Just one week ago the 2019 G3 Conference kicked-off in Atlanta. As we look back at the conference, I’m reminded of God’s goodness to us for an opportunity to gather with 4,600 brothers and sisters in Christ for three days of singing, preaching, and fellowship in the gospel of King Jesus. We had in the room people from every state in the United States plus a minimum of 12 different nations. Watching online was a massive number of people from 30 nations—estimated at 225,000 people over the weekend.
This year, the focus was missions. How do we connect the dots from the mission field to the local church. As each sermon was preached, it was clear that God was making a statement from his Word in regard to missions. If I had to put a review into one succinct sentence, I think I would say the 2019 G3 Conference communicated the following:
Missions is the work of local churches who disciple, train, and commission elder qualified missionaries to the nations with the good news of Jesus with absolute confidence that God will accomplish his mission for his glory.
Local Church Emphasis
Missions is not the work of parachurch ministries. Missions is the work of the local church who may use parachurch ministries to accomplish their work. However, the point of emphasis throughout the 2019 G3 was that local churches bear this responsibility and must engage in the work of missions for the glory of God.
With this in mind, we had several pastors preach in the G3 Conference. Some people asked why we didn’t have more missionaries preaching, and that’s a good question, but the point is that God uses pastors to disciples, train, equip, and eventually commission out from their local church specific missionaries for the work of getting the good news of Jesus to the nations.
We must never overlook the local church and under estimate the labor of faithful pastors in the work of missions. From the very beginning of the missionary work with Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13 to the land of Scotland where John Paton was discipled—missionaries are sent out from local churches with the message of reconciliation—the hope of the nations. Through the entire process, the local church in Antioch was involved and received reports from the missionaries regarding their work. This is essential as we consider the work of missions and the authority of the local church. This equation will not support rogue missionaries roaming the hills of foreign countries with a backpack and a blog site used to give reports and ask for financial support.
Elder Qualified Missionaries
One key point of the 2019 G3 Conference that surfaced in the Q&A and in a couple of the sermons was that the missionaries we send out to the field need to be elder qualified missionaries. This position is based on textual evidence (see Phil. 2:25 and 2 Cor. 8:23 and note the word “ἀπόστολος” translated messenger) and supported by plain logic. If the work of missions is not merely roaming through jungle trails and telling people the good news by handing out gospel tracts and if the mission of God involves the work of planting biblical churches among the nations, we must be sending out elder qualified candidates to engage in this work.
How should women engage in this work if they’re not called to be elders? First of all, women for the most part will find themselves supporting their husbands on the mission field as they seek to plant healthy and biblical churches that will multiply and continue the mission of God. At times, a woman with the gift of singleness will find herself desiring to engage in specific mission work where she will move to a specific country, join a local church, and engage in the discipleship of women, children, and perhaps some mercy ministry opportunities through their local church.
In other circumstances, young women who desire to train for missions will spend time on the field under the supervision of seasoned missionaries while under the authority of a specific sending church. Unless she has the gift of singleness, she will need to be under the leadership of her husband in due season, so this can be a bridge opportunity that may not lead to full-time missionary work or it may in God’s providence lead in that direction, but God is in control of that process from start to finish.
During the 2019 G3 on missions, the point was made that we can’t view missionaries as those who couldn’t cut it in the pulpit in America, so we ship them off to the nations to engage in missions. Antioch sent out Paul, and he wasn’t a guy who couldn’t cut it in the work of gospel ministry. There must be a clear connection between missionary, elders, and the local church.
Sovereignty of God
As we consider the fact that the world is vastly unreached with the gospel (41.5% according to JoshuaProject.net), how will you invest your time, talent, and treasure through your local church in order to reach the nations with the gospel? No matter how small your church is, everyone has a part in this process and we can all engage in the work of missions. Consider the fact that our local churches need to be praying, sending, and going to the nations for the glory of God.
The mission of God is the message of Jesus and that message of reconciliation is sent out from local churches to the nations. We must pray, send, and go with unshakable confidence that God will accomplish his mission through persecution, trial, disease, death, betrayal, sickness, hardship, and pain. God will accomplish his mission on the good days and bad days—in seasons of mountain top joys and valley pains. God will accomplish his mission for his eternal glory!
Let the nations be glad (Psalm 67).
In our modern and urbane culture, we often forget that the world is vastly unreached with the gospel. In an age of technological advancement and expanding connectivity through Internet, social media platforms, and social devices—there is a massive population around the world that doesn’t know Jesus Christ. As we consider this fact, we must remember that God’s plan to reach the world is by the gospel and through the local church.
God has designed the local church with a very specific authority structure. In fact, it’s vitally important that we understand this structure and seek to align ourselves under authority. One of the greatest examples of hypocrisy in our world is a professing Christian who refuses to submit to authority in a local church. The writer to the Hebrews writes, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb. 13:17).
When it comes to missions, this is no different. It’s not that missionaries are somehow above authority and need to submit only to a missions organization while not giving proper attention to the local church. Nowhere in the Bible do we see any example of a missions organization calling the shots for specific individuals going off to the mission field. The authority rests in the local church. Before a missions candidate leaves for the mission field, they should be under authority in their local church and must have presented their desire and perceived calling to their elders for examination. Each local church may operate a bit differently at this point, but the burden of examination should first be given to the elders even before the congregation is made aware of this situation in an official announcement.
In our culture, it’s popular to look down upon authority. We’ve turned the word “authority” into a pejorative. Teenagers often reach a specific status where they believe adults are ignorant and they know everything, therefore they resist authority. In the church, we want pastors to tell us what we want to hear. We want to be told “yes” at every juncture, but in all reality, the role of a pastor is not be a “yes-man.” His role is to tell the truth, and preach the Word. Often this involves shepherding people by rebuking them or simply telling a person that they are not qualified to serve on the mission field.
Confirmation of Gifts
After going through the proper examination from the leaders of the church, a missions candidate should be confirmed by the local church. Does a person possess the gifts and do they have the qualifications according to 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 to serve on the mission field and within the context of a local church?
John G. Paton turned the New Hebrides upside down with the gospel of King Jesus, however, he wasn’t a rogue missionary roaming about in the South Sea islands. He was under authority and the tension he experienced as he was preparing to leave for the islands was difficult for him, but necessary. He writes:
The opposition was so strong from nearly all, and many of them warm Christian friends, that I was sorely tempted to question whether I was carrying out the Divine will, or only some headstrong wish of my own. This also caused me much anxiety, and drove me close to God in prayer. 
Such tension may seem like it holds people back or it slows people down, and that’s certainly true to a degree. However, the tension is necessary and healthy. We must have a church that will be honest with us when we are living in sin (church discipline) and when we are about to walk down a path that we are not gifted or prepared to navigate for the glory of God. Eventually Paton would work through the tension and through proper confirmation he would go to the New Hebrides. Better to go through tension and accomplish the work of God than to go without tension and do great harm to you and your family.
When a missionary goes to the mission field and engages in the work of cross-cultural evangelism and church planting, the first burden of accountability is not to a missions organization or sending agency. The first burden of accountability is to that individual’s sending church. In far too many cases, when a missionary leaves for the field, they spend more time in communication with their seminary or sending agency than they do their home church. This is tragic. It simply bypasses the necessity of the local church in the process and ignores the pattern we see in the New Testament.
Consider the accountability of Paul as he would finish with a mission tour, he would go back to the church at Antioch. Why this specific church? It was the one that sent him out and he remained accountable to the church throughout the process of his work.
“…and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled.  And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.  And they remained no little time with the disciples” (Acts 14:26–28).
You don’t see Paul sending the pastors of the church a casual e-mail letting them know what he had prayed about and decided to do on his own. He demonstrates submission and shows accountability throughout the process. This is the pattern of the New Testament and should remain so throughout our present day as well.
When we disconnect the local church from the work of missions because we believe it slows down the process or creates too much checks and balances—we do ourselves a disservice. Could it be that in 2019 some of the people planning to go out to the mission field should pause and submit themselves to their local church for confirmation before going out from their seminary through a sending agency? Some may argue that it would result in lower numbers going to the mission field and we simply can’t afford that with 42% of the world unreached with the gospel. Actually, it would be far better for less qualified candidates to go to the field under authority and held accountable by a local church than for multitudes of unqualified and non-called candidates who could do great harm to themselves and the nations in the process.
- John G. Paton, The Autobiography of the Pioneer Missionary to the New Hebredes, (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1965), 56.
On this Thanksgiving Day 2018, we have so much to be thankful for as redeemed children of God. As we consider how we should steward our blessings for God’s glory, we all have choices to make in how we will use our freedom, our talents, our treasures, and our time. As we consider the work of missions and the Great Commission, we must decide how we can engage as individual followers of Jesus and corporately as members of a local church.
During this time of year, we often hear of opportunities to invest money for the work of gospel missions. I believe this is a wonderful thing to do and it comes at a great time—the end of the year and during a season of thanks. However, before writing the check and sending it off to missions through your local church or through a parachurch ministry, we must evaluate what we’re doing and at the same time—what we aren’t doing by our financial gift.
The Great Commission Is Not an Offering
The Great Commission is not an offering. It’s the calling of Christians to engage the world and make disciples through the gospel. Some people give generously and engage in the work of missions by funding missionary work around the world. They have been blessed financially and given the gift of giving. It’s through their generosity that many missionaries are paid and cared for on a yearly basis. However, there are also people who give financially and never consider what it means to make disciples locally or internationally.
Money is needed in the work of missions obviously, however, we must not turn the Great Commission into a missions offering. There are some people who need to go out from their local church and work to evangelize unbelievers and train leaders in foreign contexts in the work of church planting. Not everyone is called to leave home and go to a foreign country to engage in the work of missions, but we are all called to engage in the Great Commission. If a person isn’t called to leave their homeland, they should engage in disciple making at home and consider sacrificing financially to fund the work of missions among the nations.
The Local Church and a Missions Investment
Far too often the work of foreign missions is turned over to missions agencies. Parachurch ministries have taken the lead in the work of missions which could be a sign that the local church has taken a backseat on purpose due to laziness or it could be that these specialized agencies are very good at what they do while the local church moves a bit slower. At any rate, the local church is called to be on the front lines of the Great Commission—including foreign missions.
When it comes time to pray about giving money to fund missions (church planting, missionary salaries, etc.) it would be a great idea to consider starting your investment through your local church. If your church has a fund for such work, don’t go outside the local church before you work within the family of faith that God has called you to. I’ve watched teenagers get excited about missions during college and decided to go on a missions trip through another organization during the summer rather than seeking to go through their own local church’s mission work and church planting project. Don’t look beyond the local church as you desire to invest in the work of missions financially.
If your church doesn’t have a known outlet for supporting missions—consider meeting with your pastors and letting them know of your desire to invest money and see if they can assist you in a good investment option or potentially begin a work corporately that would be an encouragement to your entire church family. We need more local churches to engage in the work of missions by praying, organizing missions offerings, and by sending people to the field (short term and long term work).
When the local church is led by pastors in the work of missions, it prevents wasting money on financial scams that are so common in the world of foreign missions. Many websites and “mission organizations” exist to steal money from people by putting pictures of their work online and asking for help. Follow the lead of your pastors and engage in the work of missions through your local church. John Piper writes:
So, you have three possibilities in world missions. You can be a goer, a sender, or disobedient. The Bible does not assume that everyone goes. But it does assume that the ones who do not go care about goers and support goers and pray for goers and hold the rope of the goers. 
- John Piper, “Holding the Rope,” Tabletalk, November, 2008, p. 65.
When we consider the Great Commission found in Mathew 28:18-20, it’s apparent that God has a plan to save his people from among the nations of the world. The picture of Revelation 5 further validates this reality of a global people gathered from among the nations of the world praising God. However, 42% of the world is unreached with the good news of Jesus. How do we get there? Consider what Alexander Strauch once said:
Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission, believed that if money could motivate the merchants of England to cross life-threatening oceans and enter the interior of China at great personal risk of loss of life, could not the love of Christ motivate missionaries to do the same for the sake of the gospel? 
The answer is that God is sovereign and he will save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21), but our God has also called us to pray for the nations and go to the nations with the message of the cross. We must be resolved to pray earnestly for the nations and look for opportunities to engage through our local churches and connected mission agencies.
Each week we as a church gather for worship, and just prior to the call to worship by the public reading of the Scriptures, we have what we call a “Missions Moment” with our church family. This is organized and led by David Crowe—our pastor for missions. He chooses a nation from around the world and provides the statistics pertaining to the Church of Jesus Christ in that particular location and other challenges to the spread of the gospel among that particular nation. We then join in praying for God to strengthen his Church there and to raise up more pastors and local churches who will labor faithfully with the gospel of King Jesus.
What is our aim in this type of weekly prayer gathering? Our aim is to see our church engage in praying specifically for the Lord’s Church in various lands across this vast planet. It is our goal to engage in faithful prayer with our local church and to think honestly about how to go beyond prayer. Can we partner with HeartCry or another group of churches who are laboring in that region? Could it be the Lord’s will for someone in our church to go to that area with the gospel—leaving behind comforts, friends, and family to spread a passion for God’s glory among those people or people groups?
If we don’t learn to pray and weep for souls—it will be highly unlikely that our children and grandchildren will give themselves for the work of missions. We can’t expect to see God raise up men and women like Adoniram Judson, William Carey, and Amy Carmichael from a church who places very little emphasis on praying and laboring in the work of gospel missions among the nations. May the nations be glad!
Consider praying in the following way:
- God remove fears of losing my children and grandchildren to the work of gospel missions.
- God remove my dependency upon money and the fear of losing it.
- God help me see the investment of gospel missions as a worthy cause that will far exceed temporal investments.
- God help me understand the needs of my fellow Christians who are serving in harsh landscapes.
- God break my heart for those who are in dark regions without the light of the gospel.
- Alexander Strauch, Leading With Love, (Colorado Springs: Lewis and Roth, 2006), 29.
Many people claim that John Calvin was against missions and that those who call themselves Calvinists or ascribe to the 5-points of Calvinism are anti-missional in their thinking. Is that true? Does the belief in a robust God who saves spiritually dead sinners create cold hearts who resist any work of gospel missions among the neighborhoods and the nations?
Over the past several years, the population of men and women who embrace the doctrines often called Calvinism has drastically increased within the evangelical church—notably so within the Southern Baptist Convention. This has caused many to question their beliefs, examine their positions, and in some cases, to take up the sword and fight. The common charge is that anyone who’s a Calvinist is also a hyper-Calvinist—someone who opposes the spread of the gospel. First of all, there must be a distinction between Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism (just as there must be a distinction between the First Baptist Church in your local community and Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas). Calvinism is not hyper-Calvinism and before we label someone a heretic, we must understand that vocabulary choices matter.
John Calvin’s Missionary Zeal
Did John Calvin teach people to hide the gospel under a basket (Matt. 5:14-16)? The very moment that you stop listening to horrible sermons, inaccurate lectures in Bible college and seminary settings, and stop reading historically and intellectually dishonest blogs in the Internet, you will actually discover something rather refreshing about this often hated figure from church history. John Calvin was not only a man with a passion for preaching the Bible, he was also a zealous hearted, missions focused preacher.
As Calvin’s preaching thundered from his pulpit in Geneva, he was preparing men to go and lead churches in France. He organized, trained, developed, and sent out hundreds of these zealous hearted missionaries who proclaimed the good news of the gospel. These missionaries stood upon the firm foundation of a robust sovereign grace. As these men were convinced of God’s sovereignty in salvation, such knowledge became the fuel in the furnace of their hearts as they went out to plant churches and preach the gospel. By 1562, Calvin (with the aid of other surrounding cities) had planted over 2,000 churches in France. Some of the missionaries who were sent out from Calvin’s church died as martyrs. Does this sound like a hyper-Calvinist to you?
The hyper-Calvinist rejects any effort to proclaim the gospel to the non-elect. Rather than preaching the gospel indiscriminately and allowing God to bring sinners to faith, the hyper-Calvinist resists any attempt to offer the gospel to those who aren’t the elect of God. Does this sound like the ministry of John Calvin? Edward Panosian writes the following:
From that city [Geneva], hundreds of missionaries, evangelists, and pastors traveled to all corners of the continent preaching the gospel. Their efforts, sometimes sealed with a martyr’s blood but always crowned with success, thrilled Calvin. 
Harry R. Leader points out that “Calvin’s beloved France, through his ministry, was invaded by more than thirteen hundred Geneva-trained missionaries.”  Why would someone who rejected the idea that we need to send out missionaries to preach the gospel actually send out hundreds of trained missionaries to preach the gospel?
I’ve read about (never met an actual hyper-Calvinist other than the Westboro group) people who were hyper-Calvinistic in their theology, and they would never send missionaries out to spread the good news of Christ. They would consider it a waste of time and effort. One such figure from church history was named John Ryland, and he rebuked William Carey for inquiring about “using means” to reach unbelievers (it should be noted that it was William Carey, the Calvinist, who was trying to organize a missions effort).
The Missions Preaching of John Calvin
No hyper-Calvinist would preach with a missionary zeal as was consistently evident in the preaching ministry of Calvin. In a sermon titled, “The Call to Witness” Calvin preached from 2 Timothy 1:8-9. He made this powerful statement:
If the gospel be not preached, Jesus Christ is, as it were, buried. Therefore, let us stand as witnesses, and do him this honor, when we see all the world so far out of the way; and remain steadfast in this wholesome doctrine. . . . Let us here observe that St. Paul condemns our unthankfulness, if we be so unfaithful to God, as not to bear witness of his gospel; seeing he hath called us to it.
The preaching ministry of a hyper-Calvinist is cold, lifeless, and without passion for the lost world. That doesn’t describe the preaching of John Calvin. For instance, in a sermon on Isaiah 12:5, he said the following:
[Isaiah] shows that it is our duty to proclaim the goodness of God to every nation. While we exhort and encourage others, we must not at the same time sit down in indolence, but it is proper that we set an example before others; for nothing can be more absurd than to see lazy and slothful men who are exciting other men to praise God.
John Calvin was not only a faithful expositor of God’s Word and a defender of the true faith, he was also a zealous proclaimer of the faith. He preached with trumpet zeal and passionately pointed people to Jesus Christ. In a letter to five missionaries who had been arrested and were facing death, John Calvin wrote a letter to them on May 15th, 1553. Here is what he said:
Since it pleases him [i.e. God] to employ you to the death in maintaining his quarrel [with the world], he will strengthen your hands in the fight, and will not suffer a single drop of your blood to be spent in vain. And though the fruit may not all at once appear, yet in time it shall spring up more abundantly than we can express. But as he hath vouchsafed you this privilege, that your bonds have been renowned, and that the noise of them has been everywhere spread abroad, it must needs be, in despite of Satan, that your death should resound far more powerfully, so that the name of our Lord be magnified thereby. For my part, I have no doubt, if it please this kind Father to take you unto himself, that he has preserved you hitherto, in order that your long-continued imprisonment might serve as a preparation for the better awakening of those whom be has determined to edify by your end. For let enemies do their utmost, they never shall be able to bury out of sight that light which God has made to shine in you, in order to be contemplated from afar. 
Hyper-Calvinists are heretics who oppose the open preaching of the gospel and never engage in missions. Whatever your opinion of John Calvin is, let’s be sure to make this clear point—he was no hyper-Calvinist. The towering figure of Geneva who labored in his expository preaching, trained missionaries, and prepared them to die well—was no heretic. We must be careful to learn church history from accurate records and to use vocabulary carefully.
If the missionary preaching of John Calvin’s ministry is what it means to be a Calvinist, may the Lord raise up many more.
- Edward Panosian, “John Calvin: The Theologian” in Faith of Our Fathers, ed. James Cardinal Gibbons, (New York: Aeterna Press, 2015), 109.
- Harry R. Leader, “The Churchman of the Reformation” in John Calvin: A Heart for Doctrine and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons, (Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust, 2008), 68.
- Letter 318 [in Jules Bonnet, ed., Letters of John Calvin, tr. Mr. Constable (1858 ed.; repr. New York: Lenox Hill Pub. & Dist. Co., 1972), II, 406].
I‘m currently reading Kevin DeYoung’s book A Hole in our Holiness with a group of men. We meet every other week to discuss the chapters over coffee. In the first chapter, Kevin DeYoung (besides showing his disapproval for camping) points to an often overlooked relationship between our pursuit of holiness and the Great Commission. If we are majoring on making disciples within our church without a goal of holiness, it’s not really the Great Commission – right?
The Commission of Jesus
Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20). What a vast charge to God’s people. We are to go and reach the world with the gospel.
While we live in a sophisticated culture in 2016, we must not overlook that a great number of people on planet Earth still live in extremely poor conditions without running water, without Internet, without smart phones, without many of the luxuries that we enjoy. One critical thing that a vast number of the world’s population lives without is the good news of Jesus Christ. We are commanded to go and tell and disciple these people in the gospel. That is the heartbeat of the church and it should be the heartbeat of God’s people. But, as we consider what it means to be a Great Commission church or a Great Commission Christian, we should look well beyond the waters of the baptistry and see the whole picture of a redeemed sinners serving, worshipping, and living for Christ.
The Goal of Holiness
The ultimate goal of Jesus’ command to His disciples was far more than just sparing His elect from the eternal flames of hell. It had a purpose and that purpose is centered in holiness. Far from baptism statistics, Jesus was focused on His people and how they reflect the glory of God to all peoples across the world. When we as believers become competitive and focused on getting high baptism statistics, we miss the point of the Great Commission.
From the very beginning, God has purposed to select His people from the population of humanity and His desire has been for them to be a set apart people – distinct – and holy unto Him. That doesn’t mean that God expects His people to be peculiar in the sense of odd or strange. God expects His people to be sanctified. What does this sanctified life look like? The entire book of 1 John explains that God’s people love God rather than the world. Great Commission Christians go and reach people with a goal that extends far beyond the baptistry. It has a goal of holiness. J. C. Ryle provides a helpful reminder:
We must be holy, because this is one grand end and purpose for which Christ came into the world. . . . Jesus is a complete Saviour. He does not merely take away the guilt of a believer’s sin, he does more—he breaks its power (1 Pet. 1:2; Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9; Heb. 12:10). 
- J. C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots (Moscow, ID: Charles Nolan, 2011), 49.