Yesterday, our church began a series of messages entitled “Missions and the Church.” Our church is in its third year and we are continually trying to lay a solid foundation. We aim to shape the direction of our ministry by biblical principles at the outset of the church, and then review these same principles regularly so long as we are able.
With that in mind, and with a little prompting from Romans 10:14-17 in our ongoing study of Romans, our leadership decided to spend some time teaching the church from the Scriptures about the crucial subject of missions.
Here are the reasons I presented to our church. For those in in church leadership elsewhere, I hope they encourage you to consider whether this might be a necessary study for your church as well.
Why dig deep into missions – and not just as church leadership, but as a whole congregation?
1. The importance of the subject:
Missions is central to the church’s purpose! It is not just a side issue; when rightly understood, it is the primary thing the church should be concerned about. Everything that a church does is tied to this in one way or another.
Missions is not just something to relegate to a particular subset of the church that is really interested in it. Instead, when rightly understood, missions is what the church is fundamentally about. And it something that the church as a whole is to be thoroughly involved in.
2. The varied use of the term
“Missions” is used to describe any number of things that take place today with the label of Christian ministry attached.
These are some common uses of the word:
- Gospel proclamation
- Church planting
- Traveling or moving somewhere to work with another church in a different part of the world
- Humanitarian aid
- A church trip overseas that does something for somebody
- Serving people who are in need
So which of these are valid, biblical categories for what the church is actually sent into the world to do?
Missions is a thoroughly biblical concept – but it is not directly a biblical word. So if we are going to use it to apply biblical principles, we’re going to need to use biblical terminology both to fill and constrain it.
We often bring our own assumptions to this subject, and only look to the Bible for instruction about methodology – or even just for vindication. Our use of the word “missions” can mask those assumptions.
But as with any subject, we must let Scripture dictate the way we use the words that we use to explain and apply God’s word.
3. The expectations of our culture
It is a strange thing, but our culture often sets the terms for what the church does in its so-called missions efforts. Many things that the Bible would refer to as “good works” often become elevated to equal footing with the true mission of the church – or even higher.
Why does this happen? There are no doubt many reasons, but at least one of these is this: The world has expectations for what the church and its ministry should be all about. That is: helping people in ways that make sense to unbelieving man.
- Helping them improve their situation on a temporal level
- Focusing on what they believe is most important about life rather than what God says is most important
The world has no problem with the church lining up to help with disasters hit; but it takes great offense at Christ and him crucified.
It is tempting to give in to this, because there is always pressure to do things that will be acceptable to the unbelieving world.
So the church thinks it can maintain a favorable reputation, and maybe even win some extra people, if they do what the world approves. We may even justify it under the pretense of winning a hearing for the gospel.
But the goal of the Christian missionary is not to win the world’s favor – even for the sake of winning them to Christ! He has one person whose approval he seeks: the Lord Jesus himself (2 Timothy 2:4)
4. The long-term effectiveness of our efforts
Many missions efforts start with noble, biblical intentions, but then fall apart after a generation or two because of flaws that should have been foreseen at the outset.
The goal of missions is not to accomplish the most results in a short period of time. Rather, the goal is the sturdy, long-term establishment of God’s work in more and more places in the world.
Consider the work that the Apostle Paul put in to make sure that the churches he started didn’t die out quickly after his departure:
- Writing letters
- Visiting to follow up
- Sending people
He was in it for the long-haul. And that was the case because he understood the importance of the work long-term.
5. The difficulty of the task
Missions is hard work. It takes resources, patience, and time. Perhaps most of all, though, it takes a settled conviction that God desires this kind of work to be done.
That doesn’t mean that you have to be convinced that God “wants” you in a certain place. But it does mean that you have to be convinced that your principles of ministry are rock-solidly derived from God’s very word.
Confusion, rather than conviction, will hinder long-term resolve and commitment. If you aren’t totally sure why you are doing what you’re doing, you’ll likely bail out at the early signs of difficulty – whether you went to the mission field or sent someone else to support.
The settled conviction that missions according to the Bible is necessary and is your way of doing things is crucial to staying the course.
6. The scarcity of resources
Some resources we have can only go so far. We want to be the best stewards of these – understanding what type of efforts most tend toward the biblical purposes of missions.
We don’t want our money to be wasted and spent for nothing simply so that we can say we did something for missions. We don’t want to send people or go ourselves just because we’re doing what we have seen before or what we are expected to do.
We want to spend our time, energy, and resources doing what is most in line with what God prescribed for the church.
7. The stewardship of the gospel
If God has entrusted the church as the “pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), there will definitely be a reckoning for how we use that truth.
You can’t just do things however you want. We don’t get to define the way missions is done anymore than we get to define the gospel or the church. God has already laid out the path. He has given us instructions. And he has informed and restricted the ways in which we can legitimately practice missions.
We have to see ourselves not as tacticians, strategists, and innovators, but primarily as stewards, and only secondarily planners and organizers insofar as our plans fit within the framework God has commanded.
8. The necessity of congregational involvement
The nature of missions support and sending requires the involvement of the church as a whole, and that doesn’t mean primarily the financial side of things. Missions involvement will not be very effective if it’s simply a line-item on a budget – no matter how big that line-item may be. There is so much more involved!
When Paul wrote to the Philippian church, he noted their (whole-church) “participation in the gospel” (Philippians 1:5). When he wrote to the church at Ephesus, he asked for them all to pray not only for all the saints, but also for himself in his gospel proclamation (Ephesians 6:18-20). The church at Antioch gave up phenomenal men like Paul and Barnabas so as to take God’s gospel to other places (Acts 13:1-4). The church has manifold ways of supporting the work of God in the world.
For all these reasons, the church has to know and to care what missions is all about, and to give itself to diligent study together so as to learn about it and carry it out.