The May 12, 2008 earthquake brought with it not only bitter anguish but also doors that God opened for evangelism and missions. At that time, our brothers and sisters experienced ups and downs in the face of both disaster relief and outreach. Some had come with great ambition and enthusiasm as they passionately threw themselves into the work. However, due to many factors, these workers ultimately left the work, themselves wounded. Others arrived fairly ignorant of the needs and realities they were about to face, but through several years of service they and those they served grew and matured, managing the work in an orderly fashion. Seeing these assorted phenomena causes one to wonder: Is the Chinese church truly ready to face the task of world evangelism? What does the church in China still lack in the realm of addressing the Great Commission? How can we better understand the work of evangelism and missions?
1. The Goal of Missions: Not to Control but to Fulfill
The purpose of “missions” is not simply to go to the field to develop one’s own disciples; rather, it is to bring rich grace and truth in a manner the local people can receive. We must start from the point of felt need wherein we will live out the gospel and establish friendships in order to share the Good News that will cause people to turn to God. Concurrently, we must help local Christians mature and establish the local church, empowering it to become a blessing to the area.
2. The Management of Missions: Not Laissez-Faire but Wise Oversight
As a sending church, we must offer appropriate oversight to those we commission. This oversight must be neither unwarranted intervention and remote control, nor indifference or permissiveness. In regards to specific strategies, we must work hard to respect the plans of those on the front lines and at the same time supervise work attitudes and direction. Moreover, we must be attentive to the spiritual and family needs of workers and shepherd them well.
Often workers find their hands tied and fail to launch new outreaches simply because their home churches lack understanding of the local situation. Their churches rely on their own experience to set boundaries and often exercise excessive control that comes from a place of blindness to the realities of the local situation.
Many workers become injured on the field having no one to shepherd or care for them. Even if the sending church gives them a call, the church does not understand how to care for the missionary and simply asks about the state of the work being done. This gives the missionary the sense that the church is only interested in performance. The church not only fails to support the missionary but also increases the pressure on the individual to perform, even to the point that some, in order to please their church, create false achievement reports.
3. The Focus of Missions: Not the Parent Church but the Local Field
While some people put everything having to do with the gospel under the title of “missions,” here I am referring to missions that involve sending workers to an outside field using a holistic method to spread the gospel of the Kingdom. The focal point should not be on what the sending church wants to see accomplished or how they want it done. Instead, the question is: What does the field need? In what way can we best serve the local populace?
Nevertheless, many brothers and sisters carry a heavy burden stemming from the traditional ways their home church has always done ministry. We hear from them, “In my hometown we did things this or that way….” When they hit a problem, their immediate response is, “Where I came from we would do such and such.” The result of such attitudes is a failure to ultimately acclimate to the local situation.
If we think back to our ultimate missionary role model, Jesus, we see that while he came from heaven to earth, he rarely used objects or metaphors from things seen in heaven to offer examples. Instead, he used familiar things seen here on earth in his parables. We too must change our methods accordingly.
4. The Method of Missions: Not Duplication but Creativity
The missionary must make the specific mission field his or her focus, and therefore should not attempt to simply duplicate methods and characteristics native to his or her hometown without making necessary alterations in order to appropriately suit the local situation.
When Jesus was on this earth, he rarely spoke of specifics regarding the church, but more often spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven. He only spoke of the church twice—and he never spoke of specifics regarding church methods. Instead, he focused on church authority. He did not use the language of heaven to communicate with people; rather, he used a language familiar to those around him so they would understand all he had to say.
Some co-laborers in Sichuan immediately attempted to carry over the styles of their home churches into the lives of new believers. In addition, some of the sending churches repeatedly used their own church models and criteria to assess what was happening in these new works.
Since we have left home to expand the Kingdom of God, we must base our tactics and methods on the unchanging principles in the Word of God and boldly innovate our work adapting it to fit the local circumstances.
5. The Work of Missions: Not Singular in Nature but Holistic
The very nature of the gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven is holistic. However, some churches tend to emphasize a one dimensional gospel of spiritual salvation, while other modern churches emphasize what could be called a “social gospel.” The Bible sums up the work of Jesus in this way: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing different disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds he had compassion on them” (Matthew 9:35-36).
Jesus’ method was to go from village to village. The substance of his work was to teach in the synagogues (educational work), to preach the gospel of the Kingdom (the work of preaching), and to heal every disease (medical work, or works of compassion). The impact of human sin is not merely the demise of the soul but, in fact, a complete corruption of every part of the human being. Thus, the salvation Jesus brings not only addresses the needs of the soul but also equips for the salvation of the whole person. This mission we carry out is a holistic one, including both social gospel and spiritual salvation. We give love with care, using integrated strategies in our work.
6. The Result of Missions: Not Immediate, but Far Reaching
Thinking back to the missionaries of 200 years ago who came from distant lands to offer their whole lives to this land, we see that they brought a holistic blessing to Chinese culture: scientific knowledge, medical understanding, education, and other societal expertise. Their influence brought long-lasting, positive impact to our nation.
However, today we have been impacted by the fast-food culture. We have developed a desire to see immediate fruit from the gospel. Driven by this desire, we have failed to consider the importance of holistic care in our ministry and to contemplate the influence of biblical culture on society. In my opinion, when a worker comes to do outreach ministries, he must not come with a blitzkrieg, quick-fix mentality. Instead, he should come ready to offer life-long service.
Once in conversation with a senior missionary, I asked him, “What expectation does your church have for you?” His answer surprised me. He said, “When our church’s pastor sent me off to China, he simply said that he hoped I would live well in China. Another pastor said, “When you go to China, follow Jesus well.”
In Acts 1:8 Jesus said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and you will receive power to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.” The phrase “be my witnesses” can also be translated as “are my witnesses.” In fact, our mission is to minister and live among the people. Recalling our service in Sichuan, the reason many came to faith was not because of what we said but because the people saw how we lived and what we did in that place.
7. The Promotion of Missions: Not Slogans, but Practical Implementation
It has been said: “America, having sent the most missionaries, has never sung out ‘USA, the Missionary Country.’ Korea, having sent the highest per capita number of missionaries also never sings ‘Korea, the Country Sending Missionaries.’” “China, the Missionary Country” has been sung for 20 years, but we have yet to see an analogous sending forth of laborers.
Often in services or large gatherings, we hear brothers and sisters shouting, “We want to evangelize!” We also often hear the call for people to sacrifice their lives for the mission field, but how many churches actually implement a concrete action towards the spreading of the gospel? How many churches actually organize the brothers and sisters who have been persuaded to commit their lives to service, following up with them, training them, and creating a tactical plan to send them out? Again and again we organize missionary mobilization meetings, but when will we see some concrete action?
Of the offerings given specifically for the spreading of the gospel, what portion is actually used in a meaningful way in gospel work? When we are introducing others to the missionary work of our church and how we go about it, how much of what we say is actually dealing with practical, pragmatic outworkings?
8. The Purpose of Missions: Not to Receive, but to Give
Acts 20:35 exhorts us that it is more blessed to give than to receive. For those of us skilled at business, one of the great missionary challenges is to give without asking for anything in return.
Our mission is not to go out and develop our strength and influence, but to simply and humbly serve in God’s kingdom, to help people receive salvation from God and to do so with a willing heart.
Recalling the history of missions in China, we can think of many missionaries who left their comfortable homes, gave up their enjoyments and came to China. Many were willing to dedicate their lives to this land, even to die, without ever having a personal benefit from this place! What was so special about us in China that qualified us to receive such human sacrifice?
For 200 years we have constantly received grace from God given to us through the Western church. Over 60 years ago, Pastor Mark, of the Back to Jerusalem Evangelistic Band, had a vision of water from all directions flowing into a big pond—which was never satisfied. When will our churches, our brothers and sisters, say, “We have received enough…now it is time we give”? We have more than enough! This is the time for us to sacrifice for the kingdom of God.
9. The Achievement of Missions: Not Our Church, but God’s Kingdom
Pastor Hay Chun Maak, of Singapore, explains that evangelism is the work of spreading the gospel in our own area, the fruit being affiliated with our own church. Missions is bringing the gospel to a place that has no church, the fruit being affiliated with God’s kingdom.
In China, we often say that in the past God used the Cultural Revolution to demolish sectarianism in the Chinese church. How is it that this sectarianism originally came about? Is it not because the missionaries of that time brought their own church experiences and the culture of their own churches and denominations into their work? We have not yet begun the work of missions, but already we have started to argue about the distribution of future harvest fields. Do we want to simply repeat history?
In the future, when we stand before the Lord and our work is judged, the standard of the Lord will not be how many followers we have, how many lands we have evangelized, how many people we have brought to the Lord, or how many we have baptized. Rather, the standard will be whether or not each of us did his will.
10. The Point of Missions: Not an Organization, but the Church
God’s plan is that the church will be the demonstration of God’s kingdom on earth, a representative of the authority of the Kingdom of Heaven. If the church does not do missionary work, there is no need for it on this earth. The existence of the church and the work of missions are intimately connected, so the church ought to bear the burden of missions, not simply hand it over to some mission agency. The role of missionary agencies should be to promote missions and train the church to do missions well and also help the church to better implement the Great Commission in practical ways.
The problem now is that many organizations do not recognize the church as the missions-sending body. They do not work to help the church implement missionary endeavors, nor do they work to teach churches how to spread the gospel. Instead, they see the church as their own personal resource warehouse. When they share with churches, their goal is to get workers, money, and resources to make their own institutions larger, stronger, and more effective.
Many churches simply ask others to do the work and give them money. Then they confidently announce: “Our church is doing missions.” Others think, “Missions is just like such and such . . .,” and they are unwilling to learn from mission agencies ways in which they could better think about missions. They are unable to implement practical actions, yet they comfort themselves with fringe materials regarding missions and feel self-satisfied.
In order for our church to think rightly about the Great Commission, keep pace with the will of God, and meet the needs of our times we must not only strengthen our missions awareness but also have a concrete plan for action. In these areas, the Western Church already has a few hundred years of historical experience. We should humbly learn from them in order to avoid unnecessary detours.
In order to do the work of missions well, we must not think it is enough just to send people out. Instead, we should offer a detailed plan with supportive measures that address issues such as the following:
- What arrangements will be made for their children’s education?
- How will their rest and recuperation be addressed?
- How will pastoral care be provided?
- How will their work be supervised?
- In what capacity will they enter the mission field?
- What ways will they use to connect with the local people?
There are many additional questions to consider. May God have mercy on us and bless us, and cause his face to shine on us, so that his ways may be known on the earth, his salvation among all nations.
A ChinaSource translation.