Far too many churches in North America are either plateauing or dying. It seems that in every community, a former church is either closed or turned into something other than who it used to be. It is heartbreaking to see where once people glorified God, today, he has been sold away as the church property changed hands through a sale or auction on the courthouse steps.
One must realize that it is not one decision that closed the established church but multiple decisions sometimes made over decades that got the church to the point of closure. One does not have to look very far to find the missional call found in Matthew 28:16-20, the Great Commission. Yet where is the church today? Far too many are focused on internal matters instead of external spiritual issues and are allowing millions to go to hell without knowing the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ.
Missional service will take a willing heart to serve others locally and internationally as the hands and feet of Christ. It will take the ability to keep learning and growing in God’s grace while celebrating victories as they come. It seems basic, right? Yet, most churches in communities like yours today do not support any missionaries through programs tied to mission agencies or through local investment. The time of inaction has lapsed, and it is time for God’s church to come alive through visionary local leadership to promote and then lead in the area of missions.
Create a vision for the people to capture.
As you drive to work or go shopping, what do you see? For many, they see the car in front of them, ignoring the neighborhood blight and the plight of the man standing on the street corner holding up a sign asking for food. When you take off the rosy glasses of economic class, you will begin to see the streets as they are—businesses shuttered, abandoned homes and overall financial distress. But, where others may see misery, the church should see it as an opportunity to live on mission, like Jesus, to the hurting and broken world. While Jesus cast the vision for the church and its members to serve, it takes the leadership of a local pastor or mission-oriented heart of a lay member to begin to cast a wider net.
One of the first things new pastors usually change is the mission statement. Think for a moment about what the local church’s mission statement is. If the mission statement is biblically based, why do you need to change it? If it’s for preference, then you should probably leave it alone. If it’s too long, more than a sentence, then you may want to shorten it but not eliminate it. How many times have you looked at the church’s mission statement? Probably not a lot. Instead of dismissing it, embrace the mission statement and use it as a launching pad in creating and casting the vision for the people to capture. The mission statement needs to be clear, concise and community-focused, or the congregation will not embrace the concept or act it out in their daily lives.
Create opportunities to serve locally and globally.
At the turn of the past century, the church looked culturally and religiously different than it does today. Some may say thank goodness, while others dread the dark ages the church has entered in their estimation. Yet through it, all the message of Christ has not changed. While churches have adapted to the changing cultures to reach the lost with the gospel in new ways, the message has not changed. What has changed is the wants and desires of the people in the chairs. In yesteryear, missions came to the people in dedicated missions or deputation services. Today, people want to be on a mission wherever they go, not just once a month or year. While previous generations wanted to fund missions through giving, today’s generation wants to give through service in the field. As the shift takes place within the local church, the church needs to partner with the community in achieving the results of expanding the kingdom. Instead of the church navigating the new waters with pessimism, the people need to shift to become optimistic about serving hands-on and not just writing a check or attending a service.
In every community, agencies and nonprofit organizations are in desperate need of volunteers and financial support. While many have dreamt about serving on the foreign mission field, many do not ever get to live out their dream. Instead of losing the vision, the goal can be pivoted to fit the community’s needs around them. Local neighborhoods need missionaries to serve in awaiting opportunities across town or in the next-door county. There are endless possibilities to help others as the hands and feet of Christ if the church is willing to move from an inside looking posture to an outward service posture. Serving locally does not have to be at the expense of investing in world missions, as members can serve locally and support internationally. The North American church has incredible wealth compared to the big ‘C’ church around the world.
Investing internationally through resources (prayers, people and financial means) helps grow the church, where many North American members will never go. Christ needs the church, and the church needs to see Christ’s vision as they sow generously through their time, talent, and treasure at home and around the world.
Create celebration days.
As you have read the words above, maybe your heart has been stirred to become the missionary God has created you to be. With today’s technology, the world is not thousands of miles away, but in the palm of your hand through the cell phone, which has enabled the world to grow smaller. While you may never reach the foreign mission field, you can make a lasting impact at home and internationally if you are willing to celebrate where God is. What God is doing. And by telling others how God is using you to impact the needs around you. Use the technology that has been developed to create opportunities to serve the global church from the comfort of your living room or church fellowship hall. Invite missionaries to connect with the local church through zoom services and conversations. As the church speaks with missionaries and learns about the plight around the world, they are more likely to want to invest. Celebrate days like this, where God brings home these connections between the foreign and home mission fields.
Celebrate where God is: Where is God already moving in the community around the church? That is where God may want you to connect. Give of yourself and invest in a local nonprofit, soup kitchen, pregnancy center, or nonprofit you see God already at work and go there. Invest your resources, and tell others about what God is doing through you and the church. In the celebration moments, God is lifted high, and spirits are open to receiving the call on their own lives.
Celebrate what God is doing: The work you do for the Lord is far more critical than a sporting franchise victory, yet, people are more apt at celebrating a winning score of their favorite sports team than celebrating a soul won for Christ. The local church’s work should be celebrated at every vantage point. When the church celebrates a God win, they redeem what was once lost for God’s good. Celebrating reminds those still on the sidelines of service that God is up to something, and they should join in.
Celebrate how God is transforming you: When you invest as a local or international missionary, you invest in where God is. Serving others is more about changing you than transforming the lives around you. Sure, people and organizations benefit from the hours you work or funds invested, but the person serving gets the added benefit of becoming a new creation in Christ. That is when I believe the angels of heaven celebrate. A life transformed from the mundane to living on mission should be celebrated. Celebrate how God is using you personally with others. Share your story with the church or with strangers, but whatever you do, share. God can use your story of transformation to transform lives around the community if you are willing to speak up.
Reshaping the vision of missions from the pulpit to the pew is all about living a life surrendered to God’s will. You do not have to have a theology degree to serve, but you do need an understanding that God has formed you for something far more significant than who you think or imagine you could be.