Well, I am back home and grateful to God for another wonderful visit to East Africa. I enjoyed great fellowship with our missionaries and with eleven members of Inter-City Baptist Church. As I think I’ve mentioned previously, this is my 11th trip to East Africa since 1999. The first trip was almost exactly 10 years ago—I spent Father’s Day in Mwanza, Tanzania back in 1999 and now again in 2009. On Father’s Day I was struck by that fact while writing in my journal. What an incredible ride these past 10 years have been!
That trip in June 1999 was my first visit to the mission field, and it came as a survey trip. Since that first trip, the Lord has given me the opportunity to make a number of other ministry trips—Tanzania, Kenya, Poland, India, Brazil, Argentina, Turkey, and Mexico. I’ve written about the value of visiting the mission field in a series of 4 posts (here, here, here, and here), but reflecting on these past 10 years prompted me to make some notes to share with our team (and now with you).
1999 marked my 10th anniversary as the senior pastor of ICBC, so I obviously had not done any missionary visits in those first ten years. But I was doing a lot of thinking about missions and the Lord was at work in my heart. In the mid-nineties I preached a series called “Forgotten Elements of the Great Commission” that was pretty much the first draft for a lot of what ended up in For the Sake of His Name. John Piper’s Let the Nations Be Glad was used by the Lord to great profit in my life. I also read a number of biographies that all seemed to form an interlocking emphasis on missions—Taylor, Borden, and even Moody pointed toward missions via the connections with the Student Volunteer Movement. (BTW, reading about the Student Volunteer Movement stirred a burden for students and missions that has evolved into Student Global Impact and Missions Mandate.)
Also, our church became debt free in the early 90s and I led our church to start adding missionaries at, looking back on it, an overly aggressive pace. I think that because I don’t think I was as careful leading our church in this as I should have been. I made a few mistakes, but perhaps the biggest was assuming that the endorsement of a mission agency meant more than it did. Thankfully, we added some very good missionaries, but we also added some that we should not have. It was, though, a good learning experience that has proved profitable for our church’s missions efforts for the long haul.
I may unpack these more fully later on, but let me just fire through a bullet point list of what I’ve come to feel strongly about through these provocations and the experiences of the past ten years:
· Primacy of the local church—ultimately, we can’t look outside of the local church to do missions; the Great Commission starts from local churches, is under the supervision of local churches, and should result in local churches. Pastors, don’t make the mistake of handing the ball off to mission boards! Get personally involved and lead the church to own the task.
· Priority of church planting and starting church planting movements—the center of missions must be planting churches that will plant churches, and that means we must deliberately focus on developing indigenous works with a reproducible model and stop transplanting American churches and ministries worldwide.
· Power of focus—we decided to concentrate our efforts on a few places in order to make a deep impact rather than spread them out and diffuse them. We support works all over the world, but not as many as if we measured our missions efforts solely by the number of missionaries we support.
· Partnerships in the Gospel—it became clear to me that we needed to find godly, gifted men with a compatible vision and help them get it done by God’s grace. I am grateful to God for the partners that He has given our church. These are men with a heart for God and a vision to advance the Great Commission, and we’ve had the privilege of joining our resources to their work in a partnership that God is blessing. May He raise up more for His glory!