RICHMOND, Va. (BP) — Over 100 years ago, George Pentecost, an evangelist who co-labored with D.L. Moody, said, “To the pastor belongs the privilege and responsibility of solving the foreign missionary problem.”
Pentecost maintained that mission boards play important roles in missions — devising methods, fueling movements and raising money. But it’s the responsibility and privilege of pastors to feel the weight of the nations and to fan a flame for the global glory of God in every local church.
I believe he was right.
A high view of God’s sovereignty fuels death-defying devotion to God’s mission. People, and more specifically pastors who believe that God is sovereign over all things, will lead Christians to die for the sake of all peoples.
Let me be clear that I’m not saying pastors should neglect ministry to people in our local churches. I know there are people in our churches who are hurting, whose marriages are struggling, whose children are rebelling and who are walking through cancer and tumors and all sorts of other challenges in this life. We shouldn’t neglect local ministry to the body of Christ.
Nor should we neglect local mission in our communities or cities. We’ve been commanded to make disciples, and that command will most naturally and consistently play out right where we live, in the context of our immediate surroundings. Every church member ought to ask, “With the unique gifts God has given me and the Spirit of God who lives in me, how can I make disciples today right where I live?” In this way, there ought to be disciple-making and church planting efforts where we live and across North America.
In every city there should be pastors who lead their people to make disciples where they live, work and play, who impress upon their people the need to be involved in local ministry, and even lead some of their people to set aside the comforts of suburbia for the harsh realities of difficult places in their own cities for the sake of the Gospel.
At the same time, global missions can be tragically neglected.
I was near Yemen not long ago. Do you know how many believers there are in northern Yemen? Twenty or thirty out of 8 million people in the region — equal to the populations of Alabama and Mississippi combined. There are likely more believers in your Sunday School class or a couple of small groups in your church than there are in all of northern Yemen. That’s a problem.
It’s a problem because millions of people in the northern part of Yemen have no access to the Gospel. They join millions and millions of other unreached people in the world who are born, live and die without ever even hearing the Good News of what God has done for their salvation in Christ.
It’s not primarily the job of missions organizations to address that problem. This is primarily the job of every local church. Specifically, it’s the primary responsibility of every pastor of every local church to love people in that church and to love people in that community, all toward the ultimate end that the name of Christ might be praised among every group of people on the planet. That’s what the Spirit of Christ wants, so that’s what every Christian, every pastor and every local church should want.
When we read through the book of Acts, we see a clear priority within the roles of the local church — the priority of spreading the Gospel across the globe. In Acts 13, we see the church at Antioch worshiping, fasting and praying. In the context of that local church with its leaders, the Spirit set apart Paul and Barnabas as missionaries.
The church prayed over them and sent them out, supporting them as they went. Twice Paul returned to Antioch to encourage that local church, and then on his third missionary journey, he wrote a letter to another local church, one in Rome, to ask for their support in helping him get to Spain, where Christ had not yet been named. In this way, we see local churches sending, shepherding and supporting men and women on global missions.
In our time if you put these things together, you see that pastors love people in our local churches (local ministry) and we love people in our local communities (local mission) to the end that one day all peoples in all the world receive the Gospel of God and revere the glory of God (global missions). Local ministry matters in that it is part of a global God making clear through His people that every person on the planet might hear the glorious news of redemption in God through Jesus Christ.