Within Christianity in America today, there are many types of ministries that are typically grouped under the “missions” umbrella. Among those are business as missions (commonly referred to as BAM), church building construction, teaching English as a second language (ESL), and “least of these” ministries – those that aim at meeting the physical and emotional needs of orphans, widows, trafficking victims, etc.
While none of these methods are inherently sinful (and some are useful to aid the missionary), they certainly fall short of what the apostle Paul would recognize as the means to fulfilling the great commission. Throughout the book of Acts, it is clear that the apostles, particularly Paul, saw church planting as the means of fulfilling Christ’s great commission.
But then there are those that take a more “crusade” approach to missions. That is, missions that’s goal is to evangelize the masses via Billy Graham style crusades or the showing of Christian films. Other methods in this category may involve using special groups of singers, actors, or other performers to draw a large crowd and then present the gospel in order to win large numbers of souls to the Lord.
These, while certainly closer to the model demonstrated by Paul in Acts, still fall short of the great commission – by at least one-, if not two-, thirds.
One might certainly point out that church planting isn’t specifically mentioned in any of the great commission passages of Scripture (Matt. 28:18-20, Mark 16:15, Luke 24:44-49, John 20:21, and Acts 1:8). But, notice the wording Christ uses in Matthew 28:19-20:
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them…, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you…”
In Matthew’s account, Jesus clearly lays out a three-fold means of accomplishing this commission:
- Teach (evangelize)
- Teach (discipleship)
If missions are seen as simply the evangelization of the world, then only one-third of what Jesus commanded is accomplished. If those evangelized are baptized, then two-thirds.
But what about “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you”? Pausing for even a moment’s consideration will cause one to realize that this part of the great commission cannot simply be accomplished during an evangelistic crusade. It is then, by necessity, the responsibility of a local church. A reading of the book of Acts reveals that Paul certainly was convinced that this type of discipleship must be accomplished in a local church.
Why? Because teaching new converts all that Christ commanded (i.e. all the Bible) doesn’t happen overnight. Rather, it is brought about in the day in and day out of sitting under the preaching and teaching of the Word of God that happens naturally in a healthy local church.
In short, the example of missions in the New Testament is church planting. When Paul arrived in a city with the gospel, he planted a church.
But, how can this be done in a “closed” country like China? The answer to this question will be left for another post…