Missionary statesman Dr George Forbes recalls one of Dr Ralph Winter’s powerful statements:
‘Unless and until the church in faith, makes the future of the world more important than the future of the church, the church has no future.’
Dr. Winter was named among the Top 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America by Time Magazine (2005) and this heart-searching statement was burned into my heart and memory years ago.
Called to commitment to serve
God had called me to serve him among the nations and I began my journey of obedience reading biographies of great missionaries and missions mobilisers. I read everything I could get from Dr Winter. Few servants of God have held the spiritual and natural credentials of Ralph Winter. He was known worldwide until his death in 2009 as perhaps the greatest missionary strategist of the twentieth century. His voice and his influence impacted my life for many years as the Lord led me in mission’s commitment.
Another voice raised in the church a century ago was that of Andrew Murray. His penetrating book, The Key to the Missionary Problem, is still one that I recommend to every pastor.
Murray wrote. ‘To the pastor belongs the privilege and responsibility of solving the missionary problem! Until the pastors of our churches wake up to this truth, and missions becomes a passion in their heart, mission societies and councils may do all they can, yet the chariot wheels of missions will drive heavily. The local pastor is the key to missions!’
The reason apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are given to the church is the ultimate up-building of the body of Christ – the means of equipping local congregations for mission and ministry.
The apostle Paul affirmed that this is the heart of Jesus: ‘It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ’ (Ephesians 4:11-13).
A servant-leader and great missionary, Paul lived, dreamed, breathed and laboured for the building of the church in mission in the world. He also wrote: ‘For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example’ (2 Thess. 3:7).
Paul’s teaching pictures the kind of leaders God uses to mobilise his church in mission to the world. He further testified regarding his own example: ‘So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven’ (Acts 26:19).
Needed in churches today – a burning vision
When we think about the life of Paul and match it with those in our pulpits, we must ask,
• ‘What do we need to do that we would not be disobedient to the heavenly vision?’
• ‘What do we need to do to create an environment in our churches out of which will spring a renewal and a reaffirmation – every year, every month, every week and every day of the Great Commission?’
The apostle Paul was driven by the vision which God had planted in his life on the road to Damascus, and then wherever he travelled. If our churches are to be missionary churches, involved in the great world harvest of our time, we too must be motivated by a vision!
Stanley Jones, in his great book, The Unshakable Kingdom, makes a key point. He says that the great problem of the contemporary Christian movement is that it is ‘A movement without much of a dream.’
Sadly, if there is a dream, it often consists of bailing out, of getting out of this world as quickly as possible before it all caves in around us.
Stanley Jones says that what drove the disciples and the first generation of men and women of the church to give up everything and proclaim the gospel was a burning vision.
The early church’s example
The first century church believed that:
• Under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the forces of spiritual darkness would be compelled to yield
• That the gospel of Jesus Christ would be declared to all nations and the authority of the lordship of Jesus would bring new life to people everywhere
• That people would be changed
• That the world would become what God had meant it to be when he created it.
Their vision was real. It was physical. It could be touched and sensed and thought about and anticipated.
Do we today know what the world could be like if the nations indeed bowed before Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour?
The Bible says it will happen and that the church of Jesus Christ is commissioned to make it happen in obedience to Christ’s command!
I truly believe that it is possible to evangelise the world! The church in our generation, if it organised all of its resources and mixed them together with the power of the Spirit of God, could in fact overwhelm this world with the gospel of Jesus Christ and what it means to follow him.
Then and only then, we can say, ‘Even so, come Lord Jesus!’
Dr George Forbes is the former General Director of Assemblies of God World Missions in Australia. He served as head of this dynamic mission for thirty years, during which it grew from one field to thirty countries (1969-99). He then served as founder-director of Mission Mobilisers International (2000-14). Internationally recognised as a missionary statesman with a heart for the lost of the nations, George Forbes is an able missions communicator with a wealth of missionary knowledge and the ability to communicate the global picture. He is widely known as the ‘story-teller.’ Link: firstname.lastname@example.org