By Rob Maupin
My wife and I entered the local sub shop and began to order. The young man serving us noticed our tired, but happy faces and asked what we had been doing. We told him our church had packed 500,000 meals for hungry kids in Haiti, and it took us (and more than 1,000 volunteers) well over 11 hours of really hard work. We explained that even though it was tiring, we had a truly wonderful experience.
“Why did your church do that?” he asked quietly. As we conversed, he said, “I’d like to be a part of something like that someday.”
Something profound happens when God’s people give of themselves and their resources to participate with him in his mission. People notice, heads are turned, and in many cases, hope is rekindled that there might just be something to this “follower of Jesus” thing. A wide variety of opinions exists about how to do missions well, but I believe a healthy church has a robust local and global missions outreach. In the face of world poverty, injustices, rising urbanization, racial tensions, and theological battles, missions is a complex but crucial thing.
Fundamentally, a sense of mission is essential for a healthy church. All of us who now know Christ are the former recipients of mission efforts. Even though many cultures have indigenized the church, everyone outside of first-century Jerusalem is a former or current mission field.
A great example is the church in Antioch in Acts 13. Note that all of the leaders listed there are not from Antioch (see also Acts 11:10-16)! While the Antioch church is often (and rightly) known as a “sending” church, it is seldom noted that all of its leaders were from another cultural background. Once the gospel saturates a culture, God soon reminds his people of the nature of his covenant with us and shows us we are his moveable property (Exodus 19:4, 5; 1 Peter 2:9)—and soon a new round of mission begins!1
Every church needs to hear that we are all participants in God’s eternal plan to redeem the entire world! But because we are people, we often forget whose we are.
If we lose sight of this, an easy rhythm can unintentionally creep up on us. When life is normal (for us) and familiar, it’s hard to want to give up what we know. We need to be reminded by Scripture and the Holy Spirit that we are not our own—we are bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23; 1 Peter 1:18; 2:9; Ephesians 1:14).
Loving neighbors and helping others globally has never been outside of the nature of the church. Paul made direct-support requests as well as one-time requests for financial help (2 Corinthians 8:4-6; 1 Corinthians 16:3; Philippians 2:25; 4:15). He not only went on short-term mission trips (for both evangelism and relief and development), he also encouraged others to do so! The point is, the very nature of the church is not simply to be a haven (though it should be that), it is also to be a launching pad for those gifted and called to go.
You can see how this has played out in dozens of arenas. The young Celtic church became a vibrant missionary-sending community. The Moravians did so as well. As the body of Christ begins to mature in a given context, its love begins to look like salt and light, yeast and mustard seeds. The expansion of the Restoration Movement is another case study of this process.
As a church serves its local needs, its members soon begin sending people to other places where people do not look or talk like them. Historically, a healthy church becomes involved in missions (regardless of the form or target).
Compass Christian Church in Colleyville, Texas, has a more than 20-year history of mission involvement. Pioneer Bible Translators has its roots in that church and is currently a strong, reciprocal partner with Compass at many levels. Compass, like many other churches, invests significant staff resources, volunteer effort, and money in local service opportunities, domestic mission work, and international efforts.
Compass is not unique in this regard; many larger churches have entire staff departments focused on such efforts. Three examples of such missions-minded churches are Northside Christian Church, New Albany, Indiana; Eastview Christian Church, Bloomington, Illinois; and Christ’s Church of the Valley, Phoenix, Arizona. Not only are the churches’ missions departments focused on outreach, they are also integrated in the work of discipling the local church members.
Some churches—First Christian Church, Champaign, Illinois, for example—use existing staff to facilitate missions work as a major part of their job. Still other churches, such as Central Church of Christ in Gering, Nebraska and Lincoln (Illinois) Christian Church, have developed a strong volunteer base that handles all the missions work of the church in conjunction with staff and elders.
If you attend the International Conference on Missions each autumn (and I hope you do), you will see that churches of any size can get involved. Hundreds of missionaries and missionary recruits are currently waiting for partnership and support! Young leaders are trying to find ways to get sent to the field. But if you are unable to attend ICOM, just look around, and local needs will present themselves.
When a church pursues the way and person of Jesus, its people begin to see their lives as part of the great enterprise of God’s mission—whether locally, the next town over, or across the ocean. For more than 2,000 years the church has lived this out, and the global face of Christianity is testimony to the process.
1This idea is old but was clearly identified and described by Andrew Walls in his article “The Gospel as Prisoner and Liberator of Culture,” first published in 1982.
Rob Maupin serves as missions pastor with Compass Christian Church, Colleyville, Texas.