Evangelism and Missions
Revelation 3:8: "I know your works: behold, I have set before you an open door, and no man can shut it: for you have a little strength, and have kept my word, and have not denied my name."
In the evaluation report to the church in Philadelphia nothing negative is said. All that we have is a commendation for the way that this small group of believers have grown to spiritual maturity, as indicated by the phrase that they have kept His Word. They are obedient. Jesus said to His disciples, "If you love me you will keep my commandments." As a result of their maturity, because of their capacity, there is a promise, an encouragement that is embedded as a parenthetical comment at the beginning of His commendation. This is out of order and not what we find in any of the other evaluation reports.
"I have set before you an open door" goes right back to the fact that He is the one who has the key of David, who shuts and no one opens, and opens and no one shuts. It is almost an expression of enthusiasm. The Lord puts this right in there, interrupts the flow of thought, and sets this there as a statement of encouragement to these believers who are going through persecution. Correct translation: "I have given before you an open door, and no one can shut it." The verb there is the Greek is DIDOMI [didomi] which is the word for to give or to grant. It is a word that always speaks of grace. It indicates a special grace blessing and privilege that God has set before this congregation. He has given them and open door—opportunity for evangelism.
This brings up the doctrine of missions, or what the Bible teaches about missions and missionaries. The world is our mission field. Every single believer in the Lord Jesus Christ enters into full time Christian service at the instant he believes in Christ. There are some who enter into professional or vocational Christian service—pastors, missionaries or evangelists—but every single believer from the instant they are saved is in full time Christian service. Being an evangelist or a missionary is not something that is restricted to those who have some special gift in the sense of evangelism or pastor teacher, or who have a special vocational desire to serve on the mission field either at home or abroad. Missions is a vital part of the local church and has been since the beginning of the church age back in the book of Acts.
General definition of missions is: All believers are expected to be involved in witnessing. This goes with the territory of being a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. When we go out of the church doors and into the world we are missionaries, we have a responsibility as a believer priest, as an ambassador for Christ, to explain the gospel to those who are not saved and to challenge those who are saved to greater growth in their spiritual life. We might call this an informal definition of missions, but ever since the early church there has been a formal development of missions (ever since Acts chapter 15) in terms of those who have been specifically set apart by a local church in this responsibility.
Gordon Olsen's definition: "Mission involves the whole task, endeavour and program of the church of Jesus Christ to reach out across geographical and/or cultural boundaries by sending missionaries to evangelize people who have never heard or who have little opportunity to hear the saving gospel."
So it is part and parcel of the mission, the purpose, for which a church exists. We can summarize the purpose statement of any local church into two words: evangelism and edification. The purpose of the local church exists to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry—Ephesians 4:11, 12. It is not that the pastor or the evangelist is to do the work of the ministry, it is the saints, the believers in the local congregation who are to do the work of the ministry in reference to their own spiritual gifts. Everybody has a spiritual gift. We think of the man out front: he is the missionary, and people love to focus on that man. But for every individual who is out front, planting churches, doing things, there is a whole army of personnel behind them. Another example of a mission organization is another category called home missions. That might even involve people who do not even leave their home town, they are still involved in a local area. There are mission organizations such as Child Evangelism Fellowship and other missionaries of that type that are involved in taking the gospel to a segment of our local culture. There are also training institutions that come under that category: Bible colleges, seminaries, places that are involved in the training of pastors and missionaries. These are all supported by individual donations and donations from local churches as part of the mission strategy of the local church looking to the future and training and preparing leaders. So there has to be a vision for the future.
But even when we think of Chafer Seminary we tend to think of the key players, the professors, the teachers, and we don't think of the secretaries, administrative help, the office managers, but that is all part and parcel of that particular function. Too often it is very easy to catch a vision for the out-front seminary trained or ordained leaders in these areas and to forget about the people who are working with them such as the support staff and all of the other people who are necessary for the survival of a particular missionary, just as in a local church where you have the pastor but there is also administrative staff, etc. So when we think of missionaries it is not just the people who are involved in the teaching aspect, there is a lot more to it. The advice given to a young man who had completed his Masters degree in business administration and who wondered if perhaps he had the gift of pastor-teacher was: "Don't put blinders on it and think that the gift of pastor-teacher only functions in terms of a pulpit ministry and pasturing a church. That is what you have been exposed to. But you may have the desire to teach the Word and maybe the best way that God is going to use you is after get some training then you can work in a seminary as a business administrator." Missionaries also need people with those talents and abilities. A concern is that in recent years there has been a failure, a withdrawal of the pulpit challenge to people, especially young people, to seriously consider making full-time vocational Christian work a career.
As a result, what we have seen in recent years is a number of men who wake up in their later thirties or in their forties when they have wives and children and careers, and they say they think they have the gift of pastor-teacher. What do they do now? The problem is that when they were twenty years old they didn't have the spiritual courage to really face this and go forward with it. Now they have made other decisions, and in some case that ship has just left the dock, they're too late. Part of that is the failure of pulpit ministries to challenge young men. In a lot of churches today we have distanced ourselves from some of the traditional structures that churches have had for doing this, such as Christian camps.
Missions is a vital function of the church. It is related to the mission of the church. Jesus Christ gave us a mission and that has to do with evangelism and with edification. That is, teaching the Word of God so that people can grow to spiritual maturity. Missions in a specialized sense refers to the sending forth of authorized persons beyond the border of the local church, and for immediate gospel influence, to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ is gospel-destitute areas, to win converts from other faiths or non-faiths to Jesus Christ, and to establish functioning, multiplying local congregations who will bear the fruit of Christianity in their community and their country. Missions can be involved in sending and preparing people who can go into a ghetto culture, into a Hispanic culture, into a Muslim culture, right here in our own country, and to have an impact and to communicate the gospel.
Authorized and trained people: These are spiritually mature people who have been trained formerly through either Bible college or through seminary. If the church was doing what it was supposed to do there wouldn't be any need for Bible colleges and seminaries. But churches don't do what they are supposed to do, other than one or two, and so it is necessary to have these other schools. It is also important to have academically trained people who have the right credentials, who have gone through seminary and have a Masters degree in theology, and even those who have pressed on to a Ph.D. Too often we have limited ourselves in terms of this vision to challenging men to go to seminary and get a Th.M so that they can be a pastor. But what about going on to get a Ph.D so that you can train pastors and be qualified to teach in a seminary? We need to send trained and authorized people. We need to have an emphasis on that in the church. In the Acts accounts we see that they sent the very best. For example, in Acts 1:1-3 we have the first example of a local church setting aside specific people to send them out as missionaries. "In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.' So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off." So they had some quality individuals, well-trained, mean who were accomplished and had been successful in teaching the Word. The two best teachers in the church were the ones that the Holy Spirit said to send on the mission field. We have to have a vision for excellence in sending trained people on to the mission field. We send them into either language distinctions or cross-cultural distinctions, so they have to learn to be culturally flexible.
Examples of home missions: Schools and Bible colleges should be a priority in any local church, that when a plan for supporting missionaries is started there should be a plan to support seminaries or Bible colleges foremost because that is the future. If we aren't training pastors to teach our children and our grandchildren, then we are ignoring the future. There are also summer camps and youth ministries, campus ministries which take the gospel on to the campus; all kinds of different home ministries.
Then there are foreign missions where somebody is commissioned to take the gospel to cross-cultural situations. The idea is to first of all teach them, train them, or teach them to communicate the message that Jesus Christ died on the cross for their sins and if they believe in Him alone they can have eternal life. But to do that you have to have somebody who is willing to take the time to learn that foreign culture, so that they can more sufficiently and efficiently communicate the gospel. The second task is to train and to teach them the Word of God, the whole counsel of God from Genesis to Revelation, and ultimately to train indigenous leaders to take over in those local churches and establish local churches that are self-supporting. We have to have a vision for evangelism. This goes back to Genesis and goes all the way through the Scriptures.
A challenge to parents and Sunday school teachers. We need to create a world vision for our children. We can do this through reading missionary stories to our children, about various missionaries down through the centuries, so that our children have a vision of the entire world as their mission field. We should challenge our young men, our sons, to look at missions and the pastorate as possible career options, if they have the gift of pastor-teacher. And even if they don't have the gift of pastor-teacher there are many areas in missions and education that demand other skills. We need to teach about giving and financial support. The reality of life is that these missions live on money. They have to pay salaries, purchase computers, rent space to have their offices, build class rooms and buy land. It costs money. This is true both for foreign missions as well as home missions.
We are a young church. One of the principles that has been applied over the years is that young churches need to wait until they are firmly established before they get too committed in terms of financial commitments to missions. This is simply because it is better to wait until the church is fully and firmly established as a local church before starting to send all the money away. In stage one we need to recognize that we are still a mission, but we should be involved with missionaries. We need to identify missionaries who we can pray for. We need to encourage the sending of special gifts and care packages and dealing or helping with some of the special needs of some of these organizations. As the Lord provides for us and as we grow then we move to stage two, which is where we would identify a few missionaries that we think are worthy of financial support and then challenge the congregation to support them with financial gifts to our church above and beyond the general fund. The third stage would be to move that missionary support level into the general fund as a major category.
We have a mission that the Lord Jesus Christ has called us to, to take the gospel to everyone who needs to hear it; to the lost in our neighbourhood, to the lost in our city, the lost in our state, and throughout the world.