I like doing blog posts in series, it helps me think of things to write and keeps my rabbit-trail brain from going too far off base. I like to brainstorm in coffee shops while listening to people’s conversations. Some people call that stalking, I prefer the term “cultural observation.” The word that comes up repeatedly is passion, people share what they’re most passionate about and it carries a different countenance, a different attitude, and it’s very clear when people talk about what makes their hearts beat.
It got me to thinking about what I’m most passionate about. Over the last 3 years I’ve really been working on trying to shape my philosophy of ministry and how God has gifted me for service in the church. The philosophy can be summed up in Truth, Comprehension, and Application. It’s easy to remember, it’s comprehensive, and functional across ministry functions.
But what gets me excited in ministry? These are the things that get me through the lousy days and the boredom of administrative tasks. Those are necessary in order to do the things that come from personal passion, and I try to teach any ministry student the necessity of good record-keeping, punctual attendance, meetings, and taking criticism well.
If I had to rank these three things, it would be this:
- Leadership Development
- Family Discipleship
Today we’ll do Missions, tomorrow Family Discipleship, and Sunday Leadership Development. These three things have come to be passions through the crucible of church ministry, of dealing with people, engaging students, and doctoral education (Leadership Development is my dissertation focus, and Family Discipleship is a minor in my program).
John Piper opens his book, Let the Nations be Glad, by declaring the worship is the ultimate and missions is the penultimate of the Christian life. He states that missions exist where worship doesn’t. His premise is that where Christ is not worshiped as Lord, there is a need for contextual, Gospel-centered missions and evangelism. For those of us who are in Christ, we have an obligation and a joy to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth for the cause of Christ who called us from the ends of our sin to His glorious grace. We get the opportunity to share the love of Christ and make disciples just as Christ was shared with us and we were discipled. It’s a beautiful experience and a glorious picture of the continued work of the Spirit to draw men and women and boys and girls to Himself.
I walked our students through Romans to explain the biblical/theological case for missions a couple years ago. It was a preparatory series for taking a small group on a big adventure to Boston, Massachusetts. Romans provides a systematic approach to the gospel and the need for it to be heralded in every corner of the planet because of its universal application and the cross-cultural call of Christ. Here was the outline:
- Universal Lostness (Romans 1-3)
- Christ as the Answer (Romans 5)
- The Process: Death to Life (Romans 8-10)
- The Result: The Church (Romans 12)
Jesus leaves no choice for those who would carry His name in the Great Commission. There’s no escape clause or way out of the task of the Christian to be about the mission of reconciling sinners to God through Jesus. The Great Commission takes us to every nation, every people group, and charges us to make disciples in those places. The beauty of immigration and America as a melting pot is that for the American Church, the nations come to us! There are communities in our cities of foreign nationals that are unreached, many in the Bible Belt with immediate access to the Gospel.
Biblically, we cannot escape our charge to make Jesus famous in places where He is not. We cannot exempt ourselves and we cannot make excuses for why our lives are not lived on mission for Christ. We may not be called to full time, vocational missionary service, but each of us has been given a sphere of influence to make much of Christ. If you don’t know your sphere, social media is a great start. More people are on Facebook now than lived on the planet 200 years ago. That’s powerful, there’s a huge mission field. Go.
My good friend and co-laborer in Murray, Daniel Kinkade, said during a combined worship service that we cannot reach the nations without first reaching our neighbors. The how of missions sees several emphases that cannot be neglected for the sake of others, even though each emphasis is good in its own. These are those who are local, regional, and global. The local are those nearest to us, friends, neighbors, co-workers, classmates, teammates, and family. The regional are within our boundaries as a nation but perhaps separated by culture or custom. It requires more travel and can often be an eye-opening experience (trust me, I took a bunch of guys from Western Kentucky to one of the largest cities in the country, in New England, with no sweet tea!). The global are those “over there,” whether it’s in a mud hut in Africa or in a crowded apartment complex in Moscow or in a suburb not unlike our own outside of Athens.
If we forsake the far for the near or the near for the far, we have fallen into a trap of assuming that one group doesn’t need our message. It’s very easy to fall into either, I’ve been on many mission trips where I found the application back home very hard. And I’ve been on others where I realized what I was doing near I couldn’t do far. But God calls us to both, and God calls us to reach both the near and the far.
We do this in some very practical ways, and this has been a great joy to lead and transition our student ministry.
First, we give. We have gotten to support a couple of great mission opportunities. One is a church plant in Boston that is serving a community with no evangelical churches in English. They are seeing people saved, baptized, discipled, and raised up to leadership positions. Their pastor has become a friend to me, and while our small group was there we were able to love on him and his family and encourage him greatly in his work. The second we have supported is a campus missionary at a college nearby. He served our student ministry in a Disciple Now weekend and our students loved him. He followed the call of God to pour his life into the lives of guys in his fraternity and whomever the Lord gives him favor with. So far he has a huge legacy that continues to grow with every man he disciples who then pours into other guy’s lives. We also have taken tangible gifts when we go on a mission trip for the ministries we work with, to be a blessing to their work. Locally, we give our time and energy and resources to smaller churches, and to various ministries in our area. It is my hope and prayer that one day we’ll be able to continue serving and being a blessing to these ministries in the future.
Second, we equip. I am a firm believer that the best way to learn is through experience. So what we do with our missions is take the opportunity to equip and train our young men and women for future service in the Kingdom. We equip them through teaching, through experience, reflection, and practice. So many of our students can share about their experiences and how those have grown them and caused them to be more aware of the global community, their place in it, and what they can do to make a difference for Christ.
Third, we go. When we got to Westside I had a big huge dream to do an international mission trip and domestic mission trip in alternating years. My goal for every graduating high school student was that they would spend time in a different context from their own and know what it’s like to minister in a foreign context (even if it was in their own country). Sadly, because of budgetary reasons I have had to abandon this goal for now. I pray that God one day opens up that door again, and in His provision and sovereignty let’s hope it does. But we do go still. We go locally and serve in ministries in Murray and Paducah. We have gone regionally to Memphis, Cincinnati, and soon to Louisville. We have served the urban poor and given the homeless a face and name. We have canvassed suburbia and its false dreams of American prosperity with the gospel, prayer-walking and saturating communities for local churches, and we have prayed in rooms where women make the decision to choose life for their unborn baby. We go because there is nothing that can replace the experience of being in a different context and looking into the eyes of pain, hurt, and despair.
Our how is flexible and we are always looking for ways to engage in missions. Our goal is to be balanced in what we do, not forsaking the far for the near or vice versa. I continually put before our students to live on mission rather than go on mission trips. The difference is huge. One is temporary, part-time, and can be compartmentalized. The other is radical and life-changing and calls on the student to live every aspect of their life as a means of sharing and proclaiming Christ.
The Cost if We Do Not
Let’s be honest, missions are costly and we are in the midst of a recession. The temptation is great to keep more money to ourselves, to cut our giving to missions funnels like the Cooperative Program, or to simply cut off missions because “we need the money here more.” Let me, as nicely as I can say that, declare that to be incredibly dangerous and harmful for the Church. Programs are in-house things are great and we should pursue them as a means to grow within, but let us never be found to forsake the nations, both near and far, for the sake of entertaining ourselves.
David Platt, in his book Radical, writes about the American Jesus who is happy with our endless programs, our emphasis on ourselves, and our lack of giving and going for the sake of the Gospel. He says:
“We are starting to redefine Christianity, We are giving in to the dangerous temptation to take Jesus of the Bible and twist Him into a version of Jesus we are more comfortable with.
A nice, middle-class, American Jesus, A jesus who doesn’t mind materialism and who would never call us to give away everything we have. A Jesus who would not expect us to forsake our closest relationships so he receives all our affection. A Jesus who is fine with nominal devotion that does not infringe on our comforts, because, after all, he loves us just the way we are. A Jesus who wants us to be balanced, who wants us to avoid dangerous extremes, and who, for that matter, wants us to avoid danger altogether. A Jesus who brings us comfort and prosperity as we live out our Christian spin on the American dream.
But do you and I realize what we are doing at this point? We are molding Jesus into our image. He is beginning to look a lot like us, because, after all, that is whom we are most comfortable with, And the danger now is that when we gather in our church buildings to sing and lift up our hands in worship, we may not actually be worshipping the Jesus of the Bible. Instead we may be worshipping ourselves.”
What terrifies me about losing sight of the call of missions is this: it quickly and inevitably becomes idolatry. We begin to worship someone other than the Christ who bids us to sacrificially give and go. We begin to worship our comfort, we begin to worship our security, and worst of all we begin to worship our money. Holding onto it becomes the worship of this idol rather than give it away.
My fear is that we are raising in our country a generation of teenagers who see the power of social media, the influence of ideas, and the passion of a cause. But they don’t see that from the church, they see it from the culture. They see it in the Kony 2012 movement, they see it in the Occupy protests, they see it in the sacrifices people make to move to foreign countries to live in villages and dig wells. But what I fear is that they look at the church and see complacency, they see insulation, and they see fear. Oh bride of Christ, don’t let false idols and false hopes supersede the glory of Christ.
I do not speak as a prophet on this, but I do not see how or why God should keep a church open that forsakes its role as the lighthouse to its backyard, its region, and the nations. In a microcosm of that, I’ve seen our church support local ministries and make disciples in our area, I’ve seen our men go to Alaska and carry the Gospel on their backs (and a lot of drywall too!), and I’ve met missionaries to Central Asia who God called from among our church. God has given us, in jars of clay, a message that is far more valuable and far more precious than anything we can do or keep to ourselves. We have, by grace alone, been given the opportunity to go to the nations and, because of grace again, the nations come to us. I was at Dairy Queen the other night and counted 4 different ethnicities/nationalities in line, and I’m in a rural area of west Kentucky. There are hundreds of languages spoken in cities like New York, Chicago, LA, Boston, and Miami. We recognize that no church is eternal, no church is beyond being shut down by the Lord. May He find us faithful to our task to make disciples not only within our walls but without and across the street and around the world.
If you’re reading this and you’re a pastor, lead your church well. Lead your church to love the Gospel so much you’re willing to do without a building program, extra stuff for yourselves, or some other pointless expense. If you’re a missions Rambo, someone who’s gung-ho for the Gospel, keep it up. Go, be bold, and do your task well! But do it in the context of a local church who will love you, hold you accountable, and feed you. And if you’re reading this and my comments about selfishness and complacency are you, repent. Trust Christ, and follow Him regardless of where He leads. He’s worth it. He’s so worth it. Give, go, support, pray for, and make your life open to missions.