by William R. O’Brien
The title of this article is misleading. What kind of mission are we talking about? A Christian mission? A world mission? If either of these is the focus of our discussion, that kind of mission does not have a future. If the focus is on the mission of God, we can talk about its future. We can talk about how it relates to the whole world and what role Christ-followers have in that mission.
A good many years ago corporations saw the need to state clearly both the vision of the organization and its mission. These two factors needed to be clearly stated so every person connected with the business could understand and buy into the mission of the company as they sought to serve their clients.
God predated all the corporate jargon. Dr. W.O. Carver, noted missions professor for fifty years at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, always asked students in his Introduction to Missions classes two questions: “What is the Bible all about?” and “Is it all about anything?” The rest of the course was showing how it is all about one thing – the mission of God.
In his latest book entitled, The Mission of God, Christopher J. H. Wright suggests we need to read the whole Bible in light of the overarching perspective of the mission of God. A missional understanding of the Bible “is nothing more than to accept that the biblical worldview locates us in the midst of a narrative of the universe behind which stands the mission of the living God.” It is stated in narrative form clearly enough so any one claiming to be a Christ-follower can eagerly serve the mission of the Owner/CEO.
Wright states this grand story (meta-narrative) reveals three realities: the reality of God, the reality of this story, and the reality of this people. Therefore, “the authority for our mission flows from the Bible because the Bible reveals the reality on which our mission is based.”
God created everything on purpose, with a purpose. We know who God is. We know who we are. We know where we are. We know the problem. We know the solution. How do we know? God has been telling the story since creation. God created co-managers of God’s creation, Adam and Eve. When they made a self-centered decision that cost them their original role and their residence, God’s grace preserved them and the original mission.
When the sins of the human race seemed so gross there was not anything worth preserving, God focused on one righteous man, Noah. Noah’s obedience encountered God’s grace and the mission was kept on track. And human kind was mandated to scatter and fill the earth.
When the human race decided to settle in, rather than scattering, and build a tower as a monument to their own genius, God judged them and scattered them. With this part of the narrative, we are left hanging. Where is the grace? Will the mission of God get back on track?
Genesis 12 gives the answer. God called Abraham. From his loins God called a people who were to be separate and apart from the ways of the world, but be very much in the world. They were the collective co-managers of God’s mission, a collective Adam, a pontiff people who were to be the bridge connecting God and all creation. But every century that passed seemed to blur any distinction between this special “people” and all other peoples. Was there even a remnant who understood why God chose them to serve God’s mission?
In the fullness of time God spoke the clearest Word ever spoken. The mission of God was fleshed out. The mission of God and the mission of Jesus were synonymous. As God was to the creation of a chosen people, Jesus was to the extended Israel that we call church. For the past 2000 years the church, as a servant to the mission of God, has been on a similar roller-coaster ride to that which Abraham’s descendants experienced. Faithful – unfaithful. True, the church has been planted in every known continent and nation, ranging from frightfully weak to apparently strong. Having said that, does it mean the task is complete? If not, what is the future of God’s mission on this earth and in the cosmos?
In our time, the Wind of the Spirit is blowing again. Many churches in the Western world did not even notice when the great shift occurred. The Southern hemisphere emerged as home to what we now call the Majority World Church. Seventy-five percent of the world’s Christians live in the southern and eastern world. The majority of believers do not speak English. A new apostolic era has dawned. Believers in Africa, Latin America and Asia take the Bible very seriously. They get involved in what they are reading, and are convinced it is as relevant for today as it was when it was written. They have jettisoned the Western style of “doing missions.” They move as the Spirit directs.
Let us look at specific pockets that illustrate the movement of the Spirit.
In 1900 there were 8.7 million Christians on the continent of Africa. In the year 2000 there were about 350 million Christians. According to Lamin Sanneh, native African scholar and professor at Yale Divinity School, in 1900 Muslims outnumbered Christians by a ratio of 4:1. In 2000 the ratio was almost 1:1. Sanneh attributes this explosive growth to certain factors: 1) Expansion took place after colonialism during a period of national awakening, 2) the overall, if delayed, effect of the translation of scripture into native African languages, and 3) African leaders stepping forward to lead the expansion without the disadvantage of foreign compromise. (Sanneh, Whose Religion Is Christianity) Was not the Spirit evident in all these factors? If trends continue, by 2050 there could be 600 million Christians on the continent of Africa.
Christianity Today, in its September 21, 2007 edition, reported that a research report read at a government meeting recently indicated there may be as many as 130 million Christians in China now, including about 20 million Catholics. For some perspective -the total population of Japan is 127 million.
Thomas Alan Harvey is quoted in David Aikman’s book entitled Jesus in Beijing:
Regardless of which policy the Chinese government pursues, the church in China will profoundly affect the shape of Christianity worldwide for generations to come.
David Aikman states the spread of China into Asia and the southern hemisphere in the past two decades will probably affect Christianity on a global scale.
Regardless of one’s position about the Chinese initiative called the Back to Jerusalem Movement, the wind of the Spirit has stirred the hearts of hundreds of Chinese believers who are committed to take the gospel down the silk roads leading from China through southern Asia and the Middle East to its point of origin. One can hear figures estimating as many as 100,000 Chinese missionaries will take up the challenge without a thought of ever returning home again.
Estimates of believers in South Korea number about 12 million or over twenty-five percent of the population. Some say over thirty-five percent of the military are Christian.
Korea is now the second largest missionary sending nation in the world. Reliable sources state there are 16,200 missionaries working in 180 countries. Others estimate those figures may be pushing 19,000. Korean churches are sending 1100 new missionaries out annually.
There are over 10,000 Indian missionaries working cross-culturally in their own country. Thousands of churches have been planted in the last decade.
Some evangelical leaders in the Philippines state there will be over 200,000 Filipino missionaries working around the world in the next few years. Already thousands of believers work in the market places of Middle East countries. They don’t look like traditional missionaries. They do take their faith very seriously.
The Majority World Church has over 103,000 missionaries working throughout the world, many of them among the least reached peoples on earth. The US and Canada have only 112,000 cross-cultural missionaries, many of them working in more traditional areas where the church has been planted for many years.
In the light of these anecdotal facts about the location of the world’s dynamic churches, what do you think is the future of the world Christian mission? No, that’s not the question. What is the future of the mission of God? It is moving toward its glorious climax where peoples from every tribe, every race and every nation will gather around the throne of God singing the praise of the only One who is worthy to be praised.
My prayer is that those of us who live in the northern hemisphere and the Western world will catch a glimpse of this grand procession of faithful Christ-followers and join hands and hearts in a collaborative effort to make Christ known to the ends of the earth. – William R. O’Brien, Bill and his wife Dellanna served for years as missionaries in SE Asia. He is a former Vice President of the Foreign Mission Board of the SBC and is regarded by many as a missions futurist.
The call to initiate a church network has been more of an Abraham calling than a Moses calling. When Moses was called by God to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt he clearly understood the history and heritage of a chosen people. There was a specific geographical location that held the promises of God. His job was to lead his people from captivity and back to the land of promise. His journey was no less an act of faith than Abraham’s – only more specific. Abraham on the other hand was told by God, “…go to the land I will show you”. He was on a faith journey into uncharted territory. If you had asked Abraham along the way, “Can I join in on your caravan?” – I think he might have said, “Sure…but I have no idea where we are going…only God knows.”
Pastors and church leaders ask me almost daily, “What does it mean to be a GCPN church?” If you have ever been in on the development of an endeavor newly birthed, you know the answers to developmental questions are always couched in process. There is a dream given by God and then there is the reality of where you actually stand. Many times the chasm between the dream and reality seem miles apart – particularly if you are an idealist. I don’t mind confessing my idealism. Jesus was the ultimate idealist. The dreams God has given me for GCPN are dreams of the Church and the Kingdom in their purest form…absent of skepticism, free from historical baggage, abounding in generosity, cooperative in nature and compliant with the will of God. GCPN is a new thing and we know that God is the daily Creator of all things new.
Pardon me if my answer to the question, “What does it mean to be a GCPN church?” sounds a bit idealistic. My temptation is to avoid answering that question at all because I think it is a question about labels, categorization, institution and form. I think God is less interested in organizations and institutions and more interested in movements of the Spirit. He has already instituted the one organization through which He intends to reach the world – the Church. The question I prefer to ask is one of essence and substance – “What are the characteristics and qualities of a GCPN church?” I hope the answers to this question are characteristic of your own church.
A GCPN Church…
- …is characterized by leaders who shepherd their local body to seek and embrace the revealed will of God and to obey regardless of cost.
- …is characterized by leadership with an unmanageable passion for God’s glory among every tribe, nation, people and tongue.
- …recognizes its corporate gifts within the Kingdom and offers them to the Kingdom at large.
- …is not self-focused or competitive. It considers how it may use its resources to strengthen other churches even to the point of sacrifice.
- …does not seek to control the network, but to be an equal partner in the world-wide mission of God.
- …values history and heritage, but does not consider them something to be grasped. It faces the future and values the eternal.
- …realizes that resourcing God’s mission could possibly mean fueling some movements that are neither North American nor Baptist.
- …is willing to initiate change within the local body toward missionality, realizing that the process may take time and an investment of spiritual energy, particularly if starting at ground zero.
In case you think I have managed to avoid the original question by being theoretical, I encourage you to join the network of GCPN at any or all of the following levels:
- Join in a conversational community that contributes ideas and resources through the blogsite.
- Invite pastors and missions leaders within the network to share their experiences and expertise with you as you seek to grow your church into a missional congregation.
- Contribute your mission expertise to network churches by being willing to serve as a consultant to a less-experienced church.
- Seek strategic guidance for healthy missiological practices from experienced missiologists within the network. Don’t just do something. Do it well.
- Contact the network office for assistance in designing a spiritual formation series for your church that will lead them to a greater understanding of God’s desire for the nations.
- Channel members of your congregation toward network causes in their area of giftedness.
- Begin the process of altering your church’s financial contributions to more accurately reflect God’s vision for your congregation.
- Assist in the development of network direction by offering your service to the GCPN Board of Directors.
- Designate a portion of your church’s mission offerings toward direct support of missionaries being sent from GCPN churches.
- Enable experienced missiologists to offer their time to network churches through financial support of the GCPN.
- Watch for on-line coaching materials for cross-cultural training within your congregation (to be posted this fall).
- Contribute toward the financial support of 12 regional networkers in 12 regions of the world to assist churches and sending organizations in strategic involvement.
I hope these are tangible first-steps toward you assisting GCPN in becoming all God intends for it to be. I am praying for you and you seek God’s wisdom for your church.
Cindy Wiles, Director
This article has been submitted anonymously by a believer who grew up as an MK from a traditional sending agency. In adulthood she has served as a teacher and field representative in a closed country. In an attempt to open the door for entry into areas of little access, she returned to the US to obtain a secular degree from a non-religious university. Although employed in a university in a large US City, she is returning to the field as a teacher in a secular educational institution in a closed country.
In the nineteenth century, some Chinese leaders were suspicious of missionaries, believing they were involved in the opium trade. Whether fact or fiction, this perception led to the doors of China slamming shut. Today, although the government has allowed churches to be reopened and 40 million Bibles to be published, it still denies entrance to those who call themselves missionaries.
The mission movement made great strides in 19th and 20th century, laying the groundwork for Scripture to be translated into many tongues and for a movement of the Spirit to transform peoples of many cultures. Health conditions improved. Living conditions improved. People from every continent embraced the Living Word. Unfortunately, in many places, Western culture was not clearly differentiated from Christianity. Because of this, along with the rise of patriotism, nationalism and a desire to assert their own cultural identity, many governments see missionaries as a threat to the survival of their cultures and deny entrance to those who call themselves missionaries.
In the latter part of the last century, governments began to oppose missionaries at the very core of who they are. Some of these governments made proselytizing illegal, especially for Christians, regardless of their citizenship. Other governments oppose missionaries precisely because their identity in Christ. Thus, a large proportion of governments across Asia deny entrance to those who call themselves missionaries.
Christ’s directive to the Church is clear: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15, NASB). Some mission organizations have countered the edicts of non-sympathetic governments by changing the words they used. They refer to their personnel in much the same way that international business agencies refer to their employees: agents, representatives, or field personnel. Since the government was not opposed to educators, medical personnel, or relief workers helping the country, some organizations sent teachers, doctors, nurses, and engineers to the field.
To some extent, these measures were successful. Christian doctors, nurses, teachers, businessmen, engineers, and other field personnel were allowed entrance into countries that denied entrance to missionaries. However, in order to protect such field personnel, the sending organizations had to cover any paper trails that would financially connect them with those on the field. They purge their names from the media (devotionals, newspapers, and the internet) that reminded supporters of the organization to pray for them. If a disgruntled official in any of the host countries discovered the Christian worker was tied to a mission organization, the Christian would be expelled.
What if there were no paper trail? If Christian workers were hired and fully supported by institutions or businesses in the host country, there would be no financial connections to discover. If friends and ministers, sensitive to the laws of the host country, upheld their responsibility to encourage and pray for each other as Christian workers do, could a disgruntled official oppose anything more than their Christian integrity? Though Christ’s directive is often the focal passage in commissioning services organized by missionary sending agencies, mission agencies and the missionaries they send do not have exclusive rights to the verse. The directive was first addressed to the eleven disciples. Carrying out the commission to “preach the gospel to all creation” is the right and responsibility of all those who believe Jesus’ message.
In carrying out Christ’s commission of all disciples, it does not really matter whether we are called field representative, teacher, doctor, engineer, or even tourist. It does not matter that we give up being called missionary; after all, it is not a biblical title. The important point is (and this is quite biblical as it is the root meaning of ekklesia, the Greek word for church) we are called.
Hammond Albert’s 1972 hit song has been rolling around in my sub-conscious thought throughout the last month, surfacing occasionally for a brief vocal expression – seems it never rains in southern California… After six years as pastor of First Baptist Church of Arlington, my husband was eligible for a sabbatical leave of absence. We could have spent that time anywhere in the world. But Dennis had a strong inclination from God that we were to spend it in Southern California. I, on the other hand, only six months into the development of GCPN, left Arlington like Lot’s wife. It took me the first ten days to stop looking eastward, chill out and finally decide that God had placed me in Southern California for a reason and I should perhaps figure out what that reason might be.
What I expected to be a test of endurance for me soon turned into an amazing journey of exploration and discovery. In the midst of the desert, I have experienced many God-ordained encounters that will forever shape my life. I feel like I’ve been attempting to drink from a fire hydrant of God’s abundant resources. I fully expect these encounters to be a shaping force in the development of the glocal ministries of First Baptist Church of Arlington and emerge as formative ideas for the church network of GCPN.
I’m a person put off by trends and fads. Perhaps that’s why I came to Southern California expecting a desert experience. I’m not inclined to walk into an emergent church, a Mosaic or a Saddleback and think, Wow! This is what I want to implement in my own church! God speaks to each church and its leadership in a unique way depending upon the context of the church. I’m not likely to listen to a lecture at the U.S. Center for World Mission and decide there is no way the church could possibly pull off the mission challenge without a sending agency. God speaks to each church in unique ways depending upon the context and constituency of the church. One lunch meeting with Neal Cole is not going to convince me to start Life Transformation Groups so that I can say my church is reproducing organically (although it’s a great idea and I hope we are accomplishing the same goals in our own unique way in our own context.) But what I did encounter in the last month is a diverse array of missional thinkers on both the local and global levels who are addressing the needs of a lost world in a myriad of ways (Neal Cole being one of my favorites!) I’d like to share with you a few of the bits of wisdom I’ve gained from Southern California.
- Church Meets World – any value I have previously held for monastic isolation has been shattered by the sacrificial lifestyles of pastors, missionaries and cross-cultural workers of all types who do whatever it takes to encounter lost people with the truth and love of Christ. Every church I have attended, every meeting I’ve dropped in on, every conversation I’ve been apart of is built upon the unquestionable belief that Christ is returning, the time is now and the cost is not to be measured. People of abandon have inspired me to faithfully reach the lost world while there is yet time.
- Preparation is Essential – In my personal journal entitled, Confessions of a Non-Academian Who Knows How to Get Stuff Done, I am afraid I will have to reveal a new entry that reads something like this: Today God has impressed me that the preparation for cross-cultural ministry in this century is a balance of spiritual formation, academic preparedness, hands-on application and a sensitivity to the Spirit of God that requires great intentionality. The beauty of the church is that it possesses all these elements which can be shared within the Kingdom. I’m sure you already knew this, but sometimes it’s good to be reminded.
- Partnerships are an Expression of Divine Wisdom – It only makes sense. God created men and women for relationship with Himself and with each other. Adam received a help-mate and Paul received multiple missionary partners. God created us as creatures of community. As Baptists, we have viewed ourselves historically as a family that is independent, self-sufficient, missionally efficient and self-contained. Our partnerships are often more akin to inbreeding than to alliance. But today we are being challenged to work in harmony with the full body of Christ. Our partnerships have less to do with allegiance and more to do with achieving the goals that Christ has set before us. I am amazed by the God-web. . .that Kingdom interconnectedness where God reveals to us those we need to know and shows us ways to help one another accomplish His goals.
- It is the responsibility of church leadership to see that the body is equipped for works of service and outreach. The truth is no one else is going to do this for you. As church leaders, we must be intentional about the essentials of missionality: authentic worship, spiritual formation, world awareness and a commitment to embrace the covenant call. Whatever it takes.
- The world has come to our doorstep – want to reach Hindus in India? Try starting with the ones in your local college community. These upper caste young adults will likely return to India sometime in the future as professionals and leaders among a caste you could rarely penetrate as a missionary on the field. There are areas of the DFW Metroplex where people groups live and function every day in their native language. How will you reach the UPG’s on your own doorstep? It’s not always about going. Usually it’s about being Christ incarnate in your own community.
- The Church is Sufficient – It is sufficient because by virtue of the fact that it is the church, it has been equipped by God through the Holy Spirit to do everything He has called it to do. We’ve been misled (with the best of intentions) to believe that the church is not equipped to accomplish the Great Commission task. We’ve been led to believe that the task of taking the Gospel to the world is only for professionals and vocational servants who are sponsored by boards, agencies and denominational entities. I have great admiration for the professional missionary and the vocational servants (I happen to be married to one.) But God has reminded me over and over again in recent days that the gospel preceded Paul to Rome and that churches like Antioch were the result of a scattered persecuted church. Every believer who possesses the Spirit of God is equipped to share the Gospel in any place he/she is planted – whether it’s Irving or Nepal. Perhaps as church leaders we simply need to spend some time unearthing the treasures buried within the lives of our congregations. Many believers do not understand the potential of the power and gifts they possess. The church is sufficient – to love, to grace, to share, to proclaim, to restore and to reach the lost for Christ.
- Jesus is the only Way. Lest you ever allow other deceiving voices to gain volume in your heart, read and re-read the Gospel of John. That has been my spiritual journey in the last month. If the rest of Scripture were extracted from the only Bible you possessed, the I am statements of Jesus as recorded by his beloved disciple are sufficient motivation for missional living. The heart of a loving, gracious and forgiving Father God is as clear as the first piercing light of creation. God loved the world so much He sent His only Son. Now that is worth living for. It’s also worth dying for.
Seems it never rains in Southern California
Seems I’ve often heard that kind of talk before
It never rains in California
But girl, don’t they warn ya
It pours man it pours.
I praise God for pouring out His abundant living waters on me.
I look forward to hearing from you.
by Mike Stroope
For the past ten years, I have been seriously thinking about and campaigning for the local church’s involvement in the worldwide mission of God. My conviction that the church should take the leading role in missions has not diminished over these years but has only increased as I have studied Scripture and considered the task of missions. Because God’s mission is to reconcile the world to Himself, the church must find its purpose and meaning in this mission. I am convinced more than ever that the local church must be more than a passive observer of this mission; it is meant to be at its frontlines. As the church prepares for mission, sends its people to the nations, and participates directly in the harvest that is to come, it is the church. Because it exists for God’s sending, the church has no option but to center its life and activity in His mission.
And yet, questions about how the local church’s mission activity will look and by what means the church is to go to the nations seem to be the overwhelming concern. I hear pastors and church leaders voice deep conviction that their churches must do missions, but in the end most of them stumble over how it is to be done and by what means. That which we are deeply committed to is left undone because our familiar and convenient mission paths have disappeared. So, we want to do missions, but we don’t know how or by what means. What is needed is a clear mission pathway, a vision of the way forward.
This past month I traveled to Niger, West Africa with a group from First Baptist Church, Arlington. What I saw inspired and challenged me. I offer two observations that I feel could provide us with direction for a way forward.
First, the seed of the gospel is powerful. I saw that a simple presentation of the story of God’s love and sacrifice in Jesus Christ could trigger a response from people who had never heard. A Muslim man traveled from a nearby village, heard the story for the first time, and immediately said, “I want to follow Jesus.” The story is not hard to tell nor is it complicated. It does not require much from us, except accurate telling. This is because inherent in the story is the power to change men, women, and children! The mission of the church is not rocket science. Its mission is to sow the powerful gospel seed and trust that it will produce a bountiful harvest. We need to remember that this gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16), and thus, we do not control or produce its powerful effect. Structures and logistics exist only to serve the seed and are not in themselves the mission or its power. The mission of God is the broadcasting of this powerful seed by faithful sowers. I was reminded that my focus must be the seed and sowing.
Second, I observed rank-and-file, ordinary men and women of the church participating directly in the mission of God. Were they doing it with cross-cultural perfection, according to the latest strategy, or with super pure motives? No, but they were there, telling the simple story to people who had never heard, and they were there, loving men, women, and children in the name of Jesus. And they were there as part of a long-term commitment of the church, and they were the latest in a long chain of church members who had also been there. I saw an engineer, a social worker, a student, and a web designer, all members of a local church, sowing powerful gospel seed into lives of people in an African village. Alongside them were equally ordinary Fulani believers doing the same. These servants of the living God told the Jesus story to people who had never heard. Why? Because this is what the ordinary people of God do. Their calling is to give witness to their neighbor and to the ends of the earth.
While we stumble over the questions of how missions is to look and by what means it is to be done, literally millions of people in Niger, China, Brazil, Cambodia, and Zanzibar live their lives without knowledge of Jesus, and they pass into eternity without being reconciled to God. Scripture poses a set of questions to us: “How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:14-15) The story must be told and story-tellers must be sent, if people are to hear and believe. I have returned from Niger reminded that you and I will not be judged according to whether we correctly answer the logistical and structure questions of missions but according to how we respond to the command to send and tell.
In no way do I wish to minimize logistical and structural concerns. They are real and substantial. We must count the cost, we must responsibly attend to the details of going, and we must care for those we send. But I am afraid that we have become obsessed with these concerns to the extent that they blind us to our commission to tell the Jesus story. In a very real sense, these concerns have become a kind of anti- mission or a wet blanket that dampens or even extinguishes our passion for the mission of God. The truth is that we can miss the mission of God if we allow ourselves to be distracted by less than ultimate concerns or to become paralyzed by our inability to figure it all out. I believe the time for think-tanks and forums has passed. The time for talking is over. In fact, we can fool ourselves into thinking that because we have talked about missions, we are doing missions. We have talked enough. It is time to do missions.
One indication that now is the time to do missions is evidenced by the emergence of Global Connection Partnership Network, a new and unique church- based, sending entity. The goal of GCPN is to simplify the nuts and bolts of mission sending so that ordinary people from local churches are able to sow abundantly the seed of the gospel. As one who knows what it takes to send and sustain long-term witnesses, I am convinced that GCPN is positioned to provide necessary logistical support and structure, so that churches can move beyond these concerns and focus on effective sending of their people.
What is new and unique about this entity is that, unlike sending organizations of our past, GCPN is based in local churches and operates in a mutually interdependent relationship with churches to provide expertise, training, counsel, support, and collaborative sending. It is a hybrid organization that marries the essentials of our mission past with the best possibilities of our mission future. GCPN respects the missionary role of the church and serves its mission to be the people of God among the nations.
The time is now. It is time to be the people of God. . . going to the world, telling the simple story of God’s love and redemption in Jesus, and loving real people in distant villages. It is time to join together. . .walk alongside, assist, and support each other. . . as we collectively pursue our commission to be the sent people of God. It is time for every tribe, people, tongue and nation to worship Jesus as their Lord and God. It is time.
As I departed from the airport after placing a young DBU graduate on a plane destined for one of the most difficult countries in the world, I was overwhelmed by a huge sense of responsibility. I have placed literally thousands of volunteers on planes in my 26 years as a minister. But this was different. This student will not be back in two weeks with wonderfully naïve stories of adventure about the people she met and the places she went. No. This one will not be returning in two weeks or two months. She is gone to serve as an extension of my church among a people who don’t want her in a land Satan has claimed his own. Her mother’s tears were raining on my heart. This send-off was truly an act of faith for my church.
As I drove away, the haunting question I could not avoid was, “What is an act of faith in the American church?” When I pondered that question I felt a huge sense of shame. For in most American churches we equate faith with our willingness to take on the challenge of a bigger bank note. Faith in many churches is often related to the physical expansion of our facilities. Faith for the American minister may refer to our willingness to slightly offend the overly-indulged and complacent in order to move them to a place of minimal sacrifice, realizing the risk of offending some to the point of withholding money or transferring their membership to another local church. How many times have I asked my church to do something that was truly risky? The real answer to that question is, not often enough.
I want my church to be pleasing to God. I want to be a part of a missional body of believers. It is difficult to imagine that any church could be missional without understanding God’s heart for the world and the role of God’s people in fulfilling His heart’s dream. From Genesis to Revelation the Word of God tells the story of a relational God who would go to the most God-like extremes to bring a rebellious mankind back into a loving relationship with Himself. The Old Testament people of God received a commission through their faith-Father, Abraham, to be a people through whom all the peoples on earth will be blessed (Genesis 12:5). The commission of His people was further clarified in God’s words to Moses – You will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. The result of the Old Covenant commission is imagined in the writings of the psalmist who commanded the people of God. . .declare His glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the Lord, most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. . .
The Old Covenant was initiated by a Sovereign God with a chosen people whose calling was to reconcile a sinful world. In this reconciliation, God’s glory among the nations is the ultimate reality. Anything short of an acknowledgement of his glory is a denial of Truth.
The New Testament describes God’s people as ministers of a new covenant. . .of the Spirit. . .that gives life (2 Cor. 3:5). Jesus clearly defines the role of the New Covenant People in relation to the nations:
. . .go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. . .
Churches desiring to become missional must realize the responsibility of the covenant. As Jesus clarified, the covenant has not changed, it has just been fulfilled. The Church’s role as New Covenant People is to share the good news of this fulfillment so that God may be glorified. That is why Paul relates to New Covenant believers as ministers of reconciliation – that God is reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
Until the Church ceases to see herself as only a recipient of the blessings of the covenant without embracing the responsibilities of the covenant, we are destined to fall short of God’s intentions for us as the People of God. Yes, Israel was to receive blessing from God – but not that it might be grasped or held tightly, but that it might flow through her to a world that was lost. In the same way, the Church has been given the empowerment through the Spirit of God to be witnesses, ambassadors and ministers of reconciliation.
What would it mean for your church or mine to embrace the covenant call of God? No one can answer that for you but God Himself. But perhaps it may mean that we give less thought to cost, liability, face and form to focus on discipleship, formation, obedience, sacrifice and suffering. Now that’s not popular American theology. We might even be forced to burn some chaff. So if we are measuring our success by budgets and numbers, we may be in for some serious re-shaping of our image. But in the end we will each answer the question, “What did you do with what I gave you?” I have a strong sense that the correct answer to that question will not be found in monuments and meetings. I have a feeling the correct answers to that question will be found in the names of individuals in a multitude with white robes holding palm branches in their hands.
I am praying for you as you seek God’s direction for your church.
The dam of anticipation broke free when Mr. Beaver sensed that what Narnia was eagerly awaiting was about to come true – Aslan was on the move. It is with the same sense of thrill that we watch the reality of our dreams for GCPN come true. God is on the move.
Sunday before last, the seven current GCPN interns from FBC Arlington attended church with those from Cottonwood Baptist in Dublin. Afterwards, this group of young saints gathered at Mike Stroope’s house to share a meal, talk about their life processes and pray for those who will be leaving soon – particularly Katie, who will be going to East Asia in the next few weeks and Ashley, who will be leaving for SE Asia in June. As I sat in the floor listening to their stories of call, it suddenly struck me that there was a potentially explosive force of dunamis packed into a small room in the middle of a rural Texas farm community that was going to impact the world with Spirit power in the next couple of years. Armed with the love of Christ, a heart for the lost, and the skills to cross cultures, these amazing young people will change the world for the Kingdom. As our time together drew to a close, Mike Stroope asked with wonder the question that was drifting beneath the surface in my mind – WHAT IS GOD DOING??!!
I praise God for the faithful churches who will assume the responsibility for sending. This past Sunday I observed a church taking a bold step of faith as it commissioned a young DBU graduate to serve in one of the most difficult regions of the world. It was a beautiful New Testament picture of one being sent by the Holy Spirit and the Church – just as in Antioch. The dynamic was familial . . . the air sacred . . . the power Divine.
What is the answer to the missions puzzle? The answer is in the Church. The answer is the Church. Para-church organizations, mission sending boards and agencies, conventions and cooperative support efforts are vehicles that can enable some to serve. But they are not the church. The answer is in the church.
Many people have asked me, What is GCPN? What does GCPN do? The real answer to that question – GCPN is the church. It can be the sending branch of YOUR church. Our desire is to enable all churches to prepare and equip believers to live out their missional calling. We are not a sending board or agency. We are merely a community of faith that allows Baptists to do what they do best – cooperate autonomously. Baptists are cooperative by nature. We like to be a part of something bigger than ourselves – to be Kingdom connected. Yet, as Baptists, we like to remain autonomous, maintaining our sense of calling and utilizing our own corporate giftedness in Kingdom endeavors. That is the beauty of our network. As I looked around the room of GCPN interns preparing to serve all over the world, I asked myself the question, What can we share that will make this task easier? The answers are pretty concrete.
We can share leadership. The common factor that everyone in that room in Dublin shared was a missiological guide. Every person in the room had been shaped, sharpened and affected in some way by the missiological leadership of Mike Stroope. In the short time I have known him, Cottonwood’s pastor, Mike Fritcher, has shaped my understanding of what it means to be a church that loves well. Others will arise from within our churches who feel the divine obligation to share what they know. What can you contribute to the Kingdom in the area of shared leadership? We will all benefit if you are able to answer that question.
We can share information. My church has just completed a several month study of the process and structures that are necessary to be a responsible sending church. If not for the input of other churches like Cottonwood, Grace Community, Antioch and others, we would still be somewhere near “square one.” But because these churches were willing to share information, we find ourselves ready to send our first missionary. We have put that process in generic form and will be glad to share this information with any church that needs it. What information has been most beneficial to your church’s missional maturity that you can share with others? We will all benefit if you are able to answer that question.
We can share resources. What does missional preparation look like in practical terms? We will soon have the benefit of seeing in print the GCPN Global Learning Laboratory curriculum that Mike Stroope is writing. Your church can implement this training within your own community. Who can do assessment for missionary candidates preparing to go to the field? GCPN has assembled a growing assessment team made up of medical, dental, psychological and educational professionals who offer their services – many of them free of cost. Perhaps there are professionals within your church who would like to be a part of this team. These are just a couple of examples of many resources we can share as we seek to raise up spiritually mature believers equipped for Kingdom service. What resources have you developed that you can share with the community of churches? We will all benefit if you are able to answer that question.
We can share structures. We will be sending our missionaries through a couple of non-profit corporations that have been established just for the purpose of being shared by churches within the network. Why start another non-profit if you can use one that is already established with a core commitment to the belief that each church should develop its own strategies and manage its own missionaries? We will all benefit if you are able to answer that question.
We can share money. . . with network churches which have less financial resource. One church within the network has chosen to model this principle of selflessness by committing 5% of its direct missionary support funds to be utilized by other GCPN churches. Is it your responsibility to enable other churches to send? That is the equivalent of the question, am I my brother’s keeper? I can promise you the Kingdom will benefit if you are able to answer that question.
What does your church have to share? The answer to that question is something. I encourage you to think in terms of corporate giftedness for Kingdom success. We’re all in this together. We’re the church. Is there such a thing as cooperative autonomy? Sure there is. We’re living proof.
The following article, focusing upon the Biblical Foundations for Missions, has been submitted by Dennis Wiles, Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church, Arlington, Texas
Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Exodus 19:5-6
Fundamentally, the Bible is about God. As Robert Cates points out in Old Testament Roots for a New Testament Faith, the Bible reveals a God Who Is and a God Who Acts.So, who is this God of the Bible? What does He do? Obviously, we can’t exhaustively answer those questions in a short article in an online newsletter. (Not that I could answer these questions definitively anyway!)
However, we can address one aspect of God’s character and the activity associated with it. So, let’s do that.
The God of the Bible is a relational God. He desires to be in relationship with the crowning glory of His creation – namely, human beings. On page one of Holy Scripture we discover that God made man in His image (Genesis 1:26-28). At the very least this means that mankind can be in relationship with the Creator. As the pages of the biblical drama unfold, it is readily apparent this truly is God’s desire.Time and again, God demonstrates His love for people. He lives in relationship with them. He talks to them. He listens to their pleas. He reacts to their plight. He reveals Himself as a loving God who cares deeply about each human being.
On page three of the biblical material, the relationship so desired by God is marred by the sinfulness of mankind. The result is brokenness. God responds to this brokenness with both judgment and compassion. He judges sin. But he is unwilling to sever the relationship with human beings. A great plan is set in motion that will culminate in a personal visit from God through His Son. All of this aimed at restoring the broken relationship between human beings and their Creator.
My point? God is a seeking, missionary God. His actions in both the Old and New Testaments clearly demonstrate this truth. He called Israel to Himself in relationship. They were to be His people. He then commissioned them as priests to reach the nations (Exodus 19:5-6). Israel was to serve as His emissary to the rest of creation. Unfortunately, God’s desire was not lived out through Israel for a number of reasons.Jesus issues a similar commission for the New Covenant people of God – the church. We are to “Go to the people of all nations and make them my disciples.” (Matthew 28:19 – CEV)The biblical mandate to go to the nations is found in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Obviously, God intends for us to do it. We have no option but to be obedient. We must go, pray, go, send, go and give.
Several churches in the New Testament era recognized the responsibility of this commission. The church in Antioch sent out the first missionaries from their body. These men went throughout that region of the world, preaching the Gospel and establishing other churches. Churches joined this effort and the Gospel was proclaimed so fervently that by the beginning of the 4th century, the Roman Emperor Constantinople would declare Christianity as the official religion of the empire. Wow!God is still a relational God. He remains a missionary God. If we are going to be like Him, we must be missionary people.
To Him be the glory as we go to the nations on His behalf.
Dennis R. Wiles
While backpacking near the Continental Divide in SW Colorado with my husband and a couple of friends, our group encountered a steep and treacherous trail that was a six mile ascent to our first day’s destination – a valley where we were to set up a base camp. Loaded with a little more than half my body weight in my pack, the rocky winding trail required constant attention. I found myself staring intently at the trail, searching for the next secure step upon which to place my muddy boot. At one point, totally out of breath, I paused on the trail for a brief rest. Motionless for a moment, I finally felt secure enough to lift my eyes from the trail to explore my surroundings. Turning my back to the mountain, I gazed across the vast valley below. The lush valley was surrounded by rugged snowcapped peaks that towered like mighty giants over the flowered fields beneath their feet. Tall elegant pines of deep forest green stood erect like exclamation marks declaring praise to their Creator and salute to the powerful giants that loomed above them. I was awestruck. And I was stunned to realize that I had been walking with this potential view for quite some time, unnoticed because the trail demanded my intense focus to my own feet upon the sod.
It is a similar season in the life of GCPN – a time of steep climb up an unfamiliar path that is demanding a lot of intense focus and attention. It seems I spend literal weeks trying to ascend the challenges of establishing two non-profit organizations, develop processes and procedures, set up accounting systems, produce documents, develop contracts, design assessment teams, obtain and produce training materials, and occasionally feed my family and smile.
Today Ashley came by my office to visit. She is preparing for her June departure from our church to serve in one of the most challenging countries in the world. Like a graceful arrow propelled from the bowstring of her church body, she will land among a downcast people with a message of hope tied to her shaft. Her free and genuine smile was captivating. The beauty and joy she emotes in her obedience poured forth from her like a refreshing fountain. In those moments my eyes were lifted from the trail beneath my feet to gaze upon God’s majesty that has been surrounding me all along.
With gratitude to the Father I can stop to gaze at my surroundings and assess how far we’ve come:
- Two non-profits have been established which can be utilized by any church in our network for sending its people into the world.
- Generic processes have been developed and will soon be available to all churches in the network to position them for sending.
- Monies are being set aside to support other national believers in reaching their own people or sending them to a lost world.
- Monies are being channeled to GCPN to be shared with network churches who want to send their own people but lack sufficient resource.
- An assessment team is already functioning to provide medical, dental, psychological and educational assessment to families and individuals who are being sent from our churches.
- Interns are in the process of training and serving in our Global Learning Laboratory.
- Others who feel the call to serve in cross-cultural scenarios are being aligned for preparation and training.
- GCPN interns are taking a pre-commission mission trip into an unreached area of the world.
- God is being glorified through the lives of obedient people.
The climb is by no means over. This life of obedience will be a continuum of climbs, level places and even occasional descents. But to maintain view is crucial. Let us pause. Let us raise our Ebenezer and proclaim with our eye fixed on the Summit, “Thus far has the Lord sustained us.”
Walking in faith with you,