Rethinking Missionary Priorities for the Next Generation
Young Christians should be open to the thought that God may call them to work overseas. The story of what happened at Antioch should teach us this (Acts 13:2f). These believers were Gentile converts rejoicing in God and like their Saviour, so like him in fact that people called them 'Christians'. The name has stuck ever since (Acts 11:20-21, 26).
It was through preaching that the men of Antioch had been converted. From the biblical instruction that they had received they turned to prayer. Here then was a company of God's people doing business with him. God himself chose some of their number to go out with the gospel. It was their best men whom he sent.
Of course it was, for what church in its right mind would think of sending anybody to a daunting ministry, whose spiritual qualities and ability to continue under severe trials they did not know? And who but the home church could possibly discern all this? Not parents or even friends or a mission board in a short interview. Christian character appears during the years of faithful church membership. That is where the ability to communicate the gospel to others will be noticed and where the young Christian blossoms into the earnest soul-winner.
But we should also notice how the One who calls puts great responsibility on the congregation to separate those who are to preach the gospel. This is an area in which churches have often abdicated their authority to missionary societies, and the latter have occasionally become a law to themselves, looking to the churches only for finance. As in the days of William Carey and the renewed vision for worldwide evangelisation, this work once again needs to be associated with the local church.
This is a project in which churches, likeminded in their dependence on Scripture, might get together to send and support those whom God has called. It may be that the candidate needs further training before he leaves. He will certainly need to learn the language of the people to whom he is going (even if he ministers to ethnic minorities at home). He may also have a family and thus schooling must be provided for the children. All of this costs money, usually more than one single congregation can provide.
In this day and age, when there are many open doors for the gospel overseas, it is evident that nationals from the countries concerned are more able to bring the truth of God to their own people than foreign evangelists are. The need, however, has really only shifted to a different level. We need to train and instruct the preachers. Ignorance of the whole counsel of God on the part of pastors in third world countries, or even in the former Communist bloc, is often a serious disadvantage to pastors who preach to multitudes of hungry sheep. This is all the more so when erroneous teaching and the cults press their ideas forward.
Today there is a real need for the best men to be separated for the God-given task of training a new generation overseas by a full-orbed course in Christian ministry. Then there is always the equally important task of translating Bible commentaries and other Christian literature which we have so abundantly but which they at present lack. All of this requires money and it is clear that in comparison with brethren in Eastern Europe, wealth is something which God has given to Western Christians. This needs to be used for the advance of the gospel in these other countries in a God-honouring way.
If churches will not recognise their responsibility in these areas, then we are likely to opt for a 'hit and run' evangelism: a six-month stint overseas, scattering tracts around, there today and gone tomorrow. We do not say that this is never profitable, but it is surely not enough.
Where there exists only a short-term view of Christian outreach there is no need to learn a language or to take time to become familiar with an alien culture. Often there is no special preparation on the part of Christian workers apart from a willingness to go. It used to be said that in this way the whole world would be reached 'by the year two thousand'. Sadly, hundreds of Christian young people are annually motivated by no higher a way of thinking than this. But this general outlook is weak because it contains certain subtle negations of the great commission.
Daniel Webber, writing in a recent issue of 'Vision of Europe', calls attention to a dangerous shift of emphasis among missionary agencies. He writes:
This shift is from gospel preaching and church planting to agencies for feeding the hungry, nursing the sick and generally raising the living standards of those to whom they have been sent. Evangelisation of the lost is put on a par with ecological concerns and social justice. The contention is that no matter how important these other issues may be, it is doubtful whether they are strictly speaking part of the church's mission to the world.
The Christianized Western countries are good at providing for highly emotive refugee and starvation problems, largely because of media coverage. But, admirable as this may appear, it does not deal with the root cause behind the ethnic and religious hatred which is at the heart of many contemporary cases of food shortage. The invisible root is sin raging in the heart of fallen humanity (Psalm 2:1-3). Only the gospel can address this matter. The scene at Capernaum (Luke 4:40-43) gives us the right emphasis. The populace had had every physical need met by the Lord Jesus Christ and they came begging him to stay and do more. His reply is for us today. 'I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also, for therefore am I sent'. He was emphasising the primacy of preaching. God still honours preaching because that is normally the way in which sinners will be saved.
There needs to be a rethinking of our priorities. The church's first and great work is the preaching of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to a lost world.
But what constitutes a call? Is it the desperate need all around the world? Should you be waiting for some special experience, as in Isaiah's case (Isaiah 6:8)? The first step is the realisation after conversion that we are not our own, for we are bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Then we are prayerfully to commit ourselves to God for whatever purpose in life he should choose. Over a period of time the Christian's spiritual aptitudes will appear as he grows in the knowledge of Christ. The direction in which these abilities should be channelled are likely to become plain when God is calling particular Christians to go abroad. All power has been given to the risen Christ and we are his. Are we not ready to go at his command (Matthew 28:18-20)?
Let us pray God to send forth many faithful labourers from among Christians of this rising generation.