Small Crowds for Missions
"I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all, making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now, and I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." - Philippians 1:4-6
I appreciate verse five as it has to do with our topic in today's post - "Because of your partnership". Paul speaks to this body of believers and he thanks God for their partnership in the Gospel. I personally, and my family, want to thank you for your partnership in this ministry making it possible for us to have this Gospel ministry to incorporate US Christians into the Lord's work among the people of Italy.
As a missionary, when I mentioned small crowds, there are numerous things that come to mind, actually. Each of them is worthy of further discussion. We could, for example, cover the reality that the missionary to a place like Italy, an unreached people group, has to be familiar with small crowds when evangelizing and doing gospel ministry. There are very few regenerate people, true believers here in this place. You could be the best preacher in the world, for example, gathering crowds of people wherever you go, but the reality is, in Italy nobody would come and care to hear what any preacher has to say. Missionaries in Italy must be content and very content in Christ. Only then can they persevere in going to the individuals in Italy with the gospel to preach to them directly and to evangelize individuals and small groups of people. That's typically how it works in Italy; we go to them where they are. Then when people get saved, by the Sovereign work of God in regeneration, a church begins to take form. Typically, churches in Italy are small. They usually will have between 10-20 people on average, sometimes 30, 40, or 50, and occasionally even more. But typically, the churches in Italy, evangelical churches, are very, very small in number (compared to the US). That being said, the missionary in Italy is very familiar with small crowds of people. But that's not actually what we're going to talk about today. Instead, we're going to talk about small crowds back in the States regarding involvement with the global mission of Jesus Christ.
We participated in a conference recently with a well-known missions organization in the States, (we observed and joined in virtually). There were well-known speakers there, which I'll mention in a little bit, but I was shocked to see a relatively small crowd. Even with famous people speaking and preaching, still, there was a small crowd. So when it comes to conferences today, there is a reality that conferences for involving others in missions simply don't seem to draw a crowd comparable to the conferences on all other spheres of the Christian life. Today we're going to look at 3 reasons why that is, as well as some exhortations as to how to see that reality change.
Why are there small crowds?
Why is it that there are, generally speaking, small crowds when it comes to missions involvement?
In the average church, when missionaries home or when there are people who go on a short-term trip and then they come back there will usually be some kind of debriefing or a time for them to share with the congregation. Everybody's usually excited about it. The people clap and praise God. I've seen it. I've seen churches of over 1,000 people excited to see what short-term missionaries that they sent out have accomplished. They come back, and they have some kind of event to get together, and of the thousands of people in the church, those who come to the event are very few, sometimes just a handful. This demonstrates the reality of the small crowds for missions work. Why is there seemingly such little involvement in the thing most important to Christ, the great commission?
3 Reasons Why I Believe There Are Often Small Crowds for Missions Work
1.) The Cost is High When Getting Involved in Missions
To get involved in missions, there is a cost to it. I would remind us all that Jesus made this very clear from the beginning for all of us as disciples of Jesus Christ. To be His disciples, there is a cost. We deny ourselves, we pick up our cross, we follow after Hm, we die to ourselves, day after day. Jesus made it very clear that it is not a walk in the park to be His disciple. To be involved in what He calls us to be involved in will cost us one way or another. It's just like evangelism. There's a cost to lead others to Christ as well. Nobody really, in a right state of mind, finds joy and excitement in going to lost people and telling them that they are sinners in need of salvation. There's not really anything fun or exciting about that. Now, those of us who have experienced doing Biblical evangelism and have seen God work in our hearts and work through us, we learn quickly to get over that fear and we learn to love evangelism. But humanly speaking, there's nothing exciting about getting involved in evangelism. Leading others to Christ and engaging them in evangelism is something we're all called to be involved in as followers of Christ. We are to intentionally go to the lost, to show them the need for a Savior, to point them to the Savior, to show them how they can be made alive, made new, and so on. There is a high cost when getting involved in missions, and just like in evangelism, it cost us something every time we apply ourselves to the task. The same is true for getting involved in missions, there is a cost that cannot be avoided. It costs you time. It costs you energy, money, commitment, and much more.
Often getting involved in missions means heartache. You learn about people in desperate situations. You learn about lostness that you never even could fathom before. You learn about the needs in other lands where nobody has access to good gospel teaching and preaching and so on. You learn about places where churches are few and scattered, or even persecuted. All these things can cause heartache. Getting involved in missions often involves tears, together with heartache. Tears, sweat, blood, there is a real sacrifice, there is a real cost when it comes to getting involved in the global mission of Jesus Christ.
The first reason why so few get involved in missions and go to missions events, or find ways to actively get involved in the global mission of Jesus Christ is the cost. We like things easy. We like things comfortable. We don't like to be pushed too far. We don't want to be considered perhaps too zealous or extreme. But let us not forget, brothers and sisters, the extreme measures and great zeal that Jesus Christ had/has for us. He took drastic measures to make sure all our sins were paid for. He humiliated himself by taking on flesh, carrying that cross, going to the cross, enduring pain, suffering, and anguish that we cannot even fathom. The Lord was very zealous and excited for us, and we ought to be for Him, for His kingdom, for His church, and for his mission going on in this world.
The second reason why I believe so few get involved in the global mission of Jesus Christ, is because honestly,
2.) There's No Gain To Be Had in Missions Work
Often when we talk about getting involved in something we consider the benefits. What is the return investment? What am I going to get out of this? If I'm going to put my time and money and energy and resources into this, what will I receive back? When it comes to missions, that kind of reasoning has no place. We are a living sacrifice unto the Lord. Whether our mission endeavors are successful or total failures, it's all to the glory of God. Whether we live 50-60 years doing that mission endeavor, or whether we die from some kind of illness tomorrow, it's all to the glory of God. This is the reality for the disciples of Jesus. Humanly speaking, however, (worldly speaking), there is no gain to be had from getting involved in missions. I believe this is another reason why few today get involved in the global mission of Jesus Christ. This is why so few go to different missions events and gatherings to learn how to get involved in the global mission of Jesus Christ.
The personal rewards in missions work are almost non-existent, apart from understanding that it's our greatest privilege. To be spent and to give our lives for Jesus, the gospel, the church, and to bring others to saving faith, is for the Christian joy and honor. When we understand that this is our greatest privilege and there is no greater calling it's because we know there is great gain in knowing and being known by Christ. There is no greater joy than to be pointing people to the Savior, bringing them to the Savior, seeing disciples made and Biblical churches planted, as we involve ourselves in Jesus' mission no matter the cost. There is a great gain to be a part of something that is eternal and that lasts forever; to be a part of the Lord's global mission.
So, the second reason why I believe so few get involved is because there is no gain to be had. Parents do not look highly upon their children becoming missionaries because they seem like failures (even beggars) in the eyes of the world - they don't gain riches or honor as the world sees it. This leads us to our final reason as to why so few get involved in the global mission of Jesus Christ.
3.) Superficial Discipleship
What I mean by this is that often, when people get saved, they're not well-discipled. Perhaps they'll come to a Sunday service and maybe once in a while to some kind of home gathering or something in the middle of the week. When it comes to actually being discipled, however, to meeting with somebody intentionally to do real Bible study and to know sound doctrine and the faith that was handed down once and for all, not many people, unfortunately, are actually being personally discipled.
In some churches today, the preaching may be long, an hour or more. There is nothing wrong with this. It's good and fine, but not if regular discipleship is overlooked. We personally have a less common practice when it comes to church planting, preaching, and discipleship. I was taught by my mentor, a veteran missionary/apostolic church planter in Italy, that if you cannot deliver your message in 30-40 minutes, you're not going to say it in an hour either... This has remained with me over the years to help me keep my sermons full and deep, but also concise and to the point so that my listeners don't walk away either confused or overloaded, but rather having caught the one big idea or main point they need to keep in heart. I believe there's an advantage to this approach. My mentor was very committed to personally discipling individuals rather than depending on their growth coming from Sunday sermons. All throughout the week, he'd be meeting with people and with families to do real discipleship and get them equipped and trained so they too can make disciples of others. At PMc, we apply the same practice as well. Real discipleship, we believe, happens in the week. Sunday's message is part of discipleship. It's encouraging. It's very, very important, but when it comes to real teaching, and growing in grace, that happens typically on a daily basis throughout the week.
In any case, superficial discipleship is a problem today. Not many people are as well-discipled as they should be. If we look at the Puritans, for example, we can see how well they were discipling one another, and how well they were rooted in the faith. It's just astonishing how far we've come, unfortunately, in the wrong direction, since their time.
Also evangelism, unfortunately, is not taught very well today, and for that matter neither is missions. Grace as well is rarely understood in depth by the average believer today. Everybody talks about grace, for goodness' sake, even the pope talks about grace, but he has a totally wrong understanding of what grace is (most of the priests as well.) They teach people that they must earn grace... Real grace, is actually something that's so beautiful, so profound, so life-transforming, but unfortunately, it's just not taught well enough and often enough in Christian circles today and the result is tragic.
In our day, we also have false converts in abundance. When it comes to superficial discipleship, many people actually believe they're Christians when they're not actually even saved. They're depending, though they don't always realize it, on their own works and performance for their salvation, not on God's mercy and grace alone to the glory of God alone. It is a real problem today that many churches are filled with false converts. Many come to Jesus for benefits, material benefits, or a better life, rather than coming for Jesus Himself and for the forgiveness of their sins and salvation while knowing that they need desperately a Savior.
I would also argue that the quest of pastors to be cool or hip has led to superficial discipleship resulting in not enough involvement in missions. There are too many churches with hip and happening dudes for pastors utilizing theatrics, screens, blasting music, flashing lights, and smoke & gas and all this kind of stuff. This has taken the place of true holiness and living a simple but holy life unto the Lord. Rather than coolness, leaders ought to desire to be faithful to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. When we lived as Christ called us we are actually quite an attractive people in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. We don't need special effects.
Before I go into our closing exhortations... As a small ministry, we are encouraged by this reality we observed at the missions conference we attended. There were some big-name guys there, including Mark Dever and John Piper, yet their crowd was seemingly small. At other events with these well-known guys there, there would typically be several thousand people attending to hear and learn. In this case, there were just a few hundred. Looking at their YouTube channel from this event, we also can see very few views compared to normal speaking engagements they would do. I believe this difference in views is because people are more interested in what they have to say at regular events because their normal messages have a different sort of benefit for their listeners in the right here and now. Missions involvement, as we mentioned above, has a cost to it. There's not much to be gained when getting involved in it, and unfortunately, I think the same is true for a missions conference. As a small mission organization ourselves, we are encouraged when we see even the big guys with small turnouts. When we don't see lots and lots of people running to get involved at PMc and in Italy, we know we're not alone.
Quindi / Therefore
Quindi, is an Italian word that means, therefore. So, therefore, having said all this, and wanting to move forward in a positive way, what are some exhortations we can get from this post today?
1.) We Give Praise to God
For you who are our ministry partners! For those of you praying for us and giving financially, you are involved in the global mission of Jesus Christ. You're playing a role where there's a great need for the gospel to go forward, and where there's a need for churches to be planted. You're involved in Biblical missions through prayer and giving as you participate in this ministry. You support even as you read these blog posts or tune in to the missions podcast and then pray for us at the end. We praise God for you. We're thankful for those of you who are the backbone of this ministry, keeping us going and keeping us serving the Lord, reaching the lost one soul at a time, one small crowd at a time.
As another exhortation quindi, in light of this reality, we would say this -
2.) Seek the Lord Today
Seek the Lord and ask the Lord, how you can involve yourself more personally in Jesus' global mission. One way you can do that if you don't already have a good tangible way to be involved, or if you have not found anything that fits for you, is to subscribe to PMc's email list to keep yourself involved in the work in Italy.
I would encourage you to meet alone with the Lord in prayer and seriously consider what role He would you play in His global mission.
We should always seek the Lord in this regard right in our immediate context, in our family context, and in our church context. It's good and right to seek out how we can serve the Lord where we are, but we should also not overlook the global aspect as to our calling as individuals that are part of the body of Christ around the world. Pray about this! Seek the Lord regarding your role.
3.) Join The Italian Cohort
We invite you to also consider joining The Italian Cohort, a PMc online Slack Community. If you're not familiar with Slack, it works really well for teams and teamwork. It's like a messaging service, but much more. It's free. You can interact with us there, with real missionaries. You can stay informed about what's going on here in Italy and regarding the mission's work. You can get updates before other people do. You can share feedback, you can ask questions, you can encourage others and you can be encouraged, and much more. It's a new way to stay involved in the mission of the global mission of Jesus Christ.
Question: What are some other ways that you have found to be helpful for staying engaged in the global mission of Jesus Christ?
We'd love to hear your thoughts, so don't hesitate to leave a comment!
Written by Jesse Schreck
Taken from Missions Incorporated, podcast ep. 261 - Small Crowds
Related Posts: How to See More Than 1 in 1,000 Become Missionaries