I read about an activity our 'home' church back in Pittsburgh participated in recently, and it got me thinking. Mission work is important. Paul knew it. Others since knew it. When I was a student in Bible College, we had the privilege of hearing Oswald J. Smith share that when he built his church in Toronto, they committed to giving 10% to missions before anything else was paid. Then 20%. Then 30% All the way until this great church was giving their first 90% of income to world missions. Dr. Smith said they've never missed or been late with a bill, payment, payroll or any other obligation.
Then this morning I read what our home church, which sends kids and even their pastor on short term mission work (he has a burning burden for the people of the Dominican Republic) participated in there in their own town and I remembered something I think we often forget.
When God states things in a particular order, He does so for a reason. In Acts 1:8 Jesus laid out His plan to accomplish the charge given in Matthew 28:18-20 - what we refer to as the Great Commission. In Acts 1:8, Jesus said you are going to become empowered by the Holy Spirit. May we never lose sight of the fact that our commission is from Christ, and our Authority/power is the Holy Spirit. Anything else will fail miserably!
When that power comes upon you, conquer the world for me, but do it in this order:
1. Jerusalem (where you live - your home town)
2. Judea (open to interpretation, but perhaps your state)
3. Samaria (again, open to interpretation geographically on the first century map, but perhaps your nation)
4. The Uttermost Parts of the Earth (The Uttermost Parts of the Earth)
Without in any way discounting the importance of world missions, I think the modern church has divided outreach today into two basic types.
For the Judea, Samaria, Uttermost Parts of the World group, which is generally speaking bunched together with most of the emphasis on the latter of the three, the plan is, if there is enough money left after the bills are paid, hold a special campaign, raise some money and send some short term volunteers - mostly teenagers - to the uttermost parts of the world, or send it to your denominational world missions fund where collectively you can reach more than you can independently.
Or go on TV.
The Jerusalem outreach is almost exclusively built on the Field of Dreams model, i.e., if you build it, they will come.
Never mind that when Jesus said go, the first place he told us to go was right where we live! Never mind Dr. Luke recorded that "daily were added those who were being saved" and not “daily were being saved those who came and joined the church.”
Somehow we have lost sight of the idea that the unreached in our own back yard are just as unreached as the unreached in the uttermost parts of the world! And in our blindness, we’ve convinced ourselves that if we just make sharp enough programs, slick enough advertising, hip enough music, and create just the right atmosphere and swing open our doors, the unreached world out there in our Jerusalem will come stampeding to our Sunday morning rock concerts!
And, my friend, that’s not how Jesus did it, and that’s not how he told us to do it when He left us behind to watch and wait for His return. What’s happening instead is that 14 of the 15 churches experiencing growth in America are using the Field of Dreams model and their membership growth isn’t coming from conversions due to community outreach, it due to pew swapping. That single, lone church experiencing growth - real growth – is the one that understands what Jesus said. Evangelize – Disciple – Repeat, instead of proselytize!
We just left a local church that has been our home for about 18 months. Six months ago we underwent a leadership change.
In six months we watched worship become the rock concert of the week. Perform, Applaud, repeat 3 times.
Personalized response and attention was replaced with ‘contact cards’.
Phil Collins with Jesus video clips and the Superman: Man of Steel theme became acceptable ‘worship’ music format, if you can call it that. Worship is led by a revolving handful of children who don’t understand worship on a personal level much less how to draw others into worship. The personal touch and emphasis on outreach (while being admittedly weak on the discipleship side) has been replaced with personal kingdom building. Little ‘k’. Not the Kingdom of God. Growth has become pew swapping. And I can’t remember the last time we had a baptism on site. In short, a once thriving, loving community of Christ followers has become a thriving, stunning example of a prototypical Field of Dreams model church in action. It breaks my heart.
We moved to the area north of Tampa to care for my wife’s elderly mother, or we’d still be at our ‘home’ church in Pittsburgh. The Senior Pastor there goes to Dominican Republic every year. He has a heart for the unreached in DR. Just like his heart for the unreached in his Jerusalem – Pittsburgh – Southwest Pennsylvania. But for that, I imagine we would still be worshipping at that church.
But God has a divine purpose for our lives. Remember that from the Four Spiritual Laws gospel tract? I used that as a witnessing tool but I think I never fully ‘got’ the ‘divine purpose’ bit until recently. I believe God is calling me to be part of a church plant, and I think I’m beginning to understand and see some of the things I learned about theoretically in college 40 years ago – back when I was much too full of me to be of any use to God. Oh, I think I’m still too full of me to be of any use to Him, but I think that’s the first step along the path to being used – realizing how completely unworthy you are and how totally unnecessary you are to the accomplishing of the establishing of the Kingdom of God. I think when God can finally shake enough of ‘I’ out of me, He’ll be able to use me, and that’s really all I want at this point in my life. That God make me the man I should be so He can use me to His Glory. I no longer want to build the field. I want to be the guy filling up the free seats section with unreached from my Jerusalem who didn’t even know there was a game today, much less where to get a ticket! That’s my dream.