The Church in my City

Chapter 10 Mission

At a meeting with the disciples after the resurrection, Jesus said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:18-19).

In the previous chapter we saw how baptism was used to make disciples (learners). The enrolment to begin learning can be immediate, and all are invited to explore. No great profession of faith is required. And we saw that no one is required to give up his or her nationality or race or culture to enrol. This teaching process went on in Antioch when Paul and Barnabas "met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples (learners) were first called Christians" (Acts 11:26). A Christian is not someone who has made a great decision, or learned a lot, or been proved by a holy life. A Christian is a disciple (a learner), not someone who has got is all clear. Later we will be invited to count the cost of serving in Jesus' Kingdom. But we have a right to read the fine print first.

Obviously this open school policy would result in drop outs. Jesus pictured this in the parable of the Sower. "The ones on the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe only for a while and in a time of testing fall away. As for what fell among thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature" (Luke 8:12-14).

Jesus himself had numerous drop outs. "Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him" (John 6:66). So his missionaries should not be disappointed at the large numbers who will quit learning. This happens in any evening class in a community college. As long as there is some good wheat a church will appear. As Jesus said "I will build my church" (Matthew 16:18). But how does he do this?

The Apostles' Creed began as syllabus of what the new learners were to be taught. First they should learn about the love of God as Father. Then they would hear how God the Son, the Lord of the Old Testament, came into our world as Jesus loved and healed ordinary people, was crucified and rose from the dead. Thirdly they would be promised the inspiration and empowering of God the Holy Spirit to function as a church of the Holy Spirit in their city.

What then is mission? Mission is how a local church functioning as the body of the Messiah in one city relates to the planting of other churches of the Spirit in other places? In a human body we can distinguish the muscles and bones and organs which remain in one place from the bloodstream which moves all over bringing life-giving oxygen, hormones, and other nutrients needed for growth. Similarly we can distinguish churches which are located in each city, and a mission team that moves to extend the work and bring nourishment to other local congregations. This means that mission is the moving bloodstream of the universal church.

Any big corporation (body) like IBM or Coca-Cola has branches in every major city of the world. A hundred years ago businesses used to be run as a hierarchy with tight control from one head office. Shell was tightly controlled from Holland. Lever Brothers from London. But it has been proved that it is far more effective to encourage decentralization with a maximum of responsibility and local initiative.

In the business world and the work of the Kingdom mission is planting company centers in new cities, and connecting them by the frequent visits of the equivalent of Christian apostles, prophets, and teachers who keep moving like a bloodstream to help them do their work (see The Church: An Organic Picture chapter 13)..

The New Testament describes the work of Paul's apostolic team which moved around the Mediterranean world (see for example Acts Commentary 15:36-20:38). There were other mission teams for the Nestorian churches in the east. And monks did this work for Celtic Christianity. A later equivalent of the world-wide church's bloodstream was the emergence of the Roman Catholic orders such as the Jesuits, Dominicans, Franciscans, and other dedicated groups. Protestants also began missionary societies, Billy Graham's evangelistic team, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Campus Crusade, Alpha, the Bible Society, Wycliffe Bible Translators, and all sorts of Literature, Radio, Television, and Internet ministries. In that sense this website is part of the Lord's world-wide mission..

Watchman Nee worked as an apostle in the Chinese dispersion in the years before the 1939 war. He used to stress that a mission team can serve but it must never control local churches in each city. And local churches must provide for, but never control the movements of mission (Concerning our Missions, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1939). This exposes the error of the early missionary societies which wanted to keep a tight control of churches planted by their denomination.

To be effective mission must serve congregations of many denominations in each city, and leave them to do their work in their own way (see chapter 5). When missionary bodies tried to correct this they moved to the opposite extreme and placed their missionaries under the control of their denominational group in each area. This was equally disastrous. No local congregation is likely to have the vision or the spiritual gifts to function as Paul did with his mission team. Mission must be free from control to move, find open doors, and deploy rapidly where new opportunities arise.

How do people move from a local congregation into a mission team? We have an example of Paul planting churches in the cities of Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe (Acts 13:14-14:23). During his second missionary journey he invited Timothy to join him (Acts 16:3). Similarly he recruited Silas from the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:22, 40), Erastus from Corinth (Romans 16:23, Acts 19:22), Sopater from Beroea and Aristarchus from Thessalonica in Macedonia (Acts 20:4). Luke was from Troas in Asia Minor (see the "we"and "us" passages from Acts 16:10-17, and then again from 20:5 onwards).

This shows how a mission team leader can recruit workers from various countries to work as a truly international team (as in Interserve, the mission team that Mollie and I worked with and still support, see New Bottles). This avoids national bias and the perils of colonialism.

How will such mission workers be supported? This used to be taken care of by denominational head offices that collected money from their congregations, and then recruited and supported missionaries to plant new branches of their denomination. That seems tidy and easy. But it is far more effective when mission can make its own appeal to local congregations. Paul was sent out by the church in Antioch (13:1-4), and he returned there after each missionary journey but he was mainly supported by those who knew him in each place (Philippians 4:10-18). As mission moves around in the bloodstream of the world-wide church local congregations can meet the missionaries in person, catch their vision and make sure they are supported.

But when funds run out it is also important for missionaries to have a trade or profession. During his second missionary in Corinth Paul stayed with a couple named Aquila and Priscilla. "Because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together - by trade they were tentmakers. Every sabbath he would argue in the synagogue and would try to convince Jews and Greeks" (Acts 18:2-4).

William Carey (1761-1834) never took money from the Baptist missionary society who sent him to India. He earned his own living first as an indigo planter, then as a professor of Oriental languages in Calcutta. He wrote "Whenever practical missionaries should support themselves in whole or in part by their own exertions." This has encouraged a rapidly growing missionary movement of "tentmakers" (the term was used in New Bottles, 1966) who are professionals who use their skills to make an important contribution to their host country. Some teach computer skills, many work in medical services, and thousands teach English as a foreign language. They may not be allowed to preach, but they can answer questions. "Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15).

Mollie and were married in the compound of the Duncan Memorial Hospital in Raxaul on the border of Nepal (December 22, 1953). At that time there were, as far as we know, no Christians in Nepal. Forty-seven years later Dr. Trevor Strong, who had been the surgeon at that hospital (His wife Pat Strong was the obstetrician) visited Kathmandu. To his astonishment he found a hundred congregations belonging to the church in that city, and the one he attended had a thousand enthusiastic worshipers. That happened without any foreigners being pastors or in any way running the Nepali congregations which were planted by the international bloodstream team that moved around that country.

Qualified medical and educational professionals worked near the infant churches and became ordinary members of their congregations. As a result more and more Nepalis caught the vision and wanted to learn about Jesus the Messiah and how to learn to love and serve by the Holy Spirit. The same could be said of the thousand congregations which have suddenly emerged as a result of the bloodstream in China.

That is mission, and it has been wonderfully successful. I am glad that members of the church in my city have gone out in this way, and we can welcome them back and support them in prayer and finance so that they can go out again to help build churches of the Spirit in other cities throughout the world.

Chapter 11