NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Not long ago I was invited to preach for a good friend who was pastor of a rural church in Morganton, N.C. This was the town where my mother lived, and he used this fact as a subtle bit of pressure to get me to come for a revival emphasis. When I drove into the church parking lot, I noticed that much of the land was occupied by a cemetery. This is usually not a good sign when it comes to church growth since it is difficult to park on headstones. My meager expectations were quickly exceeded as the building was filled night after night.
One night before I stood to preach, the pastor stopped the service to indicate he had received a call from the International Mission Board expressing a need for a couple to join a team going to Vietnam. The church knelt in prayer until the Spirit led a couple to respond. The church then took a love offering to help to provide for the expenses of the trip. On another evening they commissioned a group of young people who were leaving for a mission trip to Texas to assist in a building project. Once again they took an offering to buy the necessary materials.
I was moved by the vision and generosity of this church. I asked the pastor what accounted for the rapid growth of this rural church, and he responded without hesitation. “When you only aim for Jerusalem, the target is often too small to hit. When you aim for the world, it makes it easier for you to hit your own Jerusalem.” In other words, when this church developed a passion for the world, it began to reach Jerusalem. If you want to see your church reach Jerusalem, teach it to aim for the world.
WHAT IS THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH?
We are often guilty of defining the mission of the church in terms of our own comfort. We want the church to meet our needs and to keep us comfortable. I sometimes call this “the Love Boat syndrome.” We are pleased with the church as long as the music isn’t loud enough to disturb our rest, the temperature is not too hot or cold, and nobody sits in our deck chair. The ship of Zion is not the Love Boat. It’s a hospital ship, and there are no deck chairs on hospital ships. We are saved to serve. We are a missional community.
Yet, even when we get on the same page about the need to “reach out,” we often think only in terms of reaching our community. Have you ever had anyone ask why we talk so much about the lost people at the ends of the earth when there are plenty of lost and needy people in our own community? I have found that those who ask that question generally do nothing to reach the lost at the ends of the earth or at the end of their own street. We cannot leave the task of reaching the world to some mission organization; our church has the responsibility for reaching the nations.
ACTS 1:8 DEFINES THE SCOPE OF OUR MISSION
When you read Acts 1:8, you must remember that this commission was given in the context of the resurrection appearances of the Risen King. Can you imagine the excitement generated by the presence of the resurrected Lord? Wouldn’t it have been exciting to hear Him teach about His Kingdom? Does it surprise you that the first response of the disciples is parochial in nature? “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” They are so like us. They were still thinking about their own desire — the restoration of the kingdom to Israel.
The King has determined to use His church as the instrument through which He will expand His kingdom throughout Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. This commission is accompanied by the promise of power but also the assurance of personal transformation which will enable believers to accomplish Kingdom ministry. Their mission to the ends of the earth is not an option. “Witness” is not something they must learn to do; it is something they are! Witnessing is nothing more than sharing your Kingdom story in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The task was not only determined by the Lord; the scope of the task was equally a divine prerogative. The four quadrants — Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth — must be engaged simultaneously. Every local church needs a strategic plan and Kingdom relationships that will enable it to work with like-minded Kingdom citizens to accomplish the Acts 1:8 mandate.
PENTECOST DECLARES THE GLOBAL SCOPE OF OUR MISSION
Luke tells us that “devout men from every nation under heaven” had gathered in Jerusalem. Pilgrims from far-flung regions, scattered by the dispersion, came to Jerusalem for the celebration of Pentecost. The crowd was bewildered when they heard the message because each one heard “them speaking in his own language” (Acts 2:6). Their surprise is registered in verse 8: “How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?”
It seems likely that they would have been aware of the rabbinic tradition that, in the words of F.F. Bruce, “the Ten Commandments were promulgated with single sound, yet it says, ‘All the people perceived the voice.'” Not only was the law for every nation, the Gospel of the resurrected King was for all peoples. This passage allows us to hear the heartbeat of God for every tribe, every tongue, and every people group to know Him as their rightful King.
THE GLOBAL TASK IS CENTERED IN THE LOCAL CHURCH
The story of reaching the “ends of the earth” begins in Acts 11:19 and is birthed by the Holy Spirit through the local church at Antioch. The church at Antioch was founded by the Jews who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out after the stoning of Stephen.
Luke gives us a glimpse of the dynamic growth of this church by the three-fold repetition of the phrase “large numbers” (Acts 11:21, 24, and 26). This church was effective in reaching its Jerusalem. Luke also allows us to visit the dynamic worship service that was born from passionate prayer and fasting. It was in the context of prayer and worship that God gave the church at Antioch a burden for reaching the nations (Acts 13:1-3). It is not insignificant that this church sent Paul and Barnabas, the best of their leaders. The Kingdom-centered church gives its best to the task that is at the heart of its King.
Denominations and mission agencies have their role to play in the Great Commission, but it is the Kingdom-centered church that is empowered and commissioned to reach the nations. It therefore becomes the role of the denomination and its agencies to assist and partner with churches in this divine initiative. In a future article we will look at the need for a “cooperative spirit” to enable the Kingdom-centered church to work together with like-minded partners for the accomplishment of the Acts 1:8 mandate.
PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS FOR THE KINGDOM-CENTERED COMMUNITY
Mission, passion and commitment begin with and flow out of a love commitment to the Messiah King, who desires that every people group come to know Him. The command to reach the ends of the earth is not an option but a command.
The missional church must focus on four tasks:
— Praying. A mission passion will be birthed and nurtured in your church when you develop a strategic plan for praying for mission personnel, unreached people groups, and a greater mission passion among the members of the church.
— Going. The first impulse of the first disciples was to go, and the first impulse of the Kingdom-centered community will be to go. “Going” will demand that you mobilize church members to do missions and not just pray about missions. Every church should have a goal of having mission teams participate in all four quadrants of the Acts 1:8 challenge. The smaller church may need to rotate from quadrant to quadrant in order to accomplish this over a four-year period.
— Sending. We should pray and teach with a goal that every church would have the privilege of sending “one of their own” to the ends of the earth. This begins with appropriate mission education for every age group. It is fostered by the mission strategy that enables church members to go and participate in missions. Every pastor should regularly invite people to respond to the call to the “ends of the earth.”
— Giving. It would be disingenuous to send missionaries to the ends of the earth without a commitment to fund their ministry. People must be challenged to give, and the church must demonstrate good stewardship by adopting a “church lifestyle” that will enable it to allocate a minimum of 20 percent of its budget for the Acts 1:8 task, with no less than 10 percent allocated for those who have never heard the Gospel. This should be seen as the starting point, not a termination point.
Our International Mission Board has identified four stages through which churches progress in their missions involvement. The supporting church engages in missions by supplying the needs of missionaries through the denomination and mission agencies. The exploring church has begun to ask the Spirit to reveal to it where it might actually join Him in mission activity. The engaging church has developed partnerships that allow it to participate with mission partners on the field. The multiplying church is already involved in missions and is actively seeking opportunities to assist other churches in becoming involved.
The Kingdom-centered church does not simply focus on church growth; it desires to be engaged in Kingdom expansion to the ends of the earth, which requires that it partner with other like-minded Kingdom entities.
Kenneth S. Hemphill is the SBC national EKG strategist.