“The Primacy of the Local Church in Missions”
Rev. Matthew C. McCraw
Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson KY
Tonight we’re going to journey through the New Testament to see what the Bible says in relation to the local church and missions.
I’m going to make a point tonight (using the Bible) that the local church is primary in the mission of God, as given to us by Jesus in the New Testament.
When I say church, I mean the church at large, or the universal church, that is all believers everywhere; as well as the local church, individual gatherings of Christians united together as one body of believers (such as Henderson’s FBC).
So, let’s journey together to see if, in fact, the local church is primary in the mission of God.
The Biblical Storyline
Since the very beginning of time, the mission of God has existed. God has been about bringing Himself glory through the redemption of mankind, those created in His image.
God promised after the Fall that the seed of the woman would crush the head of Satan. He promised Abraham that his seed would be a blessing to the world. He promised Mary that her son would bring hope to the world.
Then we see in the New Testament these three emphases on the mission that I would like to highlight.
I. Jesus revitalized the mission
As He promised, God brought redemption through Jesus. The emergence of Jesus into our world brought new life to God’s mission. Jesus brought definition, revival, and fuel to the mission of God.
The Jewish people expected a Messiah, and worshipped Jesus at times, but they did not understand what kind of Messiah He would be.
Jesus explained that His role as Messiah went far beyond just the Jewish people. His expectations were greater than what others imagined.
The mission of God was so much bigger than anyone dreamed.
Jesus spoke to this in the book of John.
Read John 10:16
16 And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.
As Jesus is talking about being the Good Shepherd, He tells his hearers that He has come for more than just those that others expected. Indeed, His redemptive work would go beyond the Jewish people, into the Gentile world.
As we heard in this morning’s sermon, Jesus came, “ . . . to seek and to save that was lost.” (Luke 19:10)
So, Jesus came and brought new life and clarity into the mission of God, when He came to the earth.
II. Jesus commissioned the disciples
As we see in the Bible, it was not just Jesus that was called to the mission.
As Jesus carried out the mission of God, He also commissioned others to follow Him and carry out the mission.
Read Matthew 28:18-20
18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
Of course, this is the Great Commission. Called “great” because it is the preeminent task given to us by Jesus. Called “commission” because Jesus is calling His followers to be on mission with Him.
At this point, Jesus makes it clear that we are on task with Him.
Jesus also continually reminding His disciples about the mission.
Read John 4:35
35 Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!
Read John 20:21
21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”
We also see that although Jesus was calling them to the mission, they were not fully sent out into all the world while He was on the earth.
Read Luke 24:46-48
46 Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 And you are witnesses of these things. 49 Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”
It seems that there was something still yet to happen while Jesus is on the earth, before the disciples go fully into the mission
. . . and there was something that was yet to happen . . .
III. Jesus unleashed the church for the mission
As Jesus was leaving the world, He unleashed the church for the mission of God.
First, we see that Jesus hands the mission off to His followers.
Read Acts 1:8
8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Jesus understood that He must leave and hand off the mission to the church, under the power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus makes it clear that He is leaving and His followers will be left with the mission.
Next, we see a miraculous thing happen in Acts 2
The Holy Spirit comes with great power to indwell the people of God. He gifts them in a unique way to carry out the mission of God. They will be witnesses for Jesus, equipped supernaturally by the Holy Spirit of God.
We see not only the supernatural gifting of the believers at Pentecost, but also the establishment of the church.
Read Acts 2:40-47
40 And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” 41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. 42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need 46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
The first event in Acts, which occurs in Acts 1:8, serves as a sharpening of the mission of the church.
The second event in Acts (Pentecost) launches the church and empowers it for the mission.
After the church is launched in Acts 2, we see the beginning of the age of the church in general, and local churches in particular.
See the many examples of the existence of local churches in the New Testament:
Acts 11:22 – the church in Jerusalem
1 Corinthians 1:2 – the church of God which is at Corinth
1 Thessalonians 1:1 – to the church of the Thessalonians
1 Corinthians 16:19 – the churches of Asia
Colossians 4:15 – to Nympha and the church in her house
Also, in the book of Acts we have the emergence of the one of the greatest missionaries of all time, the apostle Paul.
First, we read in Acts 9 of Paul’s miraculous conversion of Saul, on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-7)
Next, we see that Paul is sent to Ananias and the disciples in Damascus. It’s worth note here that before Paul preached the gospel, he gathered with a local body of believers in Damascus (Acts 9:10-19).
After that, Paul joined the believers in Jerusalem. He was constantly marrying his missionary work with the local churches in the areas where he preached (Acts 9:26-30).
After that we see that the church was growing and being strengthened.
Read Acts 9:31
31 Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.
We see further in Acts that the first missionary journey was commissioned by the church at Antioch, under the direction of the Holy Spirit.
Read Acts 13:1-3
1 Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.
Notice that there is no mission board sending Paul and Barnabas. It was a local church, the church at Antioch, under the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit of God that sent Paul and Barnabas out on mission.
In Acts 14, we see that Paul and Barnabas are leading people to become disciples of Jesus, creating churches, and putting leaders in place. These are local churches.
In Acts 14, the missionaries report back to the church in Antioch after their missionary journey to share what God has done.
Read Acts 14:21-27
21 And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” 23 So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed. 24 And after they had passed through Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia. 25 Now when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. 26 From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed. 27 Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.
The Mission in Summary
So, here’s what happening, in short:
God has a mission to redeem His people
Jesus comes to the earth as the central piece of that mission. He lives His life committed to the mission.
Jesus invites His followers to be on mission with Him.
Under the command of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, the early church is formed and given the mission.
The first churches pioneer the first missionary journeys.
The first missionaries launch from local churches, in order to establish more local churches, and report back to local churches.
I’d like to transition now to some summarizing declarations for us as a local church, in understanding why the local church is primary to the mission that Jesus left us with and to modern missionary movements today.
- The mission is God’s and the church are the people of God. Therefore, the mission is tasked to the church.
- The New Testament examples of missions that we have are done under the authority and direction of local churches, therefore, the primacy of the local church in missions is a biblical precedent.
- Because the local church is primary in missions the church should be at the forefront in equipping, assessing, training, sending, confirming, supporting, and praying for missionaries.
- Because the local church is primary in missions our local, state, national and international entities should not bear the responsibility of completing the mission. These entities are there to assist and serve the church.
- Because of God the Father’s great plan, Jesus’ commands, the Holy Spirit’s empowerment, and the example of the New Testament, the local church should never surrender it’s responsibility to accomplish the mission.
Other Considerations (time permitting)
Not convinced that the church is primary in missions, consider these things also:
Consider in Matthew 16 and Matthew 18 that the church is presented as the chosen vehicle by which God is accomplishing His work in the world by guarding the entrance to the Kingdom of God.
Practically speaking, the church should be primary in missions because that is where the people are God are called to assemble (do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together). We are to be a people worshipping God, calling others to worship. “Missions is not the ultimately goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t” (John Piper)
Consider that in the book of Ephesians, chapters 4 and 5, the Church is presented as the body and bride of Jesus, calling to mind the importance of the church. The church is not only necessary, but holds a special place in God’s heart.
Practical Points of Application
- Support our church in the mission. (Pray, Give, Pray, Encourage, Pray)
- Join our church in the mission. (Pray, Go, Pray, Send, Pray, Learn)
- Never surrender your responsibility to accomplish the mission. (Don’t give up, don’t give in, stay committed to the mission, don’t let our church surrender the mission)
Why give to the North American Mission Board through the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering?
- Give to the North American Mission Board because they understand that the mission starts with the church.
- Give to the North American Mission Board because they support local churches.
- Give to the North American Mission Board because they are helping start new local churches.
The task is given to churches from all over the world, to establish more churches where the gospel is lacking. Pastor and missions strategist Micahel Oh says that the church is sent on mission, “from everywhere to everywhere.”
(Personal stories from Thailand and Laos )
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