Why Your Church Needs to Be Centered and Sent
Early in my pastorate, a well-meaning pastor told me that we should not think that much about sending during our first ten years; we should focus on building up our church locally. I know he meant well, but I have come to see this as very bad advice. Inherent in the call to follow Jesus is a call to follow him in his mission, both to our neighbors and to the nations.
In The Mission of God, Christopher Wright points out that God’s promise to use Abraham and his descendants to bless the nations rushes like a river through every chapter of the Bible. Scripture, he says, is not just a collection of theological truths to learn and moral lessons to master and then regurgitate on a final exam. Scripture is an announcement about a rescue mission God has come on for us, and an invitation to join that rescue mission (2 Cor. 5:14–20).
God formed the church for mission, Wright says. He didn’t come up with a mission for his church as much as he formed a church for his mission. Thus, to separate any teaching of Scripture from its context of global mission is to misinterpret it. In other words, you can’t teach any text of Scripture properly if you don’t teach missions out of it. Any ministry that is not formed in light of the Great Commission is off from the start. That’s why I say my pastor friend was so wrong. Because if a church is not engaging in mission, it really has no point in existing.
Can an emphasis on sending unhelpfully distract a church from its local responsibilities? It can, and I have seen that happen sometimes. More often, however, a focus on sending people out increases passion for doing mission at home. I’m confident that every dollar you spend getting your members engaged in missions will likely return to you fourfold. When believers see with their own eyes what God is doing around the country and around the world, their hearts open (and so do their pocketbooks). The first year I was pastor we sent forty people to care for missionary families on a spiritual retreat in Asia. All told, the trip cost our members nearly $100,000. The next year, however, we gave an astounding and unprecedented amount in our annual Christmas missions offering. The International Mission Board told us we were the “highest missions giving church per capita” that year in the Southern Baptist Convention. Years later, when we presented our church with the need to go multi-site in order to better reach our community, it just made sense to people.
Multiplying and sending is what we do, even when it’s inconvenient and involves leaving a place you’re comfortable with to set up chairs in an elementary school gym across town. This past year we gave a half-million gift to start a new urban city center that will reach at-risk teens in our city. Giving away money has become part of our DNA, and that happened as we exposed ourselves to what God is doing around the world. As Keith Eitel, my seminary missions professor, used to say: “The light that shines the farthest will also shine the brightest at home.”
We don’t have to choose between building our people up and sending our people out. In fact, they feed on each other: the deeper our discipleship goes, the broader our mission becomes. The more centered we are in God’s Word, the more sent we become as a church.
That’s why I’m so excited about a conference the Summit is hosting this October 18–19, called Centered and Sent. It’s a two-day conference that will help your church think about growing deeper and growing wider at the same time.
I’ll be there with some great pastors and friends—Joby Martin, Bryan Loritts, Ed Stetzer, and the one and only Tim Keller. The cost is $189, and we’re intentionally limiting the spots so you can actually interact with the speakers. Trust me, your future self will be very angry with your present self if you let this opportunity pass you by.