Thursday, February 27, 2014

Five Marks of a Missionary Society

What does a 21st century missionary society look like?  Much can be (and needs to be) said about structure, funding, ecumenical partnerships, social media presence, and the like.  As the core, however, I think the following five marks are key to any successful society propagating the good news today. 

1. Prayer.  Any Christian enterprise is probably nothing more than prayer followed by living into prayer's fruits.  To spread the gospel, however, prayer is essential for two reasons.  First, our intercession opens up the way for God to draw those he is calling into his Kingdom.  Jesus' saving work is reconciling all creation back to God, and our prayer is the spiritual work cooperating with God's love to bring it about in our time.  Second, prayer is the only way to open our hearts up to love the lost in the world deeply enough to make the sacrifices necessary to take the good news to them.  We see many Christians and churches today that have not spent enough time in prayer to cultivate a deeper longing for the healing and salvation of the world than they have for their own comfort and convenience.  Without significant prayer, no missionary society is going anywhere except, perhaps, to tea.

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2. Responsibility for Individual Evangelism.  If a missionary society wants to reach anyone, the responsibility for evangelism will reside in everyone, wherever they are.  Not only the professional church planters "in the field", but also the treasurer, the intercessor team, and even the sergeant-at-arms will all look for daily opportunities to connect with unchurched people and share their testimony to how God is at work in their lives.  Evangelism, in its many forms, becomes a core piece of living their Christian life, and an essential component of daily morning prayer is the petition, "Lord, let me share the Gospel today with someone who you want to hear it."  

3.Focus on Making Disciples.  A successful 21st Century Missionary society will not be one that has established the most churches and religious institutions, but the one that has created the most disciples who have changed their lives, follow Jesus, and are able to reach others.  The work of discipleship is the work of multiplication, not addition, meaning it starts slow and builds over time.  Jesus had thousands of people come to hear him preach and attend his feeding programs.  But the primary discipleship work took place not even in his small group of the twelve, but in Peter, James and John who were with him at key points in his life, learned by experiencing how Jesus handled things, and became the leaders who could carry on once Jesus left.  Successful missionary societies will be patient enough to do the slow groundwork initially to have a powerful impact over the long-term.

4. Accountability. Members of the missionary society will be accountable at a deep level to one another to do God's work.  Part of Billy Graham's success came because the four people on his leadership team were an accountability group for one another.  They made sure that everyone was focused on what was important and that no one got not distracted by the temptations that accrue during long road trips and successful ministries.  How many evangelists have fallen into the pits of power, sex and money?  The old adage, "What is measured gets done," is true.  If we regularly ask each other, "Did you share the good news with anyone today?" we look for ways to do so.  If we are asked, "What have you done today to show forth the glory of God?" our lives gradually take on the kind of character that God's glory shines through.  If we are honest with one another about our own struggles with whatever would turn us aside from our life of discipleship, we gain the freedom to live lives of evangelism and love beyond anything we could ask or imagine.  Non-believers start to notice God in our life, and we have more stories to share.

5. Taking People From the Harvest to Work In the Harvest.  Remember the Gerasene demoniac who was healed, had a conversation with Jesus in the cemetery, and was sent to proclaim what God did for him to his people?  Or the woman at the well who thought she was flirting with her next husband when she was told everything she'd ever done, and then brought her whole village to Jesus?  Once people have an experience of God's healing love, they need to be sent out to share it.  They don't need to wait for a class, a training, or a license.  They just need to go tell their story and see what God is going to do.  Part of the common experience of everyone involved in the missionary society, including those who are the recipients of its efforts, should be the joy and power of sharing the good news to someone, sponsoring them for baptism, and incorporating them into the Body of Christ.  This experience of evangelism will be the common thread that holds together a true missionary society, as opposed denominational background or churchmanship, political beliefs or economic class, or even language, race, family or nation.  The absence of this experience from so many churches, including the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (which is the official name of the Episcopal Church), is one of the true tragedies of our age.

When these five marks form the foundation of a missionary society, any number of structure can be built around them, and those structures will stand a much better chance of being both beautiful and successful.

This post is a participating post in the Acts8 BLOGFORCE on "What does it mean to be a 21st century Missionary Society?"
Other BLOGFORCE member posts on this topic (Link active on the Friday following this post)

The Acts8 Moment is a missionary society whose purpose is to proclaim resurrection in the Episcopal Church.

1 comment:

  1. Prayer, accountability and evangelism—when we get these right, almost any structure can support the work. When we ignore them and focus the core of our attention elsewhere, then it is easy to decide that the institution matters more than its purpose. Nicely done on the Five Marks.