by Justin Lonas
In the March issue, I took this space to relay to you the results of a survey you took last fall. One of the aspects of that which I did not go into in detail (but promised to) is your involvement in missions.
Most of you would agree that missions and evangelism are the crucial activities of the church. Most of you, if asked, would also say that your church has a healthy perspective on the work of Christ around the world. Indeed on the survey, fewer than two percent of you stated that your church has not developed an interest in missions. Perhaps more indicative of reality, though, are the numbers on concrete applications of a passion for outreach: 71 percent of your churches support overseas missions; 69 percent support domestic or local missions; 49 percent of Pulpit Helps readers have sent members of their church on short term mission trips; 40 percent of you host an annual missions conference or missions emphasis week.
Seeing that over two-thirds of you support missions is encouraging, and this figure doesn't take into account the fact that most churches also have at least some form of outreach ministry in their regular operating budget. It's a good sign that the majority of you are exercising the Great Commission in practical ways. I want to encourage you to remember, though, that support of missions entails so much more than just sending money to people that share your doctrinal statement-sponsoring the work of Christians around the world only serves half its purpose if the congregation is not intimately and actively involved in the projects they fund through prayer, dialogue, and personal interaction.
Two of the best ways to maintain active support of mission endeavors involve the next two survey items-short-term trips and missions conferences.
The fact that almost half of you have sent out short-term teams indicates that there is at least a strong willingness to connect with missions among our readers. While the value of short-term missions as an encouragement and help to those in the field is great, their value to sending churches is phenomenal. When church members get a chance to see firsthand what the Lord is up to around the world, He has a way of reigniting our fire for Him at home.
A church in our area pastored by Tim Schoap (author of "Why Join a Church" in the May and June issues) sent a team of 10 to do construction and children's ministries in Haiti in October and another group (with 10 different members) to the same project to operate a medical clinic this April. As a result, this church of just over 200 members now sponsors (provides monthly funds for food, clothing, education, and healthcare) nearly 70 children in the project there - all because a few people went to serve and came back to engage the congregation with the importance of seeing beyond themselves.
One of the "old standards" of the American church is the missions conference. Not only are such events one of the best ways to bring a focus on the vastness of God's call to make disciples of all the world and allow congregations to meet the missionaries they support face to face, they are often an entertaining and encouraging time for the everyone involved. (When else could you see your elders or deacons cringe while eating some exotic food in front of the whole church?) The fact that comparatively few readers actually host missions conferences anymore is puzzling to us. To the end of rekindling interest in missions emphasis, I've asked one of our regular contributors to put together an article on how to host a church-changing missions conference for an upcoming issue.
In summary, we're covering these numbers not to criticize you but to let you know what we found out when we took your "missions temperature" and to encourage you to take a serious look at the direction your church's ministry is heading. You may have noticed that Pulpit Helps' content has steered more toward a focus on missions and evangelism (more correctly, on the Great Commission and discipleship). This is a deliberate step that was taken before we ever did the survey, but your responses helped confirm that this was the direction we needed to follow. It is our sincere belief that the Church rises or falls according to its fulfillment of the Great Commission, and we feel that it is our duty to do everything possible to stir believers to this realization.
We've seen some encouraging response of late to our discipleship emphasis, most notably through a missions-focused pastors' conference we hosted in Pennsylvania in March. We want to continue to hear from you as well! Let us know if our coverage of discipleship is fulfilling its goal. Tell us how you've been challenged through ideas found in Pulpit Helps and how we could do a better job at that. Our responsibility is to meet the ministry needs of our readers, and that sometimes takes the form of telling you things which you may not want to hear but which will ultimately help shape your work more in the image of Christ. As for the "new direction," it's not really new at all-we are simply striving to follow the Lord's lead for the magazine. If we do that faithfully, I think we're all in for an incredible journey.
Justin Lonas is publisher of Pulpit Helps.