Developing a Missions Minded Church
- Paul Dean Pastor, Counselor, Professor & Columnist
- 2005 12 Oct
As one talks to individuals in churches across our land it is common to meet people who speak of their churches as being missions minded. It is vogue to say, "We're a missions minded church" as if that statement alone certifies the group's commitment to foreign missions for all time. For many, being missions minded consists of sending money to the denominational missions board. Others may send a work crew to a foreign country each year. Churches relegated to such in terms of missions can hardly be called missions minded.
Well I remember one church group on a short term project in another country. They were assisting in the construction of a church building. Some of the team members had an opportunity to talk to the locals about Christ. They were subsequently admonished by their team leader, and pastor I might add, not to engage in such. "We're not here to preach the gospel. We're here to build a building," he groused. Such is the state of missions understanding in the minds of many American church-goers today.
Among others, Tom Telford has spurred my thinking in this area as we have been working on our missions involvement as a church over the last few years. At the very least, churches that claim to be missions minded should have a few dynamics securely in place. Much of what is conveyed here has been modeled before me by others. Certainly this listing is not exhaustive nor are the explanations complete. The goal here is simply to foster thinking in this area that churches might be moved to consider the Great Commission more seriously in terms of our responsibility to the nations and the glory of God.
First, a firm theological foundation is required from which to build a biblical missions mind set. That foundation should include an understanding that man is dead in sin, that God's wrath is upon guilty sinners, that man cannot save himself, that Christ is the only Savior, that the gospel must be embraced for individuals to be saved, and that God is a missionary God. The sending out of missionaries to distant lands suffers today as more so-called Christians reject these simple but profound biblical truths.
Without a commitment to such, missions will never be a priority in any church. The God-man came to this earth to save sinners and the scarlet thread of redemption runs from Genesis to Revelation as the central theme of the Scriptures. In the Great Commission, the church has been given a missionary mandate. That mandate involves more than simply writing a check. It involves the hard work of frontier evangelism and patient disciple making.
Second, a missions minded church must have a proper motivation for missions. In other words, the firm theological foundation should go one step further into a theological motivation for missions. Persons will never engage in evangelism, locally or globally, with proper motivation unless they first glorify God. While evangelism is good in and of itself, the real issue is one's relationship with God as an evangelist or missionary. God is not interested in an individual's works per se. Jesus Himself said: "But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Matt. 9:13). The proper motivation for evangelism and/or missions is thus the worship of God. That dynamic flows into a further motivation that is two-fold in practical terms: the love of God and concern for His glory and the love of people and concern for their good. Thus, while missions is critically important, joy in Christ must precede missions if missions is to be motivated biblically.
Evangelism has been defined as presenting "Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, that men shall come to put their trust in God through Him, to accept Him as their Saviour, and serve Him as their King in the fellowship of His Church." J. I. Packer noted that this definition has problems in that humans do not control the outcome of the evangelistic effort. Only God can regenerate a sinner. He defined evangelism in simple terms: "... evangelism is just preaching the gospel, the evangel." While Packer has a point, and while he affirmed that the preceding definition does have merit, it may be said that evangelism must have a goal. In other words, evangelism, in simple and biblical terms is as Packer has said. Yet, as John Piper has noted, the goal of evangelism and missions is the glory of God as defined by satisfaction in Him. Evangelism then is preaching the gospel with a view toward participating in God's activity in transforming men, women, and structures that they might praise God for His mercy and enjoy Him forever (Rom. 15:8f).
Personal evangelism in the community ought to flow into involvement in mission beyond the local community. While personal evangelism is in part a fulfillment of the Great Commission, the Lord has called the church to have a global vision because His vision is global. The Psalmist cried: "God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; that thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations. Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee. O let the nations be glad and sing for joy: for thou shalt judge the people righteously, and govern the nations upon earth. Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee. Then shall the earth yield her increase; and God, even our own God, shall bless us. God shall bless us; and all the ends of the earth shall fear him (Ps. 67:1-7)."
This sentiment flows throughout the Scriptures and finds its culmination, as far as human responsibility regarding missions is concerned, in the Great Commission as men and women are commanded to make disciples of all the nations, that is, people groups. God's heartbeat is missions. The church's heartbeat ought to be the same if she desires to be where God is.
Third, a missions minded church should have some general and practical commitments to missions involvement. Such commitments include the development of outward focus and missionary strategy. Those dynamics may include an ongoing training program for missionary candidates, missions education integrated through all the programs of the church, praying that God would raise up individuals from the local body and sending them to the foreign field in addition to providing support for other missionaries, and a genuine concern and prayer for the lost. The vision must be kept before the people regarding personal evangelism and missions. That means that a church must be involved in evangelism at home if it is to have any hope of genuine involvement in missions abroad. As these things are inculcated into the life of a church, missions giving should increase as well.
Fourth, a church could be a light in its association of churches by developing exportable modules related to missions education and training. Churches could be encouraged to not only send money to the denominational missions agency, but in addition, they could be encouraged to send missionaries to the field. After all, God's plan for His church to be involved in the Great commission, again, must never be relegated to the simple activity of sending a check and letting some other organization worry about missions. All of us must be involved some way. A missions minded church with a clear vision for missions could help other churches develop the same. Sending churches could know, communicate, and seek input from one another.
Fifth, missions sending could be developed through short term missions projects to be sure. Building is certainly a worthy activity in which to participate. Ideally however, building as part of a larger plan of gospel advance is desired. As churches are committed to short term projects, those churches should develop long term relationships with missionaries on the field: ultimately, missionaries they have sent out. As local churches know a particular work in the field personally, they become more committed to that work, interested in that work, and supportive of that work. More people participate in the short term trips and these trips then serve as a catalyst for missions motivation in a number of ways. Perhaps young people, by the grace of God, will develop a heart for the mission field in such an atmosphere.
Sixth, a missions minded church must be about the work of developing missionaries. Development of such can be accomplished through mentoring and modeling in the area of missions, discerning those who may have a missions call, seeking out those in the church who want to be missionaries more than anything, taking care of character and lifestyle issues, and learning to say "no" to those who simply are not biblically gifted or qualified. Cultivation is the issue here. The harvest of missionaries in a local church will be difficult if the seeds of missions are not planted and watered.
Seventh, a church involved in missions will want to develop relationships with solid missions agencies for the sake of those who may be called to missions. At the same time, the local church will take responsibility for the oversight of missionaries sent from their own church. A good way to help one's missionaries is to develop a missions policy and strategies for each setting in which the missionaries are involved.
Eighth, a church's missions emphasis and training begins with the children, includes personal evangelism training along the way, involves the whole congregation, and is modeled by the pastor and other church leaders. The vision must be shared, the theology must be taught, the enthusiasm must be real, and the discipline to stay committed to missions must be developed.
Missions conferences could be part of the training of and ministry to the church. A conference could be the highlight of the year for some churches. Qualified speakers in addition to the church's own missionaries should be incorporated. Further, the children should not be left out. Remember, the goal is not to have an academic exercise for the theologians of the church; the goal is to develop a heart for missions in the church as a whole.
Ninth, a missions minded church will do whatever it takes to get its members involved in missions. To do so, they must be involved with missionaries. Letters and care packages are easy ways for persons to be personally engaged. As missionaries come to visit, the people must actually spend time with them. Persons could open their homes for missionaries to stay, or they could simply provide an evening of fellowship. Meals are always a good time to get to know someone. Others could be involved in transporting a visiting missionary.
Preparation for a visit is key. At the very least, a missions team or committee with a coordinator should be formed in the church. This team would meet with missionaries to discuss their ministry, goals, problems, and dreams. They would coordinate all information, logistics and financial support. This information would be relayed to the congregation through a variety of means and the team members would do the work of partnering missionaries with people in the church for various avenues of contact and involvement. Moreover, sending a missionary back to the field could be a great occasion of fellowship and love that would trigger in the memory for a long time. Of course, regular prayer for missionaries in this regard is critical.
Tenth, a missions minded church, in order to develop that mindset even further, may want to adopt a sister church of another ethnic group, or the church may want to support international students interested in ministry. These types of relationships go a long way in helping individuals to develop a genuine love and concern for persons of other ethnic backgrounds and cultures.
Again, this list is not exhaustive nor are the explanations herein comprehensive. The list may be described as a kind of "top ten list" for missions mindedness. At the very least, a church that wants to be involved in missions may glean one or two items here that may help them move in that direction for the sake of the nations and the exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Dr. Paul J. Dean is an adjunct professor at Erskine Theological Seminary and serves as the Director of Supervised Ministry at the Greenville, SC extension of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Click here to visit his website.