This question is aimed at discerning the difference between local outreach and international or overseas cross-cultural ministry. It is true that the Great Commission, as found in Matthew 28:16-20, Luke 24:45-48, and Acts 1:8, includes both local and long-distance evangelism and discipleship. It is not limited to faraway cross-cultural ministry. However, it was certainly not intended to keep our ministry vision lowered to the community immediately around us. It is not even appropriate to “balance” church outreach spending between “Jerusalem” and the “uttermost parts”.
Acts 1:8 does outline the extension of the gospel of Jesus Christ through concentric circles beginning in Jerusalem. However, the grammar indicates that the geographical commitments are not sequential; rather, they are simultaneous. Taken this way, each local church should conscientiously be engaged in ministry in their immediate community to people just like them, in their community to people not like them, and outside the reach of their community to people not like themselves. We don’t reach our Jerusalem first, then proceed to our Judea, afterward moving on to Samaria-like places, and finally deigning to go to the ends of the earth. In order to obey Acts 1:8, our churches (your church) must think through how best to be involved in each of these arenas at the same time.
Thankfully, there are common threads of passion and commitment between local outreach and overseas missions. Both have a heart to extend the gospel of Jesus Christ to those who need it most. Both put a premium on personal, flesh and blood, ambassadors to articulate the Gospel and disciple converts in the faith. Both use a wide variety of means to accomplish their ministry goals, e.g.-literature, media, personal testimony and witness, small groups, technology, and personal spiritual discipleship.
However, we shouldn’t jump to the wrong conclusion that giving 50% of our missions funds to local outreach and 50% to overseas missions constitutes a proper balance. The church must be involved in equipping the saints for the work of ministry. But it takes much less training and much less cost to involve far more people of the church in direct local outreach. It requires a much higher level of specialized training at far more cost involving far fewer people of the church to sustain viable overseas missions ministry.
The spectrum looks like this:
LOCAL OUTREACH - OVERSEAS MISSIONS
many people - few people
little effort - much effort
relatively inexpensive - relatively expensive
little training - much specialized training
shorter-term goals - longer-term goals
The church could use Acts 1:8 as a model template for developing ministry. Ask yourselves the questions, “What are we doing for evangelism and discipleship” in:
- our immediate community (Jerusalem)
- our neighboring communities or metro area (Judea)
- our nearby cross-cultural community/ies
- the unreached peoples of the world