The Local Church and Pioneer Missions (Part 2)

 All Nations

            I am firmly convinced that local churches who have taken the Lord’s Great Commission (summed up in the words win, build and send) as their daily marching orders are uniquely equipped to bear fruit in the unreached nations of the world. I am also certain that congregations who have seen the wisdom of this simple vision by walking in it will not stray far from it, and that fact will ensure our fruitfulness. It is not in the realm of getting off course that such churches have the potential for missing our destiny, but in not recognizing the scope of the Great Commission. These congregations are firmly rooted in the labor of that commission, but we must pay attention to the territory where that labor is to be spent as well. We are to “go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all that He has commanded us.”


             Others find themselves in the wilderness, walking aimlessly in circles, due to an ignorance of what the Lord has commanded them to do. They sincerely labor, trying to reach the nations with programs and strategies dreamed up by intelligent people in the seminaries of our day instead of implementing radical evangelism, personal discipleship and real church planting. The danger of the faithful local church is not in trying to come up with new theories of how to establish Christ’s kingdom on earth; they know very well how that is to be done. But their danger is found in becoming content with the land they have already conquered, and therefore failing to go “into all nations.”

            Jesus didn’t just impart to us a dead vision. He gave us a vision that was set on fire by the cry of his heart. That cry must also be in our heart if we are to bear the fruit he bore. That cry is “Give me those no one else wants.” And as we turn our attention away from the content of the Great Commission and focus on the scope of it we must apply this heartfelt cry. Faithful congregations have long said that they will accept the individuals and neighborhoods that others have found undesirable, but they must apply this resolve to the nations of the world as well. They must let God know that there is a people who have the cry of their Master. They must echo his sentiments by saying “Give us those nations and people groups that no one else sees value in.” Their prayer must be, “Lord, give us Bhutan, Afghanistan and Sudan.” They must cry out, “Father, give us the Acehnese people, the Pashtun and the Tibetans.” What people in their right mind want to spend their time, life and money on the poorest nations of the world? What reasonable organization would seek to enter hostile lands at risk of their life and freedom to save hardened sinners? Only a people beside themselves because of the love and passion of God! Only local churches that have the heart’s cry of their Master!

            We know what we are supposed to do, but we must be equally clear where we must do it. We must win the lost in our local communities. We must make disciples throughout our nation. We are called to send laborers to Europe, Mexico and South Africa. And we are constrained by God’s Spirit and our Lord’s Great Commission to plant churches in the unreached and hostile lands of the 10/40 Window as well!

            Fruitful congregations love to look at our past glory and see what the Lord has done. This is right and in accordance with the biblical injunction, “Remember what the Lord has done.” But we must recognize that our destiny as a people is not going to be fulfilled in the past, but will only come to pass if we finish the race we have started. We have started well, but “we have not yet been made perfect.” We must press on to “take hold of that for which God in Christ has taken hold of us.” For those of us connected to Great Commission fellowships, the foundation of our destiny has been laid, but the walls and the roof are yet undone. And He who laid the foundation bids us to continue on in the road marked out for us. We must continue to win, build and send through church planting, but we must go further than we have thus far. We must broaden our horizons and look out on the harvest field of the unreached world. We must gird up our loins for future battles, even as we glory in the battles of days gone by. We must become a local church sold out for the unreached peoples of the world!

Discouragement from Without

            The people of Israel were promised the land of Canaan, but Jesus has promised us that “the meek shall inherit the earth.” And we are to take our inheritance by “going into all the world and making disciples of all nations.” When Israel sent spies into the land they came back with a frightful report. All 12 spies agreed that the land was filled with giants that were entrenched in fortified cities. But 10 of the spies compared these facts with the inexperience and smallness of their own nation. This comparison led to the common-sense conclusion that they could not take the land. But Joshua and Caleb made a different comparison. They acknowledged the extreme contrast between Israel’s readiness with that of their enemies, but they also compared the greatness of their eternal and almighty God with the humanity and mortality of their enemies. They were convinced they could take the land because they kept their eyes on the glory of their God.

            We too must face the fact that the enemy is deeply entrenched in the nations of the 10/40 Window. He controls the governments, cultures, religions and hearts of these nations. He has controlled these lands and peoples for generations without anyone questioning his sovereignty.

            Many see this situation and declare that it can’t be done. How could small local congregations connected to other small churches take from the Devil what no one has ever taken from him? Usually such churches and networks of churches are not influential in their regions and they are usually struggling financially. If some of the largest and most experienced mission organizations have had little impact in these lost nations over the last 40-50 years, why on earth do we think that we could make any difference?!

            But the Bible is true! And Gideon was a real man! And what he was told, applies to us as well. Being the least in his family, and his family the least in his tribe, and his tribe the least in Israel, made him great! God does not choose the great to conquer the nations. He chooses the meek! It is not important how large we are, or what financial resources we have at hand. The only thing that matters is that we are committed to the Lord and to his Commission.

            We must be clear that the Lord has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the strong. He has chosen the poor to humiliate the rich and the foolish to outwit the wise. The only resources that are absolutely essential in taking the Gospel to the unreached nations are hearts willing to make sacrifices. The sacrifice of two mites is worth more in heavenly currency than truck loads of cash. When God provides us with more resources we must be faithful to use them for His glory, but we must not let our lack of resources hold us back from taking the land. The only wisdom we need is the childlike simplicity it takes to obey this simple command, “Go make disciples of all nations.” And the only strength we need is the strength of God that is perfected in our weakness!

            The 10 spies will always be around to whisper in our ears, but we must tune them out and listen to those that have their eyes on the greatness of God, instead of the greatness of the enemy. Our strength is found in a narrow vision, and our commitment to the local church. We must never despise what we have inherited from those who first planted our churches and fellowships; win, build and send through church planting! It is the staff of Moses that can part the Red Sea of Darkness!

            In the mandate of our Lord to win, build and send we have been given a precious guiding light. In many ways it is our boast and rally cry. We have come to appreciate this vision more and more throughout the years as we have seen many in the Body get off track and make a shipwreck of their ministry and influence. Truly, we have been given much in this simple and effective mission statement. But where “much is given, much is required.” This vision is not merely to be set on a pedestal to be gawked at by future generations, but it is to be planted like a seed in every nation of the world. Local churches who are fateful to this vision must lift up their eyes and take their responsibility for the unreached nations of the world seriously.

            The amazing thing about the seed that we carry is not merely that it is so effective, but that it can flourish in any environment this dark world has to offer. It doesn’t need ideal conditions, but instead can adapt and thrive in any condition it finds itself. It is not a fragile vision designed for a specific society or culture. It is not meant to work only in Western democracies that have been inundated for generations with the Gospel. No, it can be applied effectively in the darkest, most restricted and Gospel-hostile environments on the planet. It is the vision given by Jesus Christ who proclaimed that He has all authority in heaven and on earth.

Discouragement from Within

            There will always be those from without that don’t understand the power and effectiveness of the vision we have received. People will tell us we need better theology, more cultural training, and more sophisticated strategies. We would be wise to respond to them with humility and meekness while at the same time refusing to sway even an inch from the path marked out for us by the Lord. But there is another voice that can rise up from within our ranks. If obeyed, it will also cause us to forfeit our destiny. It is a voice that sounds loyal and dedicated because it always shouts “win, build, send.” But this voice doesn’t understand the adaptability of this vision. It feels that one can’t do radical evangelism without a bullhorn; can’t build men without teaching them to wear a suit and tie; can’t send without making a big announcement at one conference or another; and can’t plant a church without renting a building and putting up a big sign.

            This “voice from within” is so dangerous because it sounds so loyal. It sets itself up as the defender of the Lord’s vision. But in reality, it binds up the vision and makes it ineffective, even as Saul’s armor did to David when placed on him. Wherever we take the Gospel on God’s green earth, we must practice radical evangelism, one-on-one discipleship, and the radical release it takes to send out church planters. But these core practices will be worked out in various forms. King Saul overcame the Philistines by faith while having a body covered in armor, and though David fought the Philistines in a shepherd’s outfit, he also overcame them. This was because the same radical faith dwelt in his heart.

            In some neighborhoods of the world the most effective way to practice radical evangelism is to go to the street corner with a bullhorn and start preaching. In other places this might be considered radical, but would be the very opposite of effective. To stand on a street corner in Kabul and start preaching the Gospel through a loud speaker is most certainly radical, but not effective! It is radical because it will certainly end in martyrdom. But it is not effective because it won’t end in anyone getting saved. The only one that will get to heaven from such a radical act is the individual holding the bullhorn, and he will most likely make that journey to heaven while still in the midst of his eloquent introduction!

            The reason we believe in radical evangelism is because we understand that without hearing the Gospel, a person cannot be saved, and it is our desire that people be saved. So we are willing to take any risk, even risking our lives to share the Gospel with people. But sharing the Gospel in a way that it is not understood or accepted is useless. It might make us feel very bold, but it does nothing to save the lost. Boldness for the sake of feeling like we are “full of faith” is just pride. Boldness for the sake of winning people to Christ is the heart of God! It is true that many use “wisdom” as an excuse for cowardice, but it is also true that people use “boldness” as a way of making themselves look holy!

            We must understand that our Lord’s vision is adaptable to many nations, cultures and situations. This is what is so powerful about it. If it was only suitable for Southern California, then it would not be the vision of God, because God is the God of the whole earth. But it is a vision that can take over the whole world! It can adapt in form, without changing what it is. It is incarnational, even as God is. God became a man and walked on earth, even as we do. But He did not stop being Who He always was! In the same way, the vision of winning, building and sending through church planting can be fleshed out in many different ways, without becoming something different.

            If we hope to walk out the Great Commission by “going into ALL THE WORLD” and “MAKING DISCIPLES,” we must stay faithful to the core values, while at the same time not getting stuck on the forms we are used to. We must ask some questions, like, “Is evangelism only aggressive if it is done on a street corner with a bull horn in hand?” “Is a former sinner wearing a suit evidence that he has gone through the process of discipleship?” “Is an announcement at a conference the fulfillment of radical release?” And, “Do we need a building and a sign to plant a church?” These are just some of the questions we must ask as we start to put ourselves in places and situations that are completely unknown to us. We have to keep what we know (our heritage – win, build, send) while being willing to learn how to live it out in a new context.

            Radical evangelism is often put into a box that makes radical the key word instead of evangelism. As long as it is bold and visible it is considered radical, even if it bears little fruit. But our boldness should come from our love for God and the lost, not from a zeal that seeks to show how little we care what others think of us. The goal of evangelism is that people would hear and understand the message of Jesus Christ, nothing more and nothing less. This can be done quietly, but without compromise, over a cup of coffee just as well as through a bullhorn on a street corner. We must decide which way will best communicate the message to the people in the area we are seeking to reach.

            Some of us have come to believe that a former drug addict wearing a suit and tie is evidence that he has successfully gone through the process of discipleship. However, we must keep in mind that the goal of discipleship is to be “conformed to the image of Christ” (Rom 8:29), not to be conformed to middle class American culture.

We have often placed so much attention on the announcing of new church plants at our conferences, that we have come to believe that such announcements are proof that we are practicing radical release. We have forgotten that the goal is to “equip the members of the Body of Christ for ministry” (Eph 4:12), not to make a public announcement. The proof of radical release can only be judged by looking at the long term fruit and multiplication of our disciples. If our disciples are effectively multiplying disciples, we are practicing radical release, even if we have made very few public announcements!

Many people in fellowships that live out the Great Commission have forgotten that the local church is the local congregation, not the building we meet in. We have forgotten that the church are those that “meet together” (Romans 16:5, Philemon 1:2), not the facilities in which they meet. The local church can exist without a storefront or a sign, but it can’t exist without the community of believers. I have pastored a church that met secretly every week in various places when I ministered in Central Asia, as well as a church that met in the same storefront building every week for years while ministering in Indonesia, and I can testify there is no difference in the fellowship experienced in such communities. The church is the people, not the steeple!

            We must remain faithful to the vision we have received from the Lord, namely, win one, build one and send one through church planting. This is our only hope of taking the land the Lord has laid before us. But if we get stuck on how we have traditionally walked out this vision, and fail to adapt our practices to new cultures and circumstances, we will be tempted to believe that we can’t remain faithful to the vision if we go into the unreached nations. We must be clear. If we do not go into the unreached nations of the world, we are not remaining faithful to the full scope of the Great Commission.

            King Saul had won many victories as king of Israel, but there were still more battles to be fought. If he didn’t have the wisdom to allow David to try something different, the nation would have been defeated. Saul came to value the faith that David had. He recognized that the same Lord that brought him victory was also at work in David. We too must have the wisdom to recognize that the Lord’s strategies are not limited to the few lines of attack we are used to. If we truly plan on taking the Gospel to the whole world, we must be narrow-minded in our vision, and creative and prayerful in how we implement that vision.

            The boxer, George Foreman, has five sons, and all of them have the first name, George. Sometimes we are tempted to do the same thing with our spiritual offspring. We are not content that our disciples and spiritual descendants bear our last name, but we insist that they also bear our personal name. We don’t allow them to be formed into the image of the Lord, but insist on conforming them into our image. We must realize that if we hold back our children from taking the land the Lord has prepared for them through a stubborn refusal to adapt to new situations, we will be working against ourselves. We cannot become everything our Master has called us to be, nor receive everything our King has called us to inherit, without allowing our spiritual progeny to become and receive what the Lord has for them. If we continually shout “betrayal,” every time they seek to adapt to a new generation or a new environment, they will either turn back out of discouragement from what God has called them to do, or they will pull away from us, out of bitterness. In either case, we will fail to fulfill our destiny, since they are not allowed to fulfill theirs.

            The outworking of the vision in restricted nations will look different, but the heart of it will be the same. The local church might not have a sign hanging at its meeting place, but it will have a meeting place, even if that meeting place changes from week to week. The Gospel won’t always be proclaimed with a loud speaker in the public park, but it will be proclaimed clearly and without compromise to hungry, lost and hurting souls. On the other hand, disciples will be made in the exact same way as they are anywhere in the world; one person at a time and one day at a time. And we will be careful that they be conformed to the image of Christ, and not simply become cookie cutter forms of our own personalities and preferences. Prayer will be offered up in the same glorious Name, souls will be saved by the same shed Blood, and hearts will be filled with the same powerful Spirit! Yeah, there are some differences, but the Gospel, the Commission and the Lord are exactly the same.



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