How we approach church matters, and by church, I mean local church ministry. The church is the pillar of truth (1 Timothy 3:15) and the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27) and it is not to be taken lightly. Or to put it another way it must not be approached in a willy-nilly manner; we need to think through how we do things and why we do them that way. In other words, we need to have a philosophy of ministry. A good philosophy of ministry is really a philosophy of ministries, plural. It is simply not enough to say we do everything for the glory of God (although certainly that should be our driving purpose), we need philosophies that govern our use of the pulpit, how we bring new members into the body, how we use music in worship, how we reach out to our community with the gospel etc. But I think many churches have a blind spot. A significant area of ministry that they just haven’t thought very much about. And I think that ought to change. I think every church needs to have a philosophy of missions.
Or to be more precise, every church needs to have a well thought out philosophy of missions. Even churches that have given no thought to their missions strategy at all have a de facto philosophy of missions which often defaults to “that missionary seems nice and is related to ___________.”
And this can lead to trouble for a church. I spoke to the leadership of a small church a few years back, and they were struggling, largely because they had no pastor, they had been having interim pastors for a few months at a time for years. I asked them why they didn’t call a pastor. They replied that they couldn’t afford to, not even a bi-vocational one.
This was puzzling to me. Since they printed their weekly giving on the bulletins, and the bulletins that I saw seemed to me to show more than enough giving to generously support a fulltime pastor. So I asked to see their budget, and they showed it to me, and I immediately knew the issue was, they grossly mismanaged their missions budget.
Over the course of two decades the church had accumulated a collection of scores of missionaries involved in wide variety ministries supported at levels that ranged from $10 to $200 a month. There were well diggers, medical missionaries, food relief workers, Bible translators, orphanage workers, missionaries who seemed had no defined ministry at all, and many that the leadership of this church genuinely had no idea what they were doing.
This diverse collection of missionaries all had two things in common. They all had some personal connection to a member (or a one-time member) of the church. And they all had at one time visited the church. (And a third thing they all had in common was that they were all from the U.S.) Because they never gave any intentional thought to how they approached missions as a local body, they were guided by that most horrible philosophy of missions, “that missionary seems nice and is related to ___________.”
Now I am in no way anti missions or anti missionary. But I do think a church’s approach to missions must be guided by a well thought out philosophy of missions. Every church doesn’t have to have the same philosophy of missions we have at PBC, indeed they shouldn’t, but I think how we thought through missions may be a helpful example to help others think through how they will think through their approach to missions.
As in all ministry matters, the foundation on which a philosophy of missions must be built is scripture. For the church I serve, the passage that we have formed our philosophy of missions upon is The Great Commission found in Matthew 28:29-20.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Before we dig into how we build our philosophy of missions on this important passage, we first need to make some observations about the text. First notice the focus on nations, plural. This passage is not about making individual converts, but reaching entire people groups. Secondly the command in this passage is not “go” it is “make disciples.” Go is actually a participle (think “ing verb”) that modifies the main verb which is the imperative “make disciples.” While it does have an imperatival force, it is not the command; we understand this clause this way, “as you’re going make disciples of all nations.” And finally, there are two other “ing” verbs that tell us how to command to make disciples, baptizing and teaching. (This in no way is a complete exegetical analysis of this passage, nor is it intended to be. I am just hitting the highlights for the purposes of our example.)
Putting all of this together, we identified a few key principles in this passage.
- Missions should be built in to the DNA of the church. It should be one of the routine things we think about as “we are going.”
- The goal of missions is to reach the nations with the gospel.
- The goal of missions is to make disciples, not to provide relief services
- Baptism and teaching are functions of the local church, so missions ought to focus on local churches.
- Christ is interested in and empowers missions.
With these principles in mind we began to think through what we wanted to accomplish in missions.
- We wanted to approach missions in a way that would encourage the whole church to be personally invested in missions.
- We wanted to approach missions in a way that focuses on the spiritual need of the lost, not on the physical needs of the poor.
- We wanted to approach missions in a way that is focused on strengthening local churches overseas.
- We wanted to approach missions in a way that relies on Christ to build His church (Matt 16:18).
- We wanted to approach missions in such a way as to have the greatest possible impact with our limited, small church budget.
With these goals in mind, we began to think about some practicalities.
- It is much cheaper to support a national in their home country than to send and then support a North American overseas.
- Most evangelism occurs in the context of normal, routine human interaction, and is carried out by laypeople.
- Christian laypeople are equipped for evangelism through the local church. And pastors and teachers equip the saints to do the work of the ministry. (Eph 4:11-12)
- The time missionaries spend raising support takes away from the time they have for ministry.
- People more readily care about people, than programs.
Because of these considerations we decided that the best way to support reaching the nations with the gospel was by strengthening the pulpits of local churches and developing the pulpit of new church plants, and that the best way to do that is through theological training for pastors and church planters. And the best way to encourage the church to take an interest in missions is by personalizing missions.
Putting this all together we formulated a simple philosophy of missions. Piedmont Bible Church is committed to supporting seminary trained nationals who are engaged in training other nationals for pastoral ministry. We are committed to supporting a small number of missionaries at the highest level of support possible.
Putting this into action PBC supports exactly one missionary, Premend Choy, a graduate of the Masters Seminary, who is the teaching elder of Lovu Bible Church and who serves on the faculty of The College of Theology and Evangelism, Fiji. Not only does Premend equip the saints at the local church he serves, through the college he strengthens churches, both new and established all over the South Pacific. Until we can increase his support five fold, we won’t take on another missionary. And because we support only one missionary, the people of the church have come to care deeply about him and his family, praying for them and taking a personal interest in them and their ministry.
I don’t think every church needs to share our philosophy of missions, but I do think every church needs to think through a philosophy of missions, establishing goals for their missions program and pursuing those goals intently. Maybe your philosophy of missions will lead you to support Bible translation. Great! Maybe your philosophy of missions will lead you to adopt one or more sister churches overseas. Great! Maybe your philosophy of missions will lead you to support overseas church planters. Great! But I do think your church needs to think it through, and pursue missions in a way that is intentional and glorifies God.
And let me leave you with one final encouragement. A few months ago, I had a conversation with a missionary who had contacted me looking for support. His ministry was biblical and worthy of support, but it fell outside of our philosophy of missions and I told him so. He got choked up and thanked me for having a philosophy of missions and he said “if more churches took missions as seriously as you do, raising support would be a lot easier. Thank you for taking the great commission seriously.” So take the great commission seriously, encourage your church leadership to think through their philosophy of missions.