A Fresh Perspective on Mobilizing the Church
Years of experience in evangelism, pastoring and missions has given Larry Reesor a passion for mobilizing churches and leading them to be obedient to the Great Commission. As founder and president of Global Focus, Reesor is introducing pastors and churches to the principles of personalized involvement in global missions. The partnership of Global Focus with the International Mission Board has resulted in an unprecedented thrust of mobilization among Southern Baptist churches.
President International Mission Board
of the Southern Baptists
These are exciting days in the history of the church of Jesus Christ. People are coming to Christ in record numbers around the globe. Missiologists are amazed at the rapid advance of the Gospel in places where the message of Christ has never penetrated or is proliferating where it was only scarcely known. Clearly, the wind of the Holy Spirit is sweeping our globe in an unprecedented manner.
These are times that demand "our utmost for His highest." The church of Jesus Christ simply must capitalize on the unprecedented opportunities before us to fulfill the command of Christ to take the Gospel to every person. Never before in the history of the church have there been so many positive dynamics in place making it possible for us to realize the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
In times like these, buzzwords or phrases are either born or popularized which clearly communicate key thoughts, ideas or issues related to the times. One of these current words is mobilization. Mobilization can mean different things in different contexts. This article is intended to be an introductory article in a series related to mobilization. Our intent is to address the issue of mobilization specifically as it relates to the local church.
Dr. Ralph Winter has clearly sounded the clarion call for mobilizers. He says, "Mission mobilization activity is more crucial than field missionary activity. Wouldn't it be better to awaken one hundred sleeping firemen than to hopelessly throw your own little bucket of water on a huge fire yourself?" I could not agree more, yet the term mobilization can be confusing. Dr. Winter defines mobilization as "moving individuals out of positions in everyday life into career service in the bloodstream of the global mission cause." This is true in general, but may I suggest we clarify or refine the term as it relates to the local church?
I suggest we define mobilization in the context of the local church in the following way: "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 will address many issues related to mobilizing local churches for His global cause, but it is imperative that we establish this term.
I have focused my personal ministry as an evangelist, pastor, and mission agency leader for many years in this area of local church mobilization. These articles come from the crucible of experience and not unpracticed theory. They are fallible, but they have been tested. I trust you will receive them in the spirit in which they are written.
The following statement from Dr. Oswald Smith, famed pastor of the Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada, has been somewhat controversial, but it does serve to make a very important point: "Why should anyone hear the Gospel twice until everyone has heard it once?" Though I am passionate about this declaration that every person on earth should have the opportunity to hear the Gospel message, I am even more passionate about all the people of the earth becoming worshippers of our Heavenly Father. Though He is not willing that any should perish, He is more concerned that the people of the earth recognize who He is and worship Him. John Piper opens his book, Let the Nations Be Glad, with this statement, "Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church, worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn't." Missions follows after a desire to see God glorified throughout the earth. The people of the earth cannot worship Him if they don't know, and they can't know if they can't hear, and they cannot hear if we do not tell them!
You may call this process whatever you choose: world evangelization, world missions, fulfilling the Great Commission, etc. But whatever your motivation to see this task accomplished, we would agree, I trust, that it is God's desire that the Gospel go to all peoples. If this task is to be accomplished, it is His church that will complete it.
As we address this most important subject of mobilizing local churches for God's great global cause, we will progressively move from precept to precept. In this article, let us look at some of the key subjects we have come to believe are essential to this task of mobilizing the church for His global cause. In ensuing articles, we will address them in more depth.
Five Foundational Understandings
The local church is God's primary instrument to evangelize the world. This concept is a shock to many, but we believe it is essential to embrace if we are to fulfill the command of Christ to take the Gospel to every person. We believe this is Scripturally and practically correct. We have a strong commitment to the primacy of the local church in God's plan.
The pastor is the key influencer in the local church for the cause of global missions and must, in cooperation and in concert with the church leaders, lead the way to mobilize the local church.
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.
The local church must intentionally develop a corporate purpose, a corporate strategy, and thus a corporate personality related to God's global cause. In other words, missions must be who you are as a church, not just what you do. Missions must be your church's personality, not just a program. Missions must be the mission of the church!
Global missions must permeate every facet and phase of church life. It must not be a segmented "program" or just one of many programs of the local church. We believe that for too long we have segmented outreach, evangelism and missions in the local church.
We believe that the basis for a corporate strategy for the local church is found in Jesus' words in Acts 1:8; "... and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." In its simplest form, the Jerusalem ministry would relate to your church's local outreach, Judea and Samaria would relate to regional and national levels, and the ends of the earth would address international ministry.
Therefore, we have found it is best to bring all the church's outreach ministries (i.e., local evangelism, missions, etc.) under one umbrella of global missions. This umbrella would then encompass Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth, with an understanding that with geographic designations there must be cultural implications. For instance, a church that adopts an unreached people group in a remote part of the world should also look to reach those same people in their designated Jerusalem, Judea or Samaria. Someone in your church with a passion for local evangelism should also be challenged to participate in some ends-of-the-earth mission opportunity. As local church leaders, we must challenge people to their global responsibility and then provide creative contemporary, cutting-edge opportunities for them to be involved.
There must be an understanding of the generational dynamics in a local church, and global missions must be approached practically from a generational perspective.
We simply cannot approach missions from the perspective of the builder generation if our church is full of boomers, busters and X'ers. While we often study these groups from a church growth perspective, we must also approach the practical implementation of global missions with an eye on generational dynamics. To reach the present generation we must be "contemporary, cutting edge, and contextual" in our practical approach to global missions in the local church. And yet we must not forget to include practical dynamics that appeal to the builder generation. There is no room for inflexibility if we are to lead our churches to be on mission with God to the ends of the earth.
We must understand that mobilization is a process, not a "quick fix." We have found that the process is threefold. First, we must address the issue of Biblical conviction. If we approach mobilization without a proper Scriptural understanding of God's heart for the world and His global cause, both of which permeate Scripture, we will never prioritize it in the local church. We must preach and teach that the global heart of God is the basis for global missions in the local church. Second, we must work toward these truths becoming part of every believer's philosophy of life and ministry.
Embracing these truths and making them part of who we are will change the way people view life itself. It will certainly change the way they see themselves as a vital part of God's global cause. Third, as previously stated, we must, as leaders in local churches, provide practical implementation or avenues of involvement for our people using their gifts, abilities and resources for His global cause.
Three New Perspectives
Personalization is the key principle that will unleash the local church for global missions. Personalization is a first cousin to mobilization. We define personalization as "every believer using his or her gifts, abilities, and resources in God's global cause, which is gathering worshippers unto Himself." Every believer, no matter how young or how old, is important to God and useful in His Kingdom cause. It is our role as leaders to teach people their worth to God, challenge them regarding their vital role in His Kingdom, and provide avenues of involvement as a practical expression of their gifts, abilities and resources in His global cause. Personalization is the key!
Personalization has two vital aspects: identification and involvement. Believers must identify with a particular missionary, project or cause. What naturally follows from identifying with missionaries or mission outreaches is a meaningful relationship with the mission personnel. Relationship then leads to involvement in the missionary task. Both relationship and involvement are significant to the present generation. The Scriptures say, "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21). The converse is also true: where your heart is, there your treasure will also be. If we will implement the personalization principle, "let us do it with you," we will learn that when people are personally involved, the resources follow! Personalization will enable believers to utilize their gifts, abilities and resources in the Kingdom, allow them unbelievable fulfillment as believers, and will also accelerate the work of the Kingdom in incredible ways.
We must move from the "support" paradigm to the "partnership" paradigm. The previous paradigm, one of supporting others financially in order for them to do ministry on your behalf, served the body of Christ well in the previous generation. However, it did not fully facilitate the expression of personalization which is relevant to the current generation. The support paradigm now provides the basis for a new paradigm which meets the current generation: the principle of partnership.
To explain further, the traditional approach for most denominations has been an institutional one: "You give us the resources and we will do it for you." Most nondenominational and/or interdenominational mission organizations have had a quasi-institutional approach in which the missionaries made a personal appeal for support. Although the quasi-institutional approach was somewhat personalized, the churches rarely developed relationships which led to partnerships, and out of which grew projects.
We believe the partnership paradigm is the most effective one for today's generation. We even find the builder generation gets excited about personalization once they find it is not a threat to their more established and accepted methodologies. It must not be an either/or, but a both/and approach. The partnership approach can have different levels, but it will, we believe, allow for greater personalization and thus, greater advancement of the Kingdom.
Missionaries must no longer see themselves as just implementers of the missionary task, but also as mobilizers of the missionary resource.
This will really require a major paradigm shift in the way that mission agencies, denominational or non-denominational, approach their role in the missionary endeavor. The individual missionaries and agencies must see themselves as servants, facilitators, and partners with the local church in the global cause. This paradigm shift will, we believe, enable churches to be more true to the New Testament model, and allow them to be more effective in fulfilling their God-given roll as New Testament churches. However, it will also accelerate the missionary endeavor. Missionaries are finding that they can accomplish much more through synergistic partnerships than they could ever do alone.
We are seeing countless pastors rejuvenated in their ministries as they gain new vision for the local church and their personal ministries. They are anointed with fresh oil! They begin to see their role and their church's role from a new perspective. Through personalization, they find exciting, effective ways to influence the world for Christ. We are seeing revival-like atmospheres in churches that were either stagnated or very provincial in their approach. We are seeing unbelievable resources released for the Kingdom! We are seeing incredible numbers of boomers, busters, and X'ers commit to career missions and get involved in partnership missions with short-term mission trips as the key component of these partnerships.
One rural church recently implemented the dynamics and principles that we teach and saw their missions giving increase almost eight times from the previous year. They have developed or are developing five strategic mission partnerships on several continents. In addition, they are sending over one-third of their people on partnership mission trips the first year, and have between fifteen and twenty people who have committed to career missions. They never dreamed they could touch the world so significantly from their rural area. They have never before felt like such a true New Testament church! God intends for every believer to be on mission with Him to the ends of the earth--starting right in their own geographic Jerusalem. We simply must forsake a penchant for form, and focus on function in the local church. We must, as leaders, be the instruments of God to lead our churches to more effectively reach the world for Christ.
Be assured that a global vision will not diminish your local vision. I repeat that it is not an either/or proposition. It is both/and! We have scores of pastors that testify that as they developed a global view and led their churches to reach the world "out there," they never experienced more blessings locally.
My home church is one of the fastest growing churches in our denomination. My pastor says that the more we reach our arms around the world "out there," the more God blesses us locally. We are building buildings debt free, growing numerically, receiving offerings over budget, and starting local churches in our Jerusalem where needed. At the same time, we are exploding in involvement in our Judea and Samaria, and especially to the ends of the earth. We focus on function, not form! It is a privilege to be part of a local church that is clearly being unusually blessed of God. What a joy to have a pastor who is concerned more with function than with form. It is a "God place" that reflects the global heart of God!
As we face the new millennium, God wants our local churches, His primary instruments, to be vibrant, alive, and energized churches. Becoming a global church is not a panacea for problems. However, we have found there is a special dynamism that comes when a local church moves outside of itself to be an effective instrument of God to fulfill His global cause: for the peoples of the earth to worship the true and living God.
The pastor must lead the charge in every area if the local church is to maximize its efforts.
Missions must be your church's personality, not just a program. Missions must be the mission of the church!
The traditional approach for most denom-inations has been an institutional one: "You give us the resources and we'll do [missions] for you."