Society of Fellows
No one said anything for a while, as the group of Arkansas pastors reclined on mats, counting the stars in the clear African night. They had traveled several thousand miles from their church fields. The last few hundred had been over hot, dusty, pothole filled roads. This was not Arkansas any more. This was the northern reaches of West Africa--a place of hot desert sun and little rain. A place of hundreds of unreached people groups bound by centuries of Islam and an almost total ignorance of the Light who came into the world 2,000 years ago. The majority have never heard the gospel--even once. Living without Christ, they die without Christ, and enter an eternity of Hell, there joining their fathers and their grandfathers, and all their generations before them.
One of the Arkansas pastors interrupted the silence. "You know, with God's help I believe we can do this!" He was referring to the reason they had come--the buckle on the Bible Belt, being let out and stretching all the way to include the uttermost part of the earth. The Lord was calling them to lead the way--to lead their churches to impact lostness in the Last Frontier; to lead their churches to recognize and to respond to God's global priority of every nation.
After 2,000 years, the gospel of Jesus Christ has yet to reach 1.7 billion of the world's population. These are found in an area stretching from Northwest Africa through the Middle East, and extending all the way to East Asia. Within this Last Frontier reside some 2,161 unreached people groups, or ethne--the same word Jesus used when he commanded us to teach all nations. The salvation of these millions cannot depend on the International Mission Board alone. If they are to hear the gospel and be saved, local churches must get involved in God's global priorities. If churches are to obey the Great Commission as Christ intended, they must be led by pastors who look first to God, and lead according to God's global priority of all nations. Jesus' words in Matthew 28:18-20 suggests the outline for how you, as pastor, may lead your church to be a Global Priority Church, ministering to the very ends of the earth.
I. Pray, According to God's Global Priority
"All authority (and power) has been given to me in heaven and on earth...and lo I am with you always..."
Jesus surrounds the commands of the Great Commission with promises of his own power and accessibility. As we obey him, there is no obstacle big enough, there is no authority powerful enough, to prevent us from obeying his command! There is no distance so great, there is no people group so remote, that he himself will not be with us as we go! His infinite power, his ultimate authority and his pervasive presence are completely ours when we pray! Praying according to his global priority constitutes the first necessary step in leading your church to become a global priority church.
Global priority praying must take precedence if churches are to become God's global priority churches. How much time is given to prayer in your church? What is the direction of prayer in your church? These two questions, if honestly answered, can help gauge your church's spiritual vitality and vision for the task the Lord has assigned it. You may note that far too little time is spent in real prayer, and that the prayers prayed are more "inward" than outward focused. It is not uncommon for the extent of a church's prayer ministry to begin and to end in the personal comfort zone of its members. This falls far short of global priority praying!
Leading your church to pray according to God's global priority will turn your church into an I.H.O.P.--an International House of Prayer! Jesus said, "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations..." (Mark 11:17) Consider Jesus' words in light of Psalm 1:8: "Ask of me and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for your possession." A viable part of every church's prayer ministry should petition the Throne for those nations who have no churches, no missionaries, and yet are dying and going to Hell by their millions! Should Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings not include prayers which go beyond the walls of the church, beyond the local community, beyond the personal concerns of church members to plead for entire nations who perish in the clutches of Islam and idolatry? Pastor, you hold the key to leading your church to be an international house of prayer for all nations!
Your church (or groups within the church) can adopt one or several unreached people groups, to intercede for them, to advocate for them before the Throne, that the Kingdom will come and that God's will be done among them. Lead your church to ask God for the nations! James 4:2 says, "you do not have because you do not ask." Oh, that in ever increasing numbers, churches would adopt unreached nations of people, and commit to pleading before the Throne of Grace for that people, until God acts and salvation comes to them! Such prayer is global prayer according to God's priority.
Global prayer places us in line with Christ's mission. Global prayer empowers us to obey Christ's Great Commission. Global prayer provides us a taste of Christ's compassion.
Global prayer allows us to see the multitudes through the eyes of the Savior! Dr. R. G. Lee, when preaching on "The Missionary Challenge," said,
Like Jesus, when he saw the multitudes, we must be moved with compassion, not simply touched with compassion, not the surface of his nature rippled. He was stirred through and through. His whole inner life was shaken--swept as by a storm...When he drew nigh the city, he wept over it. Crowds cheering! Throngs strewing flowers! But above their hosannas the sobs of Christ!...The temple--forty and six years in building! Palace for king! Palace for high priest! Playgrounds! Pageants! Grand Theater! Hippodrome! Three historic towers! An acropolis! But these caught not the eyes of Jesus! The Lord of glory weeping, because multitudes knew not the things that belonged to their peace.
Global priority praying will turn your church into a missionary sending body. Some churches seem to have chosen a local focus, while giving the business of "missions" to the International Mission Board. The International Mission Board is only a channel, while the local church ever remains the Body of Christ charged with carrying the Gospel to the ends of the earth! Jesus told the church how to pray, and yet we may sadly call this one of the most neglected prayers of the church: "...pray the Lord of the harvest that he will send out laborers into His harvest" (Matthew 9:38). How often have church members met together to pray the following prayer? "Lord, please let your Light shine among the lost tribes of the Last Frontier. There are millions of them, Lord, and they have no one to tell them about you. And Lord, send someone from our church to tell them about you. Yes, Lord, send me, or send my son, or my daughter." At this point, prayers tend to trail off into neglect. But this is what Jesus commanded the church to pray!
Global priority praying will lead your church to give great glory to God. John Piper states that "we cannot know what prayer is for until we know that life is war." As the church assumes its responsibility to advance the gospel against the powers of darkness and unbelief, prayer becomes a battlefield walkie-talkie, connecting us with God's power. Such prayer connects us with God's strategies necessary to win the battle. Prayer gives us the significance of front-line forces, and gives God the glory of a limitless Provider. It is not surprising that prayer malfunctions when we try to change the battlefield walkie-talkie into a domestic intercom, using it more for our own comforts in the home than for God's glory in global Kingdom advance.
Jesus said that all authority is given him in heaven and on earth, and that He is with us to the very end of the world! The Great Commission is surrounded by Jesus' power and presence--accessed by global priority praying! Your church's global priority ministry begins, continues and reaches its culmination in such prayer.
II. Preach, According to God's Global Purpose
"Make disciples of all nations"
Do you feel uncomfortable when someone tries to define you, to put you in a box? "Oh, that's just like a preacher," they might say. Sometimes, we preachers are also guilty of defining ourselves too narrowly! When reading Acts 1:8, "...you shall be witnesses unto me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth," many preachers look for a box to crawl into. "God has called me to Jerusalem," some say, "while God calls others with a special missionary call to go to the ends of the earth!" Jesus did not say, "Some of you go to Jerusalem, others to Judea, and I'm assigning missionaries to go to the uttermost part of the earth." No, Jesus gave all places, all peoples to be the responsibility of his church, and furthermore, He gave preachers the responsibility to lead the way!
Bruce Wilkinson has shared insights into God's limitless character and boundless love for the nations. As a pastor, you may look at your circumstances and say, "Surely I was born for more than this!" It is entirely appropriate to ask God to enlarge your territory and to increase your field of service for his glory! You can lead your church to be a global priority church by allowing the Lord to expand the territory of your preaching ministry to global proportions for his purposes.
Preach about God's global purpose to inform and to enlarge your church's vision. We glimpse God's global purpose in Revelation 7:9. Divine prophecy reveals that in Heaven, worshipping around the Throne, there will be "a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues..." We gain insight into God's global purpose from Jesus' words about the last days: "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14). In the 1980s, the Holy Spirit began to sweep across the consciousness and awaken the awareness of tens of thousands of evangelical Christians. The fact that time is running out and there yet remains one third of the world who have never heard the gospel took on urgent meaning. Some asked, "Can it be justified for some to hear the gospel many, many times, while over a billion have never heard it the first time?" Studies revealed 1,261 unreached people groups, living in the Last Frontier.
Dr. Jerry Rankin has suggested a comparison between our gospel abundance and the neediness of the Last Frontier. "Just suppose," said Rankin, "that the State of Tennessee had no believers and no churches of any denomination anywhere within its borders. And suppose that God were to call three pastors to evangelize the entire State of Tennessee. One would be placed in the West, another in the Middle, and a third in the East. That would be similar to the proportion of missionaries among the unreached people groups of the Last Frontier." Pastor, your congregation will focus locally, unless you preach globally. God can use your preaching to expand their horizons, and to keep them aware of God's global purposes. As you and they pray, and as you preach, God will lead your church to impact the world as a global priority church!
Preach about God's global purpose to those who have never heard. Recently, those Arkansas pastors returned from their second mission trip in West Africa. They had preached the gospel among 16,000 unreached Bassari people in Southeastern Senegal. "So, did you have a good experience?" I asked Royce Sweatman, the group's leader. "Man, it was so wonderful--if we were to go on to Heaven right now, it would be a lateral move!" was Royce's happy reply. "We shared the Good News with many, many people who heard for the first time. One man, a known idolater, accepted Christ with tears, and gathered all his idols and burned them publicly. God really moved, and if He's willing, we're going back next year!"
As Royce spoke, tears came to my own eyes. I thought of the Great Promise, the Divine Dilemma, and the Crucial Key to the salvation of millions of Last Frontier people like that Bassari man. The Great Promise says, "For whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." The Divine Dilemma states, "How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?" And the Crucial Key is our willingness to go. This Bassari idolater would never have had a chance to be counted among the redeemed, worshipping around the Throne, had those pastors from Arkansas not been willing to extend their ministry, to allow God to enlarge their territory to include the uttermost part of the earth!
As pastor, you are in the unique position to mobilize your church. Preach, according to God's global purpose, and lead the church to be a global priority church! Making disciples of all nations begins with making obedient, global disciples who will go to the ends of the earth for Jesus!
III. Persevere, According to God's Global Plan
"...even to the end of the world."
The Lord commissioned the church to go to the very end of the world! Instead of being mobile, many have become preoccupied with staying put. The "go to the ends of the earth" commission has somehow been changed to a "come to church" religion. Dr. R. G. Lee said: "Too many churches are rest camps, playgrounds, ecclesiastical nurseries. Too many, needing iron in the blood, sick with spiritual diabetes--too much sugar--are church enemies through utter apathy..."
Unless the pastor leads the way, it is doubtful that the church will pay the price in self-sacrifice to reach the Last Frontier peoples languishing in forgotten lostness. Pastor, persevere in leading your church to be a global priority church! You will be leading against the flow, but go! You will be leading in the direction least popular with many who do not want to leave their own comforts, but lead anyway, because you will be leading in God's global direction!
Persevere, in your commitment to extend the Kingdom until the very Gates of Hell are battered down. Jesus spoke of his church being such a powerful, forward moving juggernaut against the powers of Hell, that nothing would stop it. In its ever vigilant, ever passionate dedication to reach the lost at any cost, it would be built on the Rock, and it would not stop until it battered down the very gates of Hell! (Matthew 16:18) Have you considered starting a mission church? Have you thought of extending the Kingdom by planting a new church in a gospel needy community? Why not do so among the very neediest peoples of the world where Satan's darkness has them locked up, and the gospel locked out? Oh, the thrill, the sheer satisfaction, the spiritual blessing of preaching where Christ has not been named! Persevere in leading your church to plant the gospel with passion where the need is greatest, where sin is the darkest, and where your church's ministry may be the only hope for millions!
Persevere, until you have gone to the uttermost part of the earth. Last year, 30,500 Southern Baptists went on short-term mission trips through the International Mission Board. Many pastors were leading the way. Still, the need is much greater than what we are currently meeting. As a pastor, you can lead the way for your church to go to preach the gospel among a people group who have never heard. Perhaps God would lead your church, or Sunday School classes in the church, to adopt one or more unreached people groups. You could do a prayer walk and vision trip to where they are located, all the while, asking God to show you how to reach them with the gospel. Imagine the thrill of preaching to people whose only hope is the fact that you are there proclaiming the Good News to them for the very first time!
Some weeks ago, while on Stateside Assignment, I was driving down the highway. I was listening to the radio as I drove, when suddenly, the announcer said something about a "Beautiful Feet Contest." I turned up the volume. A shoe company was inviting listeners to photograph their feet, and send the picture to them. If their feet were judged to be "the most beautiful," they would win an all expense paid vacation to Acapulco, Mexico.
We preachers are enrolled in the Lord's Beautiful Feet Contest. According to Romans 10:15, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!" Often, the runner would run great distances, over treacherous terrain, in order to bring the news. Sometimes, upon arrival, his feet would be sore, even bruised and bloody. Such would be the suffering necessary to bring the news to the farthest outlying village. When he arrived with good news, the people all said, "Oh how beautiful are the feet of our messenger!" Those who have gone to the very uttermost part of the earth to preach the gospel also have beautiful feet. Those who have prayed, preached and persevered until the farthest village has heard the Good News shall have special rewards from the Lord! And on that final Day, we shall all (messengers and those who receive the message) fall prostrate and worship before his bruised and wounded feet! He alone is worthy!
Persevere, until you've finished the task! One day, every people group will have heard, and multitudes of unreached will be reached. In that day, the Lord himself will descend from Heaven with a shout of victory, and time shall be no more. Eternity will begin as the old heaven and the old earth pass away, and are forever replaced by the new. The task will be finished, and the eternal celebration begun.
Lead your church to be a global priority church! Pray, according to God's global priority. Preach, according to God's global purpose, and persevere according to God's global plan! When you lead according to such passion and vision, your people will never be the same. When you pray, preach and persevere according to God's global priorities, you will lead your church to be a channel of God's blessings to the unreached nations. May God bless you as you consider, not what you can do, but what God wants to do to impact the world through you and your church!
Written by: Dr. Al Hodges
About the Author: Dr. Al Hodges, and his wife, Karen, have served as International Mission Board missionaries in West Africa since 1978. Al has served as church planter, teacher, and mission leader. Currently the Hodges' are assigned as regional mobilization facilitators, helping pastors and churches engage in personal mission outreach to the unreached peoples of West Africa.