What Kind of Church Will It Take?
Preparing the church of today for success in world evangelism.
This article is the third in an ongoing series addressing the broad subject of missions in the local church today.
Clearly God is up to something big in His global plan. Statist-ics indicate that more people are coming to Christ now than at any other time in the history of Christianity. Yet, we would all agree, there is much, more to do before we can say that the Gospel is accessible to all the people groups of the world.
In our first article we reviewed five foundational principles and dynamics for mobilizing the body of Christ through the local church. In our second article, we looked at the role of the local church in God's global plan. We are convinced that the church, the body of Christ, is God's instrument to evangelize the world, and the local church is His primary instrument.
In this article, we will look at current local church culture and discuss the descriptive terms that identify a local church's approach to global evangelization. All evangelical churches, regardless of their denomination or affiliation, fall into one of the following categories or paradigms as it relates to their approach to global evangelization. Finally, we will discuss the essential elements of the mobilization process.
Almost all churches, especially those in the United States, have traditionally been characterized as what we call supporting churches. There are two kinds of supporting churches.
- Institutional supporting churches: A supporting church that is connected to a denomination has dependence as its key concept. In other words, the church is dependent upon another entity, usually a denominational organization, to set the missions agenda and develop strategies. The church supports missions by channeling its resources through denominational institutions to do the work of missions on the church's behalf. This does not mean that all of the church's outreach efforts are channeled through institutions, but the majority usually are. These churches often don't have relationships with missionaries, nor have they, as a rule, become personally involved in mission projects and opportunities outside of their own church area.
- Personal supporting churches: A supporting church with an independent profile--one that is not connected to a denomination or fellowship of churches--traditionally has had to set its own agenda and rely upon missionaries or global missions organizations to develop strategies. The key concept here is independence. The church, by necessity, supports missionaries by personally identifying with them and channeling resources directly to the missionary or global missions organization. Though this approach has served the body of Christ well, it doesn't really connect with the younger components of today's multi-generational church--from the Baby Boomers to Generation Y. While this model has allowed for identifying with missionaries, it has not, as a rule, produced relationships that lead to partnerships which are characterized by personal involvement.
Both of these designations, institutional and personal, are identified with the support paradigm. We are not criticizing, condemning, or proposing the demise of this model. However, we do believe that if we continue to embrace the support model alone we will limit the involvement of generations born from 1943 onward from participation in God's global cause, thus minimizing our opportunities to reach the world for Christ.
We propose a new paradigm called partnership. The key concept of the partnership model is interdependence. In this instance, the church sets its agenda and develops strategies in cooperation with missionaries and global missions organizations. This requires mutual involvement and results in mutual benefit to the church and its ministry partners. The church partners synergistically with missionaries through personal participation that includes "hands-on" involvement, strategy development, prayer commitment, financial commitment and more.
We recognize that some mega-churches have moved to become their own sending agency independent of any para-church agencies. However, we believe that the best approach is the partnership paradigm.
We acknowledge that the local church is presented in scripture as the sending organization (Acts 13), but we believe God has raised up para-church agencies--denominational institutions, mission agencies, etc.--to be servant facilitators and partners in the global task. This is going to require a new respect by para-church agencies for the primacy of the local church in God's global plan. We do not believe local churches are going to have a proper partnership with para-church agencies unless para-church agencies adopt the partner paradigm and see themselves as servant facilitators of local churches, servants who are dedicated to empowering local churches to reach the world more effectively than ever.
For instance, when pastors receive a call or letter from a mission agency, they often think, "How much money do they want?" Some pastors may perceive --correctly or incorrectly--that the mission agency is viewing the local church as a pool of resources from which to draw. It is going to require a major paradigm shift in both the missions community and local churches if we are to build more effective bridges and facilitate effective partnerships between local churches and the missions community.
Now we are ready for the question: Why should we implement the partnership paradigm? The most important answer is generational dynamics! The support paradigm has served the body of Christ well and will continue to be an important principle in global evangelization. However, as stated earlier the present generations do not generally identify with this paradigm. In mobilizing hundreds of churches, we recognized the following common characteristics of several generations--starting with the Boomers through Generation Y.
Purpose driven: they want to know why they should be involved
a. Scripturally: they are motivated by the missions basis of the Bible
b. Practically: they are motivated by strategic, measurable goals with contemporary, creative, cutting-edge strategies for their accomplishment
- Personality motivated: they want to build meaningful relationships
- Project oriented: they want hands-on involvement
The mobilization process is defined as the process of teaching believers in a local church to understand God's global plan, motivating them to a loving response to God's word, and providing opportunities for them to use their gifts, abilities and resources individually and corporately to accomplish His global plan. We have discovered that three steps are involved.
First, the mobilization process begins with an understanding of the global missions basis of the Bible. Therefore, we must teach the Biblical truth that we were created for God's purpose and glory (Col. 1:16) and that the Bible is primarily about God's over-arching purpose that all people should worship Him (Rev. 5:9-10). Further, we see that God has designed the local church to serve as the primary instrument to carry the good news of Jesus to the peoples of the world. Local church pastors and church leaders should recommit themselves to teaching and preaching this very important truth.
Second, this scriptural truth provides the foundation for the development of a philosophy of life and ministry in which God's purpose and plan permeates every facet of our individual lives and the lives of our local churches. My own pastor is a great example of this. He rarely preaches a sermon or leads a service without referring to God's heart for the world. He has scripturally embraced the global missions basis of the Bible, deeply rooting it into his entire life--and it just exudes from him! He has led our church to embrace the world from an Acts 1:8 perspective. We not only have a growing, thriving local church, but we also have started 12 mission churches in the greater Atlanta area while reaching out to the world beyond the borders of the United States in an incredible manner. In the last nine years we have commissioned over 60 couples or singles for career missionary service. This year we will send over 600 people on 29 short-term trips in the United States and around the world in cooperation with our partnering missionaries. Missions is now the personality of our church! It is who we are, not just something we do! We believe and practice the maxim that missions is the mission of the church!
Third, there must be practical implementation. As leaders we must provide creative, contemporary, contextualized and cutting-edge opportunities for every believer to use their gifts and talents in God's kingdom work. In a later article we will discuss the eight personalized dynamics which, if implemented, will enable a church to advance toward being a church that is on mission with God to the ends of the earth. However, make no mistake about it. If we teach and preach the global missions basis of the Bible, ingrain it into our philosophy of life and ministry and then do not provide the practical outlets for the people in the pews, we are going to have some very frustrated people!
We are seeing hundreds of pastors and church leaders become rejuvenated in their ministries as they refocus on the global heart of God, understand their role in leading their churches to refocus on the "main thing" and then see their people energized as they discover their place in God's Kingdom. This is not a panacea for all local church problems, but it certainly does minimize the trivia that detracts us from the "main thing"! May God help us to embrace the truth, internalize the truth and then externalize it through acts and attitudes of worship and kingdom work that will result in all peoples having an opportunity to hear the wonderful message of salvation through Jesus Christ.
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.