By Gayle Crowe
Let’s begin with the numbers (from the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Vol. 34, No. 1).
• Total world population: 7,052,132,000
• Christians of all kinds: 2,325,707,000
• Christians in Africa: 486,695,000
• Christians in Asia: 359,373,000
• Christians in Latin America: 549,075,000
• Christians in North America: 224,930,000
These statistics frame the discussion. If the United States is not, as many have perhaps unconsciously assumed, the center of the Christian faith in today’s world, what are the implications for mission work in our churches?
Shapers of Modern Missions
David Bosch observed, “It is not the church which ‘undertakes’ mission; it is the mission dei (mission of God) which constitutes the church.” From the opening chapters of Genesis we are confronted with a personal God who is not silent, who acts, and who sends. Mission is ultimately not about what we do, but about who God is.
God is on a mission. The Father is the sender, the “Lord of the harvest.” The incarnate Son is the model embodiment of mission in the world. The Holy Spirit is the divine, empowering presence for all of mission. So it is not surprising that the Christian church is the most ethnically, racially, and culturally diverse movement on earth. God’s mission includes all people, whether Christians or non-Christians. With God in charge, we stand in awe at the present-day shape of the church. The majority of the Christian world (67 percent) is now located outside the western world. The church is moving eastward: of South Korea’s 49 million people, 20 million say they are Christian. The Chinese church is the fastest growing on the planet with an average conversion rate of 16,500 per day (while some say as many as 7,500 people in the West leave the church every day).
Over the past 100 years, global Christianity has been shifting gradually south and east. According to Timothy Tennent in Invitation to World Missions (Kregel Publications, 2010), all 10 of the most gospel-resistant people groups in the world are located in Western Europe, whereas all 10 of the most gospel-receptive people groups today are located in either China or India.
The Place to Start
The Great Commission did not originate in the New Testament. In Genesis 12, God is portrayed as the source and originator of mission as he told Abram, “and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (12:3). “Make known among the nations what he has done” (1 Chronicles 16:8). “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples” (Psalm 96:3).
So how does this work out in the twenty-first century? What are the qualities necessary for a successful mission focus in a church? There are at least four: (1) a dedicated missionary couple and their team, (2) a sponsoring church with a mission-minded passion, (3) a support network for the missionary—family and other tuned-in people, and (4) a covering of prayer both on the field and at home.
Had you thought about the fact that the church at Antioch was the first sending church? They were praying and fasting! This is not the typical business model observed in many churches today.
The February 12, 2012, issue of Christian Standard reviewed the work of eight leading “sending agencies.” Each one varies in its goals and areas of expertise, yet all are focused on sharing the news of Jesus with the world. Churches considering launching a mission program would do well to study this list—and the relevant websites—carefully.
The pulpit minister must be an enthusiastic supporter of missions. Unfortunately, the pulpit sometimes considers itself to be in competition with missions.
Those serious about launching or relaunching a mission effort in their church should consider attending the International Conference on Missions (this year in Indianapolis, November 15-18). Theme speeches, 129 workshops, and a vast exhibit hall combine to create an unforgettable and extraordinarily helpful event.
Developing a Heart for Global Evangelism
It’s one thing for mission committees to sit around a table and decide how many dollars will go where. It’s quite another for rank-and-file church members to develop a heart for sharing the message across the globe. Here are several suggestions for creating a heart for global evangelism within a congregation.
Missions the church supports—and specific missionaries—should be prayed for at every worship service.
Flags may be hung in the sanctuary or the narthex representing every country where a missionary is supported.
The names of missionaries’ children or converts may be taped to the walls of classrooms with the request that people take the lists home and agree to pray for them daily.
Opportunities may be given for special funding of projects as requested by the church’s missionaries. Some people really like to give money for computers or Jeeps.
An entire page of the church directory could be devoted to each missionary family, including a map, high-quality photographs, and a brief listing of specific goals for that year.
Maps and photos of the missionary families may be shown on a screen as people enter the sanctuary on Sunday mornings.
A missionary on furlough—or a missionary-in-residence at a Christian college—may be invited to preach on world outreach periodically.
A “Surprise Christmas” in the summer would be a great boost to a missionary family as the supporting church sends gifts and favorite foods for the children.
When missionaries get together, they inevitably say they long for three things from their supporting churches: communication (keeping in contact through
e-mail and the postal system), prayer, (supporting them in prayer and letting them know it), and salary consideration (increasing support when exchange rates go south).
Creating Awareness through Personal Involvement
Every year or two, one or two elders or mission committee members should visit a missionary family on the field—not just to sit and observe, but to teach and assist where needed.
A church might consider sending its preaching minister on an overseas speaking trip every year or two. This will benefit the missions you support but also engender a fire for missions in the minister who will then communicate that to the congregation.
Initiate the practice of buying every minister and elder a book on world evangelism every year, to be discussed on a weekend retreat.
A church may want to send groups of members on short-term mission trips (if they will genuinely help the mission). Short-term mission trips have become controversial in recent years, so this should be thought out carefully. The International Bulletin of Missionary Research notes, “Today more than 1,600,000 adults and young people from the United States travel abroad yearly on short-term mission trips, most for two weeks or less duration.”
Some missionaries decry the tremendous expenditure of travel money that could be used to hire local unemployed laborers—many of them church members—who desperately need the money. No one questions, however, that tremendous spiritual benefit comes to those who make these trips.
Use All Resources
Not to be forgotten is the fact that missionaries alone can never reach the two-thirds of the world who do not know Jesus. Internet programming is spreading the word, but much of the world is far, far from having Internet connectivity.
For the foreseeable future, tried-and-true methods like shortwave broadcasting must fill the breach. Organizations like World Christian Broadcasting (www.worldchristian.org), Gospel Broadcasting Mission (www.OnePlace.com), and the Christian’s Hour (www.thechristianshour.org) provide vital links in the sending process.
An important resource not to be forgotten is Pioneer Bible Translators (www.PioneerBible.org). Of the 6,900 spoken languages in the world, 2,000 of these still wait for the Scriptures to be translated into their language.
For those who are wired, new apps are appearing every day. One new app for smartphones and video tablets is being developed by the JESUS Film Project (www.jesusfilm.org). It will make more than 64,000 different evangelism videos—including film segments—instantly available anywhere.
What a joyful responsibility God has entrusted to us! “We are agents of change joining God in his work of transformation around the world,” says Christian Missionary Fellowship. If your church is not intentionally and deliberately mission conscious, it can change. In the thoughtful words of C. S. Lewis, “The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, and even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose.”
Gayle Crowe is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tennessee.
Increase Your Heart for the Nations
Without Leaving the Country
• Host international students for the holidays; they’re often alone on campus when all the American students go home.
• Invite immigrant families in your neighborhood over for dinner. Learn about them through conversation.
• Tutor children from other countries who are learning English.
• Start small: say hi to a Muslim woman you often see at the bus stop or the grocery store.
• Join language groups at your library or sign up to be a conversation partner through a university.
• Pray for unreached people groups every day through the Joshua Project (www.joshuaproject.net).
• Take a Kairos course (www.kairoscourse.org). “The Kairos Course is a nine-session, interactive course on world Christian mission, designed to educate, inspire, and challenge Christians to active and meaningful participation.”
• Read missionary biographies.
• Keep up-to-date with your church’s missionaries through their newsletters and Facebook pages.