"So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields." Matthew 9:38
I loved my grandmothers chocolate pudding growing up. Now you may think that all pudding is alike, but you’ve never tasted my grandmothers recipe. To put it as humble as I know how, its spectacular! She passed away years ago, and with her went her went her pudding recipe. I tried so many times to recreate grandmothers chocolate pudding on my own, but it was never like hers. Then one day I stumbled across her recipe in an old dresser drawer, and I saw that grandmother did things differently than most. Instead of chilling her pudding in the refrigerator, she cooked it in the oven and served it hot. All those years I had tried to make it and failed. But now that I have the recipe, I am able to share grandmothers spectacular pudding with the world.
I think sometimes many churches fall into the trap of doing mission work much like I did my grandmothers pudding. We try to create something spectacular without looking at the recipe. One of the greatest deceptions in the church today is how we go about doing missions. Most churches get their congregation excited with the notion of going to a far off land for a week or two. And our intentions are very good with the trip being centered around feeding the poor or sharing the gospel with natives. But many times, mission trips can be more about us having an experience than actually proclaiming the gospel.
It’s great to get a bunch of people together and go to a foreign country to do missions and minister to the natives of the land. But let me pose a question to you; What do you think happens to those natives when we leave after a week? Imagine that you knew nothing of the Gospel of Christ, and a team of missionaries flew in for a week. You sang songs with them and they taught you a few Bible stories, and then after a week, the missionaries who have been instructing you leave.
When we lived in Panama working as missionaries to the Guaymi people, I remember speaking to one of the local Panamanian Pastors. We would see teams of missionaries from the states come in sometimes to minister to certain Indian villages. I had mentioned to this pastor that I thought it was great that churches from the states came to Panama, to which he replied…
“Yes, but you must understand that Bible believing Christians are not the only missionaries that come to Panama. We have Jehovah’s Witness missionaries, Mormon missionaries, and many other false religions that come to spread their message to the Guaymi. The Guaymi people are more confused than ministered to.”
It was a wake up call as to how I would view missions from that day forward. Churches in America with good intentions do missions much like I did my grandmothers chocolate pudding for so many years…I tried to get results without following the recipe. We cannot expect people that are unfamilar to the Gospel to grasp it in a weeks time. There are many false teachers in the world. Take for example Paul’s letter the the Galatians. He had come and preached the gospel to them, and they had been very receptive. But when Paul left, confusion crept in the Galatian churches. False teachers of Judiasm came forth perverting the Gospel that Paul had preached, confusing and deceving the Galatians. That is why Paul continued to minister to them.
It’s not that we don’t have the recipe for successful missions, we just tend to overlook it. The Apostle Paul wrote the recipe for Christian missions. In fact, most of the New Testament is basically a blue print for how to spread the Gospel, especially the books of Acts and the epistles of Paul. Let me point some things out regarding Paul’s missionary journeys.
-When Paul made his first missionary visit to Corinth in order to preach the Gospel to them, he stays a year and a half (Acts 18:1, 5, 11).
-During Paul’s missionary journey to Ephesus, he stayed for 3 years (Acts 20:31).
-Paul eventually spends 2 years in his own hired house (Acts 28:30) as a prisoner in Rome from 61-63 AD. During this time he wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. In about 62 AD, Paul wrote Ephesians before Timothy came to him (Ephesians 1:1) while in prison in Rome (Ephesians 3:1, 4:1, and 6:20). Also in about 62 AD, Paul wrote Philippians from prison (Philippians 1:7) in Rome (4:23) with Timothy (1:1). Paul wrote Colossians from prison (Colossians 4:18) in Rome in about 62 AD with Timothy (1:1) and fellow prisoner, Aristarchus (4:10). Paul, with Timothy, wrote Philemon from prison in 63 AD (Philemon 1:1).
-During Paul’s imprisonments when he could not minister to the churches that he had helped establish, he wrote these letters (the epistles in the Bible mentioned above) to encourage the people he continued to minister too, and he sent people such as Timothy and Titus to go minister in his absence.
These are just a few noted facts about Pauls missionary journeys. But in these few facts, we see a recipe for Biblical missions. Paul didnt travel to a foreign land, minister for a week, and then return home and hope the gospel he preached took root. Paul planned his missionary journeys, traveled to his destination, and didnt put a time limit on when he would leave. Paul continued ministering to the regions he was preaching for as long as it took to raise up leaders within the people of that region, and to establish churches.
And even after the churches were established, Paul never abandoned them. He continued to check on them as a mother would her own children. Paul encouraged the churches as often as he could with his presence, and in his absence, with letters and sending his ministers such as Timothy and Titus, to visit them.
To simplify the mission of missions, according to the recipe of Paul, here it is;
Missions is planting churches, and making disciples, and raising up leaders within the people group who can lead the church. Some people will argue that missions should be about tending to the poor. But honestly, if the focus is on planting churches and discipleship, then tending to the poor will be a natural result of our endeavors!
Since I’ve lived in Panama, lets use Panama as a modern-day example of how this would look if we followed Paul’s recipe. Panama is full of Guaymi villages scattered all throughout the region called Camarca’s. These people are very poor, and the villages are made up of literal bamboo huts. The need is tremendous. The goal would be to enter an individual village in hopes of planting a church, and begin preaching and teaching the Gospel to the natives.
Now obviously, we could not travel to Panama and spend years training and teaching. We would have to return home to our families. That is why the village we chose to minister to would have to be a long term concentrated effort for however long it took to plant the church and train leaders.
Also, multiple trips to Panama could get costly for a person to take many trips there per year. Thats why I would propose that huge groups dont go all at once. Rather, teams would be split up and sent at differing times throughout the year. Once the church in the camarca has been established and leaders are plugged in from within the village, then you move on to a different Camarca and that one becomes your area of concentration, all the while keeping contact with the recent church plants.