The entire missionary movement is propelled by the word “go.” In the Great Commission Jesus compelled us to “go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15). This mandate, coupled with a work-oriented culture has sparked zealous Christians to action. The result is a task-oriented missionary movement with thousands of workers trying to finish the task in our lifetime. In light of this urgency and the immensity of the task we ask ourselves: How are we going to reach the world in such a short time? We study, we think, we hold consultations and congresses, we do research, we devise plans and strategies and we circle the earth. Soon we realize that the return does not match the investment. So we begin to turn to the apathetic Christians and try to stir them up to action. We begin to make missions more attractive. We offer short term trips for a week or two. We raise more money, and devise bigger plans. We take the task to heart, and we work hard, thinking that we are being obedient to God’s word, so surely He must be pleased with us. We could not possibly be doing anything wrong since our intentions are good. We want the glory of God, not our own, because we are willing to forsake everything and do anything “…so that by all possible means I might save some.” (I Corinthians 9:22)
But how do we know that what we are doing is right or wrong? Is there a biblical answer to how we must conduct business for God? Or are we left to our own wisdom and our own ways? To what extent can we copy the business world without violating God’s Word and the models of biblical characters who paved the way before us? Are the models of Jesus, prophets and apostles obsolete and out of date?
It seems to me that the modern missionary movement in general has diverged from biblical teaching. Our organizations look more and more like secular agencies and money-oriented businesses. We have absorbed the world into our mainline thinking and behavior to the extent that we now take it for granted that we must conduct our work based on “good business principles.”
The results are not as good as we like to think. We are not producing New Testament type disciples who are gathered in New Testament communities. As I travel into North Africa and and other Arab countries, I see fragile Christians in weak “churches” which are dependent on the west, churches plagued with strife, divisiveness, love of money, and hunger for power. We, in effect, are reproducing ourselves.
The answer is to return. We must return to God’s way which is the not the best way but the only way we should conduct our lives and our ministries. Let us examine our practices in light of God’s word which is the only authoritative source of wisdom and guidance in opposition to the best books produced by men. A biblical missiology starts with the scriptures and asks the question: “How can we apply what we learn from the scriptures to our missionary task?” Not “How can we find support in the Bible for what we have already devised?”
When recruiters speak at churches and conferences they urge people to sign up immediately. And with only a little orientation and some fast paced training, they are sent as soon as they can raise their support. Have you ever heard a recruiter saying to people: “wait until you are ready?”
Yet Jesus, the author of the great commission, did not seem to be in a hurry to thrust his apostles into action immediately after his ascension to heaven. On his last day on earth and just before he ascended to heaven Jesus commanded his disciples:
“Do not leave Jerusalem,
but wait for the gift my Father promised which you have heard me speak about.
…in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit…
…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you,
and you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:4-8).
Jesus essentially told them not to go anywhere, not yet. He asked them to just wait for the Holy Spirit…
Is Jesus today asking us to wait? Paul waited many years before he was ready to go. Yet we say, “we are running out of time! There are more than three billion people and thousands of people groups still unreached! We cannot afford to wait. What if Jesus returns soon?”
It is interesting that the disciples were concerned about the same things. They asked Jesus when he would restore the kingdom to Israel. Our concerns today are only slightly different: “When will the great commission be fulfilled? When will “a church for every people be established?”
The answer Jesus gave to the disciples two thousand years ago is just as relevant to us today. He basically told the disciples that it was none of their business “to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” The timing is in God’s hands. Regardless, we ought to obey God, not our own man-made man-dates. Jesus is telling us that we need to leave this matter to God and simply do what he calls us to do.
Jesus in Acts 1:4-8 stressed that the first sign of the infilling of the Spirit in the believer is not tongues or other gifts. It is witnessing. “When you receive the Holy Spirit, you will be my witnesses…” When we are filled with the Spirit of God, we will naturally be witnesses everywhere we go. This is God’s job, not ours. It is God’s battle, not ours. It is God working through us as we yield ourselves to him. We only go at his command and in his time.
The disciples knew well that without him, they could “do nothing” (John 15:5). The Holy Spirit turned their fear into boldness and their weakness into strength. Paul waited three days in fasting and prayer before he began to witness in Damascus. He waited three years in Arabia before he went to Jerusalem. While the church in Antioch waited on the Lord, worshipping, praying and fasting, God chose to “call” Paul for a special task. Paul had nothing to do with the call. He had everything to do with obedience after the call. The church in Antioch was in a spirit of worship, fasting and prayer when the call came.
It is power we need, the power of God, not our own. Paul stressed emphatically that:
“..our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit…” (1 Thessalonians 1:5).
We know we need this power. We frequently repeat in words and song: “Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord.” Yet our practices demonstrate lack of faith in God’s power and a reliance on man-made ideas and strategies. Perhaps our ministries lack evidence of the true power of the Spirit because of our failure to wait on the Lord. Without the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter who denied Christ out of fear, would not have been able to stand boldly before the large crowds and with a powerful sermon lead 3000 to Christ. As we yield ourselves fully to God and wait on Him for guidance, He fills us with His Spirit, empowering us for His work. Only then can we be fruitful in drawing the world to Christ.
George, Lots of good stuff in this post. But in one case, I think that you have it backwards:
You wrote: “When recruiters speak at churches and conferences they urge people to sign up immediately.”
I do not deny that some do that. But I work for an agency that does not. We do good screening and orientation. Many Christians don’t like that. They want to go now. The churches that support them do not understand the orientation and they ask why those they support are not on the field already. So while some recruiters want people to sign up now, the stronger force for “now” is in our culture and our churches have bought it.
Let me submit that the desire for things “now” is not driven by what mission agencies say to the North American Christian public, but rather the other way around.
I know this is complete parody, but it does serve to illustrate a point: How many people have “waited on God” only to find He was waiting on them?