Engaging with mission
In this article on the church and mission, Daniel Grimwade takes a final look at being so missionary-minded that we are of great earthly use.
In previous articles, we have examined five principles about mission taught in Scripture: mission begins with God, who has chosen to save sinners; conscious faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation; we seek to reach nations and not just individuals; the local church has been given the responsibility for mission; and mission requires people prepared to suffer for the name of Jesus Christ. From these principles flow ten important conclusions.
Missionary work challenges our priorities
How can we say we are not interested in mission when the God of the Bible is so clearly a God of mission? He is the greatest missionary that there ever was; he sent his own Son into the world to seek and save the lost.
Missionary work is urgent
People are perishing in their sins and heading for a lost eternity. The only good news for them is in the message of Jesus Christ. God has given Christians the responsibility to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to an unreached world, and we must engage with the Lord of glory in his cause.
Missionary work evangelises the lost
Conscious faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation — and it is the church’s primary task to preach that message. We must keep focused on that task. Other good works have their place in Christian living and witness, but people need the gospel more than anything else.
Missionary work needs both Pauls and Timothys
Timothy left home, joined a missionary team, crossed cultures and ended up overseeing the young church in Ephesus far from his homeland. Timothy stayed and ministered on the mission field long after the church there was planted with its own elders.
He was engaged in the second part of the Great Commission, ‘teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’. Paul, on the other hand, was driven by a passion to make Christ’s name known among the unreached people groups of the world.
If we are to be faithful to the Great Commission we need both types of missionary.
Missionary work means church involvement
God has chosen to use the church to accomplish his purposes. It is, therefore, our unspeakable privilege as Christians to be caught up by God in the greatest movement in history — the ingathering of the elect into the church from all nations of the world, until the full number comes in and Christ in all his splendour returns.
Missionary work means co-operation
The New Testament pattern is that local churches will both be independent and yet will cooperate and work together, particularly for world mission. We have to work at partnerships for the sake of the gospel.
Working with others takes a great deal of effort and is sometimes complicated, but we must enter into it for the cause of Christ. This is where missionary societies are often of great help, acting as facilitators and administrators in the task of mission.
We must establish self-supporting, missionary-minded churches
The aim of missionary work is the planting of churches, just as Paul did. Ultimately we want these to become self-supporting, and then contribute to the missionary cause as they follow the leading of the church’s head, the Lord Jesus Christ.
We must lower our expectations from this life
In the West we have swallowed too much the philosophy of the age that tells us to ‘eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die’. We need to be shaped by the ‘economics’ of Christ rather than consumer culture.
We must be joyously satisfied with Christ
If we don’t treasure the Lord Jesus Christ, we won’t be willing to suffer for the sake of his name.
We must be convinced that the missionary task will be successful
Nothing is going to thwart God’s plans and purposes. The task of taking the gospel to all nations of the earth is not beyond the church of Jesus Christ (Matthew 24:14). We must remember it is God’s work and all we do is in dependence upon him. He will indeed build his church (Matthew 16:18).
So how can we put these conclusions into practice in our local churches? Certainly, if we are going to take these principles and their implications seriously, missionary work must have a high profile in the life of the church.
It is not enough just to have a world map with a few out-of-date missionary photographs pinned up, and piles of prayer letters at the back of the church building. Missionary work is at the heart of what God is doing in our world and we must make sure it has a central place in our church life.
We need to be systematic and serious in our use of money. We must give time and energy to keeping up-to-date with those we support on the mission field and make sure their needs are brought regularly before the throne of grace. We should work together with other churches and societies.
The size of the task means that we cannot follow all missionary work to the same level of detail. We will, therefore, probably be involved at three different levels. First, we can have a general world interest. Operation World helps with this dimension, as does the regular Missionary Spotlight of ET and missionary reports in other Christian journals. It is now more possible to stay informed about what God is doing throughout the world than ever before.
Second, we can have a general interest in specific missions. There are various missionary organisations that different churches are in theological agreement with and have natural links with, and whose missionary endeavours they will follow in more detail.
Third, churches can cultivate a specific interest in particular missionaries. We can be their prayer partners, getting familiar with all the details. We can ‘adopt’ such as ‘our’ missionaries and follow specific work in particular locations.
Here are some intensely practical suggestions:
1. Why not have a weekly slot, say on a Sunday evening, that keeps worldwide missionary work in view? In just a few minutes a brief report can be given about a country, and the needs of that country remembered in prayer. This helps to make believers world Christians.
2. Why not ‘adopt’ an unreached people group in prayer and ask God to establish a church among them? This prayer interest can be added to by supporting those missionaries trying to reach that group. For example, we can support people translating the Scriptures into that language. How exciting to be playing our part in taking the gospel to the unreached nations of the world!
3. Many churches find it beneficial to have one prayer meeting each month with a specific missionary focus, where missionary news is shared and specific needs are brought before our God.
4. There are other ways to give missionary work the attention it needs. In our church we found it helpful to have a fellowship tea every few months on a Sunday afternoon, with a brief mission focus and prayer time included. This has helped enthuse whole families with missionary work.
5. With many demands upon our limited resources, we need to give missionary work the financial priority it needs. Many churches find it helpful to give a percentage of their regular income, say ten per cent, to missionary work. But why be satisfied with only ten per cent? Why not try to increase the percentage over time as the Lord gives the increase.
6. Those responsible for a church’s programme should make sure they invite people involved in mission to come and speak of their work as often as possible, and to integrate this dimension into several aspects of church life.
7. Each Christian should pray regularly that the Lord will thrust forth labourers from his or her own congregation so that they too will have the privilege of being a sending church into the mission field.
The Great Commission demands that we make every effort to be missionary-minded churches. It will require energy and organisation from church leaders and full commitment from church members, but for the sake of Christ’s name it will all be immensely worthwhile.