It’s Not All About War: Balancing our Kingdom Rhetoric

by Jonathan Trotter on November 3, 2016


How we motivate people to care about cross-cultural missions matters.

Should we try to motivate people to care about cross-cultural missions? Should we try to motivate people to do cross-cultural missions? Yeah, I think so.

But when our talk of Kingdom and Mission skews too much to an emphasis on war and doing battle, people pay the price and we all suffer in the long run.

I’ve done it before, and I was wrong.

It’s a classic motivation strategy, really. Focus on the danger and the risk. And the glory. Highlight the adventure and the cost. Appeal to our desire to make a big splash in a book-worthy, mic-dropping, eternity-altering manner.

If you can make sure the danger seems enormous and foreign and somewhere exotic, even better. If you can talk with passion about the millions who will die without Christ UNLESS PEOPLE GO, good on you. The Gospel calls us to go and sacrifice and burn and bleed for the eternal destiny of souls.

But when we over-emphasize some of those intense facets of radical obedience and overlook the more mundane ones (like “a long obedience in the same direction,” faithful plodding, and deep friendships that span years), we set people up to fail and burn out. We set them up for idolatry. When the magnificent doesn’t happen when they thought it would, or when they realize that “failure” is a word they’re beginning to apply to themselves, the results can be destroying.


Scorched Earth or Green Grass?
Jesus didn’t talk WAR very much, actually. Some, but not a lot. A military commander would have talked like that, for sure, but a military commander he explicitly was NOT. That’s what people wanted him to be, but he just wasn’t. At least not the type of Commander they imagined.

People wanted EPIC. (People always want epic.) They wanted a strong fighter and warrior. They wanted munitions, and he didn’t provide them. Or, at least, he didn’t take aim at the folks his listeners wanted destroyed (Rome).

People always want epic. They want to see POWER and a flood of victory and they use big and overwhelming words that sweep us away with their immensity and majesty.

But the Scriptures also talk about green grass and a Shepherd.

They speak of the Father’s house, of peace, safety, and comfort.

They speak of calm and Shalom.


Mobilization vs. Member Care
I see this illustrated in the differences between Mobilizers and Member Care folk. Is a healthy tension between the two necessary? I think perhaps.

One wants to send everyone, packing luggage in coffins if need be, for the glory of the Cross. These people love John Piper and David Platt and stats about how many people die every minute. Paul is their patron saint.

The other wants to keep people healthy and whole, preferring writers like Ruth Van Reken and Pete Scazzero. They probably spend an inordinate amount of time in the Psalms.

One is all about sacrifice. The other is all about Shalom.

One says, “Go and die for the King!” The other says, “Come and find rest for your soul.”

One’s like the battle-hardened soldier who runs headlong into the fight. The other is like the medic who’s trying to keep people healthy, and then when that doesn’t work, cleans up, bandages up, and packs up the results.

Both are emphatically for Jesus.


We Need Both
As a young man, I jumped into the battle-talk-save-the-world camp. It motivated me. Nate Saint the martyr was my hero, and John Piper was my soundtrack.

Now, I am much more medic than fighter, and I sometimes feel the tension.

The truth is, we need both. We need to be overwhelmed by God’s intense love for the nations and the certain truth that God desires ALL people to know him and love him, and that he calls his Church to participate in taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

We need to remember that the Bible supports both the Mobilizer and the Medic, the call to arms and the call to His arms, and we need to make sure that our churches and organizations do too.


This is Our God
May we remember the fire in his eyes and the tenderness of his touch. May we remember that he spoke hard truth harshly, sometimes, and he spoke comforting truth softly, sometimes.

May we remember that we are in a battle and that we have an enemy. And may we remember that we are in a royal procession, en route to the greatest victory celebration the cosmos has ever seen.

May we remember that our Warrior is gentle, refusing to break the bruised reed or snuff the smoldering wick, and yet he remains capable of destroying the armies of darkness and death itself.

May we remember the full character of our God.
The Lord of Hosts is his name.
The Lord strong in battle.
The King of Glory.

May we remember the full character of our God.
The wounded Healer.
The Great Physician.
The Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.

May the magnificent love of our Jealous God propel us to obedient service, far and wide. And may the intimate love of our Father God sustain us once we get there.



How do you balance these things? Have you seen churches and ministries balance this well?

Have you seen them balance these things poorly?


Further Reading:

The Idolatry of Missions

To the ones who think they’ve failed

Missionaries supposed to suffer… So am I allowed to buy an air conditioner?

Why Are We Here?


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About Jonathan Trotter

Jonathan is a missionary in Southeast Asia, where he provides pastoral counseling at a local counseling center. He also serves as one of the pastors at an international church. Before moving to the field with his wife of sixteen years and their four kids, he served as a youth pastor in the Midwest for ten years. He enjoys walking with people towards Jesus and eating imported Twizzlers. | | facebook: trotters41 | twitter: @trotters41
  • RLH

    Living in the red light district here in Phnom Penh, I get this tension everyday. I’m the medic to the teenager at risk who finds safety in my house for a few nights. And I’m the warrior, fighting the dangerous lies prevalent in my community. Sometimes, I’m the water boy, pouring out encouragement to my fellow medics and warriors (and always coming back to the Source, myself empty and tired). Occasionally, I’m the chaplain, ready to nudge someone towards reconciliation with God and men. It’s because we are slaves to the will of God. We don’t get to choose what we do in a day. Our Master does. We’re just willing, singing, joy-filled, wounded bodies moving in accordance to His will. (Or that’s the way it should be.) We DO NOT see the full war, just the location of the battle we are in.

    Isn’t the cross itself full of this … blendedness of tension? The medic, asking John to care for His aged mother. The warrior, screaming, IT IS FINISHED. The chaplain, promising Paradise to a guy who deserved death. The wounded body ignoring the insults. And we cannot forget the Warrior, rising triumphant!

    • Yes! Your last paragraph is absolutely beautiful, and I totally agree: Jesus shows the balance. Thanks for taking the time to share this!

  • Craig Thompson

    “I see this illustrated in the differences between Mobilizers and Member Care folk. Is a healthy tension between the two necessary? I think perhaps.” I agree. And rather than having each element trying to convert the other to its side, we need to acknowledge the differences and value and recognize the need for each other. Thanks for the post, Jonathan.

    • Oh, but we do try to convert, don’t we? I sure have. : ) Thanks for the encouragement, Craig! It’s always good to hear from you…

  • Marilyn Reichert

    Excellent posting… I’ve been in a difficult field, with ‘the Lord strong in battle’ & returned to the homeland to a role as fired up mobilizer for the Lord strong in battle. More & more I have come to realize the great value of the medics, ‘the Wounded Healers’ who cared for me both during the journey and upon return. And, as the article states… we need to see the value of both (which, I will admit, I didn’t honestly see for too long). Very encouraging article. Helps me to see in words what I’ve felt in spirit for awhile.

    • Thanks for sharing a bit of your story, Marilyn! And I’m so glad there were “wounded healers” to care for you like that. May God richly bless you in your ministry of mobilizing!

  • Traveler

    Good, beautiful words… They resonate deeply and are life-giving.

  • Neal Pirolo

    I just came away from a denominational missions conference. For their first time ever, they made the appeal for those who GO, AND for those who will partner with them as SENDERS (member care). After the conference I talked with the man who made the appeal. He said, “This concept of partnership is so important. We need to keep this momentum going!” Just before that conference, it happened in Bolivia. And in Egypt. And in Guatemala. And in Redlands, California. And elsewhere, I am sure, as the missions community is realizing the vitality of Paul’s words, “And how can they hear unless there is a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are SENT?” (Romans 10:14-15)

    • Thanks so much for the comment, sir! That is so encouraging! And thanks for all the work you’ve done over the years helping churches send well. Actually, before we moved to Cambodia, our organization recommended your book, Serving as Senders. We bought copies for all the leaders in our church, and it made a huge difference. So thank you, and Merry Christmas!

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