas.
Perhaps it’s the way the Lord arranged my genetic material. Maybe it’s because when I first started to read the gospels I noticed that among other things, Jesus was a big ideas kind of person. For example, he said:
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Luke 9:25)
“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16:15)
Afterwards God began to draw me to himself. During my high school years, I believed, got baptised and thus began my life as a follower of Jesus.
At church I started hearing a lot of talk about missionaries and full-time workers. These were the believers who responded radically to the words of Jesus. They went to foreign lands, learned new languages, lived by faith with no fixed salary and endured many hardships, all out of obedience to God. Surely these men and women of faith were true, faithful and obedient followers of Jesus – and I wanted to be like them. At one of the great Urbana Missions Conferences I got excited about being a Christian teacher in Africa. Soon afterwards, I travelled solo over 800 km to meet officials from the Nigerian Ministry of Education. Alas, due to circumstances, some of them beyond my control, things did not work out. I felt discouraged and like a second-class Christian when compared to the faithful.
As expected, my life carried on in a very ordinary way: marriage, children, work and church. I even bought a house in the suburbs! Frequently I felt guilty and worldly, especially when compared to missionaries and those in full-time ministry. Meanwhile the big ideas of the gospel never went away. How could I forget them?
Several years later my whole framework changed regarding the ‘two classes of believers’ viewpoint. It was another big idea which transformed my entire life. I was at a Bible conference listening to a very powerful speaker. His popular, relevant and dynamic messages were often followed by a series of questions and answers. On this occasion someone from the audience asked him the following:
“Have you ever considered becoming a full-time worker or a missionary?”
This seemed a reasonable question as he was at the time employed by a secular institution. His answer stunned me and probably the rest of the listeners:
“I already am! And I hope you are too. If we are not serving the Lord full-time then what are we doing the rest of the time?”
Each day when you awake remind yourself of this Big Idea. Consider your neighbourhood, family or place of employment as your mission field
This rather abrupt response really resonated with me. What if all of us are intended to be missionaries. What if there really are no distinctions in our calling or status? Certainly, there were apostles and there are elders and deacons. But we are all renewed, regenerated and gifted by the same Spirit to be in Christ and he in us.
Paul, though the model missionary and exemplary Christian, worked making and selling tents. He made no distinction between spiritual and secular work. Eight times over he encourages us to emulate him, both in word and deed (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1; Eph. 5:1; Phil. 3:17; 1 Thess. 1:6; 2:14; 2 Thess. 3:7,9). In at least one of these passages it refers specifically to his secular work in terms of earning a salary so as not to burden others.
The full time missionary versus the rest of us idea is a false dichotomy. Holding on to it is very damaging to the work of the gospel. Getting past this common notion is extremely liberating in terms of how we view ourselves, as well as our work for God.
So, if you are in Christ you have a mission.
It can be summarized as follows:
- to know Christ and make him known
- to love God and to love your neighbour
In the same way that God sent Jesus into the world (working, healing, helping and teaching) so he has sent you. Yes, you are a missionary and, yes, your service in the gospel is full time.
Each day when you awake remind yourself of this Big Idea. Consider your neighbourhood, family or place of employment as your mission field. Take deliberate action to reach out to others, especially those who are without the gospel. Work in the area in which God has gifted you, in which you feel comfortable and competent. Be creative in forming relationships with the lonely and strangers of your city. Newcomers need to learn your native language. Perhaps you can learn theirs. Finally, as you go, preach the gospel. Tell people your story, and your life journey with Him.