Andy Johnson, Crossway, 2017, 126 pages, 3 of 5 stars
You’d be surprised how many books on missions never get around to actually defining “missions” or “missionary”.
John Piper’s acclaimed book on missions, Let the Nations Be Glad, waits until the second to last page to give a somewhat nebulous definition of a missionary: “A missionary is someone who goes out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles.” David Doran’s definition of missionary in For the Sake of His Name wasn’t too specific either: “One who is sent on a mission.”
So I was happy to see that Johnson clearly defines both missionary and missions, and he did it by Chapter Two. Missionary: “Someone identified and sent out by local churches to make the gospel known and to gather, serve, and strengthen local churches across ethnic, linguistic, or geographic divides” (p. 36). Missions: “Evangelism that takes the gospel across ethnic, linguistic, and geographic boundaries, that gathers churches, and teaches them to obey everything Jesus commended” (p. 35).
This is one of those “see the forest, not the trees” little books that gives a nice overview of missions. Andy Johnson is a pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church and has experience with international churches. Let’s overview some of the pros and cons.
Given Johnson’s experience, it’s not surprising that the book’s greatest strength is educating churches on a biblical view of missions. The emphasis is not on inspiring missionaries to go. Chapter Three was the book’s best chapter. He gives three excellent ways to assess would-be missionaries (character, fruit, knowledge), followed by four ways to equip would-be missionaries, followed by five ways a local church can retain responsibility for their missionaries.
Church elders working on their missions philosophy should spend several hours on just those 22 pages.
In Chapter Four, the “hatchet man” (as he calls himself) gives three helpful ways a church can pair down their missionaries, or, “get their house in order”. He also had helpful comments in Chapter Six, where he warns of pitfalls relating to short-term mission trips, as well as Chapter Seven, where he gives ways the church can be involved in missions at home.
From what I can tell from Johnson’s bio, he’s never served as a missionary. His experience is in cattle farming, politics and the pastorate. A bricklayer can give many good thoughts about plumbing, but plumbers know plumbing best. Same with missions. Hence, most of Johnson’s personal illustrations were as a pastor on the outside looking in. He’s still helpful, no doubt, but lacked some ethos.
I had a few quibbles here and there. For example, he laments missionaries being given second hand gifts, as though they are above that. Elsewhere he interprets “lack nothing” in Titus 3:13 to mean that overcompensating missionaries is virtually impossible because they are to be trusted. His comments on p. 66 seem to contradict that. I also had some concerns about his take on “international churches” in the final chapter and how the three-self model could be applied to that.
This useful little book succeeds because it achieved its goal: helping the local church think carefully about missions. This book won’t inspire too many men to be full-time missionaries. That’s OK. That’s what missionary bios are for. This book is all about “building healthy churches”, which must include a congregation with a robust understanding of Great Commission work.
– “The foundation of a congregation’s ability to care for its missionaries is regular communication.” (p. 53)
– “If a missionary is offended that you ask for a description of what she did during the past week or month, be concerned. Many missionaries work in contexts with little direct supervision.” (p. 66)