Thirteen people gather in a modest living room in central China. Their huge task is to reach and disciple an unreached people of several million. Thinking about this brave small group, we might be reminded of the boy’s bread and fish in John 6: “…how far will they go among so many?” But that small lunch was enough because Jesus brought the divine multiplier factor.
Does God have a divine multiplier factor for that team of 13 in China?
Yes, because they aren’t a team of just 13 people. One church in North America has told them: “In reality, you have 3,013 members on your team because every person in our congregation is a part of your team too. Whatever you need, ask for it from a member who is back here in our church. We’re in this together!”
The local church is God’s multiplier factor for missions today! Individuals can make a tremendous contribution to missions. Technology can have a great impact too. But the multiplier factor only comes into play when we engage the local church. Why?
1. The power multiplier
“I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it,” Jesus declared. It is the church to whom Jesus promises success as she assaults the forces of evil.
We are in a cosmic spiritual battle. Paul called the Ephesian church to stand with him in the fearless proclamation of the gospel with “all kinds of prayers” because the struggle is against the powers of darkness (Eph. 6:18-19). If the Apostle Paul was dependent on the engagement of the church, who are we to think we can go it alone?
Winning is not dependent on technology, education, political power, or money. But it is dependent on a powerful team fighting on their knees. One pastor told me with joy that when his congregation came face to face with the desperate needs of the unreached, they began to pray “BIG prayers.” Big prayers impact the church itself, the community, and yes, the ends of the earth. Only the deeply engaged local church has the potential to exponentially multiply the prayer power. Only that prayer power will go far enough, deep enough, and last long enough.
2. The leadership multiplier
Saul was a “Type A” entrepreneur, gifted and passionate to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. But in Acts 13:1-3, God pushed the pause button. In essence He said, “Wait! I want the local church, especially the leaders of the local church, to be the engine of the missions process.” The Holy Spirit speaks to the leaders of the Antioch church, “You send Paul and Barnabas.”
In the 21st century, the local church continues to be the best engine for missions engagement. Here’s what happened when one church responded:
“Our elders identified people in our church who were seriously involved in ministry and who they felt might be gifted to serve cross-culturally,” an elder in a local church in Pennsylvania explains. “We developed a two-year class, and eventually from that group, we sent a team to Cambodia. Each member struggled at times with the decision to move ahead, but they kept coming back to this fact: This isn’t an individual goal nor a decision made hastily. This is the vision of my church, and we have the full confidence of our church leaders.”
God continues to call the church to prepare and send some of its best today. But will our generation complete the Great Commission? We can’t be sure. So the local church must also, right now, be raising up tomorrow’s missions leaders. How? By involving members of every age in Acts 1:8 efforts. Missions is caught better than taught, and the church is where those with powerful vision should be incubating it!
3. The resources multiplier
My life changed when a man in our congregation said to me, “This is the first time in decades of running a business that I ever saw any way take what I’ve learned and use it for God.”
At the time, I was directing missions in my local church and had just recruited this businessman to be part of a short-term team offering business seminars in Eastern Europe. Suddenly I realized that our church was full of people who had all different types of expertise—professional, business, hobbies, sports, etc.—that was being wasted. And most of them were not uninvolved because they were resistant. They were uninvolved because they didn’t know they were needed and they had never been asked.
To stake Jesus’ claim over every inch of this planet requires the full engagement of every member of the church. God has already built the vast variety of abilities needed into what He describes as His Body—a complex organism with an amazing variety of distinct parts. These parts are designed to work in tandem to reach common goals (Eph. 4:16).
No individual and no other organization on earth can get the job done. God has called the church to the task because no lesser institution can be successful. The local church is God’s multiplier factor. What’s God calling your church to do?
Ellen Livingood is the coordinator of All Means (www.AllMeans.org) and the president of Catalyst Services (www.CatalystServices.org). Both efforts are dedicated to multiplying the global impact of local churches.