Audio Transcript:

Welcome to Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on Church and Missions. This is episode 133 of Missions on Point. This is a part of a series called Your Church Missions Handbook. And the purpose of this series is to help you revise, review, or write for the very first time a church missions handbook or a church missions manual, whatever you would want to call it. This particular episode is going to deal with church strategy and focus. It's really one of my favorite topics, and one of the ways that most churches that we help are best able to jump a whole big level in their understanding of missions and ownership of missions for their church family. The first thing I want to talk about is common lack of strategy and focus. This is one of the underlying reasons why we need to give some attention to strategy and focus in our church missions ministries.

The most common illustration that arises out of my contact with churches is that they look at the world map that's in their hallway or bulletin board that describes their mission's commitments to ministry around the world, and it looks like someone fired a shotgun at it. It is scattered all over the place. There's no commonality to those ministries. There's no connecting tissue for those ministries. There's not even a connecting type of ministry that is similar across the board. I've had church pastors and mission leaders tell me we look at that map and we wonder why in the world did we start even supporting that missionary or that ministry? We don't even know why we have a relationship with them, but we've had it for perhaps decades.

I remember helping two churches, one a smaller church and one a very large church that had in mind their strategy was to try to put a pin in the map of every continent or even every nation in the world. And to me that is the height of arrogance and a misconstrued idea of ministry. Why and with whom are you doing missions ministry in these various places? Do you have any connection or ownership at all or is it all for your pride that you get to say, "Look at all the pins on the map that we support for low dollar values a month?" The smaller church actually told me the reason they support missionary scattered all over the place is so that they can get fresh news from the field about what's going on in missions in their area of the world.

I would say maybe that was a plausible rationale 25 years ago. But in the days of communication and internet, there is no reason to have to support missionaries that you have no particular relationship or ownership of in order to get news from fields all over the world via internet and other streams of news and communication about missions. If you want news and information about missions, you can get it from a lot of sources without having to commit your small church to financial obligation for a generation. Think about it. It just doesn't make sense. We don't operate this way in other areas of church ministry. For instance, Sunday school curriculum. Do you have a different curriculum for every age group in your church? Probably not. You probably actually buy into a particular Sunday school curriculum for all of the different age groups that work in a cycle and fit together, and they're teaching a stream of knowledge, information, doctrine and practice that fit your church.

Think about your church's worship liturgy or style of worship and the progress of how your Sunday morning worship services go as the believers congregate for corporate worship. You don't have a super wide variety of style of worship and changing up the order of service every single Sunday. You might have a wide range of songs or worship hymns that you sing, and yet Sunday, by Sunday, you have a consistency with the respect you give to God's word and the teaching and preaching of God's word. The order and flow of service from the welcome to the benediction is consistent and there's a great sense of ownership, familiarity. People feel good about that. You certainly don't invite someone from outside to come in and do just anything they want for the whole worship service. I'm saying that there is focus with regard to your church's values, priorities, doctrine, and practice.

So here are some really good reasons for focus. We'll describe and define focus a little bit later. Number one, ownership. The church will sense and feel a greater sense of ownership when your mission's ministry is more like a rifle shot than a shotgun blast. Number two is relationship. We'll talk about that more later, but relationship is so key. You don't support people that you don't really know and may not even fit in your local church if they were local to you. Number three is skills and experience within your congregation and also the types of ministries that you support. Number four is to match compatibility with the church's composition and inclination. You'll have many more people in your congregation identify with and participate with missions ministries that are like them.

Number five is effectiveness. When you focus, you will have much more recognizable progress and results as a consequence of your focus. Number six, very closely related to that is you'll be able to see progress and goal achievement. Because you own it more, you will understand and be tracking with it more closely. And the seventh one is self-satisfaction. That is your church will feel so much more satisfied. When they're focused, they all understand the purpose and vision of this particular ministry or outreach for missions, and they'll be satisfied that they are a part of that and they're accomplishing something significant and tangible in God's kingdom for his glory.

Now, I want to step back a little bit and start at the beginning and draw some observations from scripture and from the examples we have in scripture. First, in Acts 13, we see that Paul and Barnabas were sent off by the church in Antioch and being sent by the Holy Spirit. Chapter 13:4, they went down to Solutia and from there they sailed to Cyprus. Why did they go to Cyprus? Because that was the multi-generational family home of Barnabas. There were relationships there and that became the bridge quite literally across the water from Antioch to Cyprus. After they had traversed the whole island of Cyprus from east to west preaching the gospel, they literally went to the next major port to the northwest of them called Perga. So they were following a geographical line from relationships to pushing the edge of the gospel geographically to the next major port, and then from there up into what we now know as Galatia.

In the second missionary journey, Paul went across the whole area that we know as Turkey and being led by the spirit or prevented by the spirit to go in other places, landed at Troas, a western port on the Aegean Sea, and from there was guided to go across into what we now know as Europe, the northern part of Greece. In general as we walk through the book of Acts with Paul, we see that he continues to push the edge going to places that were not yet reached with the gospel, evangelizing, discipling, planting churches, and moving on to the next central place that did not yet have the gospel.

We see his heart expressed to the Corinthians Church when he writes in 2 Corinthians 10:14, "We were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ. We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others, but our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly and large so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you without boasting of work already done in another's area of influence. Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord."

This is his argument later when he writes the book of Romans to the church in Rome. He says, starting in Chapter 15:18, "For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience by word indeed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Alericum, I have fulfilled the ministry of the Gospel of Christ, and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named unless I build on someone else's foundation." He continues in verse 24, "I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain and to be helped on my journey, thereby you."

So he makes it very clear that his personal ministry focus is to press to the edges, to go where the gospel has not yet been preached. He organizes other workers to reach areas more fully after he has passed through and started the work of the gospel and of establishing churches there. But here to the Romans, he's saying, I expect that you are going to assist me, support me, to accompany me," the term is, "Propempo me on my way to Spain." Which in Paul's map of the Mediterranean going counterclockwise from Jerusalem, Spain was the last major land mass going west that had not yet received the gospel. This is very consistent throughout the New Testament. Local church, if you know of a place within your reach that does not have a solid gospel preaching, Bible teaching ministry of a local church, then you need to be thinking about praying about and doing something about making sure that a church gets planted there.

And in the world of cross-cultural or international missions, we want to do everything from the very beginning of Bible translation into the local language, to planting churches, to strengthening local churches, to then go and reach and saturate their area, their language group with the gospel. Now, in today's world, there's lots of different kinds of focus. There's types of ministries. There's geography or language in people groups. Some focus on a project oriented type of thing. Others focus on national indigenous church leaders, that is helping the national church to better grow, develop, and saturate their language group or their country with gospel preaching churches. Then there are natural bridges just like Paul and Barnabas's Bridge to Cyprus, people in your congregation may have a bridge. Maybe you have a significant number of people that have a specific language or ethnicity in their background that could be leveraged for creating a church focus to that area of the world.

Maybe it's an occupation. Your church may be filled with IT workers, or medical workers, or construction workers, or education workers. Maybe it's in the area of banking or finance or entrepreneurialship. All of those things, each of those things can be significant bridges to a particular focus for your church so that you bring skill and expertise and experience to the table when you're supporting missionaries using those things to get into what otherwise would be considered closed countries for the sake of the gospel and church planting there. So let's go back to some guiding principles that make this happen. First, I would say it's prayer. Your church leaders and your congregation need to come to the Lord and say, "Lord, help us know how we're to focus for the future." I often counsel churches to grandfather everything that exists. What does that mean? That means don't radically change things just because you may be adopting a focus or an ideal for the future.

Let all the ministries and missionaries that you support know that you're engaging in this process. And it can take a significant amount of time, particularly because of time for prayer and research and relationship development. It could take a couple of years before you really identify that ideal focus for your church missions ministries. Another key guiding principle is that fewer missionaries are going to get more support in every way. We're not just talking about financial support, but substantial ownership and commitment to the person and ministry as reflected in substantial financial partnership. I often use three axes like an X, Y, Z axis, to describe these priorities. Missions ministries that receive more funding and ownership of your local church in a focus to come from your church. That is people who have been long-standing church members and raised up in your church naturally get more support. People that are way outside your sphere of relationship don't get any support.

Another access is ministry type. So if church planting and everything having to do with church planting is your focus, then you need to really lock in on that. And other ministries may be supported, but for lesser amounts. A third axis is access to the gospel. That is you're going to focus more on unengaged, unreached people groups as the highest priority, unreached people groups or unreached language groups as the next priority and so forth down the line. So where there is lots of gospel opportunity, communication and resources, you may not emphasize that as much. In today's world we have to also consider those de-Christianizing nations. That is maybe they were Christian a century ago, but they're certainly not now. Where are the pockets of least reached people in those countries?

A fourth guide, which is too often neglected because we assume it's so as that the missionaries and ministries you support are in alignment with your own church's doctrine and beliefs. They are going to fairly represent your church when they go to mission field X, Y, Z to do their ministry. I have known of churches that were ripped apart by missionaries that somehow took a strong left turn theologically and came back and influenced the congregation in a negative way. So there's two bad things there. The influence on the congregation, but also the ministry on the field is not going to be anything like what your church would teach if you were there. You have to ask those questions in order to have focus. I'm just going to say one word about strategy and encourage you to listen to some other previous episodes of Missions on Point to pick up on it. Perhaps I'll address it in other episodes later. The one word about strategy is this. Strategy is simply how do you get to do and accomplish that thing that you're focusing on?

What does it take in terms of training, resources, personnel, relationships, partnerships? Whatever it takes becomes your stepping stones of strategy to get to that final destination. So strategy also takes a lot of communication, collaboration, and prayerful planning and thinking to develop that long-term view of what does it take to accomplish what we would like to see accomplished by God's grace for his glory? I've helped one church in particular develop a 25 year plan and they are more than halfway through that now. As time goes on and more information comes your way, information is your friend, those plans shift and change a little bit. But the major trajectory and strategy to accomplish that particular focus goal is intact.

I pray that your church would take it seriously to look at focus and strategy as one of the key components to strengthen and enlarge your whole church's missionary mobilization and vision for what God can do through your church. You can't do it all but you can do something focused well.

Thanks for joining us today on Missions On Point. We trust that you'll find more help and resources on our websites at and We are so thankful for those who support us, enabling us to produce this podcast. Now to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen.

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