Pastor: Missions Succeeds When Churches Thrive

andrew-seaman-ZwaqicZOAgc-unsplash

Pastor, are you wondering how to contribute to the cause of global missions without being on the front lines? In this article I want to argue God uses mundane, local church ministry to accomplish his endgame.

What’s God’s endgame?

God’s endgame is all creation acknowledging he is Lord. God split the Jordan River “so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty” (Josh. 4:24). The prophet Habakkuk predicted God’s glory would saturate every square mile of the planet: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14). Paul knew history ends with global submission to Christ: “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth; and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10–11). As pastors, we know this is the endgame.

MINISTRY’S DAILY GRIND

However, much like a mother changing diapers is prone to question the significance of her work, pastors who stay may question how their efforts promote global evangelization. The daily grind of ministry seems to get in the way.

I’ve been a pastor for more than twenty years at churches of various sizes. I know the pressing demands we face. As I type out these words, members of the congregation I serve are struggling with terminal illness, children with special needs, strained marriages, sexual purity, and questions of assurance. Shepherding believers through these trials is glorious but challenging. It can leave little time to strategize taking the gospel to the nations. If world missions is moving the ball down the field, some days simply staying in the game feels like a win.

It’s not just crises that arrest my attention. The straightforward, nuts-and-bolts building of the church takes time and energy. Raising up deacons and elders, choosing sermon texts, discipling younger believers, overseeing membership matters—all of this is crucial, God-glorifying, Christ-honoring work. But it is work and it’s rarely obvious how this work contributes to the work of international missions.

If you are a pastor, you understand. However, I want you to realize that mundane, local church ministry is an important part in the engine of global evangelization. To see why, let’s reflect on the life and ministry of Israel’s King Solomon.

SOLOMON’S CAREFUL TEMPLE-BUILDING

The pinnacle of Solomon’s reign comes in 1 Kings 8. He had asked God for wisdom to lead the people, and the Lord graciously provided it (1 Ki. 3:12). Whereas King David led by destroying God’s enemy, Solomon led by building God’s temple. Solomon needed God’s help to oversee wages, prices, labor, supplies, and construction.

However, Solomon primarily needed God’s wisdom so he could build the temple according to God’s exact command. A thrifty or lazy builder will foolishly cut corners. But Solomon wisely followed God’s law. Filled with divine wisdom, he worked carefully. He built the temple just as God ordered it to be built: “The house was finished in all its parts and according to all its specifications” (1 Ki. 6:23). Every detail mattered.

The details mattered because God’s house served an important purpose. Here the priests offered sacrifices to atone for the sins of the people so God could dwell in their presence. Every detail mattered. The temple, its parts, its priests, and its sacrifices had to work with clockwork precision to achieve God’s plan of redemption for Israel. Once Solomon built the temple according to the precise specifications, God came and “the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD” (1 Ki. 8:11).

With a full heart, starting in 1 Kings 8:12, Solomon begins to pray. First, a prayer of praise—he praises God’s faithfulness. Next a prayer of petition—he begs God to remain faithful, he asks that they’d remain faithful, and he pleads for the people to be strong in battle.

However, the heart of Solomon’s prayer is a request that God would remain merciful even when the people fail. Solomon begs for grace the way you beg when your child is seriously ill, your marriage is seriously in jeopardy, or your ministry is seriously in question. Solomon knew they would need God’s grace so he prays repeatedly for forgiveness (1 Ki. 8:30, 34, 36, 39, 50).

Clearly, Solomon realized forgiveness comes only through shed blood. The people are to come to the proper place—the temple—with the proper sacrifice—the unblemished offering—following the proper instructions—the Levitical law. No strange fire allowed. In the heart of the temple, fellowship with God could be found.

SOLOMON’S SURPRISING PRAYER

In 1 Kings 8:41–43 Solomon’s prayer continues, but he breaks the pattern. He stops praying for Israel and prays for Gentiles:

41“Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your name’s sake 42(for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house, 43hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name.”

Solomon knows foreigners will eventually visit the temple. News of God will spread and awestruck foreigners will come to pray. Solomon asks God to listen to these Gentile prayers. But Solomon’s prayer isn’t just for foreigners who come to the temple. He prays for “all the peoples of the earth” (v. 43). That’s the surprise.

Following God’s wisdom, Solomon built a temple where sinful men and women could be reconciled to a holy God. News of this will spread. And when it does, the nations will come and they will see the God of Israel is God, and there is no other. And as nations come and see the forgiveness found in the God of Israel, they will go and tell others so that “all the peoples of the earth may know” God’s name and fear him.

Israel’s salvation is not the endgame. The arrival of a few foreigners to the temple is not the endgame. No, the endgame is stated in verse 43: “that all peoples of the earth may know your name and fear [God]. That’s the goal.

Solomon gained wisdom so he could build a temple according to God’s exact specifications. God’s house became the place where Israel and the nations could find peace with God. As news of reconciliation to God through the blood of lambs spread, the whole earth would come to know God alone is God and salvation is found only in his name.

Okay, so what does this have to do with pastors promoting international missions in the daily grind of local church ministry?

SCRIPTURE’S GREATER KING

We know one greater than Solomon has come (Matt. 12:42). Solomon dedicated God’s temple—the dwelling place of God. Jesus is God’s temple, God with us—Immanuel (John 1:14; Matt. 1:23). Solomon built the temple with stone and gold. Jesus said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will build it again” (John 2:19). There is now no need for the sacrifice of bulls and goats because our wise prophet, priest, and king offered himself up as the final sacrifice (Heb. 9:11–10:4). When Christ rose from the dead, he sent his Spirit so is people might be “built together into a dwelling place for God” (Eph. 2:22).

In Solomon’s days the nations marveled at the forgiveness found in Judah’s capital city. Today, through the preaching of the cross, reconciliation is offered in capitals around the world—from Moscow to London to Brasilia to Jakarta. King Solomon called the nations to come to the temple and see the Lord is God. King Jesus calls believers to go to the nations and tell them he is God and salvation is found only in his name. “Come and see” under the Old Covenant has become “go and tell” under the New Covenant.

Jerusalem’s temple is gone and obsolete. But the principle remains: the nations will be reached as local churches preserve and proclaim—with careful precision—the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some days such ministry seems mundane. Hardly. Mundane ministry is for missions. A few lessons are in order.

MUNDANE MINISTRY IS FOR MISSIONS

1. Wisdom matters.

We learn from Solomon that we need God’s wisdom to do his work. No matter where you pastor, it’s hard, hard work. President Kennedy once said the U.S. would get to the moon not because it is easy, but because it is hard. I would argue that faithfully shepherding a church is harder than safely landing on the moon. We don’t just need God’s specifications; we need the wisdom to follow them.

Today, your church might not have a deep love for the nations. Your congregation may be more interested in the Christmas choir potluck than the unreached and unengaged of Laos. Moving a church to care for the nations takes wisdom. Convincing people to give up their reputation, their time, and their finances to fuel global evangelization takes the wisdom of Solomon. Every step of the way requires navigating through the watery hearts of people. Does that sister in Christ need milk right now or solid food? Is that brother ready to teach or does he need to marinate a little longer? Do I need to enter that meeting with a tone of rebuke or gentle correction? All these decisions will contribute to the overall health of the church. Like bricks in a beautiful building, these decisions will one day be a monument to the importance of the Great Commission.

“Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16). None of us. We need wisdom! Martin Luther explained why we need God’s wisdom to understand and apply Scripture to the life of the church we love:

Scripture is not in our power. It is not at the disposal of our intellect and is not obliged to render up its secrets to those who have theological training, merely because they are learned. Scripture imposes its own meaning; it binds the soul to God through faith. Because the initiative of Scripture remains in the hands of God, we must humble ourselves in his presence and pray that he will give understanding and wisdom to us as we meditate on the sacred text. While we may take courage from the thought that God gives understanding of the Scripture to the humble, we should also heed the warning that the truth of God can never coexist with human pride.

No pastor will perfectly exercise wisdom. We will get things wrong and make ministry mistakes. But let our missteps not be due to our failure to pray for wisdom. By God’s grace, as we wisely build the church at home, we can trust God to make our work a vital component in his plan of taking the gospel to the nations.

2. Details matter.

Just as Solomon attended to the details of the temple, pastors must attend to the details of the church. We put our hand to the plough so the churches we serve will be well-built, faithful, and biblical.

If you are a pastor, don’t grow weary in doing good. Care about the details of building the church. No detail is too small. God has given us instructions in his Word about how to oversee the congregations he has planted. It is our job to obey those commands. Christ is the head of the church, not us. We go to him for the specifications needed to build the church. Who should be the members of a church? How should they be taught? What should they be taught? How are they to be discipled? The answers to these questions are not up-for-grabs. They’re found in God’s Word.

Churches that ignore or assume these God-given details will become spiritually-impoverished and too weak to promote the evangelization of the nations. Such churches will not raise up qualified men and women to go where the gospel has yet to be preached.

Pastors must constantly focus on the details of building the local church because the building is never done. Our churches are never finished growing together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (Eph. 2:22). It doesn’t matter how old your congregation is because God is always changing it, always growing it. No church stays the same. We always have new ears in our congregations and even the old ears are in need of a friendly reminder. So the pastor teaches, reminds, prays. We teach, we remind, we pray.

Is this work mundane? Maybe, but this work keeps the gospel central. Only when the gospel is precious to us—week in and week out—will we find the members of churches longing to make Christ known among their neighbors and the nations.

God will use us to take the gospel to the nations not in spite of our inward focus but because of it. When we are faithful to devote ourselves to God’s specifications for his church, God is gracious to take the gospel message and proclaim it—through us—all over the earth.

3. Local churches matter.

Before he finished dedicating the temple to the Lord, Solomon stood up and spoke to all Israel.  He announced, once again, that this temple was for the nations. He built it “that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no other” (1 Ki. 8:60). This is why our churches exist—churches in Atlanta, Georgia; Dubuque, Iowa; Phoenix, Arizona; and Newport, Oregon. No local church pastor is finally ministering for himself or even his own church—he is shepherding for the nations.

Missions succeeds when churches thrive. The more our congregations at home stay focused on the gospel of Jesus Christ, the more we can expect God to use these churches to reach the nations. Local churches matter.

I came to Mount Vernon Baptist Church in 2008. The congregation struggled to clearly articulate the gospel. The members had good intentions but needed a deeper knowledge of the Lord, his ways, and his Word. Like every church, they were a work in progress. I needed wisdom to know how to shepherd them. What ministries needed to be cut? What ministries needed to slowly die? What ministries needed to be started? I needed wisdom to know when to put my foot on the gas pedal and when to slam on the brakes. In the early years it seemed like the car barely moved.

On March 2, 2021, I received an email from a pastor in Hong Kong. This is what he wrote:

I recently started doing a 1-1 evangelistic course with a Chinese student who used to attend Mt. Vernon! He was doing a masters at Georgia Tech and was an atheist. His Thai [friend] began taking him to your church, and eventually he started to be more and more open to the gospel. He then moved back to China for a year where he says he became a Christian. Right now we are going through Christianity Explored and I do think that he believes the gospel.

God had brought a Chinese student to study in Atlanta. Tao, a Thai member of my church, shared the gospel with him and brought him several times to visit. His friend learned about Christianity both through personal conversations and exposure to the local church. Eventually, he returned to China. But God is in China where this young man finally found Christ. Eventually, he moved to Hong Kong. But God is in Hong Kong where this young man came to realize he needed to be in a local church. In the Lord’s providence, he found a dear brother of mine who carried on the work begun in Atlanta.

I don’t work in China or Hong Kong, but God does. I know I’m not on the front lines, but God is.  He is always at work, everywhere.

I share this story so you’ll be encouraged to remember your local church matters. As you engage in the daily grind of ministry, don’t lose heart. By all means, preach missions sermons, organize short-term trips, give more to missionaries, and consider going yourself. But undergirding all these worthy endeavors is the mundane, routine, and awesome work of simply building a local church that preaches the cross of Christ.       

Aaron Menikoff

Aaron is the Senior Pastor of Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He and his wife, Deana, have four children: Rachel, Jonah, Natalie, and Tori. They moved to Atlanta from Louisville, Kentucky after Aaron completed his Masters of Divinity in Biblical and Theological Studies and his Ph.D. in American Church History from Southern Seminary.

Want More Content Like This?

We will deliver Reaching & Teaching articles and podcast episodes automatically to your inbox. It's a great way to stay on top of the latest news and resources for international missions and pastoral training.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.