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What You Need to Know about the Church and Global Terrorism

  • Liz Kanoy
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  • 2017 Jun 20
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When is the last time you heard your church talk about global terrorism? It seems that for many churches it’s a topic to be avoided or simply not focused on.  As Zach Bradley for The Gospel Coalition points out,

Not every sermon has to feel like John Piper’s “Doing Mission When Dying Is Gain” or David Platt’s “Divine Sovereignty: The Fuel of Death-Defying Missions,” but some of these horrific events should be intentionally acknowledged.”

Songs and prayers of lament for the world instruct our congregations in appropriate ways of grieving and longing in the body of Christ.  Global missions can seem romantic to many Christians; you’re going to a far off or even exotic place to share the good news, and it’s a bonus to take in the sites of a new place. Mission trips are often painted as fun trips for the youth or team building trips for adults. But what is the reality of global missions, especially long-term missions?

It’s hard. It’s uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s crazy and chaotic. And sometimes it’s downright scary. Bradley writes,

Leaning hard into Jesus’s teaching that people will kill you thinking they are serving God (John 16:2) is not only relevant, it’s also compelling.”

John did not write these words, “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God” (16:2) because he wanted to scare people away from evangelism. Danger and persecution are the reality of global missions; he’s saying this is the reality of sharing the good news in places that don’t want it among people who will reject it. But there will be some whose hearts God has opened and whose minds God has prepared beforehand to hear the gospel story. This is why those who are captured by the love of Christ will risk their own lives to communicate God’s truth to those who do not know him.

The Gospel Transformation Bible edited by Byan Chapell makes this comment in John 15-16,

The more the gospel takes hold in our churches, the more we will be outward-facing in mission, not inward-facing in fear. Grace comes to us in order that it might flow through us. Thus, according to Jesus, we should not be surprised at growing opposition, even persecution, from the world.

Why does the gospel of grace elicit such violent opposition from both religious and non-religious segments of society? Grace is disruptive before it is redemptive. The gospel sabotages all forms of self-salvation. Our need is so great that it took the death of the Son of God to save people like us. The good news is that Jesus went willingly and gladly to the cross for us.”

Wading through the rejecters and those who seek to rein terror is part of global missions; oftentimes the terror will not be aimed at missionaries but it’s simply a wrong time wrong place scenario. There is no safe place in this world, but God’s Word does not command us to sweep his truth under a rug for safekeeping. God commands us to speak boldly out of compassion for others, whether we live in Florida or Pakistan.

Bradley advises,

Sweep danger and risk under the rug, and people will hide there. Talk about it openly and people will be strangely eager to go—...A war draws warriors, and we are at war for the souls of men.” 

According to Bradley there are four things local churches can do to help global missionaries:

1. Lead members to count the cost.

There is a risk every day when you step outside your door; our lives are not our own and our time is borrowed, which means every action taken and every word spoken should be intentional with purpose for God’s glory. Bradley states,

Ultimately, it’s more likely missionaries’ hearts and minds will be guarded by Christ with understanding-surpassing peace (Phil. 4:7if they’ve considered the risk rather than ignored it. This is only possible if church leaders themselves have felt the weight of sending their little flock out among wolves (Luke 10:3).”

Church leaders should never promise a safe trip home for missionaries, even though it would make everyone feel better… Understanding the risk of going means you will understand why you’re going and what you need to do there. There’s no guarantee that those embarking on a long-term or even short-term mission trip will return home. But there are certainly things that the local church can do to make sure their teams are as prepared as they can be for the dangers they may face; the first of which is making sure the team or individual understands that there is a risk.

2. Partner with like-minded missions agencies.

Mission agencies are more likely to understand the threat of specific areas and the current terror level better than the sending church. These agencies can provide training for how to respond to hostile situations and likely have a network in place for emergency evacuation and medical needs. However, as Bradley points out,

Partnering with a missions agency doesn’t exempt the sending church from being actively involved and even owning major parts of emergency situations. It simply empowers them to care more holistically for their people through the expertise of agencies.”

These mission agencies also usually have teams on the ground that are working long-term and are familiar with the culture and customs of the locale. But the sending church needs to do their own research, and the team needs to be aware of the cultural climate before they step foot on a plane.

3. Care for those you’ve sent.

Missionaries need to feel connected to the church that sent them; they need to be encouraged, they need to be communicated with, and they need to be prayed for often. Bradley recommends that churches ask good questions, help missionaries process, and give them outlets for sharing—as this will allow the church to pray with insight. He remarks,

In today’s world, your sent ones may feel a constant low-grade threat, even when they’re on vacation. That’s heavy. They need you.”

Sometimes we think of global missionaries as super Christians, but they have the same needs as all of us. The more disconnected they feel, the less encouraged they will be.

4. Have a plan for how to respond to tragedy.

This is part of counting the cost; though it is unlikely that a member of the team will not return it is certainly possible. The missionaries must understand the risk as well as the sending church. If something happens, the church must have a plan. Bradley advises,

Realizing and acknowledging the nature of sending—the kind the Bible describes—will lead churches to prepare for the best and the worst. May they do so with inexpressible and glorious joy because death—even its threat—does not have the final word.”

To read Bradley’s article in its entirety, please visit thegospelcoalition.org. *A version of the article originally appeared on IMB.org.

Here are four suggestions to help your church be more aware of the reality of global terrorism and the risk of global missions:

1. Host a weekly prayer night for the persecuted church and global missionaries. 

2. Incorporate prayers for the church's missionaries into the corporate prayer time on Sunday mornings.

3. Assign each small group or Bible study a missionary team to be praying for and sending letters to (if possible).

4. Have your church evaluate the types of mission trips it hosts and follow up with previous trips to see how beneficial the trip was for evangelism and helping those already in the field. 

Related articles:
The Greatest Hurdle Most Missionaries Face
Is Every Christian Called to Evangelize?
How God is at Work in the Shadow of ISIS

Image courtesy: ©Trending/LeonidKos

Publication date: June 20, 2017

Liz Kanoy is an editor for Crosswalk.com.