Churches, Pastors, and the Great Commission

Over a hundred years ago, George Pentecost said, “To the pastor belongs the privilege and responsibility of the missionary problem.” He maintained that mission boards could and should do what they will in missions: devising methods, fueling movements, and raising money. But it is the responsibility and privilege of pastors to feel the weight of the nations and to fan a flame for the global glory of God in every local church.

I believe he is right.

Now I want to be clear from the start about what I am not saying. I am not saying that pastors should neglect local ministry to people in our local churches. I know there are people in our churches who are hurting, whose marriages are struggling, whose children are rebelling, and who are walking through cancer and tumors and all sorts of other things. We should not neglect local ministry to the body.

Nor should we neglect local mission in our communities or cities. We have been commanded to make disciples, and that command will most naturally and consistently play out right where we live, in the context of our immediate surroundings. Every church member ought to ask, “With the unique gifts God has given me and the Spirit of God who lives in me, how can I make disciples today right where I live?” In this way, there ought to be church planting efforts where we live and across North America. Local mission is totally necessary.

At the same time, global missions is tragically neglected.

I was near Yemen not long ago. Northern Yemen has approximately 8 million people. Do you know how many believers there are in northern Yemen? Twenty or thirty. Out of 8 million people. That’s the populations of Alabama and Mississippi combined. There are likely more believers in your Sunday school class or a couple of small groups in your church than there are in all of northern Yemen. That is a problem. It’s a problem because millions of people in the northern part of Yemen have no access to the gospel. They join millions and millions of other unreached people in the world who are born, live, and die without ever even hearing the good news of what God has done for their salvation in Christ.

There are likely more believers in your Sunday school class or a couple of small groups in your church than there are in all of northern Yemen. That is a problem.

It’s not primarily the job of missions organizations to address that problem. This is primarily the job of every local church. Specifically, it’s the primary responsibility of every pastor of every local church to love people in that church and to love people in that community, all toward the ultimate end that the name of Christ might be praised among every group of people on the planet. That’s what the Spirit of Christ wants, and so that’s what every Christian, every pastor, and every local church wants.

When we read through the book of Acts, we see a clear priority on the role of the local church in the spread of the gospel across the globe. In Acts 13, we see the church at Antioch worshiping, fasting, and praying, and in the context of that local church with its leaders, the Spirit sets apart Paul and Barnabas as missionaries. The church prays over them and sends them out, supporting them as they go. Twice Paul returns to Antioch to encourage that local church, and then on his third missionary journey, he writes a letter to another local church at Rome to ask for their support in helping him get to Spain, where Christ had not yet been named. In this way, we see local churches sending, shepherding, and supporting men and women on global missions.

For this reason, I want to encourage every pastor of every local church to take up this mantle of global missions. To see the unique Antioch-type role God has given you and your church to play in the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth. One may wonder, “Where do I begin?” I would encourage three simple steps.

Lead Your People to Pray

One, lead your people to pray for the nations. Show your people the power of worship, prayer and fasting, just as we see in Antioch. Teach them to take their place on their knees as partners with God in the work He is doing around the world. Help them to realize that they can join with what he is doing in Central Asia, North Africa, and Eastern Europe in personal time with the Lord on a daily basis, and in corporate time with the church on a weekly basis. Let your worship gatherings depict an Antioch-like picture of prayer and fasting for the glory of God among the nations.

Lead Your People to Give

Second, lead your people to give to the nations. What if God actually wants his gospel known among all peoples? Might he give his people unprecedented wealth in the history of the world to make that a reality? This is exactly what he has done. We lead churches in one of the wealthiest places in the history of the world. So let’s teach our people why God has given them such wealth: for the sake of his worship! (See Psalm 67.) Lead them to give sacrificially, generously, regularly, and cheerfully for the spread of the gospel among those who haven’t even heard it.

Lead Your People to Go

And finally, lead your people to go to the nations. Provide opportunities for them to go short-term for a week or two, mid-term for a month or year or two, or long-term permanently. Help them to think through the God-given opportunities they have to go to the nations. Coming with me to Urbana 15 is a great way to do that.

God’s call might mean leaving their jobs to go to the mission field. Or it might mean leveraging their jobs to go to the mission field. Regardless, call them to it. Likely God won’t call every member of your church to serve overseas. But surely God is calling some.

So fast, pray, and give, and over the course of the year, call people at some point to consider giving their lives, moving their families, and planting themselves among unreached people for the sake of God’s fame. Then be ready to send, support, and shepherd them as they go.

To be sure, mission organizations exist to help you and your church do all these things: to pray, give, and go to the nations. At the same time, these are things that God has designed to happen in the local church. So by God’s grace, in God’s design, and for God’s glory, may you take your rightful place by leading your local church in global missions.

Join David Platt, other speakers, and church leaders at Urbana 15. When you register, join the Pastors and Church Leaders Track.

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These blogs are the words of the writers and do not represent InterVarsity or Urbana. The same is true of any comments which may be posted about any blog entries. Submitted comments may or may not be posted within the blog, at the blogger's discretion.