Issues Facing Missions Today 11: Three Suggestions for Local Church Mission Programmes
In this blog post, I want to offer three suggestions for local churches as they think about their mission programmes. These are by no means exhaustive, and I intend to offer more suggestions at a later time. My three suggestions are that the local church needs a (1) ‘world mission’ perspective, a (2) ‘Gospel’ perspective, and a (3) ‘missionary’ perspective.
1. The local church needs a ‘world mission’ perspective. That is, missions should not be reduced to the doing of ministry, such that it might just as well be done around the block rather than overseas. A world perspective ties the local church into the long and deep missional narrative of Scripture: there is One God who wants all people to be saved. Luke, e.g., repeatedly uses Isaiah 49.6 in his two volume work of Luke and Acts in reference to the disciples/church’s ministry. It says,
"It is too light a thing that you [God’s Servant] should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth."
God’s people do not just exist to be a righteous remnant in a wicked world—although that, too, is missional. God’s people do not exist simply to minister to people in need—although they do, of course, do this. God’s people also exist to participate in God’s salvation shining to every tongue, tribe, people, and nation.
This world mission perspective can be gained by:
· * Frequently having missionaries tell the story of what God is doing in missions in our day around the world
· *Giving updates about the missionaries and their work in the local church
· *Supporting ministries of long-term missionaries with whom the local church is closely related (and not restricting support to certain geographical regions)
· *Finding ways in various church activities for all age groups to be aware of, pray for, and support foreign missions
· *Teaching the Bible as a missional book that calls us into its story
· *Developing a missional identity for the church
· *Encouraging an outward, ministry, and universal focus in the church over against an inward, self-preserving, and nationalistic focus of the local church or the country in which the church is located
2. The local church needs a ‘Gospel’ perspective. The ‘Gospel’ is the good news of the salvation that God has offered sinful humanity in the work of redemption that Jesus has produced through his sacrificial death on the cross for our sins. This announcement of good news requires a response of faith in and to Jesus Christ: that is, belief that God has, indeed, offered sinful humanity (each of us) salvation through Jesus and no other. Receiving this good news means forgiveness of sins, a new life lived through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit, an obedience and transformed life that comes from faith in Jesus, a new fellowship in Christ with God’s people, the church, and a salvation from God’s coming wrath against all wickedness. The mission of the Church is to tell this good news and to live it. Since no aspect of life is untouched by the Gospel, the mission of the Church is holistic: it involves personal change as much as the formation of community in Christ; it involves forgiveness of sins as much as the moral life; it involves the message of salvation from sin and future judgement as much as healing, restoration, reconciliation, and good deeds. Holistic missions, though, does not mean a separation of mission into a host of ministries. It rather means being able to draw various ministries together into God’s plan of salvation that is focussed on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Local churches should be able to articulate how their various ministries relate to a Gospel message that focusses on Jesus, and their support of missionary work should be based on being able to articulate how whatever missionaries might do (church planting, well digging, or children’s education, for example), they are doing this to proclaim God’s salvation in Jesus Christ.
3. The local church needs a ‘missionary’ perspective. The local church may be missional. Every believer might understand himself or herself in terms of mission work. Yet some people are called to missions. These are ‘apostles’ (not the Apostles)—one’s ‘sent out’ (‘apostellō in Greek) with a mission. The local church should not democratize ‘mission’ to the extent that it cannot distinguish those called to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth from people in the local church involved in good works in the community. Nor should it democratize ‘mission’ to the extent that it confuses short-term projects overseas with the support of missionaries.
a. Not ‘Short-Term’ Missions but Missionaries
The local church can support a missionary perspective by separating the recent concept of ‘short-term missions’ from ‘missionaries.’ Missionaries are called into a life-time of cross-cultural ministry. They are skilled in cross-cultural interaction, Biblically educated (or should be!), able to share the Gospel clearly, and working to evangelize, plant churches, and nourish people and churches in the faith through training in the Scriptures and for ministry. Their example is Paul the apostle and his missionary team, not the Peace Corps or the Red Cross. Short-term mission work possibly involves an exposure to missions, although doing good works is not Christian missions if it is not tied to a proclamation of Jesus Christ. Short-term mission is typically educational for the person going and often consists of benevolence work. As such, it should come from an educational or benevolence fund in the local church and not be confused with the foreign mission budget of the church.
b. Not ‘Grants’ and ‘Projects’ but Missionaries
Also, to have a ‘missionary’ perspective, the local church needs to be involved in the lives of the missionaries that it supports. If the local mission committee approaches missionary support as though it were approving ‘grants’ for ‘projects,’ requiring missionaries to fill out application forms, it has entirely missed the importance of personal involvement in the lives of missionaries. Both the mission committees and the churches need to know their missionaries. They should invite missionaries to engage with them in various ways whenever possible to develop these relationships (and should be proactive in inviting missionaries into their lives). They should not drop support if the missionary is called to a new country or a new type of ministry; rather, they should recognize the call of God on the missionary’s life and support the missionary wherever God is leading him or her (or the family). People may be called to join the work of the missionary from the local church precisely because the church is so closely attached to the missionary family that they know so well and support so enthusiastically in prayer and finances.
c. Not Places but Missionaries
Finally, the local church should have a ‘missionary’ perspective by refusing to design their mission programme around places of ministry instead of people. A fad in local churches in our day is to choose one or more places where a church is interested in focusing its efforts in missions. When a missionary approaches the church, whether from outside the church or even as a member of the church, and expresses a sense of calling to some other ministry or some other place, the church should focus on the missionary, not the place.