“We must be willing to do whatever it takes the reach the next generation.”
This sounds like a line that many Christians can embrace, and sadly, many Christians charge hard with this line as their motto for ministry. Unfortunately, even the most passionate Christian can be passionately wrong. While boundaries and prohibitions may seem like bad things that hold us back from reaching our full potential as a local church or an individual believer—God’s boundaries should never be viewed through a negative lens.
Every Christian motto is built upon a theological foundation. It’s either fueled by low theological conviction that takes a backseat to pragmatism or it’s fueled by a high theological conviction that drives decision making and functionality. We want the latter rather than the former. When pragmatism takes priority over theology, the church is driven to do all sorts of things in the name of reaching people for Jesus in ways that Jesus would never approve.
Pragmatism Leads to Worldly Worship Models
An honest survey of church history will demonstrate that the church has been driven to embrace models that do not look like what God had in mind for genuine God exalting worship. From seeker sensitive marketing evangelism models to the Emergent Church that attempts to become so relevant to culture that it becomes irrelevant. If your model for ministry is “whatever it takes” people will begin to dream up and imagine all sorts of tactics for weekly worship that will attract the culture to your church. But, is that what Jesus has called us to do when he said, “go and make disciples” when he issued the Great Commission?
We have all seen the YouTube videos of zip line mishaps, motorcycle accidents, and drone crashes inside church buildings that occurred while churches were seeking to attract people from their community. It seemed like something that would draw in the crowds and make the church seem relevant and exciting, but instead it became an instant video clip for people to laugh at online rather than to connect people to the Savior of sinners. When ministries abandon the Scriptures and point people to cheap attractions rather than to Jesus—their ministries become shallow and look more like a carnival than a church in the process.
Is the Bible sufficient or must we dream up something new in order to reach the next generation? Does your church need a marketing trick to reach the community or is Jesus enough?
Pragmatism Leads to the Embrace of Worldly Ideologies and Methods
There is no doubt that this world with devils filled is threatening to undo us. We live in a broken world with complex layers of injustices and oppression against women, crimes against children, legalized abortion, legalized same-sex marriage, and ethnic division and discrimination. We walk a broken road through Vanity Fair as we journey toward the Celestial City as depicted by John Bunyan in his classic work The Pilgrim’s Progress. As we walk this path filled with traps of Satan and all manner of human depravity—how should the church approach the sins and depraved patterns of our ungodly society?
If the church is fueled by the motto “whatever it takes” we will be led to believe that broken ideas that emerge from a broken culture will suffice. In recent days, the Southern Baptist Convention voted to embrace Critical Race Theory and intersectionality as “analytical tools” to view and approach our culture. Why should the church be encouraged to abandon Scripture and embrace ideologies that have emerged out of the sewer of radical feminism and Marxism in order to reach a God hating culture? Is the Bible really outdated and uniformed regarding the complexities we face in our day? Is Jesus not enough? Does the gospel need help from culture to reach the culture?
Pragmatism will always lead the people of God away from the will of God at some point. If the gospel is working—pragmatism says, “do it.” When the gospel seems to not be working, pragmatism says, “do something else that gets better results.”
We must remember that the Reformation was about the recovery of God’s Word. When the Scriptures are not viewed as sufficient—worship and ministry models will be contaminated by the ideas and methods of the world. When Paul was writing his final letter to Timothy before he was martyred for his faith, he didn’t say, “Timothy, do whatever it takes to reach Ephesus with the gospel.” He said:
Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Tim. 4:2-5).
The motto—”whatever it takes” will eventually lead you to walk away from the Word of God. Beware of the broken road of pragmatism.
It was Charles Spurgeon who once said, “Millions have never heard of Jesus. We ought not to ask, ‘Can I prove that I ought to go?’ but, ‘Can I prove that I ought not to go?’”
When it comes to evangelism, we’ve all witnessed methods that are less than God honoring and fueled by emotion, guilt, or pressure to “do something” for God. Such shallow exhortations lead to improper engagement with the souls of people which often produces false converts through emotionally charged presentations of the gospel.
When we read Jesus’ words in Matthew 9:35-38, it should compel us to engage in evangelism, but we also learn some important facts about the harvest that will help us along the journey.
Jesus Had Compassion for the Lost Sheep
As Jesus looked upon the large crowds of people, he had compassion for the lost sheep. He viewed them as “sheep without a shepherd.” The imagery is striking. Sheep are relatively dumb and defenseless animals who need shepherds to lead them or they will walk right into the mouths of predators, off of cliffs, or away from food into desolate land. Jesus could discern their need and as the Savior of sinners and the Great Shepherd—he was filled with compassion for these people.
In a typical day, we go through the motions of our daily lives passing by people in our towns and communities without considering that many of these people are lost sheep who are wandering aimlessly through life as sheep without a shepherd. It would do us well to consider their condition and to show compassion for their souls as Jesus did. Before we will go into our communities with the good news of the gospel—we must first have compassion for unbelievers.
Recognize the Need for the Harvest
Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” When we consider the harvest of our own communities, is this true? Are churches going out into the fields faithfully sharing the gospel? Is your church faithfully sending out laborers into the field? What about you? Are you faithfully going into the fields to share the good news of Jesus? On a micro level this statement is true of most communities in America.
On a macro level—the harvest globally stands in need of laborers. We need faithful church planters and missionaries to go into the fields and engage the unbelieving world with the message of hope. The world is vastly lost with 3.19 billion people unreached with the good news of Christ. That’s a total of 41.6% of planet earth. Before we will send missionaries out from our churches to train pastors in other dark regions of the world, we must first recognize the need for laborers.
When we have true compassion for the lost sheep and when we see the lack of true laborers for the fields—it will cause us to pray earnestly. The word used by Jesus is “δέομαι” which means to passionately request, beg, and in this case—do direct such passionate request to God on behalf of the need in evangelism and missions. What does such praying look like? It’s more than a shallow prayer asking for God to save sinners. It’s an intentional prayer whereby we are praying that the Lord will send out laborers into the fields. Such prayers will include a self examination and an honest question to the Lord about your place in the fields of harvest. Such prayers include a focus upon:
- Local Communities
- Unreached People Groups
- Dark Regions
- Emphasis Upon Local Churches
When we pray earnestly, it will affect how we view the needs and how we engage in the work of local evangelism and world missions. An earnest prayer will lead to earnest engagement. Our church service begins each week with our pastor of missions and discipleship leading us in prayer for a specific country around the world. We review their statistics and assess their needs. We then pray for the local church in that particular region and ask for the Lord to send out laborers into that field. We ask for the Lord to strengthen the local pastors and encourage them to be steadfast in the faith. In some cases, we pray that God will save someone in that region from which a church will be birthed. It’s our desire to pray earnestly for the work of missions around the world as a gathered church. This is just one means by which we can engage. I would commend this to you as an example for you to consider.
The Harvest Belongs to God
The harvest (θερισμός) is a farming term that refers to the reaping of crops in the field which involves bringing them in from the fields and properly storing them for use or for the markets. This entire process is called the harvest. We must not lose sight of the fact that the harvest belongs to the Lord. Engaging in the work of missions without a confident heart that God will save his people from their sins is to engage in the work of missions from an improper theological foundation. The foundation matters. It matters when building a house and it matters in the work of missions. When people engage the world from a broken theological foundation it results in broken missional models, programs, tactics, and this leads sadly to—false converts. Doctrine matters.
If the harvest belongs to God, we must remember that he will accomplish his mission. If Jesus died for the elect (Eph. 1:3; John 19:30)—he will save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). The harvest is not lost. Such knowledge and such a proper theological foundation should lead us to spend more time in prayer rather than less time in prayer. It should result in earnest prayers that the Lord of the harvest will send out laborers into the fields in order that the gospel will be preached and sinners will be saved.
Without the gospel lost people will not be saved (Rom. 10:17). Yet, when the gospel is preached faithfully and laborers are working the fields—God will save his people. The mission will be completed. It is our duty to work the fields faithfully and continue to pray to the Lord of the harvest that he will send out laborers and that he will open blind eyes and save lost sinners for his glory.
How are you personally and how is your church corporately engaging in local evangelism and world missions for God’s glory? You may wonder how you can begin to make changes or improvements in this area and the first steps will include honest and earnest prayer. In his commentary on Matthew 9, J.C. Ryle said:
By prayer we reach Him without whom work and money are alike in vain. We obtain the aid of the Holy Spirit. Money can hire workers. Universities can give learning. Congregations may elect. Bishops may ordain. But the Holy Spirit alone can make ministers of the Gospel, and raise up lay workmen in the spiritual harvest, who need not be ashamed. Never, never may we forget that if we would do good to the world, our first duty is to pray!
Did you know that there are more Internet users in China than the entire population of the United States combined with the population of Russia, Japan, and Mexico? With all of those people online, the Chinese government censors what the people see. In order to protect their people from harmful information, the Communist government restricts the people from an open and full version of the Google search engine, Facebook and Twitter, The New York Times, and even Peppa Pig.
Why should the church be paying attention to the Internet usage and censorship that’s taking place in China? Why does this really matter?
China Needs Jesus More than China Needs Google
With over 802 million surfing the Internet on a daily basis, China has the highest population of Internet users in the world. However, there online experience is not the same as most other people around the world. The Chinese government restricts what the people of China can view online. They are not allowed to use Google as a search engine nor can they interact on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. The Chinese government restricts the information that the people can receive as they seek protect their people from harmful messages in form of religious, social, political, and pop-culture ideas.
Make no mistake about it, Google wants China and the people of China want Google. With an estimated 1.92 billion people out of the total 4.1 billion worldwide Internet users are expected to make an online purchase in 2019, there is an ever expanding market to capture among the people of China. It doesn’t take a financial trade expert to see that this is a big deal centered on money. However, what the church must realize is that while the ongoing negotiations and discussions take place between China and major tech companies about how to work within the nation’s Internet policies—the church must pay close attention in order to be prepared to use the available technologies to deliver the gospel to China. The people of China need Jesus far more than they need Google. For the church, it’s not about money—it’s about good news for unreached people. The largest religious view in China presently is non-religious (43.5% of the 1.4 billion people). There is only 9.2% of the total population of China professing to be Christian. The nation of China needs Jesus.
Freedom of Speech Is Not the Same as Freedom of Search
While Google wants China, the tech giant is not interested in delivering Jesus to China. That’s not their goal. It’s not the goal of Wikipedia, Twitter, or Facebook either. They are all interested in the available financial market opportunities. As Google provides a search product for the people of China that filters out everything that’s prohibited such as competing religious views, political ideas, pop-culture trends, and other social information that the leadership of China forbids—Google will work within their system in order to capture the financial opportunities. Why is this important?
If search engines can restrict social trends and religious views from the people of China—the same exact thing can happen in the United States. In fact, there have been instances of Internet censorship that have been accused in recent years on platforms such as Twitter with people being banned or blocked or restricted due to their offensive information. This is critically important especially when you see pictures online of Google meeting with pro-abortion activists and organizations about how to deliver the message and resources of “reproductive freedom” to women around the world
Interestingly enough, such blocking is not the result of a Communist government working to control their people, but instead it’s based solely upon the opinion of the major social media companies. In other words, they’re in control of what is and what isn’t considered harmful or offensive. Is that really free speech? No, but the freedom of speech does not equate to the freedom to search or speak on social media platforms.
The church must continue to speak up and speak out online and in the social media spaces, however, we must be prepared for further censorship and restrictions as the progressive liberal views of our nation continue to spread. Until then, while the daylight remains, we must capitalize on these opportunities and continue to spread the hope of Jesus and the good news of the gospel to all peoples in order for the whole world to know the joy of Christ. The church cannot trust Google to be the megaphone for the gospel around the world. We can use technology while we can, but we must go and preach the gospel and plant churches in dark regions around the world regardless of what help tech companies provide along the journey.
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.