What I have observed and concluded to be the greatest need in world missions is the training of native pastors and leaders (men and women) in the Word of God. There are far more pastors than there are opportunities for formal training in many countries. The fact is that most pastors have not been trained in the Word of God. They have not been taught how to study the Bible and then take what they have learned and teach it to the flock among which the Holy Spirit made them overseers.
Add to this need the myriad of false gospels, cults and false teachers/prophets/apostles that are distorting the truth of the Word of God, tempting the undiscerning with gimmicks and tricks and entertainment to grow large “churches” and giving the appearance of God’s favor by the “success” that is seen (oh how western). AND add to this the many (the majority?) Christian missions and ministries today focused on social work in the name of the Gospel. Few focus on feeding the “Bread of Life” which gives eternal life. The Gospel ministry is viewed as a “result” of social ministry, or a secondary event, rather than the primary cause of people “hearing” the Word of truth. “Faith comes by HEARING” the Word of truth. The Gospel is powerful, all by itself, to save anyone who will believe it, that is, Jesus Christ. We cannot add anything to the Gospel to enable it to work. To do so is to dilute it and in fact make it into “a different gospel” which cannot save. (Galatians 1:6-9) Remember that I am talking about “missions” here. I am not talking about what a local church is doing in its local context/culture as it demonstrates the love of Christ and share the Gospel of Christ.
Concerning the issue of world missions (in the classical sense) I have asked the Lord as I read the Word, “How did Paul and the others effectively establish the Gospel, plant churches and make disciples throughout their world without building buildings, digging wells and establishing social institutions for the betterment of material life?” What was done in the early days of the gospel by the church that so changed their world and OURS?
What was done then is the foundation that we should continue to build upon today. It was not social work. It was by the foolishness of preaching the Gospel and making disciples (maturing believers). Once the local church was established they were challenged to take care of their own poor and needy. And they die because they had a change of heart and obeyed the Apostle’s teaching from the Word. No longer being self-focused they focused on Christ and others. They cared for their own and lived out the Gospel of Christ in their communities. The Apostles and other missionaries brought the life-changing Word of Jesus Christ.
Obviously social work has its benefits, but have we gotten the cart before the horse, so to speak? Are we putting the emphasis on the wrong syllable? Have we substituted the powerful Gospel that gives eternal life for a social gospel that only has temporal benefits, if that? Are we prioritizing things that will not last? In the face of horrific poverty around the world many Christian ministries have become NGO’s along with the United Nations and other NGOs . Though well intentioned, they are terribly inefficient, like most bureaucracies, benefiting the benefactors more than those needing the physical help they are supposed to be helping, spending multiplied millions, even billions and accomplishing little. There is a tremendous transfer of wealth, but the overall social benefit is minimal.
This is a harsh statement but a sad reality I have witnessed in Africa. NGOs (including Christian missions) driving big SUVs, living in nice homes, staying in nice guest houses, eating well, dressing well, basically living large while the poverty and misery increases all around. Christian missions can profoundly distort the Gospel with this kind of picture. Poverty stricken desperate people misunderstand the gospel and project onto it what is not true… health, wealth and comfort, instead of “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and your sins will be forgiven and God will no longer be your enemy but will in fact usher you into His eternal glory.” BUT until then it is toil and trouble and even death for His Name sake. Or have we forgot this? Or did we even know this was part of the equation? Sadly, most of us do not.
What are we to do? In spite of Christianity shrinking in the West (because of our idolatry of “me” and my comfort), it is growing in much of the rest of the world. Africa, China, India, Asia, Central and South America in general continue to see tremendous growth in the number of converts. But many never grow spiritually because they have no shepherds and many misunderstand the true nature of the gospel because of the “foreign” picture portrayed by well meaning “missionaries.” And few are lifted out of poverty, but instead become dependent as social ministry replaces Gospel ministry.
(Have you ever contemplated/calculated the cost of a short-term mission project to travel to a foreign country to build a building and conduct a VBS, for example? We are talking about thousands of dollars in airfare alone. How many “long term” native missionaries could be helped/supported/trained with the kind of money do a better job knowing their language and culture. HBMZambia (all Zambian plus 1 American “ambassador”) is presently training 2000 native missionary-pastors who will in turn disciple their churches and other pastors with an annual budget under $100,000. About half of this budget helps 25 indigenous disciple making missionaries (overseeing the 2000 in training) and the other half buys and distributes training materials and Bibles.)
What is the answer? What should be the focus of Missions from a western perspective? How can the western church, the American church, make the greatest impact for the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the waning days of western civilization and a post-Christian culture? How can we best use the wealth of resources (dollars) and knowledge we have been blessed with to further the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the world?
“In a nutshell” the answer is for the western church to focus on equipping the local indigenous church around the world to spread the Gospel. That means entrusting the local leaders whom God has appointed to shepherd their churches with training and material so they can be better equipped to equip their flocks to do the work of the ministry and reproduce more sheep! And this can be done with efficiency both in time and money.
Grassroots, indigenous, biblical discipleship is the key. Equipping indigenous leaders in the Word of God is crucial. Mature leaders develop (disciple) mature Christians. The local church is the foundation of Christ’s gospel ministry around the world. The equipping of indigenous leaders in the Word of God grows the Church and by extension grows the witness of the Gospel around it.
HIMAfrica and HIMIndia, working in association with Hope Builders Ministries, focus on indigenous discipleship (maturing believers) and because of this a huge army is being equipped to “do the work of the ministry.” Local Christians become the source of local ministry living out and speaking out the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ in their communities. They demonstrate the love of Christ as they live sacrificially for the Lord in their own context and culture. As they love God they love people. The people see, as well as, hear the Gospel and they are responding by the thousands.
Using the “HUB” model of discipleship HIMAfrica and HIMIndia train and equip key leaders to train others who in turn train others. One man discipling three other men is the model we use. (Or one woman discipling three other women. We encourage pastors to make their wife their FIRST and most important disciple.) Jesus had 3 disciples who were his “inner circle.” Can we see the other 9 disciples as being discipled or led by Peter, James and John? If we follow 2 Timothy 2:2 and make disciples to the 4th generation (Paul, Timothy, faithful men and others) the discipleship model grows very rapidly. As the Church makes disciples instead of converts the society around them will be affected for the better. As the community becomes Christian and matures they will take better care of themselves, their families and those around them.
Evangelism cannot make the profound difference in the lives of people that disciple making can. Converts rarely become mature Christians without intentional discipleship. In fact, many converts fall away as the devil steals the seed or troubles and cares discourage the new believer because they have not been discipled in the Word of God.
In fact, if ONE Christian would make three disciples this year who in turn make three disciples each next year etc… The world could be totally evangelized in a very short amount of time. Disciple making is multiplication whereas evangelism is addition. If I win 100 people to Christ every year for the next six years there will be 600 souls saved and going to heaven! Praise the LORD! That is great but it is not BEST. However, if I make JUST 3 disciples this year pouring my life into them the rest of my life, teaching them and modeling the ways of Christ from the Word of God, challenging them to follow me as I follow Christ and to make disciples also what would the impact be?
My three disciples could become over 1000 disciples who are making other disciples within 6 years! YOU + 3 + 9 +27+ 84 +252 + 756 = 1231! Imagine that kind of Christ-honoring, God glorifying, life changing, world impacting ministry that would be!
Jesus has called us to make disciples. He saves people and makes them into HIS disciples but we are a crucial part in all of this. He uses our mouths to share the good news and he uses our godly, obedient and holy lives to disciple them. All of it done by the grace of God working in and through us in obedience to the Great Commission in the context of the local church. That should be our personal mission. Matthew 28:18-20 teaches each of us to “Go” in the authority of Jesus Christ with His Gospel to everybody, everywhere, all the time until Jesus Comes. Those who believe this Gospel, trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life, are incorporated into the local church (water baptism is a reflection of the spiritual baptism the new convert has just received), where they are then intentionally taught “all that Jesus commanded, i.e. the Word of God. This is what Jesus has promised to help us do until He returns.
I know that some will take offense at my description of much of modern missions today. For this I am sorry. But without a doubt we know that the Word of God teaches us to declare the Gospel. It must be understood to be believed. Therefore people have to hear it. And we should live in a manner that adorns the Gospel. Yes we should be selfless and sacrificing and caring, but oh let us be careful to not build idols that lead the very ones whom Christ would save away from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Don’t let sentimentality and good intentions replace or overshadow the Gospel which is the ONLY way a person can be saved. When you give someone a drink of Water or a piece of bread do it in “Jesus Name.” Make sure they know where the blessing is coming from. Be sure to share the Water of life, the Bread of life who gives eternal life.
My prayer is that our ministries and missions will bring great glory to our Lord Jesus Christ and encourage His people around the world to make many disciples of Jesus Christ. That is, people who love God supremely and love others selflessly as they share the Gospel that saves eternally.
Jeff Hawkins/HIMAfrica is an independent missionary networking with Hope Builders Ministries in Zambia. He founded HIMIndia (Helping Indigenous Missions in India). Through the generous gifts of scores of Christians and several churches in the USA over 2500 men are being trained as pastors in Zambia and India. It is projected that over 4000 will be in training in 2015. By God’s grace thousands of Bibles have been distributed to the Church in Zambia and India, as well as scores of bicycles to indigenous missionaries. HBM Zambia also supports several indigenous orphan projects operated by native Christians in Zambia.