The church becomes progressively aware of the lost world around them, both locally and globally.
The Sending Church Elements are a framework for growing as a sending church. They point out the strengths and weaknesses of churches in missions. Although The Sending Church Elements do not always describe linear steps, cultivating missions awareness is a natural starting place for churches to take ownership of missions. This series addresses why being aware of God’s mission is important to missions, how to practically cultivate missions awareness in churches, and some of the most common challenges to accomplishing this.
At the most basic level, “awareness” is not merely the collection of information. While being informed is a prerequisite, the real goal of cultivating missions awareness is to instill a culture of missions. That means that the entire church learns to think about the world around them in terms of spiritual realities.
In other words, the goal is to gain a holistic understanding of missions rather than having scattered ideas, poking around at God’s mission but never penetrating the heart. It’s acceptable for churches today to do a few good missional things—like setting aside part of their budget for parachurch organizations and sending their members on occasional short-term trips—and feel content with themselves. Sadly, that also makes it acceptable for churches to never fully grasp God’s heart for all neighborhoods and nations, and the centrality of his church in reaching them.
Our Mission in Light of the Mission of God
The church’s mission begins with God’s mission and flows from it. God had an intention in creating everything, namely, to put his glory and beauty on display. He went on to accomplish this in a myriad of ways, but did so most clearly in the life and work of Jesus Christ. When God redeems sinners through Christ, we gather as churches (Hebrews 10:25), and we work out what God has worked in us (Philippians 2:12) as living displays of God’s glory (Colossians 1:27).
The story and message of God comes to us in the Bible, which Christopher Wright calls a “missional phenomenon” in itself. He suggests that the “writings that now comprise our Bible are themselves the product of and witness to the ultimate mission of God” (The Mission of God, 32). Rather than merely a biblical basis for missions, this is “the missional basis for the Bible.”
The overarching message of the Bible communicates that “[m]ission, from the point of view of our human endeavor, means the committed participation of God’s people in the purposes of God for the redemption of the whole creation” (Wright, 67). And while we share some God-given purposes with all humanity, the church has been given the unique message of God’s grace to deliver to all the nations of the earth. This missions phenomenon is absolutely phenomenal!
What is needed to cultivate missions awareness?
1. Knowing God’s heart and mission. Jesus loves his bride, the church (Ephesians 5:31–32), and he sent the Spirit in order that the church might grow to full maturity. He says that he has sheep from many places (John 10:16); indeed, that all the peoples are included in his plan of salvation (Revelation 7:9). But in his wisdom, God has decided to use this very church to build his church (Ephesians 4:15–16), and Jesus himself gives us an imperative to deliver the good news to the nations. We call this the Great Commission, most often cited from Matthew 28:18–20. On the Son of God’s own authority, we are all sent out (John 20:21) to make disciples of all nations because Jesus is coming back to meet his bride, who loves him.
2. Knowing your own backyard. There are plenty of opportunities for understanding the “what” and “why” of missions beginning in your own neighborhood. Who are the needy and disenfranchised in your own city? Why is no one currently trying to reach them? What ministries are effectively engaging in your city? Are there any internationals living in your neighborhood? You can often find some by eating at various ethnic restaurants. Better yet, eat at the same restaurant many times, and get to know the people who work there. Your church needs to know that missions is not all about dying for the gospel. It can also be enjoyable! There isn’t necessarily anything mystical or foreign about being on mission. It simply begins with sharing the good news where you are.
3. Knowing the world and its needs. We are often ignorant of the broader world outside our own borders. We cannot hope to generate a passion for others we have not met if we don’t even realize they exist. God knows all these nations by name—read Isaiah and you can see God has specific decrees for each of them. We should imitate God in understanding the general spiritual climate and histories of his image-bearers. Books like Operation World and websites like Joshua Project not only provide basic information about different peoples, but they also create a trellis upon which prayers may hang. When we pray general, murky prayers about the “lost,” it’s likely our hearts aren’t affected. But when we see that those we pray for are real people in real places, the Spirit may use this to create a healthy fascination.
What are some ways a church can practically and progressively cultivate missions awareness?
1. Preaching. What is focused on in weekly sermons will shape the thinking of the church. If we want to understand our responsibility to the nations, we have to share this message and sit under this message.
2. Prayer. Special services and prayer gatherings can be held specifically to remember lost peoples and places. Just as often as God answers such prayers, he also uses the process to change us.
3. Discipleship. It’s great to offer missions classes to any church member who wants to know more, and it can be the starting point for integrating missions thought and practice throughout your church’s ministries. Consider starting a School of Missions or forming a group to read through Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission.
4. Sent Ones. This is so important and influential that we made it a Sending Church Element in itself (Element 14: Inviting Sent Ones to Speak Back). There’s nothing that spreads passion for kingdom work more than listening to those who are already infected with that passion, and who are willing to share not only their experiences but also their very lives with the church (1 Thessalonians 2:8).