Psalm 96:3 “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!”
The goal of everything is the glory of God. How has God determined to bring about his glory filling the earth?
Isaiah 49:6 “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Israel was supposed to be a light to the nations. Yet, they failed. God, in His wisdom, now commissions the church to be his light.
Ephesians 3:10-11 “…through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
So, why do we assert that the goal of missions is church partnerships?
Part of the reason we have to clarify this goal is because of what we might call “mission creep.” Jesus gave the church a mission and yet we’ve become distracted by innumerable alternative or supplementary tasks. Making disciples is rather complicated these days, but it shouldn’t be. When anything and everything can be missions, then nothing is missions. Faithfulness to the task given to us means faithfulness to the message. The faithfulness includes the means of delivering that message, as found in the final standard for faith and practice available to the Christian, the word of God. The message is that Jesus is Lord. The means God ordained for delivering that message is the body of which Christ is the Head, the church. The task given for missions is no different than the task given for the church you’re attending right now.
It’s heartening to see the resurgence in recent years of church planting as a prime directive in the mission of the church both at home and abroad. To make disciples, there is no better place for that to happen than in the established life-long community devoted to the glory of God and the good of the family of God that only a church can provide.
Once a church is established, the work of missions isn’t over. While God is providing the growth no matter what work we are doing, planting is not the only thing we should do. Some should water as well. The New Testament gives us a model of missions as seeking new churches established so that the gospel can be proclaimed to all peoples. However, that is not all that we see displayed in the New Testament. For example, Titus was left in Crete to “put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town.” (Titus 1:5) It seems that while churches existed in at least infant form, they still needed to grow into maturity in Christ. This is after all the reason why God has gifted the church with elders:
Ephesians 4:12-16 “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
It’s wonderful whenever a church is formed in unity around the “one faith” that we share. That church must continue to full maturity in Christ. Missionaries are negligent in their duty if they orphan young churches and do not equip them to grow to maturity. The biblical pattern of missions demonstrates the necessity of developing leadership in churches that have been planted. If your missions strategy has no plan for leadership development, then you have succumbed to mission creep.
Yet, leadership development is not the end of missions either. Praise God if we have healthy churches, but God, through the New Testament epistles, was not done with the church, even healthy ones. In the book of Revelation, the greetings to the church in Smyrna and the church in Philadelphia have no negative critique, and yet they are encouraged to endure in faithfulness by hearing what the Spirit says to the churches. The foundation of unity between multiple churches is our mutual submission to the word of God. Yet, the question remains, what does the word of God speak to healthy churches which brings about their unity? How do we envision a bi-directional mutuality between churches across cultures and language barriers?
Here the book of Philippians is helpful for us as it pictures what a partnership in the gospel looks like. Christians across great distances are mutual partakers of grace both in imprisonment and the in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. We are unified both in what we do and what we believe. We yearn for one another with the affection of Christ Jesus. Advocates were sent both to the Philippians (Timothy) and from the Philippians (Epaphroditus). We advance the gospel together without rivalry. We are confident that, even through imprisonment, the Spirit of Christ prevails through our prayers for one another and risking our lives to care for one another. This is the Spirit of brotherly love throughout the New Testament.
James 2:16, “if we say to our brother in Christ, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”
1 John 3:17, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?”
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians about the Macedonians as an example for all the churches to give sacrificially out of solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world. The greatest mission creep of all has been Christians who have heard of their brothers and sisters in Christ in need throughout the world and have responded with, “we have missionaries who take care of that need for us.” Missions is not delegated to a few but is the responsibility of every believer, because loving our brothers and sisters in Christ is not delegated. If we do not have the affection and sympathy like Paul had for the Philippians, and if we are not willing to endure all things for the sake of the elect (2 Timothy 2:10), then we are not doing missions as we ought.
For too long we’ve been minding our own business, disconnected from God’s work in the body of Christ universal. Paul from prison encourages us:
Ephesians 4:1-7, “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”
Far be it from us to withhold from our brethren the gifts God has given us to share with them. The end of missions is one church with one voice declaring that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.