The Local Church’s Role in Mission
In the January 2000 issue, Dr. Larry Reesor began a series entitled "Mobilizing the Local Church for the New Millennium." In his first article, he gave an overview of the topic, relating key concepts that he asserts must be understood in order for the Body of Christ at large to embrace the task of the church: reaching the world for Christ. In this latest issue, the second in the series, Dr. Reesor expands upon the first key concept.
While we agree with the important role of the local church in missions, we also believe that it is unwise for local churches to launch out into missions on their own without the support and advice of established mission agencies who are experienced in overcoming the enormous complexities of cross-cultural outreach.
It is generally accepted that each individual who makes up the Body of Christ, His universal Church, is responsible to get the message of Christ's salvation to the world. Each of us is called to be a "world Christian." We must be reminded, however, that over 90 percent of the references to the church in the New Testament are to the local church. God values the life and ministry of local churches, the structure through which He primarily works. His work is primarily accomplished via relationships in and through local churches. Therefore, to put it succinctly, God's mandate to reach the world is primarily to individual believers who together comprise local churches.
In our consideration of the topic of mobilizing the church for the new millennium, we must understand mobilization within the context of mobilizing local churches, in view of a corporate strategy and a corporate personality.
The direction of the local church is influenced primarily through the pastor and other key leadership. However, we have found that regardless of the church polity or structure, the pastor must lead the charge in every area if the local church is to maximize its efforts to reach the world for Christ. Pastors play a major role because they serve as the gateway to the people through their pulpit ministry and through their role as a main leader of the church. As such, they usually either lead the key lay leaders or, at the least, have a major influence on them.
Therefore, if the local church is to embrace the philosophy that "missions is the mission of the church," the pastor must be the one to establish vision and direction. And if missions is to become the "personality" of the church rather than just a church program, the pastor is the most effective one to lead the charge. In cooperation and in concert with the church leaders, the pastor will lead the way to mobilize the local church for the Great Commission.
The primary purpose of the church is to glorify God, to worship Him. Further, the primary task of the church is to evangelize the world, both domestically and internationally. It is imperative for the local church to embrace and understand its vital role in God's global plan. In fulfilling its God-given task under His direction, the local church indeed brings much glory to God.
The Great Commission, given in several forms in Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15, Luke 24:44-48, John 20:19-23, and Acts 1:8, is Jesus' command to the church to reach the whole world with the Gospel. Though we have had 59 generations and 2000 years to accomplish the task, we have failed thus far to complete it.
As we refocus on God's agenda and seek to facilitate God's desire that all people know Him, we must reevaluate the way we "do" church. We must be open to changing our present methods and strategies.
However, we must first begin with who we are. A change in our convictions--our inner self--leads to a change in our behavior. In other words, "being" always precedes "doing."
God's Passion for the Church
God's desire is that the Church be what He intended it to be! What, then, is the Church to be? The Church is to be a living organism, operating under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, bringing people into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. The Church is to be transformed from within into the image of Christ and will naturally lead others to become true worshippers of God through Jesus Christ, with His agenda as theirs.
The challenge to be Christ-like is grounded in Scripture. In Philippians 2:5, Paul taught us to emulate Christ: "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." Peter exhorted us to "follow in His steps" (I Peter 2:21). Even the term "Christian" means "Christ one."
Taking it a step further, the full implications of Christ-likeness would have to include having a heart for the lost world, because the unsaved world was always on Jesus' heart. He said, "For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost" (Matthew 18:11, NKJV). Therefore, if we are to teach people to be like Christ, then we must teach them to have Christ's global vision, passion and heart. We must intentionally teach them to be World Christians, to have a heart for the world like Jesus did. If we do otherwise, we are not developing Christians in the truest sense of the term.
God's Power for the Church
The empowerment for the local church to fulfill its role in the Kingdom comes from the Holy Spirit.
The empowerment for each Christian to be a devoted follower of Christ comes from the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
God's Pattern for the Church
In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit does indeed come. The church is birthed and its mission is established. That mission, under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, is to carry out His command to take the gospel to the world, from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
The pattern that the first church established is one of function, not form! In order for us–His Church–to fulfill our assignment, we all must function together. Beginning first with God's transforming power in our lives, each of us must play our respective role in the Kingdom so that the Church functions synergistically and fulfills the task of reaching the world for Christ.
Further, the function itself is more important than the form that we use to accomplish the function.
Managers are concerned with efficiency. For instance, they are interested in making their machine operate in an optimal fashion. They ask, "How can I make this machine (form) run more smoothly?" Leaders, on the other hand, are more concerned with effectiveness. They ask, "What is the point?" or "Why am I doing this?"
Function and Form in the Early Church
- In the early Church, the primary activities were key ministry functions such as prayer, fellowship, evangelism, etc. These functions are integral to the Church no matter what the culture or time period.
- In the early Church, the outward forms of religious practice were culturally-driven and non-binding on other cultures.
The Pattern of the Early Church (Acts 2:41-47)
The pattern of the early church was a pattern of function. Worshipping God was central to the first church. Worship fueled the people for ministry. It is the purpose. However, worship as a practice is also a ministry function. As the people recognized and acknowledged the supreme worth of God and set their minds' attention and hearts' affection on God, they were moved and motivated to function in ministry. We believe that the first church set several spiritual functions that we would all do well to follow.
Key Ministry Functions:
- Evangelism (vs. 41, 47 and the remainder of Acts): Sharing the Gospel message with those who are not believers.
- Teaching/Training (vs. 42a): The teaching of doctrine and the modeling of Christian lifestyle in order to build Christ-like followers of Jesus.
- Prayer (vs. 42): Communion with God through prayer.
- Fellowship (vv. 42, 44, 46): Spiritual sharing and communion with others.
- Ministry (vv. 44, 45): Serving God through serving the saints.
- Worship (vv. 46, 47): Honoring God through acts of love and adoration.
Now, let us follow the early church and see how it developed.
The Development of the Early Church (Acts 1-13)
Jerusalem: In Acts 1:8, there was the promise of the Holy Spirit and the challenge, under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, to start where they were and progress to the ends of the earth.
Judea and Samaria: By Acts 8, the church seemed to be functioning fairly well, as outlined in chapter 2, but they had not yet left Jerusalem. The people from around the world who were at Pentecost and who received Christ at that time had taken His message to their countries, but the Church at Jerusalem did not venture beyond home. Then, Saul came on the scene and persecuted the church. Under persecution, the church finally took the Gospel to Judea and Samaria. It was persecution that forced the Church to leave its comfort zone (Acts 8:1-4)!
Ends of the Earth: In chapter 9, Saul was converted and miraculously changed. By chapter 13, Saul had become a dedicated servant of Christ, and, with Barnabas, was sent out from the church at Antioch to take the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 13:1-3).
Finally, the Church obeyed the command of Christ as given in Acts 1:8 to take the Good News to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth! With both cultural and geographical implications, it is clear we must take the Gospel to people around us and move progressively from there to the far corners of the globe.
Just as the early church at Jerusalem was turned inward, focused upon itself, it is also natural for churches today to be turned inward. But it was wrong then, and it is wrong now.
After his conversion to Christ, Saul became Paul, the greatest theologian and the greatest missionary of the New Testament!
The remainder of the Book of Acts recounts Paul's three missionary journeys. The majority of the subsequent New Testament books were written to churches founded on his missionary journeys. Paul, the most prominent person of the New Testament other than Jesus, and one of the most prolific writers in the New Testament, was our greatest missionary example.
Paul's greatest doctrinal book, Romans, sums up the overarching purpose of the church in his conclusion to Chapter 16.
So that all nations might believe and obey Him--to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.
Therefore, as we consider the issue of mobilizing the local church for the new millenium, let us embrace the key role that the local church is to play in reaching the globe for Christ.
Dr. Larry Reesor is the founder and president of Global Focus. Pastoral experience, coupled with an evangelistic and missions ministry, has enabled him to understand and work with local churches. He has traveled extensively to mission fields, motivating pastors and churches to greater mission vision and involvement.
The Church is God's instrument to communicate the message of Christ to the people of the world, and the local church is His primary instrument. The New Testament Church did not have much form, but it did function effectively.