A World of Turmoil: Wars and Rumors of Wars—Opportunities for Effective Outreach

Church Doctor Report
March/April 2024

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How would you describe this moment in history? Wars and rumors of wars? Disruption on the political scene? Discouragement from recent events? Fear about the future? Disintegration of ethical standards? Absence of strong leadership? Meltdown of morality?

All of that is kind of negative, don’t you think? Yet, it’s where many people are today. It’s also, to a great extent, where the people of Israel were at the time Christ appeared. We like to say, “God’s timing is perfect because He is God.” But really? The Promised Land was overrun by pagan Romans. They were nasty people. They practiced crucifixion—one of the worst and most hideous torture techniques in history. What was God thinking, to send His Son into that mess?

Receptivity

God demonstrates a lot about human receptivity. When things are at their worst, the Creator does His best work. That work is Jesus. John 3:17 says, “For God sent His son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”

Have you heard the story about Marvin the mule? The farmer bought Marvin from his neighbor. He took Marvin home and hooked him up to a wagon. But he couldn’t get the mule to move. So, the man called his neighbor and told him his problem. The man came over, took a two-by-four board, and hit Marvin on the head. The new owner reacted: “Why did you do that? You could have killed him!” The neighbor said, “You can’t just tell Marvin to move. First, you have to get his attention!”

Does God have your attention concerning this chapter in history? Of course you have concerns about the state of our world, the impact on your children and grandchildren—even on yourself. You are likely well-versed in the challenges our present world faces. Yet, as a Christian, has God got your attention about the spiritual dynamics? You have some of the same challenges Jesus faced with the Jews.

The Jews were experts on the problem. The Romans controlled the “Holy Land”—the chunk of earth given to the followers of God. Think about a foreign entity taking over your land—changing much of the way you do life—and taxing you, then threatening to kill you or jail you if you didn’t submit.

So, you watch the news. And you become well aware of the symptoms. However, the issue behind the issue is this: What really transforms your life? What transforms your future, the future of your nation—and the future of your children and their children?

Your answer might be: “faith…faith in Jesus.” That’s a great start. Your personal faith is important. Yet, if you want to impact the world in which you live, you need to focus on the corporate mechanism of faith, your church. How effective is your church? How effective is every church—and all the churches, collectively—and what is the level of impact on the nation and the world?

Don’t be fooled: This isn’t simply an important issue for pastors or denominations. This is a key issue for every Christian. Effective mission outreach requires radical change for you and your congregation.

Think about the apostles. They didn’t work at reforming synagogues. And the Jewish leaders—stuck in organization and politics—wouldn’t let them if they tried. The apostles led something that would move beyond transactional change. Through the teaching of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, they were involved in transformational change. They birthed something new: churches—churches that were refreshed by the Holy Spirit, on fire for mission, and focused on reaching everyone for Christ. They didn’t have an “outreach committee.” They were on mission 24/7.

Is Your Church Growing?

This is an important question! Yet, that question is not enough. If your church is collecting believers who move into your area, that is great. But it’s not enough. If your church is growing because you have awesome preaching and programs and attracting Christians, that’s not enough. God’s plan is that you reach all people: the unchurched, dechurched, underchurched, and never-churched. Is your church equipped to do that? Has your pastor been trained to do that? Does your congregation have the mission-effective resources for that? Honestly, for a minority of churches, the answer is “yes.” For the majority of congregations, denominations, and movements, the answer is “probably not.”

How could this occur? It has to do with the BIG LIE. This is, admittedly, oversimplified, but basically true: Most people think their country is primarily “Christian,” or at least religious. The parallel error is also true: Most pastors haven’t been equipped to do mission work. So, they can’t equip those in the church to be missionaries to those in their social networks.

Understand this: If you told people you felt called to be a “missionary,” most Christians would think you were going to some other country. In fact, most pastors who feel called to be “missionaries” are thinking about foreign mission work. They are trained in the biblical discipline of missiology, and then they go overseas. God bless them!

The tragedy is that most people who become “pastors” to serve in their own countries are not trained in missiology. I wasn’t. Not in my Christian college, not in seminary, and not in graduate school. I earned a PhD in theology—and learned almost nothing about how to be a missionary to those who are far from God. Therefore, I could not train the people in my church to be missionaries. That is how I discovered the major mission disaster: I was never trained.

I then enrolled in a mission training course with two-week, intensive seminary sessions preceded by thousands of pages of assigned reading about missiology. Each session was followed by a required paper on how I would implement what I learned in my church. My professors were former career missionaries who served at different places in the world. I took three to four two-week sessions a year for three years. I learned missiology. I came to understand: America—like every nation, everywhere—is a mission field.

I learned missiology and applied it to my dying church. Many congregation members caught it, and our church grew dramatically. I share this not to boast, but to be clear about these issues: (1) I have worked with hundreds of pastors from 78 denominations and from nondenominational and independent churches over the last 40 years. (2) Most pastors have never been trained in missiology. (3) So, they can’t train those in their churches to be “missionaries” to those in their social networks who are not yet believers. (4) The Christian movement in this nation is severely crippled.

Most growing churches in America—those reaching unchurched people—are led by pastors who have had mission training. It is true that some congregations are “growing” even though missiology is not the priority of the staff or leadership. Yet, they are primarily attractional models, often reaching believers who have left other churches. These churches do serve a valuable function in American Christianity. They provide more effective ministry to believers who have—for whatever reason—left their previous churches. Yet, the majority of Americans are not dechurched (from a former church). The majority of people are unchurched.

Major Transformation

We need to declare—at every level of our thinking: We live on a mission field. We must train missionaries who lead churches and equip Christians in mission tactics. Missiology is not rocket science. It’s biblical. Try this: Read the New Testament epistles through the lens of mission zeal and focus. Diagnose what drove the movement to plant churches and multiply ministry. Ask yourself: “What were the priorities for these new Christians? What was their passion? How did they understand their mission? What was their vision? Was it ‘it’s all about us’ or ‘it’s all about reaching others’?”

I must admit this: After I completed seminary and graduate school, my denomination placed me into a dying church in an urban setting. And I had no clue how to reach out into that cross-cultural neighborhood. When I sensed “mission failure,” I contacted my district mission executive. I was clear: “Look, I am just out of school. I spent four years in the denominational college and three years in seminary. Then I did the required internship at a church. After receiving my master’s degree, I applied for graduate school, which took three years. I received a PhD in theology. I was placed in this all-Anglo church made up of great people. But the neighborhood is changing to African American. We reach out, but nothing seems to work. During the 10 years before I arrived at the church, the congregation declined by 67 percent. After a year of trying, I don’t know what to do. Most of our new neighbors are African Americans with young children. Our membership is 100 percent white, and most are aging. I don’t know what to do.”

There was a pause at the other end of our phone conversation. Then the district executive responded, “We don’t know what to do in that situation. We have already closed several urban churches in your city, and one day your church will likely close as well.”

Today, decades later, that church is a thriving, vibrant, African American congregation. When I visited a couple of years ago, I was the only white person in the church, and the sanctuary was packed out with several hundred African Americans, many of them with young children. How did that happen?

It was only possible by a move of God. That move was connected with my study of missiology for three years. It occurred after that discouraging phone call with the mission executive. I grew from being an American pastor to becoming a missionary pastor in America. I trained some of our people in mission strategy, and God blessed it! And the African American pastor who now leads that church? He gets it!

Every Church

You don’t have to be a church in a culturally changing community to become a missionary. And you don’t have to be satisfied with a plateaued or declining congregation in any community.

You don’t need everyone in your church to be trained in missionary principles. Jesus started with 12, lost one, and the movement really took off with the Apostle Paul, the former bureaucratic persecutor.

Change your worldview. Your community is a mission field. You can learn missiology. You can train some members of your church to be missionaries without having to leave home. It’s not just about an “evangelism program.” It begins by looking into the mirror and saying, “I am a missionary,” then developing that worldview in others. Share this message with as many people in your church who will listen.

Be clear: Not everyone in your church will respond to missionary training. Yet, understand this: God can use a few committed Christians with mission training to start a movement that will result in the most exciting adventure on the planet. After all, look at the few people in the New Testament who fueled the Christian movement with mission zeal and enthusiasm for those who were far from God. Our world is filled with people who don’t yet know Christ. And everyone in your church knows some of them.

Kent R. Hunter is an enthusiastic missionary focused on helping Christians to look in the mirror, point to themselves with both thumbs, and say, “I am a missionary.” Kent says, “You don’t have to cross the sea; just see the cross.” Kent’s passion is to help believers in Jesus follow Him in the mission and ignite their churches to effectively reach others for eternity. He is the author of 35 books, including Church Politics: Pain-Free Decision-Making. Kent is the founder of Church Doctor Ministries, now led by Dr. Tracee J. Swank.

Church Doctor Report - March/April 2024

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