Biblical strategy for gospel MISSIONS
Why should we be concerned with the subject of missions or with the mandate for the work of mission as recorded in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20? And how exactly should we go about carrying out the tasks outlined by this commission? Let us consider these matters.
Church history reveals that during the Middle Ages the task of mission was undertaken primarily by celibate monks who travelled about preaching an increasingly corrupted gospel.
But in the 16th century the Protestant Reformation cast off the entire monkish institution with its unbiblical asceticism, and created a resurgent biblical church that preached the pure gospel of justification by faith through Christ.
Eventually, with the rise of the modern missionary movement at the end of the 18th century, spearheaded by William Carey, the work of missions was predominantly carried out by mission boards or church-based missions formed in various ways.
Sometimes these boards were the arm of a denominational structure but in other cases they functioned independently and were composed of pastors and/or laymen from various churches. At times, pioneering individuals from local churches went out and started their own missions — which is less than desirable.
However, tradition is no ultimate basis for determining the will of God for ourselves as we carry out Christ’s Great Commission in the 21st century. Neither is the pragmatism which says that any method is fine as long as it gets ‘results’. There needs to be closer scrutiny of the methods and approaches used in evangelism and missions — a scrutiny which goes beyond what is ‘acceptable’ to people in the church and what appears superficially to ‘work’.
The local church as a base for missions
We believe that the local church is the body entrusted with fulfilling the Great Commission (Acts 13:15). Therefore, the local church must make this a top priority for its members (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:45-48; Acts 1:6-8).
While the ‘mission mandate’ was given explicitly to the eleven apostles (Matthew 28:16-20; Acts 1:2-8), it applies by implication to all believers. In New Testament ecclesiology, all believers function within a local church led by biblically qualified men (Titus 1:5-14).
Arising from this, the biblical pattern is that missionaries-ministers are sent out to witness in remote places as they are called by the Spirit of God — their call being confirmed by the local church leadership who undertake to pray for them (Acts 13:1-2).
The local church must therefore identify, train, and confirm those called and qualified to be missionaries just as it does with local ministers and other church leaders.
The local church must understand that its leadership will be involved in the accountability, support, and discipline of the missionaries they send out — acting always in a manner appropriate for dealing with fellow church leaders according to the Word of God.
Missionaries should be considered as ‘staff’ of their local sending churches and should be involved in the local church ministry when home from the field.
The role of mission boards
Local church mission committees, other than committees composed of pastors and other elders, should not direct or have the oversight of mission ministry or missionaries. Such committees should act in a purely supportive role, helping to meet missionaries’ logistical and physical needs, organising and planning fellowship and conference activities, informing the church body of its missions programme, and encouraging believers to support and be involved in missions.
The local church is the proper God-ordained agency to set apart and send missionaries to other regions. You will look in vain in the New Testament for any mission board or society designating and sending missionaries, or overseeing them independently of the local church eldership.
You will also look in vain for individuals sending themselves as new covenant missionaries and setting up their own ministries to gather funds to promote and oversee the work. The local church is the only organisation or institution on earth which the Lord has designated as the proper human agency in launching, sustaining and monitoring missionary endeavour.
Since the ultimate goal of missions is to establish local churches, it stands to reason that those who do this work should themselves be sent, directed and supported by self-reproducing local churches.
Let me now list several elements of the strategy adopted by Paul in his missionary work.
First, the missionaries went initially to nearer regions. On his first missionary journey, Paul went with Barnabas to nearby Cyprus and south-central Asia Minor. On the second journey, Paul and Silas went to nearby Asia (now Turkey) and then Bithynia, before the Lord made it clear that they were to go further to Macedonia and Greece (Acts 16:6-10). Only later did the more distant Rome and apparently Spain become regions of labour.
A church is well suited to reach out to the regions that are geographically close to them, since there will be similarities of culture and a natural burden for these neighbours. Thus Jerusalem was best suited to reach nearby Judea and Samaria while Antioch — with its sizeable Gentile membership — was better suited to evangelise the Gentile nations beyond.
This suggests that we ought to be engaged in ‘home’ evangelistic missions as well as ‘foreign’ missions. If we follow the biblical pattern we shall start to evangelise nearby, where (due to cultural and geographical proximity) such labours are more easily done and require fewer resources.
Second, the missionaries tended to go where there was most opportunity for their gospel labours (Acts 18:9-11). We should ‘buy up’ the best opportunities and not be too quick to leave a particular location even if there is strong opposition to our message. If such departure becomes unavoidable, it should be temporary until the opposition has died down and the ministry can be renewed (Acts 14:21-22).
Third, the missionaries generally went first to the major metropolitan areas. This is the general pattern seen in the apostle Paul’s labours (Acts 16:10-12; 19:1, 8-10, 20). Evidently these early missionaries sought to plant churches in the major cities, churches which could later reach out into neighbouring areas.
Fourth, although there were unique redemptive historical events taking place, there are general principles to be derived from the fact that Paul in his missionary labours went to the synagogues first. He sought to minister to God’s old covenant people, some of whom were probably believers, like Apollos, who simply needed to be taught that their Messiah had indeed come.
Maranatha Bible Presbyterian Church
Having laid out a biblical strategy for missionary labours, how are we seeking to implement this in our own church (MBPC) here in Singapore? We are working with sister churches to help build up reformed churches in the places where God has already put us, and to establish new beachheads in our own country — especially in our respective regions of the country and major metropolitan areas.
All this has the goal that we might eventually see a solid base of mature, vibrant, reformed churches with gifted, mature elders and deacons — who can not only reach their own areas but also launch ‘gospel assaults’ against Satan’s strongholds in more distant places.
We live in a day similar to that of the Roman Empire, when the world is bound together by means of good transportation, communication and relative political stability.
We want to take advantage both of geographical nearness and also any cultural and ethnic nearness which God providentially brings our way. We should see ethnic groups (Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian etc.) as opportunities to cross lines of race, culture and language in extending the gospel.
Asia is experiencing a wave of evangelistic fervour, resulting in a harvest of souls into the kingdom of God unprecedented in human history. Asia is home to almost three billion people and includes about 90% of the world’s least evangelised populations. In response to this opportunity, for example, South Korea is sending out more than 20,000 missionaries a year.
MBPC is committed to challenging and stirring all believers to join hands in obeying our Lord’s command to bring the gospel to every nation or ethnic group. In doing so, we work especially closely with our brethren in Evangel BPC, Malaysia; Life University and missions in Cambodia (under Life BPC); Calvary Reformed Presbyterian Church in Sri Lanka (under Calvary Jurong BPC); Covenant BPCI in India; and others, as one body (1 Corinthians 12:26-27).
What can we do?
In practical terms there is much that we can do as a local church. We can, for example:
1. Hold meetings to stir up a passion for missions — particularly missions to people groups in restricted countries.
2. Conduct mission conferences, training seminars and courses to prepare missionaries and mission teams to help meet spiritual and physical needs on the field.
3. Mobilise available resources among individual Christians and churches to work with the Spirit of God in gathering this great end-time harvest of souls.
4. Provide biblical training resources to local Christians in needy areas so they can do the work of the ministry. We believe that to empower such local believers is the most strategic, God honouring, biblically-based, cost-effective and culturally-sensitive way to advance the cause of the gospel.
5. Respond with Christian compassion and stewardship to physical and material needs — especially among those who are ‘of the household of faith’ (Galatians 6:10), those who suffer persecution, and those affected by disasters and emergencies.