by Robby Butler
Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the Nov.-Dec. 2008 issue of Mission Frontiers. We are reprinting it here because the insights it brings into the Church's responsibility for the global cause of Christ. Thought originally a single piece, we have broken it into three segments in order to fit it into Pulpit Helps.
In this installment, Butler concludes his discussion of the pitfalls of Church Mission (which focuses on expanding the Church through evangelism) and Kingdom Mission (which expands Church Mission to include proclaiming God's Kingdom by working against the effects of sin) when separated from each other.
Ditches of Church Mission, continued
2) Personal Salvation Alone
Similarly to Church Mission's focus on transforming individuals (as opposed to communities, regions, and ultimately nations), an exclusive emphasis on saving souls produces "Christians" who neglect to seek God's Kingdom and instead simply await their rescue from this life (into heaven). When such individuals do reach outside the Church, it is only to urge others to join them in such withdrawal. As evangelist Ray Comfort documents in his talk Hell's Best Kept Secret, a fundamental change in evangelistic approach in the late 1800s yielded a precipitous drop in evangelistic effectiveness (This timeline corresponds with the shift from Kingdom Mission to Church Mission). Whereas 80% and more of converts "remained" long-term in the Church under the preaching of Wesley, Whitefield, Spurgeon, Finney and others, less than 20% of today's "converts" remain in the Church.
Comfort relates this change in effectiveness to a change in approach-from that of Jesus, who proclaimed God's Kingdom and the moral demands of God's law before offering God's grace and forgiveness (only to the humble and repentant),-to an approach that is much more comfortable for us; telling people that God loves them and wants to offer them His free gift of eternal life through His Son Jesus Christ so that God can begin blessing them.
Unfortunately, this modern evangelistic approach may yield a positive response without the deep conviction of sin that leads to genuine repentance. As Comfort notes, this has resulted in congregations loaded with unrepentant people seeking God's blessings rather than His Kingdom.
The Ditches of Kingdom Mission devoid of Church Mission
U.S. Center for World Mission founder Dr. Ralph Winter's concept of Kingdom Mission is centered on Church Mission. But various ditches lie on the side of neglecting the Church Mission component of Kingdom Mission.
The ditch of "social activism"
Congregations loaded with unrepentant people can pour tremendous energies into trying to fix the world. But such efforts are fruitless without God's power and direction. Individuals do need to be transformed before seeking God's will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven.
The ditch of "busyness in doing good things"
Even transformed individuals who are pursuing Kingdom Mission are susceptible to variants of this ditch:
Task orientation can lead to ignoring or underestimating the intelligent opposition we face to God's Kingdom. Simply working harder or even smarter will not prevail against "principalities and powers" and the ruler of this world. To be effective we must fix our eyes on Jesus while praying and working together in dependence on the Holy Spirit's guidance and empowering.
Dryness can quickly afflict any who neglect to meditate day and night on God's word (Josh. 1:8, Ps 1:2-3), or who fail to wait for the empowering of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49).
Individualism can so limit our vision that we can only see needs that we can solve or contribute to independently. Individualism also undermines our witness and makes us much more vulnerable to the enemy's attacks. God's word calls for us to guard and watch out for each other as well as for ourselves.
Pleasing others can lead to overextending ourselves. We must seek to please God alone (Gal. 1:10), otherwise we may squander the resources which God has entrusted to us on needs He intended someone else to address.
Busyness can also render us ineffective, and increase our vulnerability and blindness to Satan's schemes. The soldier, athlete and farmer of 2 Tim. 2:4-6 speak of our need to focus to build our capacity and resources to do what God created us for. Furthermore, God ordains times of reduced activity during which we can build our capacity for what He has called us to accomplish. If we fill such times with activity that He didn't intend, we limit our full life potential to fulfill what God designed us to do.
Misalignment with God's purposes may occur when our decisions are not rooted in a clear understanding of God's priorities in the battle taking place against His Kingdom. We must continue prayerfully seeking God's guidance for the most important thing that we can do for His Kingdom that others can't do or won't do. But without a clear understanding of God's Kingdom purposes, we may turn for guidance to circumstances, or to subjective indicators such as what we are best at or what we want to do.
Duty can, especially when we become chronically busy, substitute for or even replace the heart motivation that God requires-faith expressing itself through love (Gal. 5:6). When this happens, all of our labors become useless (I Cor. 13:1-3).
God is not just offering salvation; He is enlisting participants in battle. The Church is not called simply to perpetuate itself, but to pursue God's will on earth as it is done in heaven. This involves prayer (Matt. 6:10, Luke 11:2), proclamation (Matt. 4:17, Mark 1:15) and action (Matt. 6:33, Luke 12:31, 1 John 2:14).
To free His people to give themselves to this battle, God has promised eternal and abundant life to all who unite themselves with Him in love and in purpose.
With alertness to our adversary the devil, we can avoid the ditches and aggressively and effectively collaborate to advance His Kingdom and His Church and to complete the missionary task in our day.
Originally appeared in Mission Frontiers, Nov.-Dec. 2008 issue.
Robby Butler worked for the U.S. Center for World Mission for 24 years and is now
developing a movement of believers to seek first God's Kingdom through their vocations.