Erica GraceErica Grace, ex-missionary to South America, cuts to the chase!

I find looking at churches’ bulletin boards and websites rather interesting, don’t you?

It’s quirky, I know, but I feel CBBs/websites say a lot about the church. If the board is full of out-of-date events and has been gathering dust for a long time, it tells me no one has captured the vision of this valuable tool. It can be the same with some church websites!

On the other hand I’ve seen some masterpieces too!

Missions involvement
But one thing I’m always looking for is their missions’ involvement. What is this church involved in outside their own building?

Most of the time there’s something for orphans, supporting some projects, or an organisation. Somehow this is when I ask myself: Is this really doing ‘Missions’?

Don’t misunderstand me – they’re all worthy projects: wells, orphans, helping build churches, homes for widows, etc. But is that Missions?

Was that what Jesus really told us to do?
Let’s take a fresh look at Matthew 28:18-20 – ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’

This is called the Great Commission – and this is the real definition of ‘Missions’!

Erica 0516a1. Going
Real missions involves firstly going. We all understand this aspect – and, really, that’s the easy, fun part.

2. Discipling
But then we must make disciples do you know how long that takes? This involves preaching the word, people responding and receiving salvation…time, time, time!

3. Baptising
Next baptising them – again this can take a long time. In some countries being baptised will mean cutting off all contact with their family, friends and former life. It is a very big step that could even mean martyrdom!

4. Teaching
And then comes the long journey of teaching. We focused on the teaching for 20 long years in South America as Bible school teachers. It’s not as glamorous as holding huge conferences with famous singers and flashing lights, and then having hundreds or thousands respond.

No, quite frankly it’s rather mundane. Day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year you take a group of students and walk them through many subjects.

Finally the day comes when they graduate. It’s a very satisfying day for both teachers and students, but very short lived. In a few weeks you get a whole new batch of students and start all over again.

Real ‘Missions’ means investing oneself in a nation somewhere!
What I’m trying to say is that to accomplish the ‘Great Commission’ you have to be prepared to invest yourself and stay in a country long enough to be able to do all this.

This is not accomplished by ‘missions groups’ that come for two weeks or by sending the community helmets for the kids that ride bikes.

We’ve had many missions groups come by for a week or so. They all mean well but sometimes they are an expensive intrusion, to be honest. The missionaries have to stop what they’re doing, serve as tourist guides and find housing for the group unless they stay at a hotel.

I remember one group coming to us in Bolivia many years ago. They wanted to stay with the missionaries so they stayed with us. There wasn’t enough room for the group of 17 but they were willing to sleep anywhere. They were eager to do whatever they could to help, but the first morning they decided they’d have a ‘pancake-pig-out’ for breakfast! So there I was flipping pancakes by the dozen while the competition went on. Finally I had run out of eggs and had to quickly get some more! You get the drift?

Again, don’t misunderstand me – we support missions’ trips, but – honestly – the group is the one that gets the real benefits! Is that really ‘Missions’?
Erica 0516bExperienced missionaries’ advice is
On another occasion some members of a missions’ group became very close to some nationals, even exchanging addresses. That may sound quite all right, except that in this case it really caused a problem.

The very kind person went back to his Western church and decided to be really generous to a certain  national – just one, not realising he was causing problems back in the whole community. For starters, the young leader was receiving what were considered expensive gifts sent to him that no one else had.

A long-term missionary would’ve been able to advise that missions group that in third world countries gifts are first offered to the leader of the tribe or in our case, the superintendent of the denomination. That would be the appropriate thing to do. The rest of the community would regard that as honourable and right. When they see a young pastor receiving gifts they feel he has not earned yet, it causes a rift between them often resulting in the young novice becoming an outcast.

Some churches like projects more than supporting long-term missionaries because – let’s face it – a project is exciting! A project can be measured and the church can feel proud of their achievement. It has a beginning and an end. But…

Catch the bigger vision!
Long-term missionaries on the other hand are just there. To us, here in Western countries it seems almost boring to hear the same old thing: Yes, they went! Yes, they’re still making disciples. Yes, they’re still baptising! Yes, they’re still teaching!

But when long-term missionaries leave a nation, they leave a ‘deposit’ that only eternity will tell how many souls it touched.  They may just teach 10-30 students but imagine how much potential of multiplication that achieves!

It’s not a matter of having to decide which is more important: Projects or Long-term Missionaries. A church can easily do both! Just remember that the one that will give you more ‘bang for your buck’ is actually the long-term involvement with a missionary on the ground  who is faithfully ploughing the land, planting the seeds of the gospel, reaping the harvest and making disciples. This is the kind of investment that will give you greater dividends and a real legacy.

The Holy Spirit – the great missionary helper!
On May 15 we celebrate Pentecost Sunday. As churches do so, may we remember a major mission of the empowering Spirit is to enable witnessing churches effectively reach lost souls!

Spirit-filled those enabled first Christians immediately hit the streets to share Jesus – home town first, then everywhere – ‘What you’ll get is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world’ (Acts 1:8 Mge, emphasis mine).

The great evangelist, T L Osborn, has summarised Pentecost’s missionary purpose…

Erica 0516cSo – what does your church board or website look like?  There are many missionaries waiting for a church to catch their ‘ends of the world’ vision and cooperate with them in the enlargement of the kingdom of God!  And remember, you will receive your part of the ‘reward.’

Erica Grace is author of Foundations for the Family, a biblical teaching series suitable for whole congregations. Warmly welcomed itinerant ministers, she and her husband, Chris, are also on the ACC Multinational Pastors Team, Victoria. Links: sevengraces@bigpond.com / (041) 270 2945

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