Why Missions Matters
Updated: Oct 8
Missions is often perceived in our politically correct society today as an unwelcome and even destructive offshoot of imperialism. In the name of tolerance and relative truth we have failed to understand that worldviews have profound consequences and that not all beliefs and ideologies are created equal. We have also lost sight of the fact that the Western world has risen and has been the driving force behind science, economic growth, freedom and health and living standards as a direct result of our worldview, which was built on a biblical foundation. It was Christianity that shaped the West and brought it all the innovation, prosperity, blessings and power it has had. If you are skeptical of that fact, there are numerous books, papers and articles out there on the subject, but one of the best is The Book That Made Your World by Indian scholar, Dr. Vishal Mangalwadi.
Scripture says in Proverbs 14:34 that "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people." All throughout the Bible is found this principle that God wants His blessings upon the world "on earth as it is in heaven" but in order for that to happen, man has to align himself, personally and corporately with the ways of God. It's a pretty simple concept: God designed the universe and all therein and therefore He knows best how to manage that universe. The more we practice His will upon the earth, the more justice, health, blessings and prosperity there will be. But God isn't the only one fighting for the hearts and minds of men- Satan is also working hard to bring his system of governance upon the world, which increases injustice, poverty, disease and death. So it stands to reason that a nation with a more biblical worldview will prosper, if Proverbs (and indeed the rest of scripture) is to be believed.
Does this principle stand the test of real world experience though? As it turns out, yes. Wherever the Gospel of Jesus Christ has gone and discipleship into a biblical worldview has followed, the blessings of God are not far behind. An easy read on this phenomena is The Book That Transforms Nations by YWAM founder and life-long missionary, Loren Cunningham. But an overlay of UN statistics and church movements proves this quite clearly- Historically Christian nations top the charts in standards of living, freedoms and health while Historically Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim nations make up the lower two-thirds. Infant mortality rates are also astronomically higher in Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim nations as well as poverty, illiteracy and corruption. In case you're tempted to attribute those statistics to other factors, here is an incredible fact: From 1970 to the present, world poverty has been reduced by more than half. What happened in that time frame? A massive missions movement primarily from the West. What nations experienced such drastic economic development in the world during this time? The newly Christianized nations. Need more evidence? The region of the world that is the most unreached with the Gospel is North Africa, the Middle East and Asia, collectively known as "the 10/40 Window" referring to 10 degrees to 40 degrees North latitude. Where is the greatest concentration of poverty, malnutrition, sickness, injustice, corruption, conflict and terrorism in the world? In the 10/40 Window. You can see the disasterous effect Satan can have on nations without the church present to bring God's truth, hope and blessing in their midst.
It is clear that when we obey God and are actually faithful in carrying out the command of the Great Commission, the result isn't just people gaining hope for eternity, but also hope for their present. For the Gospel is defined in scripture (Gal 3:8) as the promise made to Abraham, that "God will bless you and through you bless the nations." The Gospel is the good news that God is a god of blessing and He wants to redeem us from the hand of the enemy and save us from the path of death and destruction we are currently on. God has a plan and a purpose for our lives and our nation and that includes brining that redemption to all the other nations. Missions is not optional, it's mandatory for everyone who claims to be a Christian. We don't need a special calling, for God already called us- He even spelled it out for us and repeated Himself countless times. But our obedience doesn't just bless God, it blesses the nations. Jesus said all of the commandments could be summarized in two- to love the Lord with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself. Missions is the outworking of those two clear and simple truths and to ignore or opt out of missions is to fail in both. For scripture says that we cannot love God and not love our brother (1 John 4:20) nor can we love God without obeying Him (John 14:23-24). So if you love God, you will obey Him and be a part of missions and if you love your neighbor then you will likewise prioritize missions in your life in your giving and your going. As John Piper succinctly put it, "Go, send or disobey."
At this point I usually get many questions from people who sincerely feel they are not called to go overseas. The simple fact is, not everyone is called to be a full-time overseas missionary. That doesn't mean you aren't called to missions however. You are still called to be involved in the church-wide team effort by your giving, your prayers and support. You must train yourself to have a missional mindset and recognize that according to scripture, the only reason Jesus ascended to the Father and has not returned yet for His bride is because He left her here on earth to complete a task. Jesus made it quite clear in Matthew 24:14 and Mark 13:10 that the end of the age (and His subsequent return) would not come until the Great Commission was completed. The context of 2 Peter 3:9 is also the Lord's return and it reminds us once again that the Lord is not slow about His promise, but He is patient with us, not wishing for anyone to perish but for all to come to repentance. In other words, we're not waiting for the second coming, God is waiting on us. The church's purpose is quite straightforward and therefore so is our individual purposes in life, so it would behoove us to stay focused and on task, for we will each give an account one day.
The And and the All
How can this be accomplished? By recognizing two important keys: That Acts 1:8 calls us to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth and that Matthew 28:20 instructs discipling those converts in all that God has commanded. The first key word here is "and"- it means all of the above, not either or. It also means simultaneously, not progressively. Too many times the church takes an either/or approach and claims their calling is "to their Jerusalem"- it's not. That is part of the church's calling, but not its totality. The same principle applies to individual believers- more on that later. The next error churches move into is the progressive mentality unwittingly substituting the word "then" for "and." I hear this perspective a lot from church people. This mentality produces a selfish "me and mine first" philosophy of ministry that believes that the church should focus on fixing the problems and saving the lost in their home country before they send people and resources elsewhere. This is clearly unbiblical, in fact it is antithetical to the core teachings of scripture. It also will prevent the church from ever reaching beyond their borders and comfort zones as there will always be problems and unsaved on the home front. So to truly understand and walk out biblical teaching requires us to look beyond our Jerusalem and prioritize our people and resources according to global need, not local. And if you're tempted to think that the West is in greater need than the rest of the world, here's a great fact sheet to reference. Every church and every individual should be contributing to both local and international missions in their giving and going. The second key is understanding that discipleship is more than personal salvation- that the Great Commission is teaching all that God has commanded. That's the Bible, the whole word of God and all the instruction that it contains. You begin to see the importance of this key when you realize that the Bible says a lot about the family unit, about finances and economics, about governments and rule of law, about courts and justice, about education, about stewardship, hygiene, science, music, entertainment and social behavior as well as morality and spirituality. The church has recently rediscovered this truth with the emergence of the "Seven Pillars (or mountains or spheres) of Society" paradigm which was introduced by none other than YWAM founder Loren Cunningham and the late Bill Bright who founded Campus Crusades for Christ. The seven categories that comprise any society are: 1. Religion 2. The Family
7. Celebration (arts, sports and entertainment) People in all these seven spheres must be redeemed and discipled into a biblical worldview and the more they are, the more blessing that society will experience as those people with a biblical worldview influence the culture and policies of each of those areas. So while you might not be called to be a full-time overseas missionary, you are most certainly called to be a full-time missionary to one of these seven spheres of influence while giving to and supporting those who are sent out overseas. This is walking out the and and the all.
A House Divided
One of the key ways Satan keeps the plans and purposes of God from being accomplished is to separate and divide. He separates nations (ethnos in Greek- literally people groups, not geo-political countries) from the Gospel by convincing the church that the Great Commission isn't our sole reason for existence and then he divides the church to ensure missions aren't as successful just in case we ever get around to actually doing them. So there are two big issues that we must address to see the blessing of God in every nation as scripture commands and also prophetically promises. The first we've already discussed- the church and every believer have to become intensely missional. When Jesus said to become fishers of men, the context of the analogy was using nets to actively go get in a boat and scoop them out of the water, not sit passively on the shore with bait and hook and hope to lure them in.
The second issue we must deal with is division in the church. This of course includes denominational division, church splits, non-essential doctrinal disputes and the general grudges and unforgiveness that occur in and between congregations. But there is another, less recognized, area of division in the church that is having an enormous negative impact on our ability to complete the Great Commission- the division between the local and mobile church. The late and revered Dr. Ralph Winter coined the terms Modality and Sodality (the local and mobile expressions of the church respectively) and researched and presented the biblical and historical case for their divine call and existence. You can read a summary of that 1973 presentation here in his article The Two Structures of God's Redemptive Mission- I highly recommend it and it is required reading for my students. For another great article exploring the dynamics and implications of the Modal/Sodal church, you can read Why the Modality and Sodality Thinking is Vital to Understand Future Church put out by the reserchers at Church Army based in the UK.
The physical division of these two structures is both inevitable and biblical, but that's where the division must end. The Sodality (mobile church) is by definition, sent out and mobile- therefore it is physically divided from the Modality (local church). The problem is that since the Reformation, Protestant Christianity has generally categorized the Modality as "the church" and the Sodality as "para-church organizations." This mentality and nomenclature effectively cuts the hands and feet off of the body of Christ and declares they aren't a part of the church. Indeed physically they are separate from the local church, but they are the other half of the whole. These two structures of the church were modeled in both the Old Testament and New as well as church history as Dr. Ralph Winter demonstrates- there was the local majority and the sent out minority which constituted "the church". Jesus was not a local synogague priest, He was sent out from the synagogue as a travelling rabbi tasked with making disciples and teaching wherever He went. However He was not separate from the religious system doing His own thing, He was an integral and recognized part of the Jewish religious structure. The same of course is true of Peter, Paul and all the others who were sent out from the local congregations in the New Testament to preach the Gospel where it was not yet planted. Even the formation of the Catholic church some 300 years later maintained the identity of these two structures and rightly gave emphasis and more authority to one. And here's where it ruffles some feathers- the biblical and historical structure that is the driver, authority and leader of the church is actually not the local expression, but the mobile- those who were sent out.
This is pretty obvious in scripture. In the Old Testament, the primary religious voices we hear are not local priests, but travelling priests and prophets. Even Moses was a sent out one. Obviously Jesus spoke with more power and authority than all the local priests combined and while some would call foul and point out His authorship and embodiment of the law, it's worth noting that He was also a sent out rabbi of that same Old Testament structure. The apostles therefore didn't create the missions model, they continued and maintained the same Jewish religious structure that Jesus maintained and was a part of. In the role that they had within that structure as part of the sent out ones, they clearly had the greatest level of authority and influence in the church- not the local shepherds (we call local leaders pastors today in Protestant circles). This is not a case of elitism, titles or glory, it's actually quite pragmatic. Those who were sent out naturally had a more keen focus on and experience in expanding the Kingdom. Therefore they were more suited to pass on that missional DNA and encourage the body as a whole in her task of the Great Commission. As Proverbs 29:18 says, "Where there is no vision, the people perish." Those who were sent out kept the main thing the main thing and had gained the experience and suffered through the hardships necessary to become the keepers of the vision for the church.
This is not to downplay the role of the local church or local church leaders whatsoever, but simply to re-emphasize the importance and inclusion of the mobile church as in Protestant Christianity it has been mislabeled, discredited and even ostracized by the the local church. When local church leaders classify the Sodality as "para-church organizations", they are either knowingly or unknowingly fostering an "us vs. them" mentality. There should be unity in the body of Christ and when the two structures of God's redemptive mission work together within their ordained roles and callings, the church fires on all cylinders and the Gospel goes out in power. So what are the respective characteristics, roles and responsibilities of the two structures of the church? Here's a brief overview:
You can begin to see the intentional and designed symbiotic relationship here. The mobile church preaches, gains converts and subsequently plants a local church. That local church then disciples those converts, raises them to maturity and sends more out. The church therefore grows exponentially as we clearly see in the early church- this is the active "net" method of fishing. When this God ordained system breaks down and the two structures of the church aren't working together, both structures then have to go agaisnt their design and change their approach in an attempt to become self-sustaining. This has led to the seeker-sensitive model of ministry in the local church- which is clearly the passive "bait and hook" method of fishing and consequently catches fewer fish and produces passive pew sitters. Without the mobile church to drive new converts to her, the local church must attract them, which is both unbiblical and impractical- the entire biblical model and mandate is to go disciple the lost, not wait for the lost to realize they're lost and somehow deduce that they need discipleship in a local church. Meanwhile, without the local church funneling missionaries and finances to her, the mobile church is forced to devote a large chunk of its time trying to recruit new members and funds from a generally dismissive or downright hostile Modal community and having to spend even more time discipling its new members into the missional mindset that they didn't receive in their local church. Hence, Satan wins by the age old strategy of divide and conquer.
The God-Given Solution
The world is a mess because of man's rebellion against God, but God has a redemptive plan in place and has already done the heavy lifting for us, but His plan includes the church to bring it to pass. If we follow His plan and His structure, that plan works splendidly. When we ignore His plan or try to accomplish it via our own methods and structures, it limps along at best or collapses at worst. As the church is instrumental in bringing God's blessing to the nations, our division and failures don't just affect us, they affect the whole world. So there's a lot riding on us being unified, faithful and diligent.
The local church needs to acknowledge the legitimacy of the mobile church and start prioritizing missions funding rather than building funds. As pastor and missions strategist Mike Stachura said, "The mark of a great church is not its seating capacity but its sending capacity." If the local church would stop viewing the mobile church as competitors who are constantly stealing their people and begging for money and instead view them as partners and start sending their top people and giving generously, they'd be amazed at how blessed, dynamic, alive and focused their congregations would become. The temptation is always to do everything "in house" and to reinvent the wheel with your own programs and seal of approval. This is not only redundant and inefficient, it's also rooted in pride, micromanagement and an effort to build little empires that have our flag waving over them. If any of that sounds unbiblical, it's because it is. The truth is the mobile church has a wealth of knowledge and experience from the field that the local church doesn't- the local church simply needs to tap into the current God-ordained church structure called the Sodality, not try to construct their own version of it or bypass it completely.
The mobile church needs to go the extra mile and woo the local church by serving her, not constantly asking to be served. This is tricky I admit, but it can be done. As a YWAMer I can do this by requesting support from individuals and churches I already have a good relationship with while serving other churches and individuals. Unfortunately, those in the Sodality often treat the local church with disdain as they see them as not being obedient to God. They also tend to withdraw from local church communities because they either don't feel welcome or they simply don't have much in common with those who don't have the same Great Commission vision. The great tragedy here is that it is the members of the Sodality that are the only ones who can implant Great Commission vision into the local church. So by withdrawing from the local church, they are actually perpetuating the problem. I hate to sound harsh, but in reality, those in the Sodality who seclude themselves from Modal communities are in effect, the problem. We simply cannot expect the local church to become more missions minded if we remove all the missions minded people from their communities. So if you are part of the Sodality, recognize at this juncture the local church is part of your mission field- serve her with the same tenderness, patience, love and care you would an unreached people group.
Christians as individuals need to lay down their small ambitions and start living for the Kingdom. This means living by biblical financial principles by getting out of debt, living within their means, tithing and giving to missions as well as viewing their career as their primary mission field. This means bringing biblical influence and principles to that field and to those people must be their top priority rather than their job security, popularity or promotions. They may be called to their Jerusalem (key word, may- this is a serious point of prayer, not a foregone conclusion) so their primary mission field is at home, but they are commanded to be global Christians, so they should be funneling funds to the international field at the same time. Here is where I can get myself into trouble with pastors.
The sad reality is that most Christians don't tithe. I've heard many arguments and sermons about this over the years and I'm not legalistic about it, but there's a strong biblical case for 10% and an even stronger church tradition of it. As pastors are very aware that their members are not practicing this biblical principle and many local churches struggle financially, I can understand why some pastors would get a bit prickly when I say church members should be channeling funds to missions. Most pastors, due to them being raised in Protestant churches and trained in Protestant Bible schools and seminaries, do not acknowledge the legitimacy of the mobile church and therefore believe the full 10% tithe should be given to the local church. Anything above and beyond that they're usually fine with church members giving wherever they please. I would agree with that model if local churches were universally partnered with mobile churches and corporately giving a significant portion of that tithe to the field... But they aren't. So when the original intent of the biblical concept of tithe was for the local church to wisely manage the corporate finances and fund missions breaks down and instead they're using most (if not all) of those monies to fund their own ministries, buildings and salaries, I can equally see the argument for church members giving a portion of their tithe to the local church and a portion to the mobile church at least until their local leaders do some course correction and re-prioritize their budgets. In the end I believe that's an issue of conscience that each believer should decide. The 10% is the minimum you should be giving, but how you divvy that up those funds or the maximum percentage you give is up to you. If you currently give a pittance to your local church though, I would advise you to increase your giving there as well as beginning to give to missions. Simply put, if all believers tithed and all local churches supported mobile churches, no pastor and no missionary would be in need and the ministry of both church structures would be amply funded. As it sits right now however there are many, many impoverished missionaries and sinfully underfunded missions ministries as shown in the chart below.
Conclusion and Summary
The church is the hope of the world. Not because we're better or special or even particularly capable, but because God decided to redeem broken people who were the problem and transform them into His vessels of solution via His wisdom, His original design, His purposes, His structures and His power. He uses the weak and foolish things to demonstrate His strength and wisdom. His plan is meant for our good and His structures are not arbitrary or replaceable. We as the church need to know God's commands and practice them both personally and corporately in all areas of society and we need to teach those commands to all nations in order to bring His blessing, life and ways to everyone He loves and died for. We do this not out of humanistic pity for our fellow man but as a response to the love and mercy God showed us. We are not worthy, the nations are not worthy, but God is worthy of us. Scripture is replete with promises and imagery of the whole earth being filled with His glory, with people of every nation, tribe and tongue worshipping God in their own land and with the throne room of God being filled with a multitude of representatives from every people group. It's also full of prophecies of peace, prosperity, healing and fruitfulness. They're God's promises but it's the church's task. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would come and enable us to do the work, but we have to be willing to say yes and follow through with the blood, sweat and tears to see it done.
The incredible thing is that for the first time in history, the Great Commission could be completed in this generation- possibly within the next 15 years if the church makes it the priority that it should be. This is an incredible time to be alive! The church is growing all around the world, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists are having dreams and visions of Jesus and are coming to Christ in unprecedented numbers. More people have come to Christ in the last 40 years than in the rest of history combined. The power of the Holy Spirit is also being unleashed upon the world unlike anything the church has seen before. The sick are being healed, the dead are being raised, nations are being discipled and the church is just getting warmed up. God's promises are becoming a reality and you can be an instrumental part in it. The time, more than ever before, is now.