Paths to the Mission Fields: A variety of Approaches
There may be as many different ways to approach the mission fields as there are people that God calls to go. We are grateful for each person and group who responds and for every attempt to make a difference. Listed below is a sampling of various ways that people have attempted to reach their mission field. Each approach is authentic, and each of these approaches have intrinsic strengths and weaknesses.
Block parties, carnivals, concerts, sports camps, “hot-dog cook outs” and a variety of other events serve as a means of gaining access into a particular community of unchurched people. Crowds will gather together for these events, and relationships can be developed. Gospel presentations with an invitation are often proffered here, and people do respond. The spiritual impact from an event like this can be powerful, but the discipleship potential is inherently limited by the “one-time” nature of the event itself. Consistent follow up should be a priority.
Who hasn’t seen the buses rolling through various unreached mission fields, loading up kids and teenagers for the ride back to church? Busing has been one method through the years which has connected multitudes of children back to local churches. Many children have accepted Christ, become growing disciples, and even leaders in the church.
This is especially true where there is minimal disparity between the ethnic, social, and cultural character of the church and the mission field it is trying to reach. Where those disparities exist to a significant degree, integration into the discipleship processes of the church becomes more difficult. This is especially true as the children become teenagers and young adults.
Backyard Bible clubs, conversational English, citizenship classes, emergency assistance, and so much more, can be offered as a way of meeting needs in Jesus name. These activities meet the felt needs of the community, facilitate the development of relationships, and as often as not, help introduce people to Jesus. The discipling process then continues in and through the local church, or where that connection can’t be made, through the establishment of a congregation indigenous to the community.
Outreach Bible Studies
One way that people have connected with an unreached neighborhood or apartment community is to start an outreach Bible study in the neighborhood. Usually this Bible study is informal, discussion oriented, lasts only a limited number of weeks and is held one evening during the week. The curriculum of the Bible study is designed to be a simple introduction to the truth of the gospel, often centering in the Gospel of John. This approach does tend to gather people open to the teaching of God’s word, and many people will respond positively to Christ.
This approach is restricted by the fact that it is only offered on property for a limited amount of time. Once the time for the Bible study is up, people still need to be discipled. Often the relationships which have been developed provide the entrée for further discipleship in the closest local church. When that gap can’t be bridged, some kind of extended Bible study and/or a congregation should be developed for the community.
This approach focuses on meeting the spiritual needs of a particular community of people. The chaplain will usually work in some kind of official capacity with authoritative representatives of that community, such as the on-site manager of a mobile home park or other multihousing communities. The chaplain might or might not live in the mission field he or she is trying to reach, and may or may not be paid. The chaplain will work to meet people’s spiritual needs, then connect them to a nearby local church where possible.
Chaplaincy provides significant spiritual ministry to those not yet connected to the Lord or His church. People in these settings often make decisions for Christ and want to become growing disciples. Connections to nearby local churches can be made when the barriers between the church and the community are negligible. Where those connections can’t, then Bible studies and congregations can be established where people live.
The plain truth of the matter is that many people feel disconnected from our churches. Much of the time those disconnections are perceived and not actual. Sometimes the disconnects are real. For whatever reason, when a person does not come to church, we have the opportunity and responsibility to take the church to them.
Planting a church which is indigenous to its culture provides the best chance of reaching people for Christ and growing them into fully devoted followers themselves.
- It is important to remember that every path into the mission field has value. Some people are uniquely gifted to walk specific paths. Sometimes one person or group of people can begin the journey down one path which ultimately opens other paths for new travelers. It is important that we don’t hesitate to reach people for Christ in any way available to us.
- We must also be careful not to critique the paths others take as invalid. Just because one path works for us, or because we perceive it as a straighter path to our common destination, it doesn’t necessarily follow that our path is the one every one should take. It is possible that our critiques of others, however sincere, may hinder others in their journey to the mission fields.
- Neither should we allow the critiques of others to keep us from following the call of God in our own life. If we were doing nothing at all, then no one could critique us. The fact that critiques come your way from time to time is a good thing. Keep in tune with God’s voice, and don’t let anyone move you off the path He has given you.
- The goal of our Lord’s Great Commission may involve several paths into the mission fields. Sometimes we start on one path, and someone else picks up where we began by using a different path. Sometimes we choose more than one path either sequentially or at the same time. Most of the time our journey will involve several of the approaches mentioned above. They are not mutually exclusive. Ministries often lead to churches, and churches will naturally minister to their people, and so on.
- Awareness and intentionality are two critical components to a successful journey as we go into the world to make disciples. Awareness is like the map which helps us know the paths which take us to our destination. Intentionality, under God, is the engine which drives us down those paths. Mission ministries may never grow to reach their full potential, but they won’t have the opportunity to do so without the clear vision of gifted leaders in the fields.
- Finally, all of our best laid plans, no matter how clear the path, get us lost, without the guidance and empowerment of God. When he guides us in this missional journey, even the wrong paths become right in His name.