Is it just me or does it seem that every time you turn around there is some new ministry starting that will do great things for the cause of Christ? Almost every time the announcement of what great things this work will be doing it is tied to the tremendous need they have for your contributions. I’m always wondering if everyone goes to their mail and their inbox on the email every day to have a half dozen or more different groups asking for money to do the work of God in the world.
As I mull this whole thing over in my mind I also begin to think of the fact that the most successful time for the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world was during the first century in the generations immediately following the establishment of the church. In one generation Paul could write by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that they had spread the gospel to the whole world. Not everyone had accepted the gospel by any means. But his plea was, “Have they not heard?” and his answer was “Yes” the message had gone out to the ends of the earth. Now consider this point for a moment. This was during the time when there was only one mission effort going. There were no radio or TV ministries. There were no Christian colleges or schools. There were no counseling ministries. There were no special campaign preachers that needed the support of Christians everywhere. What was there was the church that Jesus had built to serve as His body in the world. In the church were men and women committed to God to the degree they couldn’t wait to share the news of Jesus with the people they were around day after day. There were men committed to God who were willing to work in a local church and community like Philip did in Caesarea for over twenty years or like Timothy whom Paul asked to stay in Ephesus or Titus left in Crete. At least some of these men, like Philip had families, brought up sons and daughters to be workers in the kingdom. Philip had four unmarried daughters were prophesied. There were men like Paul, the other apostles and prophets who traveled about among the church to encourage and build them up. They gave themselves primarily to trying to establish churches in new areas where the gospel hadn’t gone before. They would have been what most refer to as “missionaries” in our time. But it was often the case in that day the one who went to a city to start the work for God there stayed there for a lifetime, giving themselves completely to that area and those people to reach them for God.
When you read the New Testament it is absolutely clear that the mission of the church is carried out by means of the body of Christ which is the local church. If a mission effort in some area doesn’t result in the establishment of local churches that will grow and sustain the ministry then it will be a worthless endeavor over the long haul. Now I understand that when we tend to the think of the church, we think in terms of all the baggage that we’ve seen and heard about all our lives. But with anything given by God it is wise to look back first at what God planned and what he put into anything before making up my mind about its value or place. Jesus built the church and infused it with power (Matthew 16:16-19). The church is the body of Christ (Colossians 1:18; 24; Ephesians 1:22-23). Just as Jesus did his work on earth through his physical body during the three and a half years of his personal ministry, he since then has been doing his work through his spiritual body the church (Romans 12:1-8; I Corinthians 12:12-26). He has no other substitute planned for the church if it fails to be what he had in mind. Instead it is the constant call for those who follow him to be his body, his church and live as he calls us to live. In Ephesians 3:21 Paul said, “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end.” The local church that represents Jesus, that is his body in that community, is the hope of reaching the world for God and changing the world for good. The church is God’s missionary society. It is God’s family ministry. It is God’s benevolent institution. It is the teen ministry and children’s ministry. The church from the Lord’s point of view is “The fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 1:22-23)
Every day, as people decide they have a better way of doing the work of God than the one God planned and set up through the local church, there is a new group or ministry launched with the commitment to take care of some aspect of the work in a better way than the local church can do it. The result is each day some part of God’s plan is siphoned off from the local church to be placed under some specialized group. Then, invariably the request will go out for those who are in the church to give to this ministry so that it can do the job better than the local church. Members of the church are convinced this is the means of changing the world for good so they take the contribution they would have given to the work of the local church to put it to the support of this new ministry. The result is we have hundreds and thousands of ministries longing, pleading for support every day, while the church that is God’s missionary society, His benevolent institution, His family ministry, and his counseling center struggles to do the work God has given the church because the money normally given by Christians is diverted to our own human efforts to substitute our plans for the Lord.
The spiritual hope for the world isn’t found in politics, or getting some law passed or not passed. It isn’t in the multiple ministries all about. When the local church fails because it has lost the support, involvement and work of those who are Christ followers, all the other ministries, and works will come tumbling down with it. Am I opposed to all these efforts for good? No, I’m not opposed to anyone doing good in any way. But I know that the body of Christ is the church and that if I give myself to working my heart out in some side ministry it usually leads to less and less involvement, interest and commitment to the work God has placed in the church. What I’ve seen now hundreds of times to the breaking of my own heart is people getting so involved and committed to some specific work or ministry somewhere else and doing less and less and caring less and less about the work of the Lord where they are and in the local church where they worship. I see people get all carried away about the work in Africa, India or Latin America or even the work some church is doing in Birmingham, Alabama, while their spiritual life goes down hill each day. The more unattached we become to the work of the Lord in the local church the more we find wrong with it and the less value we become to the kingdom of God. I don’t care how many missionaries you support if you aren’t being a missionary to the people around your each day you aren’t being the body of Christ as God intended and you are dying on the vine in your spiritual life.