“A church that is maturing locally will understand that they are to also engage with the global work of the church. Locally established means globally engaged.”
Christ has a plan to make disciples of all nations and we know that these disciples are to be gathered together into communities of faith, and established as church families. But how do these church families reach all nations? Is a church meant to be part of the global work? Doesn’t our church today have enough work in the local setting, so why do we need to discuss “all nations”? Isn’t this the job of our missions departments? Why does the whole church need to understand Christ’s plan? These are the questions we want to explore in understanding the role of the church globally.
Let’s begin by looking at Scripture, as we need to understand its purpose before being able to move on to other matters. Growing up, my church would use the following passage when sending missionaries to the field as the reason for the church to participate in global work:
“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”” – Matthew 28:16-20
This is often referred to as the Great Commission because Jesus is giving His authority to His leaders, to go to the nations and promises to be with them until the end of this time. As a kid I often struggled to make any connection between the church and the Great Commission, as this text says nothing about the church. At the time I understood that the role of a missionary was to tell the Good News of Jesus to other nations… and that’s it.
Years later, I met a missionary who helped me develop a better understanding of the New Testament. He shared that if all missionaries do is tell people the Good News without surrounding them with a local church family, that would be the equivalent of taking a young infant and expecting it to live on its own without the support of a more mature family. Families are meant to have older and younger generations, working together in life; a new infant cannot live on its own. Thus, if foreign missionaries don’t work with local churches to get new believers plugged in, then the lasting effects of their work is minimal.
“Christ has a plan to make disciples of all nations … gathered together into communities of faith, and established as church families.”
Matthew (and in fact all of the Gospel books) was written in context of what occurred in the book of Acts and the Epistles. You see, the book of Acts explains how when Jesus left, the Spirit came and the apostles then formed new disciples into church communities, setting up elders and leaders to shepherd and mature them in the faith. Acts shows how the church started in Jerusalem and spread across the empire and is ultimately going to the ends of the earth. Acts 1:8 gives the outline to the entire book:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8
So the apostles were meant to be witnesses starting in Jerusalem, then Judea, the Samaria and then the ends of the earth. And in fact, Luke shows us how the church progressed in this manner.
- Acts 6:7 – “The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.”
- Acts 9:31 – “Meanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.”
- Acts 12:24 – “But the word of God continued to advance and gain adherents.”
- Acts 16:5 – “So the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in numbers daily.”
- Acts 19:20 – “So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.”
- Acts 28:31 – “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.”
We can see that the intent of this book (especially as you look at Luke 1:1-4 as well) is to give us confidence in how the church expanded and was established with the Good News, demonstrating that this is the plan for the Gospel to go to the ends of the earth.
We live in the age of the church, an age where we are to move the Gospel to the ends of the earth through the church. A church that is maturing locally will understand that they are to also engage with the global work of the church. Locally established means globally engaged.
Today we are following this pattern of being engaged with the church around the world. Our focus is on leadership development; we work with indigenous church networks, helping them build leadership development systems. Strong churches have strong leaders, who are trained.
“Locally established means globally engaged.”