ACR JournalChristian LivingEvangelismMinistry

Local evangelism and global mission: Maintaining focus on the ends of the earth

I remember the moment clearly. For several years my wife and I had been weighing up the prospect of vocational ministry. I loved opening the Bible with people and helping them to know Jesus better, but I felt inadequate for the task of pastoral ministry.

Our perspective changed when we received a prayer letter from friends who’d just arrived in a new country for their first term of missionary service with CMS. What struck me about their letter was not what I read, but what I saw: a photo of their young children perched on a pile of suitcases at a foreign luggage carousel. They’d packed their life into those suitcases and moved to a place where they had no language, no cultural experience, no friends, and no family. There were so many unknowns and so much weakness. Yet, there they were—for the sake of the gospel.

That snapshot of vulnerability gave me courage. It reminded me that God does not rely on human strength to achieve his purposes. Indeed, it is when I am weak that I am strong (2 Cor 12:10) and when he is most glorified. When we know that the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe (Rom 1:16), we can be confident that we are more equipped for the task of ministry than we can imagine. Carrying this treasure in jars of clay (2 Cor 4:7) is the way the Lord gives strength to his people (Psa 29:11). This illustrates one small way that exposure to global mission can impact people in our churches and stir them to serve more courageously in our local context.

And our local context is in vital need of the gospel. We long for faithful Christians to joyfully proclaim the good news of Jesus in our streets, suburbs, states and territories. We long for Christ to be heard so he will be worshipped. We long for him to be worshipped so he will be heard.

With so much need locally, what place does global mission have in the life of the local church? With so many people from other nations migrating to our shores, why invest in overseas mission at all? Is the opportunity cost of sending scarce gospel resources out of Australia too high? Does our hunger to see tangible results in our own backyard weaken the business case for mission?

In our right desire to see fellow Australians come to know Jesus, we need to be wary not to neglect global mission. We need to continually consider both the distinction between global mission and local evangelism, and also how they relate. I propose we make a habit of asking ourselves not “Where does global mission fit in our church?” but “Where does our church fit in global mission?” I believe setting our ministries in this wider frame—starting with the ‘ends of the earth’ in mind—will help us strike the right balance and safeguard our churches from becoming introspective and selfserving.

Here are four reasons why this matters:

1. A global mission framework aligns with God’s purposes and will

While mission is not a prominent activity of God’s people in the Old Testament, the trajectory of God’s will and the focus of his purpose is always towards the ends of the earth. We see this from the outset in the creation mandate to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:28). It is then reiterated to Noah after the flood (Gen 9:1) and enshrined for the ages in God’s promise to Abraham: “all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through you” (Gen 12:3).

From this foundation, the biblical history continually re-asserts the end towards which God is working (e.g. Psa 19:4; 47:7; 67:2; 1 Chr 16:23-24; Isa 2:3-4; Zech 9:10; Mal 1:11, 14). Although the nations stand in perpetual opposition to God’s people, the end game is summed up by Hezekiah’s prayer in 2 Kings 19:19: “that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are God—you alone.”

The ‘kingdom of God’ thus becomes the construct for understanding the ‘end’ to which God is working. It is not a kingdom defined by geographical boundaries, political parochialism, or cultural branding. The hallmark characteristic of the kingdom is the revealed ‘glory of God’, which issues in God’s righteous rule being enjoyed and celebrated in all the world. As Isaiah 6 so majestically conveys: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty. The whole earth is full of his glory.”

This trajectory traces into the New Testament where we see how God’s righteousness is revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Rom 3:21). The kingdom he establishes is not defined by locality, but by faithful adherence to his word. Faith renders this righteousness accessible to people from every nation, tribe, people and language resulting ultimately in their united praise around the eternal throne of the Lamb (Rev 7:9-10). When we set local ministry and evangelism within the framework of global mission in our church, we help people see the privileged place we hold within the eternal will of God. As we grow our engagement in global mission, we grow our alignment with God’s eternal purposes for the ends of the earth.

2. A global mission framework reflects the character of the early church

From the earliest days, local churches have demonstrated concern for the establishment and edification of God’s kingdom beyond their immediate proximity. The Ephesians and Colossians were renowned for their love for all the saints (Eph 1:15; Col 1:4); the Philippians’ koinonia in the gospel was praised and celebrated by Paul (Php 1:5); the generosity of the churches in Macedonia and Achaia towards the poor in Jerusalem earned Paul’s commendation and fuelled his encouragement of the Romans to act similarly towards the unreached in Spain (Rom 15:24-28). Paul’s various exhortations for churches in one location to pray for those in another demonstrates the biblically commended character of the early church: a deep concern for the gospel to take root and bear fruit both locally and abroad. Such was the culture-crossing nature of this radical new religion.

As we participate in global mission through prayerful and financial partnership, we continue this legacy in honour of the transcendent nature of Christ’s kingdom.

3. A global mission framework promotes loving fellowship with brothers and sisters across the world

In many respects this point is an extension of the last one. The driving reason for the early church’s generous behaviour had two prongs: hope and love. The eternal hope secured by Christ’s death and resurrection frees believers to no longer live for themselves but for the well-being of others. And even as Christians recognise the comprehensive, eternal and

universal scope of Christ’s love for us, we can never be satisfied that we have loved enough. Love knows no limits and can be bounded by no geographical border. Placing global mission in the foreground of our church thinking gives people a rich

opportunity to express loving fellowship towards people in other parts of the world in a way that is both strange and unique in our world. When you pray for the work of a missionary, and when you pray for the people they are working alongside, you are expressing this fellowship in a way that helps others see our discipleship to Christ.

4. A global mission framework enriches local ministry

Put simply, if global mission is neglected in our local church, we deprive people of an opportunity to grow in and give expression to their Christian maturity. Supporting my friends over the years has added depth to my walk with Christ. I have learned more about the challenges the gospel faces in another part of the world. I have gained a deeper appreciation for the nuances inherent in all cultures; nuances which can only be learned through experience, patient listening and (sometimes) mistakes! Often, I have been surprised by how barren the spiritual landscape is and delighted when I hear news of the gospel “breaking through”. These learnings have influenced my approach to local ministry situations, by giving me a more rounded perspective on the various ways God can work (i.e., my way isn’t the only way, nor is it always the best way!).

Above all, my eyes have been lifted to an ‘end of the earth’ that I previously had little or no concern for. I am thankful to God for alerting me to my ignorance in this regard. I am also thankful for how he has helped me to persevere and grow as a Christian through my (remote) experience of global mission.

Let us not deprive our churches of a rich opportunity to be encouraged by and become a part of the work God is doing to the ends of the earth.

At CMS NSW & ACT, we pray for three different link churches every morning. With about 400 link churches at the time of writing, this means we will likely be praying for your church every six months or so. Our regular prayer is that you will be constantly growing in your local gospel witness. We long for Jesus to be known locally. But we also pray that God would use your partnership in global mission to help grow your gospel maturity and to help you see how your partnership fits with the eternal plans of God in Christ, to the ends of the earth.