Much has been preached, spoken, and written of the Great Commission in Matthew 28. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” This principle is further underscored by another ‘great commissioning’ of Jesus’ followers in Acts 1. “… you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Neither of these passages is new or novel – we know them, we’ve studied them, and many of us have preached them. But let’s be honest, they can get a bit tired, right? I mean, it’s not that the Scriptures themselves become tired, but rather we who read and teach them. We can become jaded by the repetitiveness of them. We can too easily become desensitised to the dramatic and high calling they issue to all followers of Jesus. So how do we keep them fresh? Our people need to be reminded continually of the call, and we as pastors need to keep mission at the forefront of our thinking and praxis. After all, if the church is not missional, then she isn’t the church of Jesus, right!?
In 2012 I travelled to Thailand, Macau, India, and Bangladesh on the first NZBMS ‘GLIMPSe Trip’. I thought I understood mission before this trip, but I quickly realised I was wrong. Mission isn’t just something the church DOES, mission is core to who the church IS! Peter said in 1 Peter 2:9 that we, the church, are a “…chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, THAT [WE] MAY PROCLAIM the excellencies of Him who called [us]…” The identity is very affirming; we love to know that we’re chosen, royal, holy, and set apart. But as Peter says, this identity has a purpose… proclamation! I came home from the GLIMPSe trip totally inspired and gripped by the Missio Dei, determined to keep mission at the forefront of everything we do as a church. And initially, at least, I think I did that. But I’ve been serving as Senior Pastor at Central Baptist in Whanganui for almost 7 years now, and it’s fair to say that in the everyday busyness of local church life, that passion and zeal for mission has faded somewhat. Until recently! As part of my Sabbatical, I knew God was calling me back to the coalface of global mission. In local church ministry, we can often cover the ‘Jerusalem and Judea’ quite well, but we struggle to keep ‘Samaria and the ends of the earth’ front and centre. I was all too aware that, while we as a church community are very active in local mission, many of us had allowed global mission to fade to the background.
So as I was planning my Sabbatical, I made sure I set aside time to spend visiting our field workers in South and Southeast Asia. In late August I embarked on a two-week ‘pastoral visit’ of people we support in that part of the world. Photographs and prayer updates are great, and we need those regularly. But for me, there’s nothing quite like engaging all five senses, which you can only do by going! My time in India and Thailand was a curious mix of ministry, refreshment, challenge, and inspiration. I was humbled by many opportunities to encourage God’s faithful servants, and to minister the power and grace of God among local believers and seekers. I was refreshed by times of relaxation and great conversation. I was challenged by the deep commitment and sacrifice of those who’ve followed God’s call to forsake home comforts to serve cross-culturally. And I was inspired by the fiery passion for the Gospel of Jesus Christ that I witnessed in the lives of everyone I went to visit. My one regret is that I didn’t take more time – due to other plans, I couldn’t stretch to three weeks, but I wish I’d been able to. However, I flew home on September 4 absolutely fizzing, longing to get back to my church family to share all that I’d experienced and seen.
Throughout my whistle-stop tour, God was speaking so clearly and powerfully and all I wanted to do was get off the plane and straight back to work. God is calling His people to step out on mission, just as clearly and loudly as He always has. But I’m persuaded that so many of our people are either ignoring Him, or lacking in both courage and church-support. There is so much to be done in so many places around the world, so that God’s lost children can be reached, redeemed, and restored to Him. So I want to urge every pastor in New Zealand to do what I’ve done. I want to urge every church to release their pastor(s) to go and spend time among our faithful missionaries. The NZ Baptist Union has a proud heritage of sending missionaries, particularly into South and Southeast Asia – but in recent years, I’ve detected a cooling off in our focus on global mission. Pastors, it’s up to us to refire our movement! NZBMS do a wonderful job of promoting and facilitating mission, but they need our support! Often, without meaning to, we can be the gatekeepers in our churches. We feel a certain protective instinct over our people, but I sense God is asking us to get out of the way! He has plans for so many of our people, to personally answer the call to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Pastoral ministry is busy, no doubt. But taking time to go – to see, smell, hear, taste, and feel – is time well spent. So what about you… will you go? I dare you.
Ps. Nigel Irwin
Central Baptist Church