Becoming a Missional Church

Acts 1:6-8

Billy Graham is a name most everyone knows. Today, his name carries a note of authority, authenticity, and integrity.  What you may not know or do not remember is that Dr. Graham was not always popular.  The story is told about him being scheduled for a meeting in one community and one of the “highly educated” pastors in that community was heard to say, “He set our churches back 20 years.”  When Dr. Graham heard this, his comment was, “If I set the church back 20 years, I have missed my mark!  I desire to set it back 2000” years!”  In our modern day, an argument can be made that no one has influenced more people toward Jesus than has Dr. Graham.  Why did he have such a passion and drive to see people come to Christ?  What was in him that kept him going?  To read his history one comes to understand that he came to a crisis of faith about the word of God and made the determination that the Bible was true & should be taken literally at face value.  The anointing of God which followed is chronicled by the mass of people he spoke to and the thongs which responded.  To believe God’s word will change your life!Today we have read the last recorded words of Jesus before He ascended to heaven and what I would like to do is to read all five places where these words are recorded. (Read Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:14-18; Luke 24:44-49; John 20:19-23; Acts 1:4-8;

Reading these verses, can we agree that Jesus had something in mind for His church?  In every recorded instance of His last words, Jesus called those who believe in Him to action, to service, and to mission.

For years, as Southern Baptist we have identified ourselves as mission-minded. Basically this has meant that we support the Cooperative Program we do and should do. Through our gifts, we support mission in North America and around the world,  (OMC).  In recent years, we have taken another step in our mission’s involvement with Mission Trips. In the last 5 years, we have sent people to Mexico and Mississippi.  Again, we do and should do (even more) of this.  However, in the context of scripture, it would seem that Jesus intended believers to be home missionaries. This means, wherever you and I go, whatever we do, and whatever we say, we are His ambassadors, His spokesperson, and His representative. In simplistic terms, this is what is meant by “becoming a missional church.”  Do you see yourself as a missionary? A missionary is one who is on a mission.  Are you on a mission to help bring people to God?

Now some are saying, “I don’t think I signed up for this.”  Yet, I will submit that at the point we place our faith in Christ, He sends the Holy Spirit to indwell us and as surely as the believers in Acts were filled and became missionaries at home, so the same happens today.  It is divinely expected.

In his study, “Your Church: Experiencing God together,” Henry Blackaby calls the local church, a “World Missions Strategy Center.” This means we support missions with our money and we see ourselves as missionaries for the Lord in this place.

If this is the case, why has the church been so silent about it for so long?  Aren’t the old ways good enough for us?  When we say “the old ways”, we are really alluding to the way things have been done in our lifetime, (100 years or less).  Let me offer us words which may help us to understand how it was that the church got off track—and maybe we haven’t had a chance to get things right.

We read, study, and know what the Bible says in the book of Acts about the early church.  They began in the upper room with the anointing of God.  Quickly they grew to a multi-staffed, mega church of over 3000.  They had no buildings to care for, no budget to speak of, and literally were rotating meeting places between the temple complex and small groups in homes.  They had nothing of what we think is important.  They simply began as a movement.  This people who claimed to know Jesus were considered renegades, rebels, even heretics because they based they entire existence on the premise that Jesus was alive and made a difference in the lives of people.  They met daily, but everyday they were going about their normal lives and in the process other people were being drawn into the group.  The only thing these believer had going for them was that even their opponent could see that “they had been with Jesus.” This was the apostolic church.  They had no publicity except word of mouth & impact of lives.  Church in this manner went on for approximately 300 years.

In the 4th Century, the emperor Constantine had an experience in which he claimed to be saved.  The result was that he decreed that all in his Kingdom must be baptized and that all the pagan temples be turned in to church buildings for Jehovah God.  For the first time, people who were simply born in the Christian empire claimed the right to receive the blessings of the church and expected to have the rights and privileges equated with this status.  Some historians call this Christendom.  Does this sound familiar?  It is no surprise that the under Christendom, the church has lost its sense of mission.  Since everyone born in the Christian nation was basically considered Christian, why did we need to be missionaries?

Can you see how this has impacted us today?  This is why the average church member believes in “missions” on the ‘home & foreign’ field, but fail to see themselves or their church as missionaries in the land.

During the Apostolic age, believers were considered aliens and outcast, but Christendom changed that.  The church which started as a movement, became a monument.

Here is a word for us:  Christendom is crumbling and because it isn’t built on the foundation of Jesus Christ, it will not be rebuilt.  If there is to be a tomorrow for the people who claim Christ, it will be because believers look intently and honestly into God’s word and, once again become the movement which rocked the world.  This will require us to make some changes, both personally and collectively.  The changes are difficult because they deal with deeply ingrained concepts developed over a lifetime.  Yet, looking at God’s word, gives us some help.  Let’s look at our Acts passage and find 4 steps to make this change.

1.    Appropriate our authority.

Combining the Matthew and Acts account, Jesus says, “The Father has given me all authority and I’ll give you the power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.”  Could it be that too often we do things without securing “divine authority?”  Candidly, (and I’ll run out on a limb here), for years, we have taught “you get the Holy Spirit at salvation and that is all you need.”  While that sounds good and “Baptist”, I’m not sure it’s accurate.   For there are times in my life that I can sense the power of God at work in what I’m saying and doing, but quite frankly there are other times when I cannot sense God’s empowerment at all.  This is not God’s fault, but it happens.  As born-again children of the Father, He has given us access to all the power of Heaven.  What we have to do is appropriate it.  How do we do it?  Perhaps there is not a 1-2-3 step plan in the Bible, so consider some suggestions.  First, spend time with God every day.  We must repent of our sin and become clean before Him.  Then we can ask God to lead in our normal walk of life, to guide in our decision making, and to control us in our behavior.  Next, walk with the sense that God is with you everywhere you go and listen for His voice.  Next, be sensitive to where God is at work around you. Then you can get “in on” what God is “up to”.  When you and I live this way, we do not have to worry about getting God to bless what we are doing, because we are doing what God is blessing.   Make no mistake, where God is blessing, He is empowering.  As an aside, when God blesses, people come to know Him in a personal way.  This way we appropriate the power which is available.

2.    Accept our assignment.

Jesus gives the same assignment to everyone of us wherever we are.  He says, “You’ll be my witnesses”, “As the Father sent me, so I send you”, and “while you are going.”  One of the sad truths about the impact of Christendom is that we have bought into the lie that missions and ministry are only delegated to the super Christians.  That is, those who are staff people and those who are “missionaries.”  The very “reason” we call the pastor (and staff) our “ministers” is because of the impact which Christendom on the church.  Before Christendom, every believer knew they were ministers and thus, witnesses & missionaries for Christ.
  • Many of us can quote 2 Corinthians 5:17 and yet we stop our reading there.  (Read 2 Corinthians 5:16-20)  As an individual we have been given an assignment from God.  We are His Ambassador.  An ambassador does not set policy or purpose—they merely fulfill the responsibility given to them by the one whom they represent.  Jesus said, “As the Father sent me, so send I you.”  Think about the sending authority and the assignment.
  • Jesus says, “As the Father sent me.”  This was not an ambiguous order.  Jesus the Son knew what He had to accomplish.  Then, “So send I you” is not spoken to preachers, leaders, and those we call missionaries; it is spoken to you!  One problem of Christendom is that we refuse to accept our assignment.  In military terms, we are either insubordinate or AOL!!
  • Remember the “Mission Impossible” shows?  Your mission, should you choose to accept it.  However, God simply expects us to be on mission for Him every day.  It hasn’t occurred to God that a redeemed person would refuse to share life with those who do not have it. This requires us to;

3.    Adjust our approach.

Jesus’ words ring clear, “Be my witnesses in Jerusalem (that is at home), Judea (surrounding areas), Samaria (the places we don’t care to go), and the ends of the earth (the rest of the world).  However, we are pretty comfortable with half of our assignment, the Judea and the ends of the earth.  Being mission minded to us means we send money and “others.”  However, what about Jerusalem and Samaria.  In Christendom, we have come to expect our staff to be the one who do the visiting and perform the ministry.  In fact, I had a deacon forcefully tell me 30+ years ago, (about our pastor), God called him to preach, we pay him to visit!  That is Christendom at its worst.  The fact is thatEphesians 4 explains that the “Pastor/Teacher/Shepherd” is responsible for training the saints to do the work of the ministry.  For this to happen, a change in mind-set must come about.  Every believer must accept the Bible & adjust His thinking to the truth that Jesus was speaking to “me” when He said, “So send I you.”  We are individuals and we as a church body are “sent” to be “on mission.”
  • To be missional is to understand our culture & respond like a missionary would respond.  Look at the screen and let’s answer a few questions; How is our culture changing?  It has changed from churched to unchurched.  Increasingly, the church has become isolated from the world rather than engaged in the world.  How does the Christendom church respond?  It loses its relationship to the culture & develops a maintenance mentality, kind of a “circle the wagons” concept.  How does the Missional (apostolic) church respond?  It keeps a Kingdom & Gospel focus to transform & engage the culture.  The Missional Church like the apostolic church is designed for those yet to come.  This is a radical adjustment to the approach of modern day churches and believers.

4.    Act on our answer.

Every message Jesus gives requires a personal answer.  Today, we have focused on the church; however, the church is a sum of the commitment and devotion of her members.  As we look at our national landscape, several things ring true.  First, our country is weaker than she has ever been.  Our moral compass is broken, our ethical compass has been stolen, and our spiritual compass is spinning like a fan.  This past Thursday, Frank Lay & Robert Freeman stood before a judge in Pensacola for the criminal charge of asking God to bless food.  Our country is in trouble.  It is easy to blame the White House and/or the courthouse, but the responsibility lies in the church house.  The reason this country is weaker than she has ever been is because God’s people are weaker than they have ever been.  Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me will be saved, spirit-filled, and they will show it.”  Here’s the question: Knowing that we are God representatives in this world, What kind of representatives are we here in our home town?  If there is someone here who does not know Jesus in a personal way, He is serious about doing a work in your life that you can know Him in a way that will cause you to serve Him in Joy.
  • The story is told about three gold prospectors in California during the gold rush.  They struck a rich vane of gold!!  They had to go into town and stake their claim.  The three agreed not to tell anybody about their stake.  None of the three told anyone anything.  Yet, when they returned to their gold mine, they were followed by throngs of people.  Why?  Because of their body language, the look in their eyes and the expression on their faces.  It gave them away.
  • This represents the heart of the missional church and community.  Will you act on your decision?
Jerry Watts
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