A visiting Greek pastor said to me, “Missions is not a program, it is the program.” As a missions pastor, I could not agree more with this perspective. I believe he was saying that reaching the nations for Christ is not an additional ministry of the church but rather an integral part of the overall mission of every evangelical church.
A recent Barna study shows that over 50% of evangelical Christians cannot define what the Great Commission is. Granted, ‘Great Commission’ is an extra-biblical term, but it has been commonly and widely used over the centuries to describe Jesus’ charge to His disciples at the end of His earthly ministry and before His ascension.
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. (Matthew 28:18-19, emphasis added)
Moreover, since the gospel has not yet reached all the nations, we must conclude that Jesus’ charge still applies to us today as followers of Christ. If we can agree on the importance of fulfilling Jesus’ mandate to the nations, what then is our role as the church in keeping this awesome task at the front and center of everything we do? God leads every local church in their role to fulfill the Great Commission, and I would like to share about how He has led our church.
Proclaiming the Truth
The most basic and yet compelling way of helping our congregation embrace their role in the unfolding of the Great Commission is to adhere to and proclaim the biblical teaching related to God’s heart for the nations. It is important to not only bring this teaching during our missions emphasis week but also throughout the year, not to adults alone but from Pre-K and up. This is not a stretch: there is evidence of God’s heart for the nations throughout the entire canon of Scriptures (Ex: Gen 12:1-3, Ex. 9:16-17, Is 49:6, Ps 67:1-7, I Kings 8:41-43, Rom 15:20-21, Rev 5:9-10).
Several years ago, a missionary friend on furlough strongly encouraged my wife and me to take the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course. At that time, I knew very little about missions and quite frankly did not have much interest. Our friend’s insistence extended to an offer to babysit our four young boys at no cost if we committed the time to attend this fifteen-week course! Date night for fifteen weeks sounded like an offer we could not refuse, but that time was life-changing. It is often said that this course will ruin your life. That is, if you are on the path for smooth and safe sailing in your Christian walk. Perspectives did that for me, and I encourage everyone I can to take this course.
After retaking this course recently, I sat with a couple of our elders who also took the course, and we decided that its content was too important for the rest of our church not to be exposed to. But we also recognized that not everyone in our church would or could commit the fifteen weeks necessary to complete the course. We resorted to an alternate plan, namely, to condense this fifteen-week course into six lessons in order to at least expose our congregation to its structure and concepts. Our plan is to teach this shorter version in all of our community groups (AKA Sunday School Classes). So far, the feedback has been positive, and our congregation has gained a better understanding of the biblical, cultural, historical, and strategic reasons that compel us toward our commitment to the Great Commission.
Another effective way to foster a global outlook has been our Christmas Advent Conspiracy efforts. Advent Conspiracy is a movement that began with three pastors who were convicted about reclaiming the heart of Christmas. Their challenge is simple: Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, Love All. Every year we choose a different missions partner and project to highlight during the Christmas season. This past Christmas we decided to partner with the Seed Company, an affiliate of Wycliffe Bible Translators. With their expertise and support, we educated our congregation about the reality of the nearly 2100 languages that do not have a single verse of Scripture translated. We identified a cluster of six people groups in India in need of Scripture. Our goal was to provide funding for the translation of the book of Luke and the eventual production of the Jesus Film, which uses Luke’s account as its script. The film will be used as an evangelistic tool amongst these people groups. Not only did our church embrace this goal but to my surprise the funding exceeded what was needed for a single translation into one language, allowing us to move into a second translation within that people group cluster.
Relationships with Our Missionaries
Lastly, I believe that every church struggles with how to appropriately expose its missionaries and their work to the congregation, and beyond that, how to foster meaningful relationships. The old adage holds true here: “Out of sight, out of mind.” Even the best-intentioned friends tend to lose connection over time when separated by distance. We all have experienced this. So how do we maintain connection with our missionaries? There are no simple answers here, but one thing is for sure: we must do it with intentionality.
We decided that over the next two years, we will bring all of our missionaries and their families off the field for a week, at no cost to them, for a missionary retreat. During this week, our goal will be to engage, equip, and care for each of them. In order to meet these goals, we sent our missionaries a survey to allow them to guide us in this process. After receiving these surveys, we now know that there are a wide range of needs: medical, relational, spiritual, counseling, professional development, financial planning, teaching, etc. Our hope is not only to meet these needs but to have our entire church––staff, members, various ministries (men, youth, women), professionals (financial planners, dentists, etc.)––engage in support of our missionaries. When our whole body is able to know, care, and learn from our missionary families who are on the front lines of our Great Commission efforts, it will be a much more personal way for our church to keep the nations in front of us in everything we do.
Engaging the nations is really not a program to be followed, but rather a biblical conviction to be obeyed. We have found that biblical alignment in our teaching and across our ministries, our desire to partner with other like-minded organizations advancing the gospel, and our intentionality in supporting our missionaries are some ways to keep our faith family engaged and involved in reaching the nations.
The term Great Commission was first coined by Dutch missionary Justinian Von Welz in the 1600s, but popularized 200 years later by Hudson Taylor.
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