Re-thinking Missions Part 2 – Church or Kingdom?
If my first message on missions didn’t challenge your views, this one probably will.
I appreciate the hard work put in by generations of missionaries who have sown and harvested in the field of God. I stand in awe of the sacrifices they’ve made. This is a discussion aimed at identifying things we can improve on and that means looking at things we aren’t doing very well.
A common complaint I heard in my discussion question on missions was that missionaries often find themselves evangelizing people who made prior commitments to Christ. The transformation that is supposed to take place in the heart of a new convert doesn’t always happen. When the next team of missionaries is sent out, they reach the same people who were saved by the preaching of the previous team.
This phenomenon is not limited to missions. Chances are the church that sent out the missionaries sees a handful of people every week who respond (repeatedly) to an alter call to re-dedicate their lives to Jesus. Many leaders expect this kind of behavior and never question why it happens. I think it deserves a little examination.
The effect of the gospel on those who hear it is somewhat determined by what the preacher expects it to do. I believe that my message will bring physical healing (among other things) to those who hear it and most of the time – people are healed when I give a message. Some people believe their message will bring the baptism of the Holy Spirit and it usually happens when they preach. Everyone believes something different about their message. Every message has a unique effect on those who hear it.
There are two different views of the gospel that I’d like to look at. One view sees the gospel as a means of salvation for the soul from eternal torment. Conversion places the believer in heaven when their earthly life ends. A secondary effect of the gospel is the development of holiness in the life of the believer.
People who hold this view generally define missional activities as:
- Preaching the gospel
- Winning converts
- Planting churches
Preaching is the tactical approach. Winning converts is the missional objective. Planting churches is the overall goal. When these things are done, missionaries are said to be successful
Other missional activities include intervention in human trafficking, providing food and clothing, drilling wells, building orphanages and medical clinics, and providing disaster relief. (This is only a brief summary of the most common missional activities of this group – it is not meant to be all-inclusive.)
People with this view of the gospel spend much of their time and energy on church planting. Success or failure in missions is often defined by this goal. Because the building of churches is the ultimate goal, this mindset has been called the church mindset. I’d like to contrast this view with what some have called the kingdom mindset.
When I traveled to Australia last year, I saw a stark contrast between the church mindset and the kingdom mindset.
One of the groups I taught had been trained to lead people in the sinner’s prayer after ministering healing to them. If the individual they prayed with was open to it, they would invite them to a Sunday church service. That was the extent of their understanding of how the gospel is to be preached. Converts who come to a Sunday service are expected to make new friends, attend regular services, begin reading the bible, avoid sinful behavior and contribute financially to the church. Pastors know all too well that in the majority of cases the new converts drop off the radar in a few months and are never heard from again. This is typically the effect that the gospel has among people with a church mindset.
I asked the man who hosted me to explain his understanding of how the gospel is to be preached. Over the next six months, he began to share his thoughts. This is a brief summary of his views:
His understanding of the gospel is that it is intended to create a complete cultural transformation wherever it goes. While he believes that the gospel is intended to save the soul of the believer, he believes that salvation is only the beginning. The gospel is intended to reduce or eliminate violent crime, poverty, starvation, disease, enslavement, corporate greed, political corruption, class warfare, genocide, religious war, and other forms of social dysfunction. He believes that when the kingdom of God invades a region, the entire region should come under the righteous rule of Jesus and His kingdom. He believes that wherever the gospel goes, the resources of heaven are available to transform society. He believes that our job, as ambassadors of heaven is to mentor new disciples in the ways of the kingdom and facilitate a cultural transformation. This is the vision my friend has for missions. It comes from a man who has a kingdom mindset.
How would missions be changed if instead of building orphanages, our goal was to create a culture where orphanages were never needed again?
What would missions look like if instead of bringing food to starving people, and hoping it was enough, we transformed their homeland, making it possible for them to grow their own food and sell the surplus to make a living?
What would missions look like if instead of planting churches, we established outposts of heaven where the power and the glory of God became firmly entrenched in the culture?
What would missions be like if the villages we reached never again needed to have missionaries return to provide aid because they became self-sufficient during our stay?
As with many things the church does – we’ve suffered from a vision that is just too small. And frankly – we’ve run out of excuses for expecting meager results. We must begin to think bigger. We must recruit people with financial resources and technical expertise that can help us solve the problems of the third world – permanently. We need to make the lives of our hosts as livable as our lives are back home. We must be able to leave them knowing that they’ll be able to maintain a decent standard of living for generations to come.
Welcome to missions the kingdom way.