Editor’s Note: This article is the first in a three-part series highlighting God’s global mission throughout the Bible. See part two here for an examination of key passages underscoring God’s heart for the nations in the Old Testament, and part three here for a survey of this emphasis in the New Testament.
Pastors—few of you would admit that preaching and engaging in biblical mission is foreign to your congregations, right? Especially considering that sermon you prepared a few years ago on Matthew 28:18-20. Or the yearly conference your church hosts to spotlight missions opportunities. Or the agencies you partner with to carry the gospel around the world.
Perhaps your church has even sent out a few missionaries through the years, so your mind turns to the committed few who your congregation regards as elite super-saints. But if you’re like many pastors, when you think of “mission” the thing you probably don’t envision is your weekly preaching.
It’s not because you don’t care about mission. In fact, you may consider your church very missional. Besides, you could spend every Sunday and Wednesday for the rest of your life teaching the Word and never exhaust the variety of important issues the Bible addresses. So you wonder why mission should be a part of your preaching every week. You might even ask why addressing the topic once or twice a year isn’t sufficient.
The Bible Is the Story of God’s Global Mission
I’m not suggesting that you turn every sermon into a message on missions. I’m not even saying that you should give missions a cameo every week by spotlighting your summer trip to Haiti. What I am suggesting, however, is that you practice responsible hermeneutics; that you frame every text you preach in its immediate and canonical context. When you do this, you’ll inevitably—and even regularly—uncover the larger story of God’s global mission.
“I’m not suggesting that you turn every sermon into a message on missions.”
And I’m not just talking about the New Testament, where Gentile inclusion is made more explicit. I’m talking about Genesis and Revelation and every book in between.
I’m talking about God’s plan from before the foundations of the world to ransom people from every tribe and language and people and nation; about God’s design for global gospel proclamation as revealed in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms (Luke 24:44-48). From cover to cover, the Bible is not ambiguous about its plotline: God is on a mission to gather a people from every nation who will enjoy his grace and extend his glory.
And rather than trace that plotline in a single post, I’ll begin by insisting that this approach to your preaching and teaching will significantly impact the way your church understands and adopts their role in God’s mission.
Preaching this Way Will Change Your Church
To begin, there are at least five ways your church will change when you expose them regularly to the larger story of God’s global redemptive plan in the Scriptures.
- They will pray differently. When confronted weekly with the reality that God’s purposes extend far beyond their personal lives, your church will shift the center of their prayers from internally-focused, man-centered supplication to externally-focused, God-centered intercession for the lost. To the degree your preaching reflects God’s revealed plan for the nations, your people’s hearts, revealed through the prayers they voice, will reflect God’s heart for the nations.
- They will give more generously. As they observe the misalignment they see between God’s revealed heart for the nations and the current realities that separate unreached peoples from their Creator, they’ll respond to your pleas to give to global missions efforts with greater enthusiasm. Please read that sentence again. Comparing the lack of the gospel around the world with God’s design for the nations in the Bible will convince them that their dollars spent mobilizing missionaries are more valuable than those spent maintaining their comfortable lifestyles.
- They will mobilize within. The more your church is praying to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers, the more your people will rejoice to see laborers enter new fields. Their strategy will shift from one of passive encouragement to active recruitment—from merely applauding those who sense a call to enter new fields, to proactively enlisting qualified and capable “goers” from within their ranks. As clarity in and passion for the missionary task increase, your church will become more strategic about mobilizing teams to participate in it through short-term, mid-term, and long-term engagement.
- They will take ownership of sending and supporting their missionaries. Rather than simply outsourcing the sending and supporting process to professional missions agencies, they will own the mission by caring for the ones they send. There is no reason churches should isolate themselves from outside partnership in training and supporting their sent-ones, but those who share God’s heart for the nations won’t be content to “leave it to the professionals.”
- They will engage locally and globally. Every pastor desires to see his church engaging in the work of ministry. Rather than laying out ministry opportunities during the weekly announcements like a tray of hors d’oeuvres, develop their taste for gospel engagement by expositing the grand narrative every time you place your sermon in its canonical context. Every week, you have the opportunity to ruin your church’s idea that participation in God’s mission is for some special subset of super-saints, if you show them in the Bible why that’s wrong.
“The lack of the gospel around the world compared with God’s design for the nations will convince them that their dollars spent mobilizing missionaries are more valuable than those spent maintaining their comfortable lifestyles.”
Preaching this Way Will Encourage Your Sent Ones
And while it’s critical that your church members understand the biblical basis for mission, it’s no less important that your sent-ones understand it, for at least two reasons:
It’s the biblical basis of mission that should compel their missionary activity. In Romans 15, when Paul is giving his justification for his pioneer missionary work, he doesn’t say what he could have said—“I have made it my ambition to preach Christ where he has not been named…because God blinded me on the way to Damascus and told me take the gospel to the Gentiles”. Paul, of all people, could have pulled the “God told me to be a cross-cultural missionary” card. Yet here, in his missionary support letter to the Romans, he didn’t. Instead, Paul gave a more helpful motivation to those of us who haven’t heard God’s audible call. And it’s only three words. It. Is. Written.
“Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand” (Rom 15:20-21).
By quoting Isaiah, Paul is revealing the clearest motivation in both our sending and going, namely that God has purposed to gather a people from every nation who will enjoy his grace and extend his glory. We are on a mission, because God is on a mission.
Secondly, the biblical basis of mission will sustain your sent-ones through trial. The best defense against the temptation to leave the mission field is not a subjective feeling that “God has called my family to this place”. Instead, it is something you can foster in your sent ones before they ever leave. Amid frustration and loneliness, when faced with questions from the enemy about what they are doing and why they ever left home, your sent-ones, equipped with a robust understanding of God’s mission from years of sitting under your preaching, can answer, “It is written. It’s God’s plan that these people hear the gospel. So I’m here.”
Pastor, it’s your role as an appointed under-shepherd to lead your sent ones to the fertile pasture of God’s word; to expose to them their strongest source of motivation and sustaining strength in the face of culture stress: the underlying story of God’s heart for the nations in the Bible. Whether you’re sending them to Oman or their Muslim neighbors across the street.
The God of the Bible is a God on mission. He is not ambiguous about his heart for the nations or his commission to his church. Understanding the biblical basis of mission is foundational to your participation in that mission as a church.
And it all starts in your sermon prep.
Robert Wells V is a graduate of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his family reside in Virginia where he serves on a team that trains international church-planters. They are currently preparing to a join church-planting team in Central Asia.