“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?
And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?
And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?
And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?
As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”
-- Romans 10: 13-15 (NIV)
One of the truly exciting things about Missions is to experience how the Holy Spirit works. Through God’s Holy Spirit, certain people sense a call to other people who do not know Him. The Spirit then guides, teaches, and equips those who are called, with the things that they will need to present the Gospel in word and deed, often in the context of a new culture.
At the same time, the Holy Spirit is preparing the hearts of those who have not heard for their first encounter with Jesus. They begin to sense an unfulfilled need, even before they become part of a Christ-follower’s life and mission.
And once the Gospel is heard, and the first people receive Jesus into their lives, the Holy Spirit continues to work, preparing them for various roles in the new fellowship created. He will bring to life latent natural gifts and pair them with Spiritual gifts to develop leaders and followers, those who can discern spirits, those who can learn and preach the Word, and those who receive healing in their lives.
While God calls us to be there, He was there before us and will continue growing and developing His new believers to the point where they are sending out brothers and sisters from their own fold.
“Perspectives” (persepctives.org) is a ministry devoted to teaching and equipping believers to realize their responsibility in global missions. One of their teachings focuses on the growth and development of the relationship between those who come to minister and those who are being ministered to. It is a discipleship paradigm and can be likened to the stages of human growth and development. It begins with birth and leads to maturity; from dependence to independence with regards to the missionaries.
The Holy Spirit begins by equipping and sending out Pioneers. These persons are the first to encounter and engage the people to whom God had sent them. At this point those being encountered with the Gospel are learning everything from their new missionary friends. The missionaries model Christ. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, they gain a place in the new group.
At this stage, the relationship is Paternal. With a relationship initially established, the Holy Spirit guides both parties in their journey together, with the missionary taking the lead in developing spiritual knowledge and maturity. The missionaries help develop and equip leaders. They are also prompted to allow the Holy Spirit to shape their thinking and conduct by the people they are ministering to. The goal should be to become more effective in their identification with one another, and allow for the Holy Spirit to prepare for the next stages in life together.
Partnership will be the natural outgrowth of this mutual pilgrimage. At this stage, everyone is working side-by-side with the goal of the missionaries phasing out of leadership. This is a critical point in the relationship where the missionary must watch for opportunities to step back. And this is where we falter the most. Like helicopter parents, missionaries often have difficulty letting go of being in a co-dependent relationship. The Holy Spirit does not need missionaries to develop His church; they have been just assisting the Spirit. Some of the reasons for not letting go often have to do with the fact that people in other cultures do things very differently than us. Sometimes it can be a loss of identity to move from a leadership role into a subservient role.
And the plain fact is, too often this is where a missionary will stay. A local ministry leader once asked me, “When is it time for the missionaries to go home?” She recognized that we all had the same Holy Spirit guiding and equipping us, but that her ministry was being held back by missionaries who, despite two generations of partnership with them, did not really understand the nuances of the culture. She further stated that for the cost of one missionary, she could hire eight locals who understood the language and culture and would be more effective in building the Kingdom. I am happy to say that the Lord provided all the funding and people needed to be a successful ministry without mission leadership.
Where the Holy Spirit is leading everyone is a relationship of the missionary being an invited Participant, under the authority of the new church. It is about knowing when to leave. This requires confidence in the Holy Spirit. It may mean leaving the field of service and going elsewhere. It may mean just taking a back seat and functioning when and where needed.
While this is true of missions, it can also be applied to any church or ministry group within the church. We need to move through these stages rapidly in the local church context in order to empower and release more effective ministers to build the Kingdom.
In all things, we are to remember that our ministries, our mission, is the enterprise of the Holy Spirit, and we are to play our role by His leading, and collaborate with others that He is leading in His perfect Mission.
“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify Me because it is from Me that He will receive what He will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is Mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from Me what He will make known to you.”
-- John 16: 12-15