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We’ve Changed Our Mind About Missions–Part 1

We’ve Changed Our Mind About Missions–Part 1

Pastor, I’d like take a few moments and ask you a question. It’s a question that I asked myself several years ago while pastoring Shenandoah Baptist Church. It’s a question that ended up taking me in a different path in my ministry in ways I could not have imagined.

A Real Ministry Scenario

Let me paint a scenario for you in which to frame the question. Consider two young people who grow up in the same local church. Both are taught missions and both are aware of the significance of being a part of a mission-minded church. Both prosper in Christian nurture, growth, and service. Both attend the same highly-approved Bible college and seminary. During the time of their education, one senses the call to go into cross-cultural ministry and prepares for that type of ministry. The other senses the call to prepare for a hometown pastoral ministry and does so.

They both graduate at the same time and call their church pastor for advice and counsel as to the next steps. Here is where the story changes:

  • To the person preparing for hometown ministry, the pastor says “We are so glad to hear that you have been called to this ministry. We’re sending you a check to cover your moving expenses. We have an office for you. Your salary will be as we have discussed plus you will have the same benefits package as the rest of the staff. Welcome to the ministry.”
  • To the person preparing for a cross-cultural ministry, the pastor says “We are so glad to hear that you have been called to this ministry. You will need to select a mission board who will help you raise prayer and financial support. When you have selected a field, please contact us and we will do our best to have you speak to our congregation about the work God has called you. We wish you every success and will be praying for you.”

While I may have taken some liberty with the specific details of the above scenario, I believe it happens all too frequently in hundreds of local churches today. Here is my question:

Why do we preach missions as a priority and respond to missions’ needs and opportunities as options? Why is the work at home “ours” and the work abroad “theirs”?

When I became pastor at Shenandoah Baptist Church, we followed the approach outlined above. So entrenched were we that it did not occur to me that it should be challenged. Yet, the deeper I got into the process, the more questions it raised in my mind and heart. Is this process Biblical? How did it develop? Is there a better, and Biblical, way?

After significant study, it became clear to me that the evangelical church, even since the Reformation, has not been willing to examine its responsibility to world missions. For the last four hundred years it has been blinded with a problem. While some local churches have accepted their opportunity and responsibility for world missions as primary to their purpose, the vast majority of our local Bible-believing congregations still treat missions as an option and missionaries as orphans. As a local church pastor, I became convinced this needed to change and determined to do so.

The Contemporary Norm

The first step I took was to change my attitude. Then, I needed to lead the church and our missionary friends to change theirs. The problem that I saw was that our view of missions had been shaped by our evangelical heritage where we assumed the way missions has been done in the past is the way it should be done today. Missions was the work of boards, agencies, and individuals. The local church was not expected to do anything but respond to requests for prayer and funds. Missionaries and boards would do everything else. The local church had no other responsibility but to support them in their work. Its praying and giving would be incidental…and insufficient.

I realize that the above is an over-simplification, but I hope the point is clear. As I began to ponder this approach to missions that I had been taught and, up to this point, had believed was the only biblical approach, I began to see a much different role for the local church to play, and my attitude about missions began to change. I’m delighted to report that, over the years I was pastor at Shenandoah, the attitude of the church also changed. The results that God has given us have been more than we could have ever dreamed and will be described in Part 2.

This article, part 1 of 2, is a condensed version of a speech given by Robert L. Alderman, Pastor at Large, Shenandoah Baptist Church to a group of pastors at a BMW Pastors Summit. The original apoLuo post was in 2014.

Editor: Clark Macaulay