This weekend, our association will be leading the Frontliners Conference at Gethsemane Baptist Church in Glenwood, Maryland, in cooperation with the International Mission Board's Middle America/Carribean Region.
International Missions: its a subject that excites the heart of anyone who truly loves Jesus and wants to see Him more widely known among all peoples. But how can we know that our temporary, short-term efforts in another country will bear lasting fruit?
Anyone who has served in short-term efforts overseas has returned with a general sense of excitement about the trip. At the same time, I meet many mission volunteers who leave the field with lingering questions about the long-term benefit of their work. Loads of spiritual "decisions" are reached, but often, little lasting fruit is developed from such efforts. Ray Comfort states that this is a pressing issue even in stateside evangelistic efforts:
"In 1991, in the first year of the decade of harvest, a major denomination in the U.S. was able to obtain 294,000 decisions for Christ. That is, in one year, this major denomination of 11,500 churches was able to obtain 294,000 decisions for Christ. Unfortunately, they could only find 14,000 [of these converts] in fellowship, which means they couldn't account for 280,000 of their decisions."
These sorts of anemic long-term results are tragic, and even more so when such results are imported by American Christianity into another culture.
Still, the Scriptures are clear that any genuine New Testament Church will be actively involved in Evangelism and Discipleship efforts that are global in scope, meaning that the centrality of the local church in international mission efforts in absolutely essential. But how do we improve our results?
Certainly one answer to this problem is to stop the same shallow "evangelism" efforts in other countries that have left American Christianity awash in cultural Christians who think their eternity is secure because they mouthed a few prefabricated words at the front of a church building. Instead, our focus should be on seeking to obtain genuine conversions to Christ that are vindicated by spiritual growth and the multiplication of churches. Elmer Towns puts it this way:
"The Great Commission implies that church planting is the primary method to evangelize the world. To reach lost people in every culture of the world, a church must be established in every culture to communicate the Gospel and nurture those who are saved. In a simplistic observation, one of the reasons why so much foreign missions work is fruitless is because great effort is spent on winning people to Christ apart from identifying them with a New Testament church.”
Practically, this means that when local churches send volunteers, their long-term goals should stretch beyond conversions and toward the establishment and multiplication of indigenous churches.
With all this in mind, we will spend an entire day introducing folks from a number of our churches to the principles of planting indigenous, non-dependent, and reproducible churches overseas. I am convinced that this is the responsibility of each and every local church.
For those of you in the Mid-Maryland area who are interested, information on attending the conference can be found here. You will note that the "official" deadline has passed. Just remember that Baptist deadlines are more like the date we start making follow-up calls than the date we close registration. Childcare is provided as well, although we will definitely need those numbers as soon as possible.
If you would like us to host this conference at your church, and you are located in Maryland or the surrounding area, give us a call and we would be glad to work it out. If you are out of the area, but are interested in something like this, I highly encourage you to get in tough with MAC Region Personnel, or contact Ken Sorrell directly.
Oh, and did I mention where you can get more information?