We wanted to hear Lane Harrison’s thoughts about Cultivating Missions Awareness through preaching because this is often the primary ministry of influence that pastors have in their people’s lives. Lane Harrison is the lead pastor of LifePoint Church. He founded LifePoint in 2004 in Ozark, Missouri, which is in the greater area of Springfield. Lane has a collective total of 28 years of pastoral ministry and has a passion for connecting his local church’s ministry to the broader scope of the Great Commission.
Andy Jansen: The question is, how would you use your preaching, specifically, to shepherd your people and cultivate missions awareness?
Lane Harrison: I would offer three suggestions.
1. Share Stories to Keep it Personal. I share stories of personnel on the field and the stories that they share with us. Whenever we tell stories of what God is doing through our partners, we not only celebrate with them and praise the Lord for what he’s doing, but we also encourage our people to participate with them through continual prayer.
2. Use Stories to Explain What God is Doing. A lot of times the things that are the hardest for us to see are the things that are closest to us. When we hear stories from the field, it often illumines and illustrates the very thing God is doing or wants to be doing among our people.
3. See Missions as a Hermeneutical Principle. Understanding what God is doing in the world and outside of our own bubble gives us greater insight to, not only into what he is doing in our own context, but also to what God has said and what God has already done in his word.
Knowing Others and Knowing Ourselves
AJ: What are some practical ways you share these stories? Do you plan ahead of time to use stories in your sermon series? Do you ever share the pulpit with other missional leaders?
LH: As far as planning and timing, I cannot claim to have a systematic approach. But I want to use stories as often as I can, especially when it’s fitting for a sermon.
I bring in whom we call our “impact partners,” usually referring to international workers, and I might interview them in a service or have them speak and share. I also do this with domestic church planters, and we do this about four or five times a year. This is a great strategy for us to not only personally know our partners, but to feel some partnership and even take some ownership of our partners’ ministries.
AJ: What did you mean when you said these stories can illuminate our own context and show what God is doing? Can you give some examples of that?
LH: Yes, you can use stories to explain something in or to your own culture. I just returned from my second visit to France. One of my biggest takeaways this time is observing their concept of life called “solidarity”—nobody can tell you what it means; it’s a nebulous concept. “We’re in solidarity together,” they say, which can mean anything you or I want.
In essence, I saw what it looks like to build a whole culture and government on postmodern relativism. North Africans easily transfer there because France just gives them a segmented place to live, but it’s causing them enormous friction and has resulted in bombings by radical Muslims. I saw a culture, which has become silent to the gospel—it used to be a gospel center for two hundred years. Now it’s full of false religion. The simplest personal application is: if you turn to relativism in your life, this is where you end up. If a whole nation ignores even the morality of God, you will see the effects. I see more clearly how elements of postmodern relativism operate even among my church.
Here’s a second example. We talk about cultures we have impacted—I’ve experienced immediate success in Central America. We come back from trips and say, “Man, it’s so wonderful there. They believe and are changed.” Yet God doesn’t seem to be able to break through here. That’s due to our unbelief, not a lack of God’s work. We don’t have the same sense of need. Thus, I can explain to the church how a sense of need opens a people up to the work of God.
Seeing God’s Word by Weeding Out Blind Spots
AJ: That makes sense. It’s interesting that you bring up hermeneutics in connection with mission. We have recently written about Christopher Wright’s missional hermeneutic, which says that the whole Bible should be interpreted as evidence of God’s mission. Are you trying to say something similar?
LH: I am a big fan of Christopher Wright. Generally, people read the Bible in light of their own context. People in New York City, for example, and people from a small Midwest town just don’t see the world in the same way. If I broaden my perspective, however, I can no longer interpret God’s word only by the cultural norms of Springfield, Missouri.
When I hear God say, “Make disciples of all nations,” but I see two groups of people mixing like oil and water, I learn to ask, “Where is the oil and water not mixing in Springfield?” In fact, we found a group here, Ukrainian immigrants, who are very different even though they look a lot like the natives. The Great Commission ought to makes us ask, “Where are the nations all around me, as I am going?” first in the sense of being, rather than only a sense of travel.
Seeking God’s Kingdom First
AJ: One last question. Do you think you can ever talk about mission too much? Can missions become an idol in preaching?
LH: International missions absolutely can become an idol. I’ve witnessed international ministry become that very thing. At times it seemed to be the only thing we talked about, receiving even more prominence than living well at home. Anything receiving inordinate attention can become an idol.
In our day and time, however, I think we are more likely to have an unhealthy priority for American cities with almost a complete silence for the nations. There’s a lot of sexiness revolving around moving to cities, and I hear church planters say, “God has called me to this city.” That might be true, but that’s a subjective sense of God’s call.
Too often in the last decade it seems that God’s call has become about discerning our love for a city or culture, and then seeing where God’s call falls within it. People are drawn to a culture versus an earnest searching of Scripture. When I hear the mandate in Matthew 28, I cannot define it according to the destination of my choice. It is first for wherever I am, every day. But we must remain open to go wherever and whenever God calls. Our perspective should be broadened by God’s glory through preaching so that every Christian should feel personal responsibility for the Great Commission.