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What is the difference between 'evangelism' and 'mission'?

The origins and therefore the meanings of 'evangelism' and 'mission' are different.

  • Evangelism relates to the evangel: (Latin evangelium, from Greek euangelion = good news) ... the product
  • Mission is derived from Latin missio, from missus, past participle of mittere, to send off ... the person

So mission is the authority and command to go (like a missile) because it is sent off, and the gospel is the effective agent which is carried with the person who is sent. So, by analogy, a missile may be sent off into space carrying a payload of a satellite which will remain in orbit doing its work.

Thus, mission is the commissioned call of God to go bearing the evangel which will continue to do its work once placed in the right orbit! Likewise, evangelism is the placement of the gospel wherever we are commanded and authorised to take it (all the world!).

Although 'mission' is used in many secular contexts, Jesus only had 'gospel mission' in mind when he commissioned the Apostles (Matthew 28:18-20).

Although 'gospel' is used by some Christians to mean both the message and its practical outworking, the only Biblical understanding of the term is a proclaimed message in which Jesus is the Saviour King. Those who embrace the gospel become children of the King and citizens of the Kingdom whose responsibility is to 'live and work to His praise and glory'. That will include many acts of mercy, compassion, righteousness and integrity which will attract the lost - but by themselves, without the gospel message, they cannot bring others to know the King. So gospel proclamation is the key to the kingdom.

Thus, there is no difference between a person bearing the gospel to work colleagues in their home town or in a far-off country - if the individuals know God's commission they are authorised and sent ... in both places they are missionaries. And there is no difference between a foreign missionary and a member of the church - they are both missionaries: neither has greater rights, privileges or authority than the other.

Such an understanding might resolve a lot of cultural confusion on the 'so-called' mission field. Today the mission field is not limited to the developing nations of the world. Many missionaries are called to return to the very countries that originated the early mission organisations. That is why mission is at the heart of the church and the church is at the heart of mission!

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