Every church has two purposes in common. They want to reach people with the Gospel and they want their congregation to go deeper in their spiritual walk with God.
There are a million different ways churches approach spiritual formation. Some are good, some not so. Most tend to overlook the value of missions in spiritual formation. At PPM we get the joy of seeing this value in missions first hand. The host church receives incredible encouragement and support from the mission team. However, at the end of the week teams often feel like they have received more than they’ve given. An undercurrent of spiritual formation seems inescapable in missions. If missions can have such a personal impact, then a strong argument can be made that every church should be investing in missions. For the sake of their people. So, here are just 4 of the reasons every church needs to invest in missions.
Blogger and pastor Jim Luthy writes, “Isolationism is a direct result of individualism. Individualism sends us into life as our own masters, promising control yet leaving us wounded and alone.” This plays out in the individual and the church body. It’s important, maybe even vital, for us to consistently grow in community. The church and the individual benefit immensely when they allow others to invest in their lives. Missions is a conscious effort to humbly lean into the global community.
Research such as pewforum.org’s 2012 study show the number of Christians within the U.S. has been on a steady decline since the 90”s. Why? This seems to be in contrast with other researchers like Ed Stetzer who writes, “The number of megachurches in America has nearly doubled during every decade over the last half century.” These two studies converge to reveal Christianity is shrinking in the U.S. but people are choosing larger churches more than ever. The result is a fractured church. Rather than growing together, churches seek distinctives that separate them from the “other churches” in the community.
Missions intentionally breaks the temptation to isolate and develops a servant’s heart. It positions the church for encouragement and edification. When the posture of the church is that of a servant, iron sharpens iron and the church benefits as a whole.
James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Growth happens when we are uncomfortable. Muscle grows when stressed and fibers are torn. Missions is like a spiritual bench press. The Christian life was never meant to be a leisurely stroll. We have been called to much greater things. Many of us never truly test our spiritual limits and instead maintain a rather weak faith. It doesn’t matter how much knowledge you have or how often you watch it done, strength must be earned. Getting in physical shape requires repeated testing of your limits over time. The same is true for spiritual growth.
Putting people in uncomfortable places and asking them to serve in challenging ways will help them grow. It’s in these moments when discipleship goes to another level. Missions rips at the fibers of our soul. We see things, experience things that challenge our thinking. False and lazy theology is scraped away. Left behind are the marks of a tested and tried faith guided by those who have been through it before. We can not fully engage in discipleship without breaking from the comfortable.
Goals are amazing. They focus us. Give us perspective. When everything around us seems to be going crazy, goals provide the roadmap to overcome. This quote by Henry David Thoreau is incredible, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” Dreamers live in the clouds. How many Christian dreamers do we have sitting in church each week? Their heads are filled with all sorts of Biblical knowledge. They say the right things. Their thoughts on salvation and the great commission sound fantastic. Yet, you’d be hard pressed to find a pastor who doesn’t want to see their church members live out their faith in more tangible ways. If you do they are probably trying to sell you something! Goals put brick and mortar to faith. They take us from idealistic to involved.
Problems tend to arise within groups who are highly idealistic but lack direction. Sound like a few churches you know? Patrick Lencioni writes, “To avoid politics and turf battles, leaders must establish a rallying cry a single overriding theme that remains the top priority of the entire leadership team for a given period of time.” If the priority of the church is to help people know and grow in their faith then missional goals provide the framework to maintain that priority. When the church is tempted to isolate, strong missions goals keep the church open and growing.
Viewing the world through the life of someone else forces a change in perspective. We tend to see life through a pretty narrow lense. When we don’t understand something our reactions can be pretty harsh. Serving is like hitting the reset button. Take time to listen to the story of a homeless man. Spend a week in a third world country. When we intentionally open our eyes and heart to the world around us things look a lot different. The world suddenly seems more complex and diverse than we ever realized. Empathy often replaces judgement. A strong missions emphasis refreshes the church’s vision.
We are really good at labeling a cause or a sin in black and white terms. But, when it becomes personal we see, in full color, every nuance.
In missions, we see teams break apart their preconceived thoughts almost instantly. Some pastors have visited a church assuming they were better leaders than those in the church they visit. After a week with them they realize, many of these pastors are spiritual giants who lead with incredible faith. As a result, these pastors return home humbled and with greater compassion for broken people. Missions makes the church body more gracious. Gracious people seek to serve and to walk alongside one another. People once cast aside for their flaws are now met with understanding and purpose. Walking into a grace filled church is refreshing, people feel heard and known. Creating a missions focus in a church turns on a flow of grace.
There are many incredible reasons for a church to have a strong missions focus. In a world where people are constantly grasping for their piece of the pie, missions stands contrary. Missions is an outward expression of a core value, of those who follow Jesus, to serve. Together, as a collective Church, we can show the world a better way.
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