I vividly remember a moment in a sermon on Revelation 7 nearly thirty years ago when I was a university student considering missionary service. The preacher read the description of the great multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language standing before God’s throne and before the Lamb and simply said, “This is God’s vision for the world. Is it yours?”
That question was easy to answer during my years as a CMS missionary in Mexico. It was easy to answer during my years training others for global and cross-cultural mission at Ridley College and St Andrew’s Hall. How do I answer the question now that I am the pastor of a local church in my hometown?
John Stott wrote, “We must be global Christians with a global vision because our God is a global God.” The imperative is not just for individual believers, but also for local churches.
The book of Acts recounts the progress of the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome as Jesus’ followers begin their mission of bearing witness to him to the ends of the earth. Much of the book narrates the story and ministry of the Apostle Paul, as the gospel spreads beyond its Jewish origins into the Gentile world. That makes it tempting to see pioneer missionary work as the exclusive domain of courageous, solo adventurers. Do you know how Paul’s missionary career was launched?
In Acts 11, we read about some anonymous Jewish believers, persecuted and scattered, who went to Antioch and began deliberately sharing the gospel with non-Jews. Then in Acts 13, this multicultural worshipping community prays and fasts, and, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, sets apart, sends and supports Barnabas and Saul (Paul) for missionary work. Paul’s great missionary career begins with a local church that worships the Lord and is responsive to the Holy Spirit.
Later, in his letter to the Philippians, Paul rejoices over the Philippian church’s partnership with him in the gospel, a constant commitment from the time the Philippians received the gospel (Philippians 1:5). Their commitment includes mutual encouragement, prayer, financial support, and the sending of other gospel workers in both directions.
There is a note of sadness amidst his joy, however, when he writes, “Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except only you” (Philippians 4:15). Paul commends the Philippians’ exceptional partnership in the gospel, but implicitly longs for their commitment to be shared by other local churches.
So what does the vision of the great multitude mean for a local church and a local pastor? It means reaching out to those from all the nations, tribes, peoples, and languages God has brought within our orbit. It means partnership in the gospel to reach out beyond our local context. God willing, it means prayerfully setting apart, sending, and supporting missionaries from our own ranks. And a global vision requires a global culture in local churches so that global mission is not a special interest, but part of the DNA expressed in every part of church life.
– Charlie Fletcher, Senior Minister, All Saints Anglican Church, Clayton
(First published at Pioneers Australia. Used by permission)