Dear Brother or Sister,
Last week, I had the joy of seeing several thousand students descend upon my city for Cross Conference. Perhaps you were among that group! Regardless, I’m thankful that you spent part of your Christmas holiday attending a conference about God’s glory being proclaimed among the nations. You could have used your time and money to do a lot of other stuff, but instead you chose to invest in something eternally important.
Unfortunately, a lot of people are down on your generation. They think all millennials and Generation Z are flaky, image-obsessed, entitled, and Fortnite-addicted. But the fact that a combined 63,000 students and young adults attended Cross Conference, Urbana, and Passion 2019 (not to mention other student conferences) tells me a different story. That figure lets me know that today’s young Christians want to latch on to something bigger than themselves and desire to impact the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As you reflect on what you learned last week and what your next step might be, I want to encourage you to consider a couple of things to help you on your journey.
1. Missions zeal ≠ godliness.
Let me be clear, missions zeal could be a sign of your being conformed to the image of Christ. As your spiritual heartbeat pulsates after God’s heart, you will grow to love what he loves. And God loves the nations! He is a global God, not a tribal deity.
From Genesis to Revelation, the Scripture broadcasts in high definition God’s purpose to gather a people for himself from every tribe, tongue, and nation through the work of the Messiah. The mandate to make disciples among all the peoples of the earth for the sake of Jesus’ fame is crystal clear. The time is short, and night is coming when no man can work. We have a glorious and urgent mission.
And yet, loving the idea of missions is not the same as loving the God of missions.
If your passion for the nations doesn’t flow out of a deep and abiding love for the Lord, you’ve got a warped passion. In reality, your God-less missions passion may burn hot for a while, but it will eventually flame out. It’s like a sparkler on the 4th of July. It’s flashy, but only lasts a minute.
Rather, you need to cultivate in your heart a bonfire of worship, fueled by logs of truth and embers of solid biblical theology. The type of affection for God that burns for a lifetime.
Remember the greatest commands. You must love God with everything you are, and then you must love your neighbor as you love yourself. The second command flows out of the first. You can’t love others rightly if God isn’t compelling that love – even in missions.
Please, please don’t take up a biblical cause like missions without pursuing God above all. Zeal for right causes without zeal for God doesn’t honor him. It’s idolatry and hypocrisy.
If you’re considering investing your life in making disciples overseas, I’m thrilled! But remember that no one becomes holy by crossing an ocean. The spiritual cracks in your life now will likely become chasms when put under the heat of cultural stress and spiritual warfare.
It’s vital that long before you hop on a plane bound for ministry that you are pursuing God, fighting your flesh, and are living a life of regular repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ.
Be a godly stayer first, and then you’ll be ready to be a godly goer.
2. To truly love missions, you must love the local church.
Here’s the deal. The church is at the center of God’s purposes for the world.
Unfortunately, we older Christians haven’t always set the best example for you. Perhaps we’ve given you the impression that making disciples is primarily done in the context of a parachurch ministry or through an individual following Jesus.
But the Bible reflects a different priority. Pay close attention to what took place in the book of Acts and in the rest of the New Testament after Jesus gave the Great Commission. As the gospel spread, churches showed up and served as the context in which disciples were formed. To use Jesus’ sequence, the church is where believers are baptized and taught to obey all that Christ has commanded us (Matt 28:19-20).
The Bible never conceives of a churchless Christian. In fact, it pictures just the opposite. The New Testament envisions Christians who submit themselves to a body of believers for mutual accountability and encouragement. It describes Christ’s followers actively loving and serving the church with their Spirit given gifts.
If your heart is ablaze with a desire to see God’s glory proclaimed among the nations, praise God! But first channel that affection into the life of your church. Before you consider launching out as a missionary, learn to be a faithful, all-in churchman or churchwoman.
After all, we see in Acts that the church commissions and sends missionaries (Acts 13). Biblically speaking, the missions sending enterprise isn’t supposed to revolve around those like you who muster up the gumption to go. It revolves around the local church, who trains, commissions, and sends its members to make disciples and establish churches for the sake of God’s fame among the nations.
If you’re not a member of the church you regularly attend, that’s your first step. You need to formally submit yourself to a gospel preaching congregation who exercises Jesus’ authority to affirm the credibility of your confession.
If you belong to a church, humbly get your church’s input about your direction. Ask your elders to help you discern God’s call on your life. They’ll help you sift through your desires, hone your gifting, and look for the right opportunity.
The church isn’t perfect. In fact, it’s full of warts and blemishes. But Jesus loves his church. And someday he’s going to present the church in spotless, unblemished glory before the Father. He died to make it so.
Whether you end up being a sender or a goer, I pray that you love and serve the church that Jesus loves for the rest of your days. You can count on me to be cheering you on.