The longer I’m in ministry, the more firmly I believe that healthy churches are the ones that focus on their sending capacity more than their seating capacity. Simply put, healthy churches are mission-focused.
It almost goes without saying that the early church in the book of Acts was a mission-focused church. The whole story arc of Acts follows the disciples from their humble beginnings in Jerusalem to a multiplying missionary force in the nations, just as Jesus commanded.
The Call Is Clear, The Time Is Now
Thousands of faithful pastors the world over wholeheartedly embrace the Great Commission. They urgently desire to lead mobilized churches that are sending out laborers into God’s global harvest. But mobilizing a church can seem overwhelming. So, we need to utilize priorities that are clear, biblical, and proven.
I see such priorities in three common characteristics of the early church leaders in Acts. These Holy Spirit-energized traits made them effective in mobilizing people to engage in God’s global mission.
- They led with mission-focused prayer.
- They preached a mission-focused message.
- They practiced mission-focused evangelism.
Narrative parts of Scripture (like Acts) are mainly descriptive and not prescriptive, meaning that Acts tells the story of the early church more than it provides an exact template for today’s church. But they display consistent patterns of activity in the early church (like prayer, preaching, and evangelism) that are explicitly taught elsewhere in Scripture. Those patterns of healthy spiritual activity provide today’s church with timeless principles and priorities to follow.
Bottom line: if you’re faced with the challenge of getting a church engaged in international missions, Acts is a great place to start!
Mission-focused prayer was foundational to mission mobilization from the very beginning of the New Testament church. Prayer helped unify the church in its mission in Acts 2. It emboldened the church when its mission was challenged in Acts 4.
Prayer was a key to directing and compelling the church in its intentional, global mission in Acts 13. In these examples and many more, God worked through the prayers of his people, and he worked in the hearts of his people through prayer.
As a leader in a local church, the consistent testimony of mission-focused prayer in the early church should motivate mission-focused prayer in my own daily prayer life. IMB’s helpful prayer tools are great resources that foster such daily, mission-focused prayer.
But mission-focused prayer ought to also become a regular part of local church life. Having a weekly rhythm of mission-focused prayer during worship services invites God to share and grow his heart for the nations in the hearts of his people.
An occasional missions emphasis Sunday can be good. But congregations really pick up on what is emphasized habitually. Dedicating even a few minutes each week to pray in very specific terms for missions can be a powerful example of faith.
Ultimately, prayer is an open declaration of our profound helplessness for the task. Only God is powerful enough to unify, to embolden, to direct, and to compel his people to join him in his global mission. We must begin with mission-focused prayer.
Secondly, mission-focused preaching is essential to mission mobilization. The book of Acts presents an excellent sample of apostolic preaching. It always focused on the message of Jesus Christ and always led hearers to a point of response to the person of Jesus Christ.
Preaching in Acts was courageous and candid. It was contextualized so that the hearers could understand the message, but the message was never compromised. The gospel was displayed as “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16 ESV).
In practice, mission-focused preaching means that a faithful preacher trusts God to use his Word, not emotional manipulation. Only God’s Word is powerful enough to soften hard hearts and cause them to genuinely beat in sync with his own heart for the nations.
It’s worth noting that sermons in Acts often recounted the history of God’s work for and through his people. In other words, preaching in the book of Acts reinforced the overarching redemptive metanarrative of Scripture. Pastors who preach the whole counsel of God in this way allow their people to see and feel the missionary heartbeat of God throughout the Bible.
Global missions is not a side message found in a few passages of Scripture. Nor is it intended for a select few. Every believer needs to be engaged in some way by giving, praying, sending, and, perhaps, even going. But how will they learn about their role without mission-focused preaching?
Global missions is not intended for a select few. Every believer needs to
be engaged in some way by giving, praying, sending, and perhaps,
Mission-focused personal evangelism is a third essential to mission mobilization. In the book of Acts, the early disciples witnessed the resurrected Christ ascend to heaven. Just prior to his ascension, they heard Jesus declare, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8 ESV).
The disciples understood their mission and made it their daily practice. They were Christ’s witnesses. The clear implication from the example of the early church is that leaders must personally practice the mission. We must be evangelists. If we are to lead people to be witnesses to the risen Jesus, we must be witnesses.
It’s true that pastors are often overwhelmed with urgent matters that cry for attention. It seems like an impossible ideal to maintain a disciplined, mission-focused practice of evangelism. But a small shift of perspective is all that is needed to turn every matter into a gospel-sharing opportunity.
This subtle shift in how we see and practice evangelism can have far-reaching ramifications for how we teach God’s people to practice his mission in their daily lives. This kind of moment-by-moment, mission-focused evangelism locally builds healthy churches that are mobilized for missions globally.
Mission-focused prayer, preaching, and evangelism were clear priorities in the early church, and I believe that God still uses these in the lives of church leaders to grow healthy, mobilized churches today. I pray that as we recover these timeless priorities, God will grant thousands more churches that focus on their sending capacity over their seating capacity.
Dr. Joel Williams is senior pastor at First Baptist Church in St. Francisville, Louisiana. He also does adjunct work for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and serves as the director for Advance International Honduras. Joel and his wife, Tiffany, have been married for twenty-four years, and they have a son, a daughter, and a son-in-law.