Early in January, Pastor John traveled to Louisville to speak at the annual CROSS conference. And one of sessions was a panel discussion hosted by David Platt, with Pastor John, international evangelist Mack Stiles, and pastors Thabiti Anyabwile and Kevin DeYoung. There was a second clip I wanted to share in the podcast on the place of the local church in global missions. Here’s David Platt, talking about one of the major themes in the CROSS conference.
Local Churches and Missions
David Platt: One other aspect that’s a big emphasis among us and anybody else whom you’ll see on the stage is the central role of the local church in the Great Commission. These are pastors. Everybody who has come up here is either pastoring a church or is part of church planting. We don’t see the Great Commission disconnected from the church. It’s a mission given to the church. Mack, you spoke on that earlier today. Can you summarize in a minute or two just what you shared earlier today about the role of the local church?
“The Great Commission is not disconnected from the church. It’s a mission given to the church.”
Mack Stiles: Yeah, the local church is the embassy of God on earth, the platform from which the Lord God advances evangelism, discipleship, and mission. We can’t do missions without the church.
I didn’t always believe that, and I didn’t always understand that. I actually went to the Arabian Peninsula to do student ministry. By God’s great grace, we saw many people come to faith — many students come to faith. But there was not really a healthy local church for them to go to. Suddenly we realized, “Wait a second. We’ve got to think about this.”
The church is critical. We can’t just give lip service to the church. The church is the aim of missions in one sense. We rolled up our sleeves and got involved in a local expat, English-speaking church. We revitalized it in some powerful ways. It’s a vibrant, gospel-centered, cross-focused church today that has partnered with the student ministry such that there has been power as the result of being in a church, a local, healthy, vibrant, gospel-centered church. It reaching out into unreached people groups.
The main thing I want people to hear is this: don’t ever let a missionary tell you, “Don’t get involved in the local church in a city that you go to as a missionary because it will take you away from your ministry” — whatever that means. Don’t let people tell you that. God loves his bride. They’re often misshapen. They’re often odd. But he loves his bride. And you should love his bride too and pursue helping the church become vibrant if they’re not.
Get plugged into a healthy local church if you become missionaries and workers overseas. Take hold of God’s love for the church because it empowers us in ministry. God blesses those who love his church and are involved in it and help strengthen it and help it grow.
David Platt: Let me shift a little bit to something that’s been mentioned already a couple times from the stage. Do you all suspect, as you pray for what will happen over the next few days, that 7,000-plus people will leave here and move to another country as a missionary? Do you suspect that’s going to happen or do you think there are other ways God might lead people to play a part in this picture? We’ve talked about going and sending. Who wants to give some clarity along those lines?
“The local church is the embassy of God on earth, the platform from which the Lord God advances evangelism, discipleship, and mission.”
Mack Stiles: Yeah, they can do that. We can have 7,500 go.
David Platt: Okay, that’s great. So glad we answered that.
Kevin DeYoung: I think we need clarity even in front of that question. Maybe you’re getting at it, but what is a missionary? Because many folks would say, “You’re all missionaries.”
We’re working with a narrower definition — not at all to minimize the ten million good things we do in the name of Christ, but we’re thinking of missionaries as those who are sent from one place to another. It is like we see in Scripture. It involves crossing some sort of barriers or culture with the purpose of speaking the name of Christ and planting and nurturing healthy churches. Something like that would be what we see.
A text that I go to is Acts 14, where Paul is giving his missionary report to the church in Antioch. Right above that, it gives a summary of what he does in those trips to Derbe and Lystra and around the Mediterranean. He’s doing those three things: sharing the gospel, making disciples, and planting churches and strengthening churches as he’s sent to places to do that. When missions is everything, it ends up that missions is nothing. We want to specify that not every good thing you do in the name of Christ is what me mean by missions.
John Piper: Yeah, but that definition you just gave won’t work because it applies to all American church planters, doesn’t it?
Kevin DeYoung: Well, if we’re crossing cultures?
John Piper: That wasn’t one of the three.
Kevin DeYoung: Well, that was at the front end. I said “being sent across cultures” for those three purposes.
Mack Stiles: To make disciples.
“When missions is everything, it ends up that missions is nothing.”
David Platt: Don’t you love that moment when John Piper says, “Won’t work”?
John Piper: Yeah. Here’s a better text.
Kevin DeYoung: They’re all inspired, John.
John Piper: Yes, but they don’t all say the same thing. So the question you have to ask is this: In every church, should there be somebody like Paul, not just somebody like Timothy? Paul, in Romans 15, said, “I have completed the gospel from Jerusalem to Albania. I’ve completed it. I have no more room for work here” (see Romans 15:19).
That’s ridiculous. There are tens of thousands of unbelievers there because he told Timothy to go do the work of an evangelist, and he’s leaving for Spain. Now, who is he? Who is Paul? Because he’s got no room for work here. He says, “Timothy, you’ve got lots of room for work here. Get it done. Do evangelism. Go plant churches among all those people like you. I’m going to Spain because I’m called to something different.”
Whatever you call that person, that’s what I want about 800 of you to be. That’s my number out of my head. You said, “Do we want 7,000?” Paul did not because when he wrote to Rome, he didn’t ask them all to go with him to Spain. He asked them to send him.
If he thought everybody should be a frontier-type missionary, he would have said, “Now, let’s all leave Rome — it’s evangelized. Let’s go to Spain.” I think that’s included in your first qualification — crossing a culture. Or we could say, “going to the unreached.” It’s not just crossing a culture. These frontier types, or pioneer-type missionaries, are those who want to go someplace where Christ isn’t named and put a stake in the ground and herald his name and gather disciples, and then do that amazing thing of forming churches.
I just want to underline that church issue because most of you are not heavily engaged churchmen and churchwomen, and you need to be. Spend the next years becoming churchmen and churchwomen, meaning you get it: you understand what elders are or deacons are, what pastors do, what the roles of women are, what the roles of men are, what the role of evangelism is, what the role of prayer is, how a church works.
Because, when you go to unreached people and they have nothing, what are you going to build? What are you going to build if you don’t have any idea of how churches function when they’re healthy?