Reviewed by M. David Sills
Much has been written in recent years on the mission of the church and helping churches to be on mission in North America, but in Missions: How the Local Church goes Global, Andy Johnson and 9Marks have provided a new resource that helps churches minister globally in healthy ways. This book will benefit pastors and local churches, even though there is nothing novel or cutting edge in its content. In fact, that’s kind of the point; it’s for those who lacked the basics. Johnson provides both a solid foundation and biblical introduction for churches seeking to be more strategically involved in Christian missions, but who have lacked good models and clear guidance.
Johnson is associate pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. With a background in both a family cattle business and government consulting, Johnson effectively brings together practical reasoning and biblical guidelines for local churches. This volume is a recent entry in the Building Healthy Churches series of books from 9Marks. Editors Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman once again demonstrate their love for helping leaders of local churches to understand biblical guidelines for what to do and how to do it. Ironically, one of the greatest global needs is biblically sound churches who can be, say, and do what God demands.
This book will help those reaching out from the West to do so from biblically sound ecclesiastical examples that can both model and teach what it is to be faithful. From their series preface, Dever and Leeman state, “Local churches exist to display God’s glory to the nations. We do that by fixing our eyes on the gospel of Jesus Christ, trusting him for salvation, and then loving one another with God’s own holiness, unity, and love.” (11, 12) Each of the volumes in this series fleshes out a “short, readable book on each of what Mark has called nine marks of a healthy church, plus one more on sound doctrine.” (11)
The book begins with a foreword by David Platt, President of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, emphasizes the practical nature of this book for local churches and pastors and concludes, “I wish every pastor and leader of every local church could read this!” (15)
Chapter One, “A Biblical Foundation for Missions,” reminds the reader that the mission of missions is primarily spiritual, and that the priority of missions is the stewardship of the gospel – evangelism and establishing Christ’s church. Johnson writes that the Bible should be our guide in understanding the mission, how it advances, what kind of missionaries we should support, and what our goal should be. The chapter promotes four biblical principles, “the mission of missions is primarily spiritual, the mission belongs to God, for his glory, on his terms, God gave the mission to the local church, and the Bible tells us all we must know to faithfully fulfill God’s mission.” (29)
Chapter Two, “First Things First,” stresses what the gospel is, for if churches do not have this right, nothing will be right. Johnson reminds the reader that the glory of the gospel – rather than the neediness of man – is the “self-sustaining fuel for global missions.”
Chapter Three, “Sending and Supporting Well,” shows that the sending, supporting, and caring for missionaries, and being discerning about those whom we send, should be saturated with biblical instruction. The reader is reminded that churches should do missions ministry in ways that are urgent and wise, which includes thorough assessment, training, and care of missionaries. Johnson wisely points out that churches should not seek the latest gimmick or single solution strategy to the missionary problem fueled by a need for speed. “Missionaries aren’t world travelers with full passport. The best missionaries tend to go to one place and stay there, sometimes for the rest of their lives.” (48)
Chapter Four, “Getting the House in Order,” reminds churches to send and support missionaries with a high value on quality rather than quantity. Churches should support those who share their same missiology, methodology, strategy, and vision for field ministry and biblical missions. There is very helpful counsel for churches whose missionaries are involved in creative access ministries, “Is he really doing the things he claims to be doing, or is he actively lying to his host government?” (66) In this chapter, Johnson reminds the reader, “Beware of a focus on speed, numbers, and magic bullets… The work of missions is urgent, but it’s not frantic.” (68)
Chapter Five, “Healthy Missions Partnerships,” counsels that sound missions ministry should be based on six broad priorities for global gospel ministry. It should be 1. Servant-minded, 2. Pastor-led, 3. Relationship-based, 4. Commitment-centered, 5. Congregation-wide, and 6. Long term focused.
Chapter Six, “Reforming Short-Term Missions,” provides guidelines for short-term mission trips. The 21st century has witnessed the burgeoning phenomenon of short-term teams going around the world. Many teams from different churches often frequent identical locations in revolving-door fashion, involving career missionaries in ministries that they would normally avoid, that offend nationals, and that focus on numbers for reports back home, leaving behind syncretism and nominal Christianity. Johnson helps churches think through their short-term ministries to avoid this error and enables them to prepare their teams for more effective involvement.
Chapter Seven, “Engaging the Nations by Other Means,” encourages churches to think outside their passports by being involved in reaching the nations from home. To do so, they must research to learn who is around them and take initiative to get involved in the lives of internationals with hospitality and other needed ministries. They can support missionaries wisely and interactively. Churches can also be instrumental in ministering through international expatriate churches, which requires orientation in leading multicultural teams to minister intercultually.
This volume concludes with six “next steps” for churches and their members. A final quote from this excellent little book sums up one of its most salient contributions, and counters much danger in Western church mission efforts today as it does so: “Frantic speculation and guilt are weak motivators compared with the truth of God’s unstoppable plan to rescue every child for whom Christ died.” (120) God has a plan to reach and teach the nations today, and He does not need our managerial missiology.
There may be nothing new in this book for missiologists, but much of it is new for many churches, and that is the point. This is a helpful resource for thinking through what the local church should be and do with regard to the Great Commission.
If there is a weakness to the book, it is in the undergirding perspective that in general missions’ priority is reaching the unreached. While we must reach the unreached, that is only half of the Great Commission. Unfortunately, anemic understandings of what reaching the “unreached” means are rampant among pastors and churches. Simply preaching in evangelistic services, getting a show of hands, calling the gathered ones “a church,” and leaving, are not sufficient according to the New Testament pattern. Johnson demonstrates in this book shows that he agrees. But having seen so many trying to finish the Great Commission in record time, I think we must be careful to stress that the Bible calls us to reaching and teaching. The great tragedy of the world is not that it is just “unreached” but that it is undiscipled. Churches and missionaries must be faithful to do all the Great Commission, which includes both making disciples and teaching them to obey all that Christ commanded.
I highly recommend this helpful volume as an excellent introduction for pastors and churches seeking to be involved in missions to extend the kingdom and bring Christ glory among the nations. It is clear and concise, biblically faithful and practical.
M. David Sills is Professor of Christian Missions and Cultural Anthropology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky and President of Reaching & Teaching International Ministries. He holds a Doctor of Missiology and a Ph.D. in Intercultural Studies from Reformed Theological Seminary. He has started and pastored churches in the United States and Ecuador and served as Rector of the Ecuadorian Baptist Theological Seminary. He has authored books and articles on missions, including The Missionary Call and Reaching and Teaching published by Moody Press, Introduction to Global Missions and Hearts, Heads, and Hands published by B&H Publishing Group of LifeWay Christian Resources.
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Missions: How the Local Church Goes Global