Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The Church's Ministry of Missions and Evangelism

Part of a series on the ministries of the church found in Acts 2:42-47.
Well-drilling missionary David Humphries preaching in Liberia

Matthew 28:18-20: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations…” We look forward to the day when every person would hear of His name and that some from every people would believe in His name (Matt. 24:14; Rev 7:9). 

Thanks to missionaries, more individuals confess the name of Jesus than any other religion in the world. An arm of the Christian movement is found in nearly every country. 

In AD 100, there were 360 people for every Christian. Today  one in nine people on the planet is an active believer. Christianity is growing faster than ever before, in many places exceeding population growth. There is no need of pessimism. But at the same time, two-thirds of the world’s population do not know or believe the Gospel. Why? Cultural distances between believers and the lost.

Evangelism or Missions? We often confuse the terms missions and evangelism. Evangelism means sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with someone within one’s own culture (Mark 16:15). In Acts 2:47, it was the Lord who added daily believers to the church, but we must be intentional about evangelism. The training programs we use, memorizing a presentation and presenting it to people, is really designed to teach believers to understand for themselves how the gospel fits together and how to talk about it to others. People in our culture today usually come to Christ after journeying with other Christians, building relationships while they examine and consider their claims about Christ.

Missions is the extension of the Kingdom through making disciples among the nations (John 17:18; 20:21). Missions began with the promise to Abram that all the families of the earth would be blessed through him (Genesis 12:3) and continues with the various versions of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:46-49; John 20:21-23; Acts 1:8) to the climax around the Throne (Revelation 7:9) where the Lamb is praised by every tribe, nation, language, and tongue.

Go or Send? Missions and evangelism involves bearing witness at home (1 Thess. 1:8) and abroad (Acts 1:8; 8:4; Phil 4:10-18; Rom 15:23-29). Everyone is called to involvement in missions, whether going (as a missionary) or a sending (as a supporter). Churches have a responsibility to call their people to go to the nations and enlist prayer partnerships with specific missionaries. Most missionaries either go as “tent-makers” (paying their own way or working a job), or as missionaries requiring financial support. In Southern Baptist life, we have developed Cooperative Program giving which, along with the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, funds our missionaries, allowing them the privilege of serving without having to do support raising. 

However, in the last decade we have seen a yearly weakening of giving to the Cooperative Program. Younger Southern Baptists seem more interested in direct involvement in sending their own missionaries and leading short-term mission trips for their members. Short-term trips radically change lives and ultimately increase missions giving. The challenge is to keep the vision for missions before the people of God so that they know the priorities of the King, but it is also important that our Cooperative Program be funded and that those responsible for the funds trim every ounce of bureaucracy they can which is not Great Commission related and send those monies to those on the front lines.

Make Disciples? Jesus commanded us to make disciples (Matt. 28:19). What is a disciple? The word disciple (matheteis), means “learner.” When someone makes a decision to follow Christ they become a convert. They have converted their life to submit it to Jesus Christ, and it is marked by believers’ baptism (“baptizing”). Then they grow as disciples of Jesus Christ through the teaching of the Word (“teaching them whatsoever things I have commanded you”). How do you know when someone is discipled? When that person has a growing, vital relationship with Christ in prayer and they can feed themselves on the Word of God.

All Nations? Jesus did not just call us to make disciples among those who look like us. He commanded us to make disciples among the nations? Which nations? Commonly, nations means countries or political nation-states. In Scripture, nations means peoples or ethnic groups.  It is better to understand missionaries laboring at significant cultural distance rather than a significant geographical distance.

The majority of the least reached peoples are the last to hear the Gospel because they are the most isolated geographically, culturally, and linguistically, socially, and spiritually from witnessing Christians. A people group is considered unreached when less than 2% of their population consider themselves Christian believers. Few of them have no Christians at all among them. They average 0.4% of the people’s population. Currently there are roughly 6800 unreached people groups. Of that group, a large majority are not only unreached. No one is working among them.

They are also unengaged. Currently there are 3800 unengaged unreached people groups. The International Mission Board is asking local churches to take responsibility for one of those groups and begin to pray and go to them, working with the IMB, to see a church planting movement begin among each of those peoples. Why shouldn’t our church do this? Will it cost us time? Yes, in prayer and going. Will it cost us money? Yes, some. Will it cost us our sons and daughters? Yes, but only for a while in this life. The highest priorities are penetrating these unengaged, unreached peoples, mobilizing missionaries for them, and mobilizing missions on the congregational level.

Why the urgency? When we sense that we are in the last days, that Jesus has been given all authority to send us to the nations, we are unafraid of the persecutions that may come. When a Haitian voodoo priest or a Sudanese merchant comes to faith in Christ, it is not just one more Christian convert, it is one more sign that the demonic powers that the Kingdom of Jesus Christ is massive, global, and moving forward (Matt. 16:18-19; 11:12). If the Kingdom will repay me for everything I have walked away from in this life (Matt. 19:29), then how can I refuse a call to serve in a faraway land simply because I do not want to be away from family or consumer culture? Or worse, how can I begrudge a son or daughter going to the nations just because I want my grandchildren close by?

“The Great Commission is not merely an ideal to aspire toward, but an achievable command given by the Lord. The commissioning of the Church was accompanied by assurances of God’s power and authority and the very real presence of the Holy Spirit. The scale of the task before us is matched only by the greatness of the God who promises to accompany and empower us.” – Operation World 2010

Mission Agencies or Direct Church? In 1829 in eastern North Carolina, a great missions controversy came to a head at Falls of Tar Church here in what became Rocky Mount, NC. Baptists had fallen into two camps in regard to missions: those of the regulative principle (if the Bible doesn’t say you can, then you can’t) – the Regular or Primitive Baptists, and those of the normative principle (if the Bible doesn’t say you can’t, and it helps the Kingdom, you can) – the Missionary Baptists who organized in 1830 as the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

In a great debate at Falls of Tar Church, the Primitives, driven by Biblical principle, had a great orator who swayed many to their side in the debate who said that God never ordained mission boards or mission offerings. He ordained the local church to do the work of missions alone. The Missionaries, driven by Biblical mandate, but without a strong speaker, argued for the value of mission boards and mission offerings to help the churches with missions.

The two groups agreed to part ways, and the Primitive Baptists, largely of Calvinist doctrine, continued on in the same way they had been. Today they are a shadow of their great numbers in 1829. In 1830 the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina formed to promote church planting and missions. The Missionary Baptists understood the value of what a symbiotic relationship between local churches and the mission board, what missiologists today call modalities and sodalities. 

Modalities are people-oriented organizations, like local churches. Nothing is done in a local church until the people feel the same way about a direction in which to go. Sodalities are task-oriented organizations, like mission agencies/boards. Accomplishing the task is the priority.

For example, everyone is a citizen, but only qualified individuals can serve in the Navy SEALs. They must be people who can accomplish the task. Similarly, the mission boards oversee the task and select people who can accomplish the task and relate to the local churches which fund and supply missionary candidates. It is a good relationship where the board has the expertise and performs the service that the local church needs done for its own vitality.