It’s back to school time all around the U.S. And, inevitably, that reality results in a well meaning Christian posting something like this online:
“Back to school = back to being a missionary and a new year of chances to love people and point them to Jesus.”
There is an ounce of truth to this statement. After all, we are exhorted by our Lord in His Word to always be prepared “to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:15) The Lord tells us that saving faith comes through His Word. After all, Paul rhetorically asks the following, implying this truth: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” But then notice what Paul says: “And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'” (Romans 10:14-15)
What’s implied here, and cleared up elsewhere, in the Scriptures ( e.g. Ephesians 4:11, Matthew 28:19-20) is that God has created a specific order to how His Gospel is brought to all people and all nations. It’s not chaos. The Gospel (evangel) is given to all those who trust in Him, yet He calls and sends (apostles) specific men to have the job of speaking this to all nations, whether through preaching or baptism. This isn’t to create some sort of hierarchy or class structure in the Church – it’s to ensure that, through good order, certainty can reign in the hearts of the faithful.
But back to the “Back to school = back to being a missionary…” stuff. We must be careful with language, otherwise we take what Christians would gladly do and transform it into a burden for them. We turn a privilege into a task that leads to despairing over sin. The devil loves when this ounce of truth is spoken and heard by Christians, because now he can deceitfully tell all those students who go back to school and don’t constantly seek to evangelize everyone, “You know, maybe you’re not such a good Christian after all!”
What’s missing here is the doctrine of vocation. God hasn’t called these students to be missionaries; rather, He’s called them to be students. They praise and glorify God by devoting themselves to their studies, by helping their classmates prepare for the next exam or completing the project, by praying for their classmates’ success at school, by encouraging and helping and always being ready to serve. And, like Peter says, being ready to make that defense of the hope gifted to them by their Lord. Opportunities abound for speaking of Jesus – but we don’t burden one another by making it some sort of expectation. Their calling is to be faithful students, workers, children, and friends.
There is one other mistake here as well. Sometimes the phrase “to love people and point them to Jesus” implies that we can show people Jesus by loving them. Again, we are asked by God to serve our neighbor, in love. Yet we must return to Paul: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17) God works through His Word. Words are spoken or read, and then heard (either aurally or cognitively). This is the way our God has chosen to grant saving faith to man. No other way is promised or prescribed (remember, baptism is water and the word).
Good works are prepared for us to do so that our neighbor will be served, and perhaps might ask us for the reason that motivates us to give of ourselves and serve them. Precisely then is the opportunity to speak the Gospel to them!
Students, love God by trusting in His promises for you. Love your neighbor by encouraging them, praying for them, helping them do what they’re at school to do. And, if God grants you the opportunity, trust that His Spirit will give you the words to say. Tell those who ask about Jesus, who took away the sin of the world. And invite them to church! (You are still going to church, aren’t you?) Because there in church, they will hear the word read and preached, and behold the fellowship of the saints who are redeemed by Christ crucified, just like you.