Ten Reasons to Appreciate the “Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Mission” Theory (3rd of Ten).

Planting Churches among Unreached Peoples: The Highest Priority

The great thing about going to church, as Jan and I did this morning with the Pima Indians, is gathering with other Christians to worship God. Today our worship leader read Psalm 130:

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord. 2 Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.

The great thing about church, then, is gathering the faithful for worship and eating together afterward, as we do on Sundays with the Pima Indians. (Read the New Testament with fresh eyes; the text indicates that eating together is part of the great thing about church.) Church, then, is about meeting for worship, hearing God’s word, singing His praise, repenting from sins, forgiving one another, and eating together. And God bless our churches.

Churches are administrated by pastors and elders. The problem is when the church administrators assume that church administrators are also raised up by God to administrate the missionaries who plant churches among unreached peoples. This brings us to the realization that there are two structures of God’s redemptive mission, the second of which is small bands of brothers or sisters—missionaries—who plant new churches among unreached peoples.

In this history of the world, churches—what we normally think of as churches—have never planted churches among unreached peoples. Planting churches among unreached peoples is the work of special teams whom the Holy Spirit sends for this purpose. For example, Paul and his teams planted churches among unreached peoples in Galatia, Berea, Iconium, Ephesus, Philippi, Lystra, Corinth, and so on. Prisca and Aquila planted “churches among the Gentiles” (Romans 16:3-4) in Rome. The churches in Rome were usually house churches, as a reading of Romans 16:1-10 makes clear.

Churches may plant daughter churches that look just like the mother church; but churches do not plant churches among unreached peoples. Why this is so I do not know. God has raised up specialized mission teams to plant churches among unreached peoples. That is the New Testament way. That is the way of history. As long as there are unreached peoples, there must be special teams who dedicate themselves to the task of establishing churches among them. If churches take up the cause of “doing mission” directly they mean helping another church.

Churches express the desire to be “missional.” What does this mean? The mission of churches is often church-to-church relationships, a good thing. Let’s call this Missional One. That leaves undone the highest priority, planting churches among unreached peoples, or Missional Two (we wrote about this here). Therefore, a church administration that is restless for the Great Commission (“make disciples among the nations”) should partner with a mission agency whose specialty is planting churches among Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists. In this way local churches partner with mission agencies to fulfill our Lord’s Great Commission. This is not meant to criticize; there are two structures of God’s redemptive mission.

We are illustrating this by referring to the church as a lighthouse and the mission agency as “flint.” The lighthouse is stable, and can shine its light far. All who see it can come to the light. But there are places underground where the darkness is very great. No one there can find his or her way out. Someone comes, with flint in his or her backpack to strike the sparks and start the fire in the underground, “and it gives light to all who are in the household.” The Pima Indians used to be non-Christians, but in the 1890s a pioneer missionary, Charles Cook, walked the final miles from the end of the stage coach line to the village of Sacaton, stood for a moment, and put down his backpack. There is a book about Charles Cook called Apostle to the Pima Indians. He was a missionary appointed by the Presbyterian Church Board of National Missions.

This morning we worshipped with the children and grandchildren of those first converts to Christianity. We enjoyed eating together after worship. But we did not pledge ourselves to plant churches among unreached Native American tribes, say, the Hopi Indians, for example. That would not be something that would ever happen at church. But someday a few Pima may organize themselves into a “Pima Mission to the Hopi.” That would be a second structure, administrated by Pima Indians to plant churches among an unreached people.

Missionaries carry a flint in their backpacks to “the regions beyond” (2 Corinthians 10:16). Missionaries strike the flint on a stone or a piece of steel that God will show them. Sparks fly and a small fire begins. If you can think of anything as exciting as that you will have to tell me, because I cannot. No wonder Jordan Grooms said, “If God calls me to be a missionary I would not stoop to be a king.”