“The field is the world…” (Matt. 13:38).
Missionary vision is an integral part of the Christian faith. Ours is a missionary faith, an evangelizing faith. God has not called us to be only a gathering of people who practice certain ethical, cultural and religious forms. Our Master has told us, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). If that vision grows dim, or disappears, we have lost a view of a central imperative in the teaching of the Lord Jesus. Our mission field is
There is an urgency in conveying this message as widely as possible. The Lord warned listeners, “He who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). Those without Christ are described as having no hope and without God in this world (Eph. 2:12). The Lord came so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). It was necessary for Him to come and give up His life so that He might save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). He was the first foreign missionary, coming from Heaven to earth. He came to this wicked place with the loving purpose to save sinners.
His mission of proclamation has been given to His people, the Church of Christ, that we might share it with
the world. “As the Father has sent me, I also send you,” were the words of Jesus to us, His followers (John 20:21). We must lift up our eyes and look on the fields which are white unto harvest (John 4:35). We must not be willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9). The Church is the pillar and ground of truth (1 Tim. 3:15). Therefore, it must be the mainstay of all missionary endeavor. It must provide the vision, the laborers, the financial means, the prayers and the continuing energy to sustain missionary thrust into every place on earth. The Church has not been authorized by God to delegate this task to other organizations. The Church, with all its local expressions, is founded and commissioned by God as His operational representative on earth. Our local or national efforts at evangelism are insufficient when there is such a worldwide need.
Local Churches And Missionary Work
What do we mean by missions and missionaries? A true missionary is a child of God called to work with another people who are without an accurate knowledge of God’s salvation, based upon His Word. Missions, especially foreign missions, is the field of endeavor devoted to the task of reaching people in Gospel-deficient areas outside our own community or nation. If the command of Christ to proclaim the Gospel to all nations is still valid, then the issue becomes one of obeying the Lord. If the Church as the people of God is His representative on earth, then the command applies to us. This leaves us with the question, “What shall be the extent of the involvement of my local church in obeying the Lord?” The history of missions demonstrates that local churches have always been the bases for spreading the Gospel. It began in the Book of Acts. Several writers have called attention to the church in Antioch, a city in Syria, as a model of early missionary vision (Acts 11:19-30; 13:1-4). Paul and Barnabas labored extensively here in teaching and training the many converts. Antioch was a growing and spiritual church, a prerequisite for making an effective contribution to missions. The church had developed a number of good teachers. The Spirit of God moved to have Paul and Barnabas set apart for foreign missionary activity (Acts 13:1-4). The church commended them to this ministry (Acts 14:26). There was no intermediary organization involved in the process. No pledges were solicited for their support, and no guarantees were given. They depended on God, and they had the support of the believers there.
During the first two years, this energetic missionary team established at least four local churches (Antioch in Pisidia, Lystra, Iconium, and Derbe, plus the whole island of Cyprus). They reported back to their home church as people to whom they were accountable (Acts 14:27). No parachurch body (separate organization) intervened in this line of responsibility.
Missionary activity, flowing out from the first local churches, continued for centuries. Unfortunately, there was increasing administrative control of the Christian church by centralized overseers working in administrative centers. This did not always help the cause of genuine missionary work. Partially as a result of such church organizations the thrust of foreign missions grew weaker. Revival came many centuries later when small groups, often persecuted by large official churches, renewed the Biblical vision of reaching out to those without Christ in remote lands. An example of this was the community at Herrnhut, Germany, under the leadership of Zinzendorf. This small group dispatched missionaries to distant places worldwide out of their deep spiritual concern for the lost. Herrnhut’s influence persisted for centuries. It is amazing that so much was done by this small community! During the 19th Century there was a great missionary revival rooted in a general spiritual awakening in the English-speaking world. Such renewals seemed always to generate a concern for the lost, including those in foreign countries. God has demonstrated that He will work mightily in any group which has a zeal for reaching those who have not heard the Gospel. Much missionary endeavor was carried on by so-called “independent faith missions” and separate groups, rather than flowing out from local churches.
World Need And Missionary Work
It is comfortable to think that the world is now evangelized and the need for missionaries has now largely passed! If this were so, the Lord would surely have come by now, both to spare the righteous and shut the mouths of the wicked (Matt. 24:14; 2 Pet. 3:3-9). Instead He waits for many more of the Christless multitudes of the world to hear the Gospel and respond. There are more than 5 billion souls at this present hour on this planet. No more than 200 to 300 million are estimated to be born-again believers, although there are over one billion professing Christians. Accept either figure, and it would still leave a staggering number to be reached. Wholesale blocks of people in the hundreds of millions are yet to be reached in Muslim countries, Asia, India, Europe and South America. Some nations do not have a single known believer. Hundreds of linguistic groups have yet to receive even a portion of the Bible in their own language. Sections of western societies are so secularized, or misled by false teaching, that they are as ignorant of the Bible as a heathen tribe in some distant place. The most receptive people in any society are the young. About 50% of some population groups are young people, less than 25 years of age. Some segments of these student populations, or young working classes, have never been penetrated with the gospel. It has been said that the national believers in some countries are responsible to reach their own people through the believers now among them. Yet thoughtful leaders of these nations have declared their need for more missionaries from nations and churches that can send them trained servants of God.
Among the needs on the foreign mission field is the lack of effective leadership training (including practical discipleship); pacesetters in evangelism for the apathetic or intimidated; good literature for the literate; records and cassettes for others; fluent Bible translators and strong workers in student and university centers. Foreign workers need to train nationals and work beside them, then step aside and yield control. Foreign money freely given to nationals often does more harm than good in the long term. Dependency on money and jealousy of workers supported by liberal “foreign money” can have detrimental long-term effects on the national churches and their leadership.
Some have pointed to the frequent rejection of outside missionaries coming into a land. Lately, there have been great difficulties in obtaining visas for foreign entry. Still there are many ways to infiltrate Christian workers into a country without them being designated as missionaries. Difficulties have not prevented the entrance of Catholic priests or other religious workers into many foreign countries. Commercial and technical people, students and visitors jam the airlines to go everywhere in today’s “one world” environment. Many countries have opened their doors much wider to entrance by visitors. God uses various methods to reach the peoples of the earth with His gospel.
Hindrances To Effective Missionary Work
The problem does not seem to be a lack of opportunity or need, nor has the Lord changed the great commission for this day. The real problem may be divided under two headings, those in a changing world and those in a weakened church.
In the world there are serious but not insurmountable difficulties.
1. There is a decline in the belief of spiritual and moral absolutes. The difference between what is true and false, or right and wrong, is either denied or not perceived. Relativism rules. This is the view that an ethical or moral truth is simply a matter of what any group or people choose to believe for themselves because truth has no fixed basis. It has been suggested that since our minds are limited, therefore we cannot be sure that we know anything for certain. So who can say what is right or wrong in any absolute way? This deadly, human view denies the authority of God and His Word.
2. Allied to the view above is secularism. This view states that God is irrelevant to our worldly, time-based living. All that matters in life is living for
now in this world. Another companion view is materialism. This idea suggests that a highest good is obtained by possessing goods or things and satisfying physical or psychological desires. A form of this philosophy is communism. A more subtle form of materialism, and possibly more dangerous, is embraced by believers who live to accumulate possessions at the expense of serving the Lord. At the same time they profess to believe what the Lord Jesus taught. Their lifestyle contradicts their profession of faith.
3. An ever-increasing dangerous viewpoint is humanism, including humanistic psychology, seen especially among the educated. In this approach, man is made to be the center for interpreting what is good in life. Humanists do not care for, nor accept, God’s plan for their lives. In extreme forms of humanism, man becomes his own god or supreme authority.
4. False religion, in an almost infinite variety of forms, continues to grow. It deceives man in his spiritual search for satisfaction and meaning in life by offering a counterfeit to the truth. False prophets and false teachers create elaborate systems of deceit to entrap millions. These religions generate zealous missionaries of their own who are often more active in some places than the advocates of the truth.
5. There is a tremendous tide of propaganda directed against the Christian faith and its representatives all over the world. It is growing constantly, especially within the medium of films and television shows. These often depict Bible-quoting madmen, bigots, and deranged ministers as representative of the Christian faith.
The problems in the weakened church are the most serious of all. We need to correct these in order to have healthy grassroots expansion of missionary work.
1. There is a decline in the numbers, quality, and support of missionaries. In many countries more missionaries are coming back, or retiring, than are going out.
2. There is a decline in practical belief in the perilous condition of the lost, and in the urgency of reaching them with the Gospel. Apparently, believers can hold evangelical doctrines, memorize verses and attend churches in considerable numbers, yet live as those who had not the slightest concern for billions without Christ in other places.
3. Believers are not taught to obey Christ and to follow Him in all His teachings. They pick and choose the areas in which they will respond. This includes commitment to missions.
4. Affluence and compromise with worldly standards have sapped the spiritual strength of those in the church. Nominalism, or being a Christian in name only, is a greater problem than is realized in the evangelical church. There seems little interest in living a sacrificial life for Christ and His Kingdom.
5. There is a growing belief in universal ism. This is the doctrine that all or at least most of mankind, will be saved in the end by the mercy of God.
6. There is also an increase in syncretism which combines non-Christian customs and practices with Biblical elements. They are, in fact, alien to one another. The Scriptures are misinterpreted so that they appear to be compatible with non-Christian ideas. Hearers or readers do not seem to be able to discern this clearly. Merging Christian beliefs with alien elements eliminates the need to evangelize. We just merge with the error.
Basic Church Actions Required For Successful Missionary Work
The local church can be a vital force for missionary effort if it commits itself to the task. The beginning step is to become a lively, evangelizing, and discipling church through the reviving work of the Holy Spirit, just as Antioch of Syria did long ago. Lukewarm or apathetic churches are not an effective base for missionary outreach. When some progress has been made on this foundation, there are other needed steps.
Determine to be a church which sends Spirit-empowered missionaries to the field. When this goal is firmly set, it is more likely to happen.
up laborers to work in your church, rather than try to import them from outside. Impart a vision for the world. Provide practical training within the church to put believers to work in influencing the lives of others for Christ. Develop a pool of effective workers, so that from this group some can be encouraged to go overseas.
3. Keep the church abreast of interesting and timely missionary news concerning workers in whom you are interested. See that the congregation hears challenging messages about the mission field. Establish a special missions prayer group of men and women, meeting regularly to share information about the field, and have them cry out to God for workers.
4. Encourage and select proper candidates to go. Perhaps short term exposures during summers, or for a year, will indicate how well they can become accustomed to the mission field, and how well they do while there. Do not send out people for this purpose unless they have given some evidence of fruit of their labor at the home church.
5. Strengthen financial support for workers in the field that you know are doing an effective job.
6. Write letters to encourage the workers. They delight in receiving these letters and keenly feel their lack. Visit workers when possible to encourage them, to see how well they are doing, and to observe how the church may meet their needs.
Conclusion And Application
In Revelation 3:8, the Lord Jesus evaluated and challenged the local church at Philadelphia, a city in what is now Turkey. He said, “Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power and have kept my word.”
The Lord has also set before us today, in our churches, an open door of missionary opportunity, and there is great need. Only He can shut that door and He has not yet done so. We have a little power and could have even more, if we were determined to obey His Word, especially in this matter.
In the Old Testament, Jonah refused to go to Nineveh as a missionary despite God’s clear command. His disobedience was punished, then his path redirected. The result was a missionary triumph among the Assyrians. God today will bless those churches who hear His call to spread the Gospel throughout the world. Churches are His agents in fulfilling His desire to reach the lost unto the uttermost parts of the earth. Every church will be evaluated by the Lord Jesus, just as was Philadelphia and the other churches of the Scripture. May we not be found wanting in this regard when we are evaluated before the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Lesson 13 Missions And The Church
1. What is the goal of the church’s work in the world (Luke 24:47)7
2. What does Jesus see, and how does He feel, when He looks at the world (Matt. 9:36)?
3. What does the Lord Jesus instruct us to do in response to His view of the world (Matt. 9:37,38)?
4. What happened to the Apostles after Jesus started them praying for workers to be sent into God’s harvest (Matt. 10:1,5-7)?
three ways in which the church at Antioch is a good model
for local churches today in assisting the work of missions (Acts 11:20-26; 13:1-4; 14:26-27).
6. In your own words, what is the meaning of:
7. Use Acts 14:21-28 to write a clear job description for a missionary.
8. How can you help your assembly make an impact on the task of worldwide missions (Col. 4:2,3; Phil. 4:15-19)?
9. What truth in this lesson most impressed you?
10. Is there anything that you did not completely understand in this lesson?