How to Go

By Curt Alan, Pastor of Missions, The Summit Church, Raleigh-Durham, NC, and…Hilary’s husband 

There are a number of missions sending agencies that can facilitate the sending of missionaries to the nations. At the same time, our response to the great commission isn’t to be limited by missions sending agencies – a relatively modern invention. Frankly, as we examine the historical church, we have to acknowledge the role that merchants and businessmen and others had in bringing the gospel to the unreached from the very beginning.

In turn, we need to explore all avenues to send those obedient to the call to follow Christ to the ends of the earth – not only traditional missionaries but also kingdom-minded professionals willing to transfer to jobs in the 10/40 window, entrepreneurs willing to start businesses in closed contexts, and students willing to pursue graduate studies in places with little or no gospel witness.

For example, the successful corporate guy who, as a mature Christian, begins to believe that the call on his life to follow Jesus may be leading him to go to the nations shouldn’t simply be counseled to quit his job, relinquish the skills and experience he’s developed over many years, and go to seminary in preparation for a life as a career missionary.

While that may ultimately be exactly what the Lord is leading him to do, prayer and godly counsel may reveal another path to the nations.

Perhaps this businessman works for a large multi-national company that has offices around the world. He may well be able to apply within his company for a transfer to a similar job in an overseas context – affording him self-sustaining access to a culture (and to a strata of culture) that is completely unreached and unengaged. In that instance, with guidance, training, and assistance, he could be connected to full-time apostolic resources – full-time missionaries and church planters – that might be working in that context as they extend the reach of the Gospel witness and strategic efforts in that place.

One of the things we consistently tell people in our church is to do what you’ve been gifted and trained to do to the very best of your ability to the glory of God; but do it somewhere strategic for the mission of God.

All decisions to go should be prayerfully nurtured and assessed every step of the way.

No matter the avenue, the local church has a huge responsibility to assess, equip, and support those that are sent out. We must do all we can to not only counsel the means by which followers of Christ go overseas but to prepare them well and hold them accountable to their stewardship of call to go.

Often, I’ll talk with people who can carefully recount the burden that the Lord has put on their heart for a specific people group or nation. They can detail how the Lord has clearly spoken to them and called them to take the gospel to these nations.

In situations like this, I always ask a series of simple questions intended to assess the nature of this call on their lives and their readiness to go.

Can you name the last 3 people you shared the gospel with?”

Who have you been discipling in the last year?”

Have you ever been consistently discipled?”

If these questions are met with blank stares or responses like “my schedule just doesn’t allow me time for that,” or “it is very hard/awkward/or prohibited to have spiritual conversations where I work/study/hang out” I know we have a problem.

So, you’re telling me that you want to move to a context and culture that you haven’t lived in before nor completely understand, where it may be illegal to share the gospel, and learn a language that you may not know yet and do something that you can’t be bothered to do in the culture in which you’re most comfortable, in a language you’ve known since you were a child, and where no laws prevent you from sharing?

Really?

Without a doubt, Christ can do anything – all power and authority have been given to him and we can do all things through him. However, where is the acknowledgement of who Christ is in the disciple that wants to respond to go to the nations but has never gone to his neighbor, his co-worker, or his roommate?

The Great Commission was given to all disciples – no matter the zip code or time zone.

Some reports indicate that there are nearly 7,000 unreached people groups around the world – with little to no access to the gospel. That’s nearly 3 billion people who have had no opportunity to even hear the name of Jesus.

If we believe scripture that clearly states that all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved, what is our answer to Paul’s questions?

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent?

Faced with this reality, trusting in the complete authority of the Lord, and confident in the promise of him who goes with us, what is our response?

 

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Thank you, Dr. Lawless

During our three year term in SE Asia, our team hosted countless volunteers from the States. Although we were positioned on the literal other side of the world, with a 12 hour time difference and 2 days of air travel between us and America, people still came. It was a huge encouragement to our team, but one particular visit stood out to me and still does.

Dr. Chuck Lawless, at that time the Dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism at The Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY, was one of the volunteers who traveled to the other side of the world to work alongside our team, and one evening he offered to have a time of teaching for us. At my age, (weeks away from turning 50! WHAT) I have lost count of how many sermons I have heard over the course of my life, most of which I should be ashamed to say, I have since forgotten. But Dr. Lawless taught us something that night that deeply resonated in my soul and has stayed with me ever since. Though I have read many great books on spiritual warfare, and been trained by one of the best organizations in the world in how to deal with it, Dr. Lawless’ message is the one that has stuck and that I continue to apply to my life today.

Its something that we should all be mindful of, not just during seasons of discouragement, but maybe even especially when things are going well.

“Satan is constantly trying to get you to do one of four things,” Dr. Lawless taught us. “He wants you to give up, shut up, puff up, or mess up.”

Think about that..Do any of these thought patterns sound familiar?

Give up
“This life is so hard. These people are so content to remain the way they are, they will never believe. I can’t do this anymore. This just isn’t worth it. These people aren’t worth it. How long have we been here and not seen any fruit? If only I was back in the States…”

Shut Up
“I’m afraid to share the Truth. I could get arrested. I could get kicked out of the country. I could jeopardize my whole team’s ability to be here. My language isn’t good enough. What if I say the wrong thing? What if they ask me a question I can’t answer? What if they don’t want to be my friend anymore after I share Truth with them? Someone else will tell them.”

Puff Up
“I’m awesome at this. Thank goodness they met me so they could hear the Truth. Without me here, no one would believe.  I am the most valuable member of this team. At least I take this seriously. God must be glad that I am here and on His team. I gave up so much to be here. I am a hero.”

Mess Up
“Oh I deserve a little break, soo one will notice if I … I’ve been having romantic thoughts about  <a person you are not married to> a lot. Internet porn doesn’t hurt anyone because its not real. I just need a little release from all the stress. It isn’t hurting anyone. One sip doesn’t mean I have a problem. No one has to know I…”

Dr. Lawless was right. Spiritual attack is a constant for the believer, especially one actively engaged in the mission of God. But identifying these four aeas of how Satan most commonly attacks has helped me point my finger to the problem during my own times of attack and see it for what it is…an attack by a defeated foe. It doesn’t make his attacks any less annoying or persistent, it just reminds me who is really behind my thought process and that helps me re-claim my identity in Christ.

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord, your labor is not in vain.” (1 Cor 15: 57-58 ESV)

Thank you, Dr. Lawless.

The Great Commission

By Curt Alan, Pastor of Missions, The Summit Church, Raleigh-Durham, NC and…Hilary’s husband

When we think of Jesus’ Great Commission, we often focus in on the word “Go” – the missionary’s charge — but in doing so, we risk missing the totality of Christ’s commission to His church.

In Matthew 28, after the resurrection and His initial appearance before His disciples, His church, He arranges to meet them again in Galilee.

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a]the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (ESV)

When Jesus speaks to His disciples, His commission to them encompasses three  distinct parts – He makes an announcement, He gives us a command, and He leaves us with a promise.

Don’t miss the fact that before Jesus commands us to do anything, He makes it clear who He is and the power He holds. John Stott once said, “Without this announcement of His authority, the Great Commission would have lacked any justification, let alone any impetus. Not until we are convinced of the full authority of Jesus Christ are we in a position to hear and to obey His commission to go.”

In other words, we would have no real reason to respond to the command that follows without acknowledging who it is that is sending us – the one to whom all authority and power in heaven and earth has been given.

What we might miss, though, is that this power and authority extends not just to us but to all creatures, whether human or superhuman, over the church, over the nations, and over satan and all his works. There is nothing that is not under Christ’s command and authority – and His authority transcends any barrier of language, race, or culture.

As Stott said, “Only because all authority on earth belongs to Christ are we to go to all nations. And only because all authority in heaven is His have we any hope of success.”

When Christ then makes His command, it is to go and make disciples, baptize, and teach.

Notice that Christ isn’t mobilizing simply for an evangelistic crusade or a ministry initiative – He’s mobilizing His church for His purpose.

Disciples are to be made through the clear proclamation of the Gospel. However, it doesn’t stop there. He commands us to baptize these disciples – ensuring a public act of profession and acknowledgement of discipleship. And finally, disciples are to be taught all that He’s commanded – ostensibly the breadth and depth of all of scripture.

This is Christ’s concept of evangelism – decidedly more comprehensive than our modern definition. All too often, we seem satisfied to share the four spiritual laws, walk the roman road, or make an altar call and call it a day.

However, Christ is clear that our commitment to the Great Commission is defined by three concerns, not one – the proclamation of the Gospel and the personal conversion, the public profession of belief and the joining of the body of Christ, and, finally, the lifetime of teaching and learning of scripture.

This isn’t a task for one person, though we’re all under this commission. This is the task of the church – the body of Christ. The church is the only institution ordained by God in the New Testament for the purpose of His mission.

Finally, Jesus leaves us with a promise as we are sent out – “And behold I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20 ESV)  Immanuel – God with us.

So, just as Jesus promised to be present whenever two or three are gathered in his name, He promises His presence as He commands us to go out. Christ is present in His church’s worship as well as in His church’s witness — when we meet in His name and when we are sent in His name.

So, Jesus’ Great Commission isn’t just a command – it is an announcement, with specific instructions, and a promise to His church. Taken together, it demands a response from every disciple of Christ.

The Glad Surrender

Ann Hasseltine Judson of Bradford, Massachusetts, was the first American woman missionary to go overseas. In 1812, she and her husband, Adoniram Judson, boarded a ship bound for Asia, to take the Gospel to a place where Christ was not known. Ann would serve the Lord alongside Adoniram in Burma (modern day Myanmar) until her death in 1826.

When Adoniram proposed, with the understanding that she would live the rest of her life “in a heathen land,” it is clear from her diaries that she wrestled for several weeks with the reality of what her life would be like as she considered his offer. Although she had the support of her parents, her own heart for missions, and clearly loved Mr. Judson, it was still a difficult decision as she wisely counted the cost. I love the following excerpt from her diary as, after weeks of uncertainty, she lays down her life in wholehearted surrender for the sake of the Gospel…

“My mind has still been agitated for two or three weeks past, in regard to the above-mentioned subject (the proposal and subsequent “offer” to live among “the heathen” overseas). But I have, at all times, felt a disposition to leave it with God, and trust in Him to direct me. I have at length, come to the conclusion, that if nothing in providence appears to prevent, I must spend my days in a heathen land. I am a creature of God, and He has an undoubted right to do with me, as seemeth good in His sight. I rejoice, that I am in His hands – that He is every where present, and can protect me in one place as well as in another.

He has my heart in His hands, and when I am called to face danger, to pass through scenes of terror and distress, He can inspire me with fortitude, and enable me to trust in Him. Jesus is faithful; His promises are precious. Were it not for these considerations, I should with my present prospects sink down in despair, especially as no female has, to my knowledge, ever left the shores of America, to spend her life among the heathen; nor do I yet know, that I shall have a single female companion.

But God is my witness, that I have not dared to decline the offer that has been made me, though so many are ready to call it a ‘wild romantic undertaking.’ If I have been deceived in thinking it my duty to go to the heathen, I humbly pray, that I may be undeceived, and prevented from going.

But whether I spend my days in India or America, I desire to spend them in the service of God, and be prepared to spend an eternity in His presence. O Jesus, make me live to thee, and I desire no more.”

Calling

By Curt Alan, Pastor of Missions, The Summit Church, Raleigh-Durham, NC and…
Hilary’s husband

Calling is one of those concepts that I think we’ve loaded so much junk on top of it begins to sound like an object rather than a holy command.

“I’m trying to find my calling.”

Really? Where did you last remember having it? Where have you been looking? How long has it been lost?

People talk in terms of “calling” as if it is like their car keys, a pair of glasses, or their mobile phone.

Before checking  the lost and found, 911, or Googling online tools to define your calling – you know, the ones on the internet right next to the spiritual gifts test (I sometimes wonder what the early church did without the web), turn directly to the source.

In Matthew 5 and again in Mark 1, we see Jesus “calling” his first disciples. You know the story…

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

Boom. Found it.

Think about it. A few verses later in Matthew 5, Jesus comes upon James and John and scripture just tells us that he “called them. Immediately, they left the boat and their father and followed him.” What did Jesus say to them, though? Well, given the same scenario just 2 verses earlier, I strongly suspect that the “call” was the same – follow me.

Twenty three times in the gospels, Jesus talks specifically of following him or directly calls someone to “follow him.” Twenty three times. That’s a lot. Pay attention!

But wait, is that really the call? Is that IT? Follow me?

You might be thinking — that doesn’t seem very specific. Where am I going? Can I have some more information? What should I pack?

That’s not the point. Doesn’t matter right now. Seriously.

Go back to Proverbs 3: 5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Acknowledge him in all your ways and he will make your path straight.” Scripture doesn’t tell us where this is headed specifically for us. Jesus doesn’t give us any more specifics than what Jesus gave to Peter, Andrew, James, and John.

Calling begins with Christ’s call to trust and follow him and ends with our obedience to respond to him – daily, hourly…completely.

But how does that determine a direction, a job, and a specific action?

In Proverbs, we’re told to acknowledge him in all our ways and he will make our path straight. He doesn’t promise the “wheres” but he does clearly command the how. In all that we are – how we think, how we speak, how we orient our lives – we’re to acknowledge who the Lord is in our lives. In turn, he PROMISES to make our path straight.

Jesus himself gives us even more clarity in Luke 9: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” As you unpack this, you can’t help but notice that responding to this call will require complete submission to him as Lord, action, and daily diligence.

Every now and then, I have someone come to my office to tell me about the call that God has placed on their life.

“I just feel called to serve the XYZ people and carry the gospel to them.”

“I have such a burden for ABC country and feel called to bring Christ there.”

Or, even,

“I met this team of missionaries on a mission trip and I feel called to serve alongside them.”

To be honest, these people really worry me.

They are following a call to a people group, a place, a team of other believers – and following themselves as opposed to following Christ.

If their call is based in any of these things, I’ve seen firsthand how a “calling” can crumble under the weight of disappointment, sin, and failure.

When the people group they’ve been called to consistently reject the gospel, ignore them, or threaten them, when the huge differences of a foreign culture cause endless frustration, or when a team of believers lets them down, I start to hear things like “Don’t these people get that I’m trying to save their lives? Don’t they know what I gave up to be here? Doesn’t anyone get it?”

Ah…the root of this calling is exposed. It’s all about them.

Any call to follow, to serve, to go that isn’t rooted in following Christ first and foremost is doomed.

Christ alone is faithful. His promises are true and his power is ultimate and eternal. He alone is worthy. He alone is capable.

Acknowledge him in all your ways and he will make straight your path.

Follow him.

Where are the rubies?

Recently, I came across an article entitled “9 Reasons to do the Journeyman Program.” For those unfamiliar with it, the Journeyman program is a fully subsidized program of the IMB (the world’s largest missions sending agency) – enabling recent college graduates to go to the mission field for two years.

The article, written by a former Journeyman and posted on another church’s missions web site, starts out well enough – “Our ultimate motivation to take the gospel to the nations is the glory of God.” However, the article deteriorates into an inventory of somewhat shallow and self-serving reasons including:

  • It connects you to an international network of young Christians excited about missions. Chances are you don’t know a ton of kids your age that are passionate about international missions. Through the Journeyman program you’ll meet hundreds. Also it’s nice to have couches to crash on when traveling the globe.
  • You’ll get to travel the world.  The world is a big place, but Jesus is Lord of all of it. Spending 2 years immersed in another culture will broaden your perspective and give you new insight into what the new creation will be like (Rev. 7:9).
  • It’s fully funded. Fund raising isn’t a lot of fun. Thanks to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Cooperative Program, Journeymen don’t have to raise their own support, but are salary field personel of the IMB with full benefits. No one becomes an international missionary for the money (salaries are modest), but it’s a blessing to not worry about where your next pay check is coming from.
  • It’s a good first job. Having 2 years of international experience looks great on a resume, and even more so, sharing the gospel with people who have never heard about Jesus beats flipping burgers.
  • It’s a good way to meet your future spouse… well, it worked for me anyway.

Build your network, see the world, get paid, build your resume, and find a spouse!

Really? Is that what its come to? 

Can you picture Paul having this conversation with Timothy before sending him to Thessalonica? 

“OK, Tim. I got this great opportunity for you. Our brothers in Thessalonica are having some trouble right now and I need you to get over there and encourage them. Think of the friends you’ll make and the contacts you’ll build! You never know when those will come in handy. Besides, you’re young — now is the time to travel the world. Our friends back in Jerusalem are covering your expenses. Heck, think of where this could lead for you! Once folks read about how much of an encouragement you are, the sky is the limit!”

Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians that, as new creations, we’ve been entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation — we are ambassadors for Christ. This is both a tremendous privilege as well as a tremendous responsibility.

As followers of Christ, we can’t afford to treat the great commission as a career decision, as “something great you can do for yourself,” or, maybe even worse, something to do since you didn’t find a job after graduation. Joshua Project has  identified over 7,000 people groups around the world that have no access to the gospel. That’s nearly 3 billion people with no opportunity to hear the name of Jesus. Faced with this reality, what is our response?

Want to build your network? Join a fraternity or a sorority. 

Want to travel the world and not have to worry about money or benefits? Join the Navy.

Want to be an ambassador for Christ? Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Him.

I’m reminded of a letter the famous missionary to China, Hudson Taylor, wrote to a friend back in England…

“China is not to be won for Christ by self-seeking, ease-loving men and women. Those not prepared for labour, self-denial and many discouragements will be poor helpers in the work…. The men and women we need are those who will put Jesus, China, souls first and foremost in everything and at all times: life itself must be secondary – nay, even those more precious than life. Of such men, and of such women, do not fear to send us too many. Their price is far above rubies.”