Friday, December 07, 2007

Missions, Evangelism and New Church Starts

Missions in the New Testament involves evangelism and new church starts. In Acts 2:41 we read that 3000 people were baptized following Peter’s evangelistic sermon. Later, these groups formed communities that we call church and the Lord added to their number daily (v. 47)

The laity were involved in church planting from the beginning. New churches were started by believers who were scattered by persecution in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1; 11:19). Phillip preached the gospel and baptized many. The Apostles came later to support the work.

The church at Antioch commissioned and sent Paul and Barnabas to go on a mission trip. They proclaimed the gospel in synagogues and public places, gathering the new believers into churches and teaching them. Paul would appoint elders from the new congregation and move to the next location. He would check on his new churches through later visits and correspondence. This pattern was repeated in all of Paul’s mission trips.

While proclaiming the gospel, the New Testament Church did attend to the physical needs of people. There were miraculous healings and sharing of resources with the poor but the main task remained to preach Christ, gather into churches and teaching to obey all that Christ commanded.

Contemporary missions should follow the same New Testament pattern. The pay off for missions ought to be baptisms and new, indigenous churches among the people we serve. If all we do is clothe, feed and educate are we not just sending them to hell a little fatter and smarter? How faith-based is a program that does not yield faith decisions?

Missions is not an either/or proposition? Evangelism or felt-needs? It ought to be both.

Helping people in need is clearly commanded by God and modeled by Jesus. The immediate goal of benevolence ministry is to relieve human suffering. A secondary goal is to build relationships with hurting people. The ultimate goal is to bring about genuine life change in individuals through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

The intent of missions among the poor and needy is to demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ, not simply to provide services. It provides a point of redemptive connection and adds credibility to our communication of the gospel.

One such model is Life of Faith Christian church in far north Chicagoland. The heart of the church is a food pantry that also provides clothes, furniture and referrals. Pastor Michael Pimpo uses this platform to connect not only with the needy, who are open to the gospel because of their current crisis, but also to people who want to serve, many of whom are unchurched pre-Christians.

The result of his effort recently yielded five believers baptisms. This may not seem like a large number but it is more than most churches will do this year.

The American church is currently in decline despite having the largest number of seminary trained ministers and having more money than any other church in the world. It’s possible that there is something wrong with our training methods and missions strategies.

It’s time that our missionaries and church planters start working together to bring that New Testament pattern resulted in so many people coming to Christ.

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