I would like to start my blogging days with a series of 7 blogs that I am taking from a message I preach often entitled, “What is a Missions-Minded Church?”
In my missionary travels, both when we served with Baptist Mid-Missions (1996-2006) as well as today with Adelphos-USA, I frequently am assured by pastors, “We have a missions-minded church!” And I have found their interpretation of that statement to be everything from “we put up flags of every nation during our missions conference” to “we support over 100 missionaries (yes, at $5/month)” to “we have a world map in our church foyer” to “we have a missionary closet packed with the latest and greatest” as well as a host of other man-made definitions. But does the Bible give us any direction on the use of this phrase? That is, "can we see the mind of God for missions and apply it to our mind?"
Although we see God’s plan for the salvation of the nations as far back as Genesis 12, and we see the Great Commission repeated in each of the Gospels and in Acts, many commentators (and I agree with them) see Acts 13 as the beginning of missions. It doesn't teach us everything there is to know about missions, but it does lay a good foundation. And so I would like to look at this first mention of missions in the phrases of Acts 13:1-4 and gather some lessons for having a “Missions-minded Church.”
In this article, I would like us to see that a “Missions-minded Church”…
Is a LOCAL CHURCH.
Acts 13:1a - “...in the church that was at Antioch…”
Okay, you may be saying, “Duh, Shawn, that’s obvious.” And I reply, “Is it? By the way we do missions, is the LOCAL CHURCH really a central part of missions?”
First of all, the overwhelming emphasis of the New Testament is on the LOCAL CHURCH. Of the 110 times the word “Church” is found in the New Testament, 93 times it is clearly referring to a local assembly of believers. In today’s “connected” and “media” world, it seems as though the local church, with all its accompanying doctrines and practices, has been de-emphasized. My brethren, these things ought not so to be!
And yet for many years, the way we have done missions has de-emphasized the local church. Allow me to illustrate:
Here is a typical view of missions today. It goes something like this: God calls a person, who goes to Bible College, then picks a mission agency, and goes to the field. Is this not the way many think about missions?
But where is the church?
That’s right…the church is paying for it all! It pays support to the missionary, sends aid to the Bible college (often through the “missions” budget), supports the mission agency (either with designated funds, or funds taken from the missionary’s support), and supports projects on the field. In the typical view, the church is little more than the pocketbook for missions.
How does that make a church feel? Used, maybe abused. And if finances is the only part that the church plays in missions, then the church begins to think about missions in financial terms. While there’s nothing wrong with mentioning finances in a missionary conference, I think we do a great disservice to the church and to visiting missionaries when money is the main focus of a conference. And often, when a budget crunch happens, missions is the first to go, because it is the least connected part of the budget in the mindset of the membership.
How should it be? What is the pattern we see in Acts 13?
Here we see the Holy Spirit directs a LOCAL CHURCH to call a man (or two men, in the case of Acts 13) and sends him (them) to the field! So here, even though it didn’t work out art wise, you can see that that LOCAL CHURCH is now central to missions.
So, you may ask, “Where is the rest of the picture we so often associate with missions?” Even though I am a Bible college and seminary graduate, and even though I am director of a mission agency, let me be clear – you don’t find Bible colleges and mission agencies in the Bible! Obviously, I am not against them, but a clear study of the doctrine of the LOCAL CHURCH in Scripture will reveal that:
A. It is the LOCAL CHURCH that is given the task to train, disciple, and mentor. 2 Timothy 2, Titus 2 and many other passages which refer to training are clearly in the context of a LOCAL CHURCH. However, there are certain situations and certain cultures that benefit from the existence of Bible colleges. We must keep in mind, though, that Bible colleges and seminaries must always be in submission to, and directing their students toward, LOCAL CHURCH ministry. Bible colleges must never usurp the authority of the LOCAL CHURCH, and LOCAL CHURCHES must never give up their God-given responsibility to disciple.
B. It is the LOCAL CHURCH that is given the task to call and send missionaries. It is true that in our complex world, mission agencies serve a good purpose. For a church to send and equip one missionary effectively, it would need to hire several full-time legal and financial experts. The mission agency can come alongside the LOCAL CHURCH and supply those needs as well as an extra layer of accountability for the missionary. But again, I hasten to say that a mission agency must never usurp the authority of the LOCAL CHURCH. Furthermore, the mission agency NEVER sends a missionary! The LOCAL CHURCH has the God-given task of calling, commissioning, and sending missionaries.
The mission agency which I represent is named “Adelphos” which means “brother” in Greek. In the first constituting document of the mission, signed over 26 years ago, the second sentence reads, “this name defines us and gives character to our relationship to the LOCAL CHURCH.” That is to say, we are a brother, coming alongside of the church helping it in its task of sending missionaries.
C. It is the sending church that has the predominate responsibility to support its missionary. But that’s a broad topic in itself and so will be dealt with in a future article. If you want a sneak preview of several things I will say on that topic, get the book Senders . Its author, Paul Seger, says things much more elegantly and convincingly than I ever could (and I don’t receive any kickback for that ad!). I believe it behooves the sending church to help its missionary find support. And on the flip side of the support picture, I like what one person said on a Facebook ministry group that I belong to, "We do not support missionaries, we support churches that send missionaries..." Again, we will go more in-depth on this topic at a later date.
So, in order to bring all the elements into the picture, let’s illustrate it this way:
The LOCAL CHURCH plays the central role in the calling, training, and sending of the missionary, but may elect to ask Bible colleges, mission agencies, and other churches to come along side of them in support of their missionary. And those organizations always stay under submission to the sending LOCAL CHURCH.
So, as we start this series, we see that the first characteristic of "A Missions-minded Church” is that it is a LOCAL CHURCH that realizes its centrality in the plan of God for world-wide evangelism and church planting.
Our next article will examine the fact that “A Missions-minded Church” PREACHES AND TEACHES THE BIBLE.