Full Circle of Missions Strategy
Course: Essentials of World Missions
Lecture: Full Circle of Missions Strategy
Welcome once again to the summary lectures for the course, “World Mission of the Church.” The full course was given at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and we have here a short three-hour summary of that course to help you understand the major themes of the course, and to—if necessary—you can stop and move to that full lecture to get the full bit of material.
This last part of the summary course we’re looking at some of the practical applications of missions and some of the strategies that we use. Once again I want to root this in the biblical material and then to demonstrate how some of these principals work their way out in the practical ministry of the church, trying to do missions effectively in the current context that we’re in.
This first lecture I call the Full Circle of Missions Strategy. And this is based on several passages of Scripture, and I’ll just look at one of them. We already alluded to this passage earlier in our biblical section. I want to come back to it and look more closely at how the early church understood the progress of the Great Commission.
I think it’s absolutely essential to see that it is incredibly strategic that the early church focused on church planting as the most effective way to spread the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. It wasn’t just a kind of passive witnessing. It was a much more intentional, strategic planting of communities of believers that were knit together into a fellowship that we call the church of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is not meant to be just a mystical kind of terminology, that we belong to the invisible church or something. This is actually a very practical manifestation of the life of Christ through real people in living contexts. I think ultimately this is what is meant by Christ telling us to disciple the nations. He doesn’t actually say, “disciple individuals within the nations,” but “disciple the nations.” The whole point is that the entire culture, the entire context, in which the church is placed becomes transformed by the presence of believers in those communities. The Christian faith cannot appropriately, therefore, be practiced in isolation from other believers, but is always something done in community and expressed corporately in the life of the world.
That has huge missiological implications, because in many cases it’s much easier to witness or even see people come to Christ than to actually plant churches, especially in sensitive areas where maybe we’ll only have radio broadcast into a sensitive area, or other kinds of challenges. We sometimes wonder if it’s even possible to plant a church. But we have to be reminded that church planting is at the heart of the Great Commission.
We saw this with the emphasis in Matthew on making disciples, with Mark on believing and being baptized, and so forth, throughout the early church and even in Jesus’ own words. We saw this even in John’s Gospel, which looks at the church sending out missionaries through that great word of Christ, “As the Father has sent me, even so send I you.”
So we come to Acts 11, we actually see a pattern of church planting strategy, which is extremely important, all through Acts 11. The first point is the one we picked up on last time where I mentioned how significant it was that these people from Cyprus and Cyrene had communicated the gospel cross-culturally.
That is really, really important because if you interpret the Acts 1:8 passage, which says that we are h is witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the Earth—if its only a geographic expansion of the church then there would be nothing significantly different between the people who went down and spoke to Jews only and those who actually went and spoke to Greeks also. But actually the structure of Acts makes it extremely significant that this group—from Cyprus and Cyrene—went beyond the Jewish audience and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news of the Lord Jesus.
Step 1: Cross-cultural Communication of the Gospel
So step one in the full circle of missions strategy is the cross-cultural communication of the Christian gospel. Now, once the gospel is communicated, whether it be through Bible study, through preaching, through theological education by extension; whether it be through radio, or any medium imaginable; that is not the end of the process. The gospel preaching is to lead to church planting.
Step 2: Plant a Church
And you can see that in this passage, in verse 21, a great number of people turn to the Lord, and they began to be gathered together into communities known as the church. In fact several times in this passage we are told that they are called the church, they are gathered together, meeting together, they are praying for each other, they were discipled. We find that this was critical to the whole process.
So you have, number one, preaching cross-culturally. That is, extending the boundaries of the body of Christ beyond the ethnic group you’re in. Two, planting a church – not just willy-nilly groups of believers, but actually incorporating them into a body.
Step 3: Disciple the Believers
Thirdly, they are discipled. In verse 26 Paul and Barnabas met with them for an entire year and discipled a great number of people. We often think that Paul’s missionary journeys were somehow this massive blitzkrieg across the Mediterranean, but Paul actually spent a lot of time—a year here, two years there—a lot of difficult and painstaking time spent teaching, training, appointing elders, following up, discipling. Paul was not just interested in evangelism, even evangelism cross-culturally, a purely, even true, missionary activity. Paul was interested in establishing churches, and that has to be connected to discipleship and obedience to the great Commission.
Step 4: Send Out Laborers
So in Acts 7:26, they’re discipled, and then finally, if you get down to Acts 13:1, we meet this church. It’s now a mature church. We find there that there are prophets and teachers there. That means they’re properly discipled. And we’re told that while they’re worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit spoke to them prophetically, and called them to set apart Barnabas and Saul “for the work which I’ve called them,” and this, of course, becomes the first missionary journey where new laborers are sent out.
So I call this the Full Circle of Missions Strategy. Some men from Cyprus and Cyrene crossed cultural boundaries and preached the gospel to a new people group—that’s step one. Step two, a church is planted. Step three, that church is discipled and matured and raised in the faith. Step four, they themselves, in obedience to John 20:21, they send out laborers into the harvest.
So this is the full circle of what should happen in the normal growth and life of the church. This is normative Christianity—Acts 11. This is what should happen in the life of the gathered church. We should be growing in our faith and matured and ultimately send out laborers to the ends of the earth.
I know churches that are less than three years old that have already planted other churches. I also know churches that are over two hundred years old and have never planted another church and have never sent out a single missionary. So you have to wonder if that church that is in that situation can at all be called normative. Because if the church were to follow the example of that church then of course in one generation the church would die out. We have to understand the importance of the propagation of the gospel to the next generation, but also extending that gospel to new people groups beyond the structures that we currently have.