the shape of leadership

Is the Great Commission Going Out of Style?

The role of global missions in the “us first” era

Kristi Northup on May 4, 2017

It is no secret that there is a concerning trend among U.S. churches. Inspiring people to invest in world missions — giving time and resources to places they’ve never seen and people they don’t know — has become more challenging. Even as churches grow in their community investment, somehow foreign missions work is becoming a smaller piece of the pie.


I recently asked a group of young pastors why they didn’t want to give much emphasis to global missions. (I specify “global” because the term “missions” now applies to everything from funding full-time missionaries, to feeding the homeless in our cities, to remodeling our church offices.) I received a few different answers, but the one that most struck me was this: “I just don’t have any passion for it.”

There are compelling reasons why global missions is still a critical part of our Christian identity.


As a missionary kid who is now a staff pastor, I understand some of the challenges on both sides. I am the contact person who must turn down cold calls from desperate missionaries trying to get a five-minute window. I hear the heartache of those who are in their most influential years of ministry, to have support cut because they are “too old.” I hear fellow pastors bemoaning the lack of energy between their people and the speakers, who may be amazing in their foreign contexts but don’t always connect on Sunday morning. It is a complex issue, but there are compelling reasons why global missions is still a critical part of our Christian identity.


The Church Is the Conscience of the Nation
In a recent article in The Atlantic, journalist Peter Beinart contends that as Americans increasingly detach from religious affiliation, the culture war over religious morality is fading, and in its place, something much more concerning is emerging. Cultural conservatives who have disengaged from organized religion “tend to redraw the boundaries of identity, deemphasizing morality and religion and emphasizing race and nation” (The Atlantic, “Breaking Faith,” April 2017).


In other words, morality and biblical principles take a back seat to nationalism and race as people fall away from the church.


Our response to world issues should not stem from nationalistic preservation. It should be rooted in biblical Christianity. This is where the Church has the power to move issues from a cerebral, selfish response to a compassionate moral call.


One of the unique things that the Church provides through missions is personal contact with the rest of the world. Every year, an estimated 2 million Americans go on short-term mission trips, lasting from one week to two years. The idea that we must do something powerful during those weeks or months may not be as important as the lifelong philosophy of compassion that can develop for an otherwise culturally insulated American.


In addition to short-term missions, the personal testimonies of missionaries continue to make an impact. Sharing first-hand stories of people who face war, persecution, slavery and famine is vital to keeping our conscience in touch with global realities. If the church does not compel us to look into the eyes of a broken world, how will we maintain the moral high ground as a global leader?


Millennials Want to Make a Difference
I spoke with Eric Treuil, South Central area director for Chi Alpha and campus pastor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He also serves as assistant superintendent of the Louisiana District Council. He has 35 years of experience in campus ministry, and I asked him what shifts he has seen in students’ attitudes toward missions.


He said, “When the Millennial generation started showing up on campus, the first wave had a veneer to change the world but was actually more concerned about changing their profile picture. But we are seeing a shift that is a deep desire to actually do something that will bring about change. They are willing to pay the price to make that happen. They are doing things like foregoing traditional careers, living in tiny houses and reducing their carbon footprint. They want to be a part of organizations that are thinking more globally. It’s the bumper sticker, ‘Think globally, act locally.’ They want to be involved in the neighborhood, but are also concerned about what’s going on across the ocean. They see them as being connected. This generation doesn’t see a divide between domestic and global missions.”


While some young pastors may feel a disconnect between the church and the world, many in their generation are in tune with global issues. As this wave of students slowly moves into the local church, leaders will find new ways to demonstrate a commitment to local and global change. 


The Role Is Changing, but the Mission Is the Same
In 1914, The Assemblies of God was founded with a vision of being the greatest missionary sending force in the history of mankind.


From the beginning, the AG has held to the principle of the indigenous church. As countries establish their own national fellowships, it brings transition to the role of the American missionary. Some of our best missionaries offer something the national leaders cannot: connecting resource to need. This can happen in a multitude of ways. Many missionaries still provide pastoral education, which can improve economic conditions and literacy. It can be pastoral, bringing counseling and spiritual resources that are undeveloped in a country. It can also be financial, bringing the wealth and blessing of the U.S. to fund unknown projects and facilities. 


The Work Isn’t Finished
There remain more than 7,000 unreached people groups who have never heard the story of Jesus. In some countries, there is an indigenous missionary movement. Bolivia, Chile and Argentina are now sending missionaries to the Middle East, India and unreached peoples on their own continent. Many are being resourced and trained by American missionaries, like AG missionaries Bob and Lisa Holloway. After serving an indigenous tribe in Venezuela for 24 years, they will be planting an international training center in Peru modeled after the Live Dead movement. It will prepare American, as well as Latin American, missionaries to live among the cultures of unreached people groups. The Calloways, and others like them throughout Africa and Asia, continue to lay down their lives daily to make Christ known among those who have never heard his name.


More than 2,000 college students responded this year at the World Missions Summit to commit a year of their lives to overseas missions. The challenge was to go, give or pray, but to do something. Not being involved is not an option. The mission is still the mission, and it’s not over
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