Paul Chitwood: Why Are You Here?

Why are you here?

Paul Chitwood, President of the International Mission Board, answered this question for us at Southeastern Seminary last year when he preached on Isaiah 56:1-8. Chitwood exhorted us to remember that we are here not to serve ourselves, but to serve those enslaved to their sin and idolatry all around the world; we are here to proclaim freedom in Jesus.

You can watch the full sermon above. Keep reading below for some key excerpts.


Slaves to Sin

“The wickedness of human slavery is unspeakable. And yet, while I can’t fathom that, as I read my Bible and you read your bible, spiritually speaking, I’m told I am a slave. Or at least, I was. Because the Bible says in the New Testament the one who sins is, what? A slave to sin. And in fact, Paul goes on to say in the book of Romans that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and the wages of sin is death…

Aren’t you thankful for a Redeemer? Aren’t you thankful for a Savior? Aren’t you thankful for One who loved you enough to lay down His life to purchase your freedom, to give up His to give you yours? Aren’t you thankful for Jesus and all that He’s done for you?”

Our Purpose as believers

“Brothers and sisters, we are here not just because He has done that for us. We are here not just to because it’s time to worship as a seminary community gathers together. We are here, you are here, this seminary is here because there are still those out there who are yet enslaved. We have come to this place not to serve ourselves or to serve one another; we have come to serve them. We have come here because they’re still out there and the Lord wants them - maybe not here - but He wants them here, in His family. He wants them here in His church. He wants them here in freedom from their sin…”

God is a promise maker

“And that’s why you’re here. Because God has made beautiful promises to those who are still enslaved and to those who are still separated. And it’s not just that they just don’t know that a promise has been made to them; they don’t know that there’s a Promise Maker.”

God is a promise keeper

“All the promises of Isaiah 56, God has already kept. Did you realize that? In fact, he’s kept them all in the same way. Or, I could say it better by saying He’s kept them all through the same One. God promised the Jews salvation; what did God do? God sent a Savior. God promised a name for the one who had no name; so God allowed that One whose name is above every name to be spat upon and ridiculed and His name to be mocked so we all could have His Name. He promised acceptance; what did God do? He allowed His Son to be rejected so you and I could be accepted.”

How to Pray Evangelistically

by Chuck Lawless

Three years before my father passed away, he turned to Christ for salvation. It was amazing, actually.  My dad had quite a temper prior to his conversion. My childhood memories of his displays of anger still echo in my mind. Though my grandmother was a strong believer, Dad never showed interest in Christianity. In fact, he first believed that many routes lead to God; “we’re just following different paths,” he told me.   

We prayed for more than 30 years that Dad would become a believer.  Then, it happened. Dad called my little brother to say he wanted to talk about following Jesus . . . right then! God so transformed my father that we spent the final years of his life getting to know a new man. He was a trophy of God’s grace, an undeniable example of 2 Corinthians 5:17a—“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (HCSB). God graciously answered our prayers.   

Are you praying for non-Christians to turn to Christ? In my book, Serving in Your Church Prayer Ministry (Zondervan), I describe a simple way to pray evangelistically by praying the acronym, “GOD’S HEART.” I’m grateful to my friend Chris Schofield, whose writings about prayer first helped me to think about this kind of process.  

Maybe this pattern will help you as you pray evangelistically for others: 

G = Pray believers, beginning with yourself, will appreciate God’s grace. When we really appreciate what God has done for us, we naturally want to tell others about Him. That’s why new believers are often most willing to do evangelism—their salvation is so fresh they almost can’t avoid telling the story.  We stop evangelizing when we take grace for granted.  

= Pray for believers to live in obedience to God. We can’t change another person’s heart. Only God can do that, as He did in response to our prayers for my dad. If  we’re not walking in obedience to God, though, our disobedience hinders our prayers (Isa. 59:1-2). Abiding in Christ really does matter when we pray (John 15:7). 

D’ = Pray believers will decide to tell others. Evangelism doesn’t just happen. Telling the story of Jesus is a choice . . . an action . . . a decision. Too many Christians know they should do evangelism, but decide not to do it. Pray that won’t happen.   

 S = Pray that believers will speak the gospel fearlessly and clearly. In fact, that’s the way Paul taught us to pray in Ephesians 6:19-20 and Colossians 4:2-4. If Paul – the apostle extraordinaire – needed others praying for him to do evangelism, how much more do we need that kind of support?   

 H = Pray for nonbelievers to have a receptive heart to the gospel. Apart from Christ, all people are dead in their sin (Eph. 2:1), held under the devil’s sway (Acts 26:18). Only God can make our hearts open to the good news.  

 E = Pray their spiritual eyes will be opened. Non-believers are blinded to the truth of the gospel (2 Cor. 4:3-4), and the “god of this age” does all he can to keep them in darkness. Nothing we do apart from the power of God can open their blinded minds.  

 A = Pray they will have God’s attitude toward sin. Understanding God’s remedy for sin begins with understanding our sickness. We’re all sinners (Rom. 3:23), and we must see our sin as God sees it – as wrong against a holy God.  

 R = Pray non-believers will repent and believe. The message of Christ is clear: we must turn from our sin and trust Christ for salvation (Mark 1:15). God gets the glory as He frees nonbelievers from the domain of darkness (Col. 1:13).   

T = Pray their lives will be transformed. Only God can change a man like He changed my dad. Here’s the good news, though – He’s still doing that! When God does that, the non-believing world takes note.  

Who is praying for you to speak the gospel boldly and clearly? Are you praying for other believers to be evangelistic? Are you praying for non-believers? Are you asking God to save and transform a specific person?  

Even if you’ve been praying for someone for many years, don’t give up. God still responds to the prayers of His people.  That’s His heart.  

 

*This post first appeared at www.chucklawless.com

Trends in North American Missions Today that Excite Me

by Keelan Coook

I first shared the trends in this article a couple of years ago, and I thought it would be interesting to revisit these trends today. I’m encouraged to say all three seem to have continued to develop, and I am encouraged by the growth of the North American church in these areas. There is still much room to grow, but I am hopeful.

The first three trends I shared previously, and they all concern the shifting face of the North American population. Increasingly, North American churches are realizing that North America is a mission field but many different mission fields. The staggering growth of the foreign born population in recent decades brought some of the least reached people in the world within arms reach of local churches. Furthermore, cities are increasingly diverse, and that means many cultures on top of each other that all need contextualized expressions of the gospel. Needless to say, churches must realize that no cultural expression of the gospel is “one size fits all.” Each of these first three trends take this new reality in North America seriously.

Churches must realize that no cultural expression of the gospel is “one size fits all.”
— Keelan Cook

The final trend is one that I am adding this time. For a long time, church planting has been a priority conversation in North American missions. For some, the traditional planter-pastor model of church planting is roughly equivalent to North American missions. However, the priority is changing as a renewal movement swells concerning the large number of unhealthy and declining churches across America. 

Diaspora Missions as a Church-based Missions Strategy

Diaspora missions is the fancy term for working with people groups when they migrate somewhere other than their home. For example, engaging unreached people groups in America would be considered “diaspora missions.” Of course, I am biased on this one, because it is what we do with the Peoples Next Door Project. In fact, it is what this website is all about!

Nevertheless, the rise of both awareness and activity concerning unreached peoples in the United States is one of the most exciting trends in missions today. Only a few years ago, it was common for the reality of unreached peoples in North America to never cross the mind of an average church member. That is a far smaller number today. In fact, it seems as though more and more missions agencies and local churches are talking about the changing face of America and the need to reach the growing number of international and unreached peoples.

Of course, various strategies are being developed, but I think local church-based strategies stand out among them as the most important. The old “find a guy and resource him” strategy is not the leading edge of this work. Instead, training and equipping local churches to discover and engage people groups around them with simple, reproducible church planting strategies seems to be the better road. Of course, there will always be places for that missions specialist or resourced pastor/planter. However, that model simply does not scale to the size of the problem. It usually leads to addition rather than multiplication. 

Moving forward, my hope is that we see a focus on local church equipping that (a) gives them a heart for the nations in their own community, (b) empowers them to actually go out and meet these people in a way where they can do cultural acquisition, and (c) gives them simple tools for leading Bible studies that can become church plants.

The Rise of “Apostolic” Church Planting Methods in North America

Alongside the above trend is the gaining momentum of “apostolic” methods of church planting in North America. In this model, the planter usually does not become the pastor of the church. Instead, they plant a church, help it move toward health and reproducibility, and then move on to start another. It is called “apostolic” because it is more akin to Paul’s model in the New Testament. This is, of course, different than the planter-pastor model where one or more guys move somewhere to start a church and eventually pastor it. I do believe there is a place for the more traditional North American Church Planting model, and I am excited about the uptick in that as well.

With that said, there are some important convictions I believe the apostolic approach brings to the table. First off, the model focuses on reproducibility and multiplication. In other words, this model is not about planting only one church but initiates conversations about reproduction from the very beginning. Second, the emphasis is on growth through conversion, not transfer. In other words, this model most often starts with a group of unbelievers in an evangelistic Bible study that can become a church. Comparatively, the more traditional church plants tend to grow primarily through transfer growth, or existing Christians who switch churches or move into the area. Finally, it shifts the paradigm of mission from a “come and see” model to a “go and tell” model.

Of course, apostolic models will have some hurdles in our context, and that needs to be stated. In the days ahead, I would love to see some good dialogue between advocates of both models so best practices can develop. If you want to know more about this, JD Payne wrote a helpful book on the issue fittingly titled, Apostolic Church Planting.

No Longer “The West to the Rest”

The third one is nothing new, but it sure does excite me. I have written before about how missions is changing, and this may be the most important way. Since the beginning of the modern missions movement some two hundred years ago, missions has largely been seen as a Western enterprise. In other words, developed nations in the West would send missionaries to developing, unreached nations in the East and South. However, this is no longer the case. Missions is from everywhere to everywhere now.

The US is being supplanted as the number one sender of missionaries, as countries like Brazil, China, and South Korea become missionary sending forces around the globe. Missions is no longer “the West to the rest.” When I served in West Africa, I worked with a whole team of Brazilian missionaries. They often made better missionaries than we Americans, too. They took a fraction of the money we used and did more imbedded missions work.

In addition, many of the international peoples that are coming to the US come evangelized. Much to most of the church planting in North America right now is not being done by us. It is being done by groups moving in from the Global South and starting churches for their own people. The question this raises for us is, how do we partner with them, both as they send overseas and as they come here and establish churches? How do we help equip and fan the flame without trying to control or manipulate their work?

The Rise of Replanting

In the past two years since I first named the above trends, a focus on replanting dying churches has emerged, and that is worth noting. Certainly, revitalization has been a topic for a while, but as the generational turnover and rapid cultural shifts in our nation are occurring, there is a resulting wave of declining churches. Among SBC churches, we regularly celebrate the fact that we are planting somewhere just over 1,000 churches per year, but many do not know that we are closing just under a 1,000 a year as well. Church planting is necessary and needed, but if we’re ever going to multiply, we have to close the back door. 

The process of replanting steps into that gap. Replanting is often a more radical process than traditional revitalization. Essentially, it’s the process of relaunching a church with a different identity and structure after a period of intense assessment and reconfiguration. Recently, Mark Clifton of the North American Mission Board noted that over 200 churches have been replanted through cooperative efforts by local associations and conventions.

Instead of just waiting for these churches to die out while trying to plant a new one next door, this concept of replanting and revitalizing existing congregations is gaining momentum. For me, that is an encouraging sign. It reveals that the care of existing congregations and the desire to see them once again involved in the Great Commission should, at least in some instances, take priority over expediency.

Marriage vs. Missions

by Will Jackson

“Should I marry or should I devote my life to missions?”

In serving a local church in a college town, I hear this question asked a lot. As students are being saved, experiencing growth, and processing their futures, specific passages of Scriptures can be very gripping. 1 Corinthians 7 is one such passage that presents a host of marriage-related issues to its readers.  Specifically, 1 Corinthians 7:25-35 often causes young Christians to consider Paul’s wisdom that the married person is “anxious over worldly things” instead of “things of the Lord”—a gut check for the one desiring marriage. I’ve seen engaged couples begin walking through premarital counseling come across this passage and think, “oh no!” and question everything about their upcoming nuptials. 

This brings us to the question at hand for the person feeling guilty about his or her desire for marriage — “Should I marry or should I devote my life to missions?”

The Apostle Paul seems to answer, “ . . . yes, maybe.”

PROHIBITION VS. PROMOTION

If we consult Paul in 1 Corinthians 7, we see less of a prohibition against marriage and more of a universal promotion of Great Commission activity. Verses 25-35 read: 

“Now concerning the betrothed, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.”

Where do we start?

First, we know Paul was certainly an advocate for marriage. He is, after all, the biblical author most quoted at  Christian weddings. When we think of classic passages concerning roles in marriage, we go to Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3—both authored by the Apostle. Paul especially shows a high regard for marriage in the way he illustrates Jesus’ relationship with his bride—the church. Seemingly, however, Paul speaks harsh words about holy matrimony in this particular passage. 

But upon a closer look, we find that Paul is not making a theological statement when he “speaks against marriage” in 1 Corinthians 7, as Paul’s theology of marriage is founded on the celebration of marriage in Genesis 2. Instead, he is making a contextually practical one.

Let’s dive in.

The Oxymoron of a Married Bachelor

We first notice a potential contradiction in Paul’s argument when he says “it is good for a person to remain as he is” in verse 26 (i.e. to stay married or stay single). However, he says later, “let those who have wives live as though they had none” in verse 29.  Stay married but live like a bachelor . . . ?

I think verse 28 brings helpful clarity to see there is no contradiction at all: 

“But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that.”

It would seem that when Paul identifies the need to “live as though they had [no wife]” in verse 29, he assumes an audience that was typified by distracted marriages. See also his words in verses 32-35 in which Paul speaks to the way many married persons are “anxious about worldly things” within their marriage and are “divided from their devotion unto the Lord.” That is to say, throughout Paul’s journeys, he had likely witnessed more marriages that were all-consumingly-inward rather than Great-Commissionly-outward. Therefore, this present encouragement—to live as a married bachelor—is presented with a bit of hyperbolic flare.

Christians in the first century, whether married or not, needed continual re-centering as disciples of Jesus. Whereas they were new creations regenerated by the Spirit-empowered gospel, they remained weak vessels prone to stray from the path. Here, in 1 Corinthians 7, we see another example of Paul recalibrating Christians for the sake of kingdom advancement.

This recalibration brings us to our second observation. While Paul was undeniably an advocate for earthly marriage, he was even more so a herald for Jesus’ Second Coming.

Notice the emphasis provided in the phrases within verses 26, 29, and 31: “view of the present distress” (v. 26), “appointed time” (v. 29), “present form of this world” (v. 31). Each of these draws into mind the New Testament principle that Christians are living in the “last days” (see Acts 2:17, Heb. 1:2, 2 Tim. 3:1).  Universally, it would seem, the apostles took seriously the command to live in anticipation of Christ’s return. Jesus himself said he would come swiftly and without warning. Therefore, his disciples were not to delay in the completion of their task (Matthew 24-25).

The call is simple. Jesus is coming back, and he has called his disciples to maximally pursue the Great Commission until he does.

This is Paul’s framework for the appeals on marriage and singleness in 1 Corinthians 7.

It isn’t that Paul saw marriage as an absolute obstacle to missions. Instead, he wanted his readers to understand that marriage and singleness must be understood through the lens of Jesus’ calling first to be Great-Commission-Christians. In other words, in light of this fading present age, do whatever propels your devotion to the expansion of Christ’s kingdom. For some, this will be a green light to marry; for others, a life of singleness will best serve the Lord. Marriage and missions are not competing entities in God’s economy.

Maximally Pursue the Great Commission

So, where do you find yourself? Are you single and ready (or not ready) to mingle? Dating and considering engagement? Happily married? Widowed?

With whatever the Lord has gifted you, maximally pursue the Great Commission. Consider these warnings and perform a quick assessment of your life:

To the one presently gifted with singleness…

  • Don’t believe the lie that singles are second-rate people. It may be cliché, but two of Christianity’s heroes were single. One is responsible for the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles and the other—well, we worship him as God. Your life is not incomplete because you aren’t married—for we know our true selves will be made manifest when Jesus returns to resurrect us—as eternal singles.

  • Don’t believe the lie that your life is more expendable. It may be logical for the one with no responsibilities to care for family members to travel to the most dangerous parts of the world to share the gospel, but it isn’t because that person is “less valuable.” When we consider the cost of following Jesus (“to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” Philippians 1:21), we are reminded this applies to all Christians.

  • Don’t believe the lie that singles can only reach singles. Continue to build relationships with people from all walks of life and widely share the gospel, invest in younger believers, and participate in the mutual edification of all types of saints.

  • Don’t believe the lie that marriage is evil. You may well be called to marriage. Heed Paul’s wisdom provided in the rest of 1 Corinthians 7. Are you (appropriately and in step with Christian holiness) burning with passion? Has God presented a suitable companion with whom you can better walk with Christ? Maybe you should marry.

To the one presently gifted with marriage…

  • Don’t believe the lie that being married means you must throw up a white picket fence on Elm Street. You and your spouse can be mobilized together to virtually any place on the planet to spread the Good News.

  • Don’t believe the lie that you and your spouse must operate with two independently separate ministries. This is a big one. Indeed, one spouse may directly invest in persons the other spouse has little contact with, but being married means the two are now one. As such, a Great-Commission marriage is a joint effort. When one spouse mentors someone in the gospel, they do so as an extension of the couple’s ministry as a team.

  • Don’t believe the lie that married couples can only reach married couples. Marriage can be such a beautiful display of the gospel—namely in its rhythms of repentance, forgiveness, and mutual self-sacrifice. Invite singles into your home and be vulnerable for the sake of celebrating Christ’s love.

  • Don’t believe the lie that marriage is evil. You didn’t make a mistake when you said your “I Do’s” and to undo this covenant would be sinful. God, in His perfect providence, arranged your marriage. Congratulations! Because you are married, you successfully found the one for you and it would seem God gave you into marriage so that you would be a better missionary. Maximize your marital union for the Great Commission.

The call to give our lives for the spread of the gospel to the nations supersedes our marital status, but we shouldn’t view these as mutually exclusive. Live where the Lord has you. Give your life for His higher purposes. As Paul said, “secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.”


Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. 

Feature image by IMB.

Researching Your City

by Lisa Hoff

It was a blustery January morning when I hailed a cab to take me across town. I had only been in the city for a few days and was anxious to meet people in the community and explore new neighborhoods. It was clear the driver knew the city well, so I asked him about an imposing building that caught my eye. He told me it was a church. I was surprised by his response because I had heard that few people in this area were familiar with Christianity. 

When I asked him what they did at the church, he said they held lots of parties, including a big get together last month. I thought he was probably referring to a recent Christmas Eve service, so I asked if he knew about Christmas and that it was a celebration of Jesus’s birth. He said that he knew of Jesus and was familiar with the meaning of Christmas. I was encouraged by his response until he said “Yeah, I really love Jesus’s white beard and his red suit.” In that moment, my excitement waned as I realized that, to him, Jesus was really Santa Claus. 

Informative Research

My initial discussion with the taxi driver seemed to indicate that he had at least a cursory exposure to Christianity. However, as the conversation progressed it became clear that his knowledge of Christmas and Jesus was not based on exposure to Scripture but on general observation or cultural interpretation. My follow-up questions provided an opportunity to assess his spiritual condition and learn more about his understanding of faith issues. 

This conversation highlights the importance of conducting onsite research to better understand a city and her people. Gathering information through conversation and observation provides a deeper understanding into the worldview, values, and inner workings of a community. When ministry decisions are based on research findings rather than assumptions or personal preferences, there is greater potential for Kingdom impact. 

Although some ministry leaders see research as unnecessary, cumbersome, and time consuming, when done well, it ultimately leads to a more efficient and effective ministry. Research does not need to be complicated, just organized and clear. To better understand a city, it is important to know how to ask good questions and have a grasp on the way a community defines and utilizes space. 

Outsider and Insider Perspectives 

Many are aware of the importance in doing preliminary research before visiting or moving to a new city. A person may scour the internet for information, read a few books, or even talk to people who have visited there before. All of this is helpful in preparation for engaging people and cultures who may not share the same belief system, values, or lifestyle. 

There are limitations, however, to gathering information in this manner.  Data is interpreted through the lens of those who collect it, analysis techniques vary, and resources do not always answer specific questions an individual may have about the needs of a community. Statistics and numbers can also be skewed because of undocumented or transient peoples or because there are government restrictions about what information is made public.

In a rapidly changing world, many printed resources become quickly outdated. This is particularly true regarding topics like urbanization, cultural change, and societal attitudes. It is therefore important for ministry leaders to know how to do onsite research to gain an understanding of a people or place. Observations and interviews can provide particularly valuable information on what influences a community to relate and act in a specific manner. 

Good data gathering and analysis is comprised of both insider and outsider perspectives. Insiders are a part of the community and are familiar with the inner workings that motivate behavior and values. They have unique access to information but may also struggle to understand the bigger picture because they are deeply immersed in the culture. Outsiders bring a greater emotional distance to a context and may be able to better identity more broad trends that are taking place. Because outsiders are not part of the societal fabric, they are often trusted with information that an individual may not feel comfortable sharing with a member of their own group.  

Spaces

Another way to learn about a community is through its use of space and place. Communal values and social practice are reflected in how people utilize their surroundings and the meaning they assign to it. On a recent trip to a European city, I walked into an unfamiliar restaurant and immediately knew that this was a gendered space meant only for men. No one had to tell me, all I had to do was observe that no women were present in this establishment that catered to immigrant workers from North Africa. Many times, limitations or boundaries on space and place are not articulated, just simply understood by insiders within the community. 

Spaces are categorized as open, semi-accessible, or closed. Understanding these different categories can be instrumental in facilitating informed ministry research. In open spaces, like a city square, there is no permission needed to just sit, watch, and interact with people. If an individual is new to a community or has language challenges, this is an easy place to begin learning. Semi-accessible spaces are not open to everyone and require affiliation or payment for access.  A fenced off community playground or a coffee shop are two examples of this. Closed spaces are the most restrictive and require a deeper level of relationship or a specific invitation to be there. These spaces include homes and offices which reflect more intimate or important aspects of people’s lives. In these locations, some individuals may feel more comfortable and willing to have personal conversations.

Conclusion

Onsite data collection can be done by anyone. All it requires is few basic research tools, a genuine desire to understand a community, and collecting relevant information. The result is a more well informed ministry that effectively meets the needs of people and expands God’s Kingdom around the world. 

Lisa Hoff is an associate professor of intercultural studies at Gateway Seminary. Her doctoral research focused on rapid urbanization and its influence on social dynamics. She lived in Asia for many years where she conducted ethnographic research projects.

Featured image by IMB.

5 Encouragements for Short-Term Summer Mission Teams

by Jack Swift

Summers provide great opportunities for short-term mission teams to serve the cause of Christ around the globe. At the same time, missionaries in cross-cultural settings are anticipating the arrival of those teams—a process that can bring joy and excitement, but sometimes fear. Short-term summer mission teams can provide much needed help for missionaries, but for both the missionary team and the volunteer team to profit, each side needs to prepare well.

I’ve been on both sides and benefited greatly from the other. The Lord used short-term opportunities to speak to me about my call to missions fourteen years ago, and I’ve also received great help from summer teams during my time on the field as a career missionary. I rejoice that the Lord will use experiences this summer to call short-term volunteers into lifelong service and real needs will be met at the same time. Although this is true and exciting, volunteers who aren’t careful can hinder the work of the missionaries and cause more harm than good.

5 Mistakes That Could Derail Your Short Term Trip
As I look back on my time as a short-term volunteer, I am reminded of the help, hospitality, and grace that was abundantly and repeatedly given to me by the missionaries on the field. I was, like most volunteers, highly motivated. But while I had much energy, I did not understand how to best serve the missionary team, which is the role of the short-term worker. In light of this, here are five encouragements I could have benefitted from as a short-term summer volunteer. I hope that they will encourage you too as you serve the Lord this summer.

Press into Christ
Short-term trips provide a great opportunity to refocus and recommit to pursuing a vibrant relationship with Jesus. Go into this summer with a plan for spiritual growth—a plan that relies on God’s Spirit to speak to you and God’s Word to transform you, and that also leads you to a recommitted resolve to actively participate in a spiritual journey. I encourage you to sit down with a parent, pastor, or mentor before you depart and ask that person to help you map out goals that point you to Christ-centered spiritual growth.

Prepare for Your New Context
Packing for an international trip is a lot of fun. I remember falling victim to the hypothetical scenario syndrome, carefully thinking through every potential scenario and trying to pack accordingly. I didn’t know what I was going to face in a foreign country, but I knew I would be prepared for everything. Everything, of course, except for what really mattered. Take this opportunity to learn everything you can about the culture where you will serve. A quick Google search on the city or peoples will help you get started. Don’t be afraid to ask the missionary for good resources related to their context. The missionaries will fill in the gaps concerning relevant issues when you arrive, but you should do your part to prepare first.

Follow the Lead of the Missionary
Missionaries are on the field because God has given them a vision for reaching that city or peoples with the gospel. Missionaries don’t study just the language of the people; they study the cultural values, historical setting, and religious strongholds of the people too. They will be your best source of information for understanding the religious worldview of that context and explaining how to share the gospel in a culturally relevant way. Ask good questions and listen well. They want to see your team make a meaningful contribution. Remember, the more effective your team is, the more it benefits the missionary. Make it your goal to be a blessing to the missionary team by following their lead and contributing in a significant way.

Volunteers who aren’t careful can hinder the work of the missionaries and cause more harm than good.

Detach from Home
Detaching from social media, academic studies, and jobs allows you to narrow your gaze to a laser-focus that is much needed on the field. Social media is a helpful tool that informs supporters how to be praying for you, but oftentimes it becomes a distraction rather than an instrument for good. You have limited time. Use every opportunity to maximize your impact. You can’t do that if your mind is somewhere else. Even on days when plans fall through—and they will—use that time to prayer walk, or check in with the missionary team and ask for simple ways you can help make their life easier.

Preach the Gospel with Grace and Boldness
Regardless of the context to which God has called you to serve, the needs are ultimately the same: people need the hope of the gospel. The sovereign, holy Creator of the universe has purposed a way to redeem disgraced sinners of every nation, tribe, people, and language to himself in the life, death, resurrection, and power of Jesus Christ. And God is calling you to share that message of hope with faith, boldness, and a spirit of grace. Therefore, seek to communicate the hope of Christ to every man, woman, and child the Lord places in your path.

Short-term mission trips are a wonderful blessing to the missionaries on the field, and they have the potential to be life-changing experiences for the volunteers, too. This summer, may the Lord bless you and your team, and use you to declare the glory of God and the majesty of Christ among those who have and have not yet heard the name of our Lord Jesus.

This article was originally found here.

Greatest Week of Southern Baptist Cooperation

by Scott Hildreth

A lot will be said about cooperation in the Southern Baptist Convention over the next couple weeks. We will gather in Birmingham, Alabama and participate in our cooperative convention. We will talk about Cooperative Program giving. We will learn about the work of our cooperative institutions, boards and agencies. We will even commission missionaries and pray together for their success.

In my estimation, one of the most overlooked weeks of Southern Baptist cooperation happens the week before the gathering of the Southern Baptist Convention. Crossover is one of the greatest moments on the Southern Baptist calendar; hundreds of seminary and college students gather in the convention city to worship together, pray together, celebrate together, and spend hours sharing Christ together. It is SBC cooperation at its finest!

This year, we are gathering on the campus of The University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB). Each afternoon we will go as groups to partner with local churches in the Birmingham area. Our goal each day is to support the ministry of the local church by promoting their ministries and sharing Christ door-to-door. On Wednesday night, we will participate in an evangelism training simul-cast that us sponsored by the North American Mission Board equipping Southern Baptists to share Christ as part of The Who’s Your One campaign. It is going to be a great week as we share Christ and watch God work in us and through us.

It is no secret that the past couple weeks have not highlighted the best side of our denomination. However, as I gather each year with our denomination’s future leaders, I am not discouraged. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know that our future consists of men and women who love Jesus and are committed to his mission. I know that our future is in the hands of a God who loves the lost more than we do.

Crossover is an event that highlights our better side and also reminds us that the struggles of our present day are worth it. We are stewards of future leaders and a message that will change the world.

Special shout out to the North American Mission Board for helping underwrite Crossover expenses. This week, we will cooperate to fulfill our “one sacred effort.” Taking the gospel to those who need to hear it.

The Down Payment Of Prayer

by Will Jackson

We know the apostle Paul as the greatest missionary in the history of the Christian church. It goes without saying, Paul’s ministry was one of proclamation. He preached to Jews, Gentiles, pagans, philosophers, criminals, and dignitaries. In a sense, we can somewhat quantitatively estimate the reach of Paul’s ministry from Luke’s account in the book of Acts. But what if we consider the thousands of people Paul also impacted, not through proclamation, but through participation—specifically participation in praying.

From what we can gather in his letters and in the book of Acts, Paul multiplied his ministry by raising up and sending out leaders—all under the commissioning of Jesus. Paul called for prayer from the churches that the gospel may go forward in his ministry (Colossians 4:3, 2 Thessalonians 3:1) but also reminded all Christians of their equal responsibility to proclaim the gospel (2 Corinthians 5:16-21). Specifically, in Paul’s second letter to Timothy, we see him exhort Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5). Whether by his mouth or through his disciples, Paul wanted to see the gospel spread throughout the ancient world like wildfire.

Consider how Paul might have prayed for the fruit of Timothy’s ministry or the evangelism that would take place through the churches in Philippi or Colossae. If his letters are any indication of his desire, he likely prayed for his disciples to preach the gospel boldly but also prayed for its hearers to respond with repentance and faith. It would seem, in His providence, God has ordained prayer as the thunder to the lightning of proclamation.

Praying it Forward

This past year, my wife and I began caring for foster children in our community. As Christians, our natural desire is to not only provide shelter and comfort but to introduce children (and if possible, their parents) to the God who loves us. So, as soon as we began receiving calls for kids in need, we started rehearsing our ministry plan: model worship at meal-times, read from the Jesus Storybook Bible before bed, and regularly engage in deep gospel conversations. Human plans are great . . . until the Lord shows you something greater—ministry to toddlers.

My wife thinks I’m crazy, but two-years-old may be my favorite age. They are full of life, full of energy, and soak up everything like a sponge. However, I don’t know about you, but I find it particularly challenging to walk through the Four Spiritual Laws or Two Ways to Live with a two-year-old. My plans for reaching foster kids for Christ seemed thwarted. Then as the Lord continued to move our hearts to action, we were quickly reminded of the power of prayer while sitting under the preached Word at my local church.

People often ask us, “how long are kids in your home?” Honestly, it depends. The time in our home could last a year or more or be as brief as a few days. But foster care by definition is always temporary. For us, whatever length of time the Lord has kids in our home is the exact amount of time He has called us to at least intercede for their future salvation. If we aren’t able to share the gospel with them today, we trust and pray that God will send another laborer to preach the good news when they are older. We hope that our prayers will provide the down payment for evangelism in the same way Paul prayed for the kingdom to expand far beyond his efforts in the 1st century.

Praying Far from Home

Our God has a heart for the nations. I don’t know if any truth has been further pressed upon me during my time at Southeastern Seminary. Not only does God desire to save the nations but He has perfectly planned and initiated an execution strategy—the church.

Jesus’ final words to his disciples couldn’t have been more clear. Our calling as Christians is to preach the good news continually and constantly. Yet, no matter where the Lord has called us to live out our faith we can all participate in global mission work as well. Giving resources? Yes. Taking short term trips? Absolutely. What about the ministry of prayer? Have we considered the thousands we could impact through our participation in praying?

I’m thankful for the ministry of The Joshua Project. Their mission is to “highlight the ethnic people groups of the world with the fewest followers of Christ” so mission agencies can be well informed for strategic deployment. They also resource “everyday” Christians like me with much-needed exposure to people groups who have little to no gospel presence. I recommend signing up for their Unreached of the Day newsletter or mobile app which prompts users to pray for various people groups regularly.

There are villages and towns that have never been reached with the gospel. But missionaries are on the way. The Lord is daily raising up laborers to go. Will you go before them in prayer? Will you, like Paul, lay the groundwork for their evangelism while on your knees?

Matthew 6:9-10. Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (ESV)

You Are Called to the Nations…But Which One?

by Caleb Walker

What about those who never hear the gospel? The question does not concern those who hear it and are indifferent or those who hear it and reject it, but those who never, ever hear the bad news of their rebellion against their Creator and the good news of the reconciliation found in Jesus. My wife and I began wrestling with the implications of that question and its clear biblical answer while in college. Though we had been raised in Bible-believing, missions-supporting churches all of our lives, we had yet to embrace our God-given role in getting the gospel to those who have no hope apart from a personal encounter with Christ.

The weight of Romans 10, the stirring words of men like Platt and Piper, the inspiring testimonies of Jim Elliot and his comrades, and the undeniable urging of the Spirit sent us, two naïve, but zealous newlyweds, on a journey to the nations that included taking part in an international sponsor-a-child program, increasing our missions giving, enrolling in seminary, and participating in short-term trips to South America and the Caribbean. It was during one of those trips, amidst foreign sounds, smells, and people, that the Lord confirmed our call to long-term missionary service. Our call to the nations was sure, but one important detail was noticeably absent. Our answer of “Yes, Lord” was followed by “But where, Lord?”

I have found that the call-to-field process is different for every cross-cultural missionary and church planter. Some describe a definitive call early in life while others sense God’s redirection well into their professional careers. Some receive specific instructions concerning a people group or a geographic context while others cite a general obedience to the Great Commission and possess some degree of flexibility concerning field assignment. Our family would identify with the latter group. There was little doubt that we were supposed to go to the nations; we just were not sure which one.

Admittedly, the lack of clarity concerning a specific people or place proved to be a challenge for us in the beginning. We had friends and classmates who had a heart for Turks, Jews, or Spaniards or who had traveled to Africa or Asia multiple times and possessed a certainty of both their calling and their context. Had we misinterpreted our call? Had we missed a clue from the Lord along the way? Or were we embarking on a leg of our journey that would shape us for the task ahead? In our case, it seems a year of praying, fasting, seeking counsel, and waiting on the Lord was in order.

If you are called to the nations and you possess a God-given clarity directing you to a specific region or group, then pursue this with passion and purpose. But if you (or someone you pastor, mentor, or encourage) are wrestling with this crucial aspect of the call, then consider the following recommendations:

  • Take part in short-term trips or internships in various international contexts.

Nothing compares to actually spending time in a foreign context. You personally interact with a target people, experience the climate, hear the language, and may even wrestle with some of the unique challenges associated with that location or culture. Many of these trips also pair you with experienced field missionaries. Thankfully, international travel is extremely accessible and opportunities abound in almost every locale around the world. Our short-term trips were an indispensable part of our decision-making process.

  • Speak with current or former international missionaries who serve/served in different regions.

One of the greatest resources available to future missionaries is the testimony of those who have personally lived and ministered cross-culturally. These like-minded missionaries can specifically speak to the joys and trials associated with each region and people. They can speak with a degree of realism that many travel books neglect or ignore. We are indebted to IMB missionaries from Central and Eastern Europe who helped us refine our call and connect us with our first field supervisors.

  • Learn from those who were faithful in the past.

Plunging into the biographies and autobiographies of missionaries from church history should be a part of your preparation for the field, regardless of whether you are struggling with your future location. These accounts often explore the depths of missionary service and shed light on the complexities of cross-cultural work in distant lands. These true stories often reflect on God’s faithfulness and the missionary’s perseverance in the midst of spiritual darkness, loss, heartache, and struggles, whether physical, emotional, or relational.

  • Examine yourself and think practically.

One of the best pieces of advice we received during this period of waiting came from a professor who had previously served overseas. “Do not be afraid to think practically and be honest,” he advised. Thinking practically initially sounded terribly unspiritual, self-serving, too pragmatic, and generally unmissionary-like. Despite my initial reservations, his counsel was quite possibly the single-greatest factor the Lord used to guide us to the Balkans. As a couple, my wife and I prayerfully answered a number of questions and reflected upon how God had shaped our personalities, our interests, and our experiences. We then shared our results with trusted friends, pastors, and missionaries and asked God to use them as a compass. While God is certainly not beholden to our preferences and often delights in stretching us beyond our perceived limits, I believe that he also strategically prepares us for our service long before we reach the field.

Consider the following questions:

1) In what climate or terrain would I best serve?
2) What level of physical danger can I emotionally and mentally tolerate?
3) Do I envision myself pioneer church planting or coming alongside existing believers in their efforts?
4) How important is the ability to host short-term teams?
5) Do I feel comfortable utilizing a platform to enter a country?
6) Do I only want to target unreached peoples?
7) How important are services and utilities such as Internet, running water, electricity, etc.?
8) Do I prefer to live and work in large cities or small villages?
9) Do I have medical concerns that will limit my options?
10) How do my current/future children impact my decision?
11) What education options for my children are important?
12) Do I wish to live in close proximity to teammates?
13) Do I prefer to work among the affluent or the impoverished?
14) Do I have unique skills, interests, education, or work experience better suited for certain regions?
15) Does working amongst a certain culture or worldview (e.g. Islamic, Post-Christian, Animistic, etc.) appeal to me?

  • Commune with God.

Assumed, but often neglected, parts of the preparation and decision-making process are fasting and prayer. God very well may use these times of concentrated focus and communion to reveal his will for your future or he may be honing you spiritually for the spiritual battles that lie ahead. Our family made it a habit to pray for a different nation and people each day utilizing resources like www.operationworld.org and www.prayercast.com. We asked that God would clearly direct our minds and affections to the region where he would have us serve.

  • Develop relationships with internationals where you currently live.

Thanks to an ever-connected world, one need not take a flight to minister and befriend internationals. It is very likely that your community or city is home to international refugees, job seekers, and students. Be intentional about finding ways to volunteer, serve, and connect with those who need exposure to the gospel. They have the privilege of hearing eternal truth; you get an introduction to their culture and homeland. During the year leading up to our assignment selection, we took part in a local German social club and developed friendships with Eastern Europeans.

  • Expose yourself to foreign peoples and places through available media.

In addition to missionary testimonies, you should immerse yourself in a variety of written and electronic media that will equip you and potentially steer you to a certain people or place. These may be cross-cultural tools that specifically compare and contrast the different peoples and regions of the world such as Sarah A. Lanier’s Foreign to Familiar: A Guide to Understanding Hot- and Cold- Climate Cultures or the anthropology-focused works of Paul Heibert. One should also consider secular travel guides and books, which seek to aid tourists or highlight conditions and events in unfamiliar locales. The Culture Shock! series and National Geographic are great examples.

  • Trust the sovereignty of our good God, who desires the nations even more than you!

Without a doubt, the most important truth of all to remember is that God is sovereign, good, and unlimited in power. From the human perspective, the decision of where to serve overseas can be overwhelming. The choices are many and the need great. But even greater still is the trustworthy providence of our God who is working for his glory and your good. Do not give into the temptation, the quiet whisper that suggests that the entirety of God’s plan for the nations hangs on your selection of the perfect city out of the thousands on the planet. Our God is far too powerful and his plan is far too secure for such a notion.

As you continue to explore your future, I pray that you will remain reliant upon our gracious God for wisdom, guidance, and power. Remember, we do not serve a God who is desperately trying to get the answer to you but is hindered by some external force or opponent. If God is delaying your answer, he has his reasons. Do not feel the pressure to make a random cloud out to be the outline of Nigeria or cast lots between the continents. God may suddenly overwhelm you one day with a divine clarity that leaves little in doubt. He may also elect to strategically withhold his plan so that you will walk forward in dependent trust upon his goodness and guidance. This process may be as frightening as it is sanctifying. Regardless, it is my prayer that you hold tight to his hand every leg of the coming journey, whether the way is marked with deserts or jungles, mountains or plains, snow or heat, cities or hamlets. Know that wherever you choose to serve, there will be a people waiting that desperately needs the gospel and there is a King reigning who unconditionally deserves their worship!

Giving Missionaries a Cheerful Welcome

by Matthew Hirt

The only constant in the life of a missionary is change. Missionaries live through seemingly endless transitions. Beloved teammates depart, and new teammates arrive. Meanwhile, all missionaries are at various levels of language acquisition and cultural acclimation. On top of all of this, missionary teams frequently adopt new strategy initiatives, leadership vision, and even experience massive transitions in organizational structure. Despite being professionals at transition, nearly all missionaries seem to struggle with the same transition: the move back to the United States.

Welcome Home?
Missionaries leave the field for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they are between terms, their term is ending, or the Lord is calling them to a new place of ministry. Other times they may be leaving due to team conflict, fundraising shortfalls, or illness. Whatever the reason for the return, missionaries often have a hard time identifying “home.” Home is not the United States anymore, but it’s not exactly where they were living overseas either.
Lottie Moon recognized the need for churches to welcome returning missionaries back to the United States. In an 1887 article in the Foreign Mission Journal, she urged Southern Baptist churches to love returning missionaries well. She exhorts, “Give the returned missionary a cheerful welcome, even if he breaks down in two or three years, remembering that in his place you might not have done so well as he did.”* A cheerful welcome, however, means more than meeting them at the airport with balloons or throwing a “welcome home” party for them. The questions you ask them and the phrases you say (or don’t say) can do a lot to help a missionary.

Become a Cheerful Welcomer
Most Americans do not place a high priority on hospitality. This distinction of American culture is demonstrated not just in our lack of eagerness to welcome people into our homes but also in the way that we talk to one another. Here are a few common questions and phrases that many missionaries receive from friends and family followed by some suggestions to help you become a cheerful welcomer.

How was your trip?
This question is only okay if you mean, “Did you have a good flight?” Missionaries know that you mean well by this question, but the question reduces their years of service to the category of a “trip.” A trip is something a person takes in between their normal life. A missionary has often spent years learning the language, understanding the culture, ministering to the people, crying with them, and celebrating with them. In other words, it wasn’t just a break from normal life. The time overseas was normal life, and they are struggling to figure out what normal looks like now without ignoring everything they experienced overseas. The important point here is to not minimize their experience.

I bet you are happy to be home!
This statement usually means, “I’m happy to see you again!” If that’s what you mean, then please say that. Missionaries need family and friends to love them. There are, however, two main problems with this phrase. First, as mentioned above, returning missionaries often struggle with the concept of “home.” By assuming that the United States is home causes disorientation and confusion commonly referred to as “reverse culture shock.” This kind of culture shock is usually harder for returning missionaries to deal with because they should feel most comfortable in their original culture, but they don’t. When someone indicates that the United States is home, it can create an involuntary surge of anxiety and disorientation that makes them feel isolated, alone, and misunderstood.
Second, this phrase unintentionally communicates that the returning missionary doesn’t miss anything from their country of service, and they are pleased with everything they now have available. This, again, can result in some reverse culture shock as they immediately think of all the friends they already miss and struggle to quickly orient themselves to an elusive new normal.

Be a cheerful welcomer by saying “How are you doing? How can we be praying for your during this transition?”

Negative comments about the people/food/language/weather/culture
This is more of a general category because there are too many specific comments and questions that fit. Typical comments sound something like, “I bet you ate a lot of strange stuff,” or “I’m sure it’s nice to be around people who speak your own language again,” or “I read that the pollution is so bad there. You must be glad to breathe fresh air again.” Work hard to understand that there are parts of the culture overseas that all returning missionaries will miss. I still get cravings for certain foods and drinking milk tea with friends. There are times when I am tempted to jump on a flight just to get some buttered naan and momos from my favorite restaurant. I will always miss looking out my window on a clear autumn day to see the Himalayas or the sounds of rain falling during the monsoon. I miss the slower pace of life even though I found parts of it incredibly frustrating while I was there. I am certain that nearly every returning missionary has similar feelings.

Be a cheerful welcomer by taking the opportunity to learn something about the missionary’s host culture. Ask questions about what the missionary liked overseas. If you really want to show interest, ask the missionary to make their favorite foods from overseas for you or offer to take them to a restaurant that specializes in the food that they miss.

Be a Cheerful Disciple-Maker
If home is where the heart is, then it’s not hard to understand why so many missionaries struggle with this transition. Their heart is torn between at least two different places and groups of people they deeply love. Be patient with them, love them well, and give them a cheerful welcome. Returning missionaries should also work through this transition like the countless other transitions of the missionary life. That means showing a lot of grace to those who love you but truly do not understand what your life overseas was like. Instead of expressing offense or frustration, use the moment as a discipleship opportunity. Cheerfully teach them about daily life overseas. Cheerfully teach them about the people, language, and culture that is now a part of you forever. Cheerfully teach them about the way that the Lord is working and about the spiritual needs that still require prayer. After all, the command to make disciples persists even after returning “home.”

Lottie Moon, “The Breaking Down of Missionaries,” in Send the Light: Lottie Moon’s Letters and Other Writings, edited by Keith Harper (Macon, GA: Mercer University, 2002), 219–220.

Praying for the Harvest in Light of Global Christianity

by Anna Daub

A quick tour of the world shows a beautifully diverse group of Christians participating in God’s mission. South Asian Christians in saris reach out to their Hindu and Muslim neighbors. Korean believers mobilize hundreds of Christians to go to the ends of the earth. Chinese believers strategize how to take the gospel to the unreached in China and around the world. Believers from one Muslim nation train believers from another nation to take the gospel to another nation. African trainers courageously go into refugee camps to share the gospel with those who have nothing. Missionaries from Brazil, Peru, and other Latin American countries send missionaries to postmodern Europe and America.

The center of Global Christianity has shifted from the West (mainly Europe and North America) to the Global South and East (Latin America, Africa, and Asia). It has multiplied from one main center to multiple centers. Missions for many centuries has been one-directional (usually from the center to the other parts of the world) but is now, as Allen Yeh says, polycentric, moving from everyone to everywhere. [1] Timothy Tennent states,

“The church has, over the centuries, shifted to various cultural and geographic centers. But never before has the church gained strength, geographically and culturally, in so many different regions of the world simultaneously. The Christian message has been received by more new peoples, from more diverse cultures, than at any time in the history of the church.” [2]

Jesus commands his disciples to “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt 9:38, Luke 10:2). How do we pray for laborers in light of the reality of global Christianity?

1. Praise God for the Harvest

The rise of the global church illustrates a beautiful truth: the gospel traveled across the globe, took root, and bore fruit. Christians throughout the centuries participated in God’s mission and, through the work of the Spirit, saw people from various tribes, languages, nations, and tongues respond. The laborers went out. The harvest came. We have so much to be thankful for.

a. Praise God that He is faithful. He promised His word would not return void. The reality of Global Christianity illustrates that it did not in the past and gives hope that it will not in the future.

b. Praise God for the efforts of missionaries around the world. Through their faithful witnesses, the nations heard and responded.

c. Praise God for the harvest we have already seen, which proves that God has a heart for the nations and he calls a diverse people to himself.

d. Praise God that he continues to raise up laborers out of previous harvest fields who boldly take the gospel to new harvest fields.

2. Pray to God for the Harvest

Often when we pray for laborers, we (correctly) pray that he would send out laborers from our own churches. But I propose we add a few other prayers to mix.

a. Pray that the Lord would send out diverse laborers from churches in your area to go to the harvest.

b. Surprisingly for some people, many of the refugees that resettle in the United States are Christian. Ask that the Lord would raise up laborers from among these Christians to take the gospel to their refugee and American neighbors.

c. Pray that God will raise up a new generation of laborers from all parts of the world who will take the gospel to the unreached.

d. Pray for unity among missionaries from different cultural backgrounds who partner together to make Christ known among the nations.

[1] Allen Yeh, Polycentric Missiology: Twenty-First-Century Mission from Everyone to Everywhere, (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016), 4.

[2] Timothy Tennent, Theology in the Context
of World Christianity: How the Global Church is Influencing the Way We Think
about and Discuss Theology, 
(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007),262.

Why is the Great Commission in the Bible?

Matthew 28:18-20 is not just a familiar passage to most of us, it is our missions anthem. In this scene, Jesus has his followers, His disciples gathered around him, and before he ascends he could tell them anything, but he sends them among ALL nations to make disciples…Jesus entrusts His disciples with a worldwide task! It is easy to cheer for and generally support the Great Commission, but why is it in the Bible?

Here are 4 reasons why I think the Great Commission is in the Bible:

1. Clarity

As a Christian, how do you know that you’re doing what God wants you to do? Jesus gives us a simple and straightforward answer: “Make disciples.” Make these disciples among the nations and among all peoples. Baptize these new disciples into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and then teach these believers to obey all of Jesus’ commands. The Great Commission isn’t necessarily simple, but it’s not complicated. It provides us clarity in a world where connection and access constantly clamor for our attention, time, and energy.

[bctt tweet="As a Christian, how do you know that you’re doing what God wants you to do? Jesus gives us a simple and straightforward answer: “Make disciples.”" username="theCGCS"]

2. Remembrance

The Great Commission is a summary and reminder of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He invites us to go and do likewise.

3. Motivation

Jesus commanded us to be about the business of going and making disciples wherever people are found. He also said that as we participate in this Great Commission, He will be right there with us, every step of the way!

[bctt tweet="The Great Commission isn’t necessarily simple, but it’s not complicated. It provides us clarity in a world where connection and access constantly clamor for our attention, time, and energy." username="theCGCS"]

4. Purpose

There are 3 characters involved in God’s mission among the nations: God, the Lost, and Us—You and Me. Sometimes finding our place, or role, in God’s mission is not as easy or comfortable as we hope or want it to be, yet missions is part of the plan of God and is essential to the identity of God’s people, the church! If you are a Christian, then central to your identity is one who is sent. That means missions is a non-negotiable for me and for you.

The Great Commission is great due to its scope and the fact that Jesus entrusted it to us! Hopefully asking and answering the question of “why” helps us more readily participate in God’s mission among the nations.

[bctt tweet="Sometimes finding our place, or role, in God’s mission is not as easy or comfortable as we hope or want it to be, yet missions is part of the plan of God and is essential to the identity of God’s people, the church!" username="theCGCS"]

Featured image by IMB.

How Far Are You Willing to Go to Reach the Nations?

20 minutes from the campus of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and the College at Southeastern is a very unique community. It is a community comprised predominantly of refugees, refugees from more than 30 countries. These are men, women, and children who have fled their home country to escape war, persecution, or violence. Many, after fleeing their home country, have lived in refugee camps on average 17 years! They are part of a select few who have been chosen for resettlement by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). It is difficult for most of us to imagine ourselves in the story of a refugee. Each has truly endured trauma beyond our understanding.

Acts 17:26-27 (CSB)

From one man[a] he has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. He did this so that they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.

As I read Acts 17:26-27 I am reminded our refugee neighbors are not here by chance or by fate but by the sovereign will and prearrangements of our God and for the purpose that they might seek Him and find Him. How can this happen if the body of Christ does not get involved? We have a great opportunity to be present for those who are seeking God.

If you think the need is not urgent, let me share something I heard last week from a Nepalese refugee named Sam who was resettled to Louisville, Kentucky. At a very low point in his life after arriving in the US someone knocked on his door and invited him to a Bible study. It changed his life! He shared with me that the drug dealers, the gangs, and the sex traffickers are all reaching out to our refugee friends, seeing them as easy targets. Then Sam asked a very convicting question, why is the church not knocking on the doors?

Refugee Hope Partners is a local non-profit ministry that exists to glorify God by loving our refugee neighbors with the hope of the gospel. We love them by…

  • Engaging families and individuals as they face cultural, practical & emotional hurdles.

  • Equipping hands, minds, and souls for independence with dignity.

  • Encouraging healthy relationships & spiritual growth with the hope that all will thrive.

Practically, this is played out with many points of engagement and through partnerships with other ministries and a large army of volunteers. Here are a few of the ways we currently serve our refugee neighbors…

Homework Help is the gateway of our ministry. It is where we typically meet families and students for the first time, and is the program which involves our largest pool of volunteers. During the summer we encourage our students to continue to work on their reading by our Read and Swim Program. If students come and read for 20 minutes three days a week, they are awarded a trip to the swimming pool.

+100 children from kindergarten through high school

ESL Program is designed to help our friends thrive by providing multi-level English instruction. Our goal is to make each student proficient in conversation, reading, and writing.

+45 adults in participating ESL classes.

Bible Studies are offered year-round each week for elementary, middle, and high school boys and girls. It is our desire to see all come to faith in the One that came to give us abundant life through participation in these Bible studies.

+65 students involved in weekly Bible study

Early Learning Club exists to foster intellectual, physical, social, and emotional development through exploration and enriching experiences in a warm and loving environment for children ages 3-4. Our goal is to help equip and support students for a successful entrance into kindergarten by exposing them to the structure of a classroom and English as a second language.

+30 preschoolers preparing for kindergarten

Medical Ministry aims to be an advocate for the refugees in navigating the US medical system, educate to promote better health and to equip toward independence. On occasion, services are offered onsite to make healthcare access easier.

Countless men, women and children

The Bridge is the newest program offered by Refugee Hope Partners. According to UNHCR, only 1% of refugees enroll in college or university. We desire to partner with young adults as they move toward a self-sustaining future by providing them tools to assist them in taking next steps. These tools include things such as college visits and assistance in the applications process.

+8 High School Juniors and Seniors Moving Toward Next Steps

As you can see, there are countless ways you can get involved with Refugee Hope Partners to show the love of Jesus. So the question remains, how far are you willing to go to reach the nations with the gospel? A 20- minute drive? $1.50 in gas money?

To learn more about Refugee Hope Partners, visit their website: www.refugeehopepartners.org


Evangelism Remedy

There is little doubt that God’s mission and mandate for his church centers on evangelism. This means that, no matter what churches are doing, the primary objective must be clearly and plainly communicating the gospel. Our message is good news – God loved our sinful humanity so much that he gave his only Son. Anyone who believes in Him will not perish but will have eternal life(John 3:16)

Carl F. H. Henry once wrote: “The gospel is only good news if it gets there on time.” Most Christians know this is true; however, we are consumed with other activities and forget the importance of evangelism. Below give 5 reasons for this misplaced focus and then give some recommendations.

  1. We fail to maintain an eternal emphasis — being evangelistic requires us to remember that every person is an eternal soul. The daily pressures of this world are distracting and we assume this is all there is. But, we need to live with eternity in mind.

REMEDY: Say to yourself, “This person is an eternal soul. They will live forever somewhere. What can I say today that will point them to heaven?”

  1. We are too concerned with approval of others — the church engages in many activities that will generate public applause. Evangelism is not one of these activities. If our ears are tuned to the approval of those outside the church, we will find other “noble” activities and neglect evangelism.

REMEDY: Seek God’s approval first and remember, when someone trust Christ, they will be eternally thankful for your courage.

  1. We are silenced by bad examples of evangelism — we all have seen bad models of evangelism, models that are mocking or humiliating. My friend, Alvin Reid calls these attempts “E-vandalism.” Fear of being labeled, or being viewed like these bad examples keeps many silent.

REMEDY: You don’t allow bad table manners to stop you from eating, instead, you strive for dignity when you eat. Rather than letting these bad examples of evangelism to keep you silent, determine to be a good example for others.

  1. We forget that the gospel is the solution to social needs — this world is broken! People are hurting. Lives are being destroyed. Evil seems to be winning. Physical needs overwhelm our senses and “mere words” seem so futile. In the face of social issues, it is tempting to neglect sharing the gospel.

REMEDY: Don’t stop providing help. However, never “just” meet physical needs. The gospel is the only lasting solution for this broken world and for those suffering under the penalty and pain of sin.

  1. We believe our lack of knowledge justifies silence — there is so much we don’t know about the Bible. We are afraid to share because there are so many questions someone could ask us. We don’t want to lead someone astray and we do not want to be embarrassed by what we don’t know. This fear keeps us from trying.

REMEDY: Share anyway! Study what you don’t know. Let your lack of knowledge be the impulse to study.Here is a link to a simple, free online course on basic Christian Doctrine.


Religion and Worldview: What Questions Do I Ask?

I get this question a lot, so I thought it fitting to address it in a post.

With the remarkable diversity we find around ourselves today, we can no longer assume we understand someone’s religious background. This is obvious when we talk about discovering and engaging unreached people groups around us. Discovery is more than finding out wherepeople live around us, it is finding out about who lives around us. Part of discovery is cultural acquisition, or learning someone’s culture. That is not as hard as it sounds, and there are five simple categories you can consider to learn someone’s culture. Faith is one of them.

But this issue is wider than working with internationals. I have a hunch that the average American Christian (faithful, church-attending believer) does not know as much about the average American’s religion as they think they do. We have grown up hearing people say they are Christians and we take it at face value. Or, people claim to be “non-religious” or “nones” on the census survey. However, I am convinced that these terms do little to actually tell us what someone believes. In fact, neither do the terms Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or Atheist.

Nevertheless, when I tell people that part of discovery is learning someone’s religion, they most frequently treat it like a check box. They will ask, “What religion are you?” Their new friend responds with, “Muslim.” Then it is done. There is no follow up on what this actually means to that person. Instead, a bucket load of assumptions are dumped on to that person about what they believe. However, two different people who say they are Muslim will mean very different things by that term. Just like two different people who merely say they are Christian may have totally different belief systems.

We must dig deeper.

When proclaiming the gospel, we need more than the religious label someone applies to herself. We need to know what they believe.

Everyone has a religion.

Even people who say they are not religious, or classify themselves as “nones,” or claim Atheism have a set of beliefs. People seem to miss this fact. Every single person lives their life operating out of a belief system. Some believe there is a God who upholds the universe. Others believe there is an invisible fact of nature called Science that causes everything to be the way that it is. Now, my point here is not to debate the relationship between faith and Science. Suffice it to say they have one, and Christians shouldn’t be scared of science. My point though is deeper. Everyone believes in something. Everyone has a big story in their head that they think explains everything. The gospel operates this way as well, except the gospel is the one true story of the whole world. It can be shared in many ways, but an easy one to remember breaks it into four separate acts: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.

If you want to share the gospel with people in a way that makes sense to them, you do well to find out what captivates their beliefs. The following simple questions allow you to move past that religious label and find out what people actually believe. In addition, they each analog with one of the major acts in the gospel story mentioned above.

Where did it all come from?

This first question frames a person’s worldview. Everyone has an answer, and people answers will be very different. For some, a personal force (a god of some form) made the universe. For others, it was a collection of impersonal forces (think Science) that caused existence. For others even, there is no beginning. They have a circular worldview and there is no beginning and no end, just cycles of life.

Knowing the answer to this question is important, as the gospel speaks differently to each of these worldviews. Of course, the gospel story starts with God’s good creation that met its climax in man (actually God didn’t say “very good” until he created woman!).

Where did it all go wrong?

Most reasonable people will admit that the world has problems. However, few have thought through why. If they have, then their answers are all over the map. Some blame politics, others blame religion. Some will say that no one is perfect. Others will admit that people are evil. Regardless, this is an important question to understand anyone’s belief system.

The gospel story speaks to this question with humanity’s fall. When the fall happened God’s good creation, while still essentially good, was radically directed toward evil. Humanity’s sin affected all of creation and society. Wars, famines, natural disasters, poverty, and eventually death are the results of sin.

What, if anything, can fix it?

In my experience, most non-Christians find this question hard to answer. Many worldviews have little to offer in terms of a solution. Many think there is no solution. Others think it comes through better government, or better economy, or more learning, but these are the same things they listed as the problem above! On a personal level, people all have a functional savior that answers this question in their own life. It may be a better job and finances, or it may the search for happiness, or it may be legalistically following the rules of a holy book (be that the Bible or the Qu’ran).

The gospel story tells us there is only one thing that can remove the stain of sin, and that one thing is  ultimately nothing that we can do. Humanity’s problem is bigger than any manmade solution. It took God himself stepping into his creation in order to redeem it. The life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ ultimately crushes evil. It fixes the brokenness, both in society and in our own hearts.

What will happen when this is all over?

Finally, a full understanding of someone’s beliefs is not complete without knowing their understanding of eternity. They may not believe in eternity. They may think life is over when they shut their eyes for the last time, or they may believe in reincarnation. However, everyone has to come to grips with both their individual destiny and the destiny of all of the universe. Those are big questions, and they will usually get someone thinking.

Certainly, the gospel story has much to say concerning the end of all things. While many worldviews have a grim finish line, the Christian story is one that ends in great victory. The ultimate restoration of all things under the total lordship of Christ himself is the glorious promise of the gospel. The Christian has unwavering hope, because we know that the current sin-sickness is not the end of the story. We await a king and a glorious kingdom that will have no end.