Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 10:5a “These twelve Jesus sent forth,. . .”
The time had come for Jesus to create more than one center of operation for His kingdom. To this point, Christ has been the only center, but now there will be seven–Jesus will be one, and the Twelve, sent in pairs (MK 6:7), will be six more.
Establishing new centers of operation continues to be our most potent paradigm for kingdom expansion. Christianity usually spreads not so much by osmosis, by layer upon layer, as by leapfrogging from center to center. Someone leaves a current center of work to go open a new beachhead. Once a new center is established, it serves as a nucleus from which fresh clusters of churches spring forth.
In our several missions sites in Nebraska, Second is seeing fleshed out again this paradigm instituted by our Master. Since we began working with the Northeast Nebraska Association, its number of churches and preaching stations has increased from ten to twenty-three. John Mark Hansen, Director of Missions for that association, says most of this growth is due to Second’s partnership with them.
We, being a megachurch, may be tempted to see bigness as an end in itself, to think we should only grow bigger and bigger, and to forget the value of clusters of smaller churches. Whereas we tend to think big, our fellow laborers in Nebraska think centers. They don’t despair if a church runs only twenty or thirty in attendance. They merely want a presence, a beachhead, a center from which they can disseminate influence as salt and light. I think they are on to something significant. We can learn much from them. It is a privilege to be laboring with them.
Matt. 10:5b “. . .and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the
Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not:”
This trip, the disciples’ first missions expedition on their own, served as an apprenticeship in preparation for their later world-wide work. The instructions Jesus gave for this particular trip provide principles for all short-term mission trips.
The disciples first had to learn they receive their marching orders from Jesus. He commands us what to do, how to do it, where to begin, and how far to go.
We are not to create our own human overviews or manmade master-plans. Our agenda is already set for us by Jesus. Our role is efficient implementation.
As Pastor, I try to lead our church, to cast vision, to see down the road, to help us know what to do next. I can honestly say, I see nothing beyond the Great Commission. My leading is limited to how we can more effectively carry out the vision given us by Jesus. He commands, we obey. He sets agenda, we implement.
Here, as was often the case in His missions directives, Christ was specific in geographic intentionality. Where we minister is important to Jesus. Later He gave a world-wide directive. Here He limited the Twelve to their local area. Forbidden to travel to surrounding districts of Phoenicia, Syria, Decapolis, and Samaria, the disciples were confined to Galilee, an area similar in size to the counties along our Springfield/Branson corridor. Why was this first mission trip limited to Galilee?
First, Jesus wanted the Twelve to enjoy success on their first mission trip. In Palestine, Galilee was the district most open to the message of Christ. In this fertile field, the Twelve began their labors. At any time in Christian history, there are fields hard to work, and fields ripe for harvest. A church must neglect neither.
I’m grateful we have a couple from our church living in Spain, in Western Europe, one of the world’s most difficult areas to penetrate with the Gospel. Once the center of Christianity, Western Europe has become a spiritual wasteland, hard of heart, and hard to work, but we ought not surrender one inch of it to the devil. What once belonged to the Lord can be His again. We should strive to reclaim it.
I’m grateful we have a couple and a lady from our church laboring in China, where the fastest expansion and greatest revival in Christian history is occurring. Many believe China will be the next world-center of Christianity. Our churches should be sending workers there as fast as we can, striking while the anvil is hot.
Second, the Twelve were prejudiced, not yet ready to preach to non-Jews. Anti-Gentile bias long remained a huge hurdle for the disciples to surmount. They had to undergo a change of heart, because without love for the listeners, a speaker can’t succeed. Five years ago, in the early days of our missions revival at Second, I had to come face to face with my own prejudices. Raised in a home where bigotry was forbidden, I knew how to talk a good talk, but something was wrong in me.
Ethnocentricism had a hold on my heart. When I heard of Americans being saved, I rejoiced more than when I heard of non-Americans becoming Christians. White Anglo-Saxon conversions mattered more to me than the salvation of others.
This confession embarrasses me. As I type it, tears are welling up in my eyes. I was wrong. I wish my childhood song had taken deeper root in me. “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” And adults, too. I’m grateful to a patient, forgiving God who didn’t give up on me (us), who stayed with me (us), and refuses to quit changing me (us) for the better.
Third, the Twelve had to learn, missions begins where we are. They started in Galilee because they were in Galilee. Our mission is to the ends of the earth, beginning next door. Over 623 of us traveled this year on mission trips away from Second. Have we done here in Springfield the same activities we did while away? The training we take and planning we do for trips should be employed here also.
Our duty includes home and hometown, family and friend. This is common sense. If I were better to your wife and children than to mine, we would all agree something is constitutionally wrong with me. We are to work with folks nearby. In easy reach, they offer no logistical problems, no expense of travel, no language barriers. If we don’t love those at hand, we can’t sustain love for those far away.
As we focus efforts at the center, ripple effects vibrate to the extremities. As stated, starting new centers of operation is vital to kingdom growth, but once a new base is formed, intense work has to begin immediately on that new center, strengthening it, because the stronger the forces are at the middle, the more powerful will be the shock waves emanating therefrom. Only healthy churches can do healthy missions. We often say, the light that shines farthest shines brightest at home. We could also say, the light that shines brightest at home shines farthest.
Jesus clearly stated the geographic requirements of the Great Commission. Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, Uttermost (AC 1:8)–these are equal mandates in our marching orders. They are not competing foes or consecutive stepping stones, but rather assignments to be fulfilled simultaneously. We focus on all four at once.
This simultaneous, widespread proliferation of our efforts to all four points of the compass can succeed only as we individually accept responsibility for fulfilling the Great Commission. The command in our text was not given to an agency or a church, but to twelve individuals. Likewise, the Great Commission is given not to the International Mission Board or to Second Baptist Church, but to individuals. Boards and local churches exist to help people fulfill the task, not vice versa.
This has been one of my most drastic paradigm shifts, so radical that God had to win me to it piecemeal. I grew up with a paradigm many Christians accept. Individuals pray and send money through churches to boards responsible for fulfilling the Great Commission. Five years ago, God began narrowing our missions spotlight, and persuaded us our church was responsible for accomplishing the task.
About two years ago, the spotlight grew narrower. We began turning to our Sunday School small groups, asking them to go on trips together and to do major service projects in secular venues in Springfield. I heard last week of a church in Texas that requires every small group to do home, state, USA, and international projects each year. This is good, but one more narrowing of the missions spotlight must take place. It must shrink from even the smallest group to accent each heart.
We are not to go on mission as much as we are to live missions. We are not expected to do missions as much as we are to be missions. Personal responsibility precedes geography. Missions begins with who we are, and then spreads to where we are. Missions has to consume us, take over our very being, and when missions becomes what we are individually, it will become what we do everywhere we go.