Last week I was able, high atop a tower, to see just a portion of Mexico City that is 600 square miles/35 million plus souls and GROWING! While there, I received a familiar clarity that only comes on a mission trip that involves being emptied physically and filled spiritually! The question that has been reverberating in my heart since is, “How do we, in any cultural setting, maintain a zealous focus upon our God-given, HIGH mission to reach the very world that so often distracts and discourages us?” I would like to share below a few takeaways that I observed in the local church we partnered with in Mexico City under the capable leadership of Pastor Josue Ortiz as well as Paul in his ministry in Philippi.
A local church that is “on mission” in any culture or time period possesses four transcendent qualities:
Ph 1:20-25 20 According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. 23 For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: 24 Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. 25 And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith;
Notice how Paul describes all the suffering he had been through; he calls these trying events “the things that have happened unto me” (1:12). Most of us would have gone into great detail about shipwreck and chains, but not Paul. His desire was to honor Christ and promote the Gospel.” What fueled Paul’s tenacity was not pride but a humble burden for the needs of those who followed him!
While in Mexico, I was struck by the willingness of our missionaries to maintain a tenacious optimism in the face of so much friction and pushback in their local context (limited space, health risks, travel inconveniences, etc). This attitude, it was obvious, was contagious and transferring to other blossoming leaders in the assembly. Sadly we have too many in our midst who should be leading where they are making excuses.
The only way for our churches to stay on mission is for them to be led/served by relentless leaders!
Ph 1:26 That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again.
Paul desires that their exaltation may constantly overflow, exceed a fixed number or measure, exist in abundance, be over and above, overflow. The sphere in which this blessing is enjoyed is in Christ Jesus, the only legitimate realm for glorying.”
It was a thrill to see the manner in which the Mexican people would play and sing with passion. They just sang with all of their voice, instrument…from the core of their being. How refreshing and convicting! They loved to worship the Lord…even with Americans like us who could barely keep up with their lyrics and carry a tune in the process.
How would you feel if we stopped singing all together in church? (Many of do not realize how important it is…that shows in our lackluster participation.) As one author put it, “In prayer we are occupied with our needs, in thanksgiving we are occupied with our blessings, but in worship we are totally occupied with God Himself.“
The only way for our church to stay on mission is to make sure that our worship is from the heart!
Ph 1:27a Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ:
The words conduct yourselves translate a political word which would mean much to the Philippian believers. Literally it means “live as citizens.” Because Philippi was a Roman colony, the Christian inhabitants of the city would appreciate Paul’s use of that verb. To live in a way that is worthy of the gospel of Christ (cf. Eph. 4:1) is indeed the responsibility of EVERY child of God.”
The evangelistic burden for their city is usually palpable on the mission field, and this past week was no exception. In the new church we served in, one of their dear ladies sharing with one of our ladies, “All of Mexico may not want Jesus, but all of Mexico NEEDS Jesus.” It was encouraging /challenging to watch my dear friend Pastor Ortiz getting choked up by testimony of man who used to “deliver product to the border” and now is a redeemed, local church member.
As one pastor interjected into all of the political, military perspective on the Korean Peninsula, “Praying this morning for our many friends in South Korea who are looking for the day they can share the gospel w/the people of North Korea.” That is an evangelistic burden that transcends all other concerns and priorities!
The only way for our church to stay on mission is to make sure that we maintain a HEAVY burden for the condition of the lost and PERSONALLY contribute to reaching them with the gospel!
Ph 1:27b …that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;
The saints embraced a common cause, for they each shared in the same body of Christ. Therefore Paul was burdened that they stand firm (cf. Phil. 4:1) in one spirit and contend as one man (lit., “in one soul”) for the faith of the gospel, the body of truth (cf. “faith,” Jude 3). Their contending (synalthountes) for the faith suggests a joint effort, like that of an athletic team.
In Mexico City, I observed a proclivity to draw closer to one another beyond the usual “personal space” that we feel entitled to defend and expect. This included warm cheek to cheek greetings, hanging around after AM for sweet bread and coffee for an hour, effort to speak in broken English to connect with us believers from America, and hosting large groups in meager home settings.
You, me, and every other believer CANNOT STAY ON MISSION ALONE! Nothing gets us off mission quicker than isolation…pushing back against this fade is one of the primary purposes of the local church. In our dear church here in the States, my wife Heidi recently noticed that often when we have a church meal, many just eat and run or eat and starting cleaning up…we don’t do the primary purpose of gathering which is FELLOWSHIP!
One commentator, in observation of Christian unity, stated, “We want unbelievers to walk into our church and ask themselves, ‘What are these people (with all of their differences) doing together?'” The only viable answer should be “the gospel!”
The only way for our church to stay on mission is for us to stop avoiding each other and instead share much time, fun, food, study together!
Above is a picture I took in the oldest Catholic Church built in Mexico City. Hanging in the very middle of this massive edifice of false religion is a “pendulum” tracking how much the church is sinking upon the swampy soil beneath the city. Even to the naked eye, you can see how much the building columns, floors, and roofline are shifting-to the point I wasn’t sure if I should remain in the building. This is symbolic of so much more than the sinking of physical foundations; it represents a much deeper problem of unstable doctrine and passive traditions that are deceiving the masses. May God protect us through active obedience to His Word! By the way, the above list vacates much of the “Christian” trends and traditions that so easily misguide and divide us. It has to be about God’s timeless Word alone; that is the only trust-and-obey action that can transfer to any culture and to any generation!
Within the true church of Jesus Christ, no matter its locale, we must guard against sinking beneath our lofty mission…the gospel of Jesus Christ. That only happens with intentional planning and effort whether your church be in Mexico, Ohio, or wherever you reside! Will you guard our ultimate mission by determining to practice RELENTLESS LEADERSHIP, HEARTY WORSHIP, EVANGELISTIC BURDEN, and OPEN FELLOWSHIP?
What other transcendent practice would you add to the list that keeps a local church on God’s mission?