The church: Destination or missions launch pad?

by BSCNC Communications
Wednesday, September 18, 2013 | 315 days old

John Ewart did not grow up in church and had no intention of ever attending church. He heard the gospel through a football teammate.

“I was saved in a locker room because a guy who loved Jesus more than football shared the gospel,” Ewart said.

Ewart shared with those gathered at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh for the Sept. 13-14 Great Commission Church Conference that the “y'all come” approach to church would not have worked for him - someone had to bring the gospel to him.

“We can’t just stay inside the church walls and expect people to find us. You have to go, even to people who are different from you,” he said.

Ewart, who serves as Associate Vice President of Project Development and Fletcher Professor of Missions at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, challenged conference participants to embrace the mission of God.  

The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s Office of Great Commission Partnerships sponsored the conference in an effort to help provide church leaders a basic, yet workable framework for a local church mission strategy.

In order to establish a mission strategy the local church must understand that the mission of God is to bring Himself glory and to redeem a lost world unto Himself. Without a relationship with Jesus Christ, people are lost, dying and going to hell.  

“Do we really embrace this concept?” Ewart said. “When was the last time lostness had a gut-wrenching impact on you and your church? If we truly appreciated and loved our redeeming God on mission, we would tell others about Him and make disciples.”

Churches fail to focus on God’s mission when individual priorities and preferences become the goal.  

“We have to be focused on what God wants for my church, not what I want for my church. We often confuse ownership and stewardship. God never gave us ownership; we’re just stewards,” Ewart said.

Ewart reminded leaders that the Great Commission commands believers to take the gospel to all people, and that requires going to cultures unlike our own. “Our ministry is not to change culture, but to present the Word of God in ways that is understood in the culture,” he said.

“The engineer and the passengers don’t get to decide where the train tracks are going. Our job is to build the train. Every train will look different. Contextually, the train will be determined by who you are. But the mission, the train tracks, never changes.”
 
To effectively present the gospel, and to do so in different cultures, a church must pursue an intentional relationship with God and His people, and with the world and its people.

“Being missional is simply an overflow of our relationship with God,” Ewart said. “Sometimes our relationship with the world just becomes a work of righteousness, and the motivation will dry out unless you embrace the mission.”

Ewart reminded leaders that Great Commission fulfillment is not only about making converts; it’s about making disciples. Disciples are those who experience life transformation and then make more disciples.

Missions shape the mission
David Horner, who founded Providence Baptist Church in 1978 and has served as senior pastor ever since, was also a featured conference speaker. He spoke about how missions must help shape a church’s mission.

With less than 13 percent of Southern Baptist Convention churches sending out even one missionary, churches must be willing to equip and to then let go.

“Your church will be viewed as a destination or a launch pad. We’ve got to be willing to let go – to release people to go. That hurts your bottom line, unless your bottom line is Kingdom focus,” he said. “God will let a lot of people pass through your church if you don’t own them as your members.”

Churches become willing to release people to the mission field when members embrace the biblical teaching of loving Jesus above all else.  

“We want to cultivate a deep, growing love for Christ so that our desires align with His. We’ve got to be so in love with Jesus that this matters more than anything else,” Horner said. “The motive for missions comes out of our passion for Christ. A sense of guilt will only motivate short term.”

Prayer always precedes and accompanies a great movement of God, and that includes a missions movement. “What is it you really long for? That’s what you pray about,” Horner said.

Each year Providence sends out hundreds of people on short-term mission trips, and throughout the years has sent out about 125 individuals to serve long-term in an international missions context. While short-term missions help provide a “boots on the ground” experience, long-term partnerships is crucial.

“We want to go in deep for long periods of time,” Horner said.

For a number of years Providence has committed to sending teams, both short and long term, to work among unreached people in Central Asia.  

An effective missions strategy must be part of a biblical, holistic strategy for church ministry.

“Missions fits into a principle-based approach to ministry so that we pursue the whole counsel of God. Missions is part of a fully developed, mature response to the claims of Christ,” Horner said. “If missions becomes isolated or insulated, we’re in trouble.”

Horner shared the following “best practices” to help build a missions culture:

  • Designate leadership responsible for missions
  • Maintain a high value on partnering with indigenous works
  • Maintain consistent contact with supported missionaries
  • Utilize an assessment process to send out those best suited and called
  • Highlight missions at an annual conference to raise visibility and priority of missions
  • Adopt a people group or focus on a particular nation or region
  • Emphasize missions from the pulpit and platform

To learn more about principle-based ministry and missions, read Horner’s “When Missions Shape the Mission” and “Firmly Rooted, Faithfully Growing: Principle-based Ministry in the Church.” More information about creating a church mission strategy is available through the Office of Great Commission Partnerships: www.ncbaptist.org/gcp.