Rev. Gary Robinson is pastor of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Parry Sound, Ontario, and Executive Director of Threefold Ministries.
Matthew 9:35-38 – Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field."
Chuck Swindoll, in a sermon entitled 5 Signs of the Dead and Dying Church, succinctly set out the state of many churches today. He said a dead and dying church is marked by an unhealthy worship of its past, a worship of liturgy over a worship of God, a love of tradition more than a love for Christ, an inflexibility and resistance to change, and most especially, a loss of evangelistic and missionary fervour. In other words, much of the church today has become introverted, self-serving, and closed, instead of being compassionate, inviting, and outward-looking. We sit around in our self-indulgent clubhouses wringing our hands with despair over the decline in attendance and the short-fall in our budgets, and wonder how much longer we can survive. Sadly, without change, not much longer.
What a distance we see between these characteristics and the attitude and prayer of Christ in Matthew 9. I believe the key to Christ's posture in this passage is in the way He saw the world. Through His eyes the world was viewed with compassion for people who were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. His heart ached that His followers would also see and then act in response to this circumstance by going and doing something about it. In His name, they were to go and teach, preach, heal, and nurture back to health, those in need. What a difference between navel-gazing in our safe clubhouses and getting into the trenches of mission to a needy world. The key is in seeing the world like God sees the world and then, in response to that insight, becoming a sent-out worker.
I have been involved in sending short-term mission teams to Nicaragua for the past 7 years. Our first teams went out as an extension of St. Andrew's mission focus. More recently, as a result of the broadening of our mission's network, the teams have grown in number and frequency and are being sent under the auspices of Threefold Ministries. Over the past three years, in addition to my pastoral responsibilities at St. Andrew's, Parry Sound, I have had the privilege of giving leadership to a registered charity called Threefold Ministries. It was established as a trans-denominational organization to go and do the work of missions in the harvest field of Nicaragua.
For every team member of every short-term team we send, we pray this prayer, "O God, may the participants of this team begin to see the world as You see it. Stir and change their hearts so that they may become the ones You use to reach out to a lost and hurting world." The reason we pray for this type of outcome is that we have observed that God uses short-term, outward-looking mission experiences to transform His church from clubhouses to fellowships of passionate workers like the ones envisioned in Matthew's gospel. When a person goes and sees and does, they are changed in such a dramatic way that when they return to their home church, they revitalize the church with their enthusiasm and passion. The best way to revitalize the church is for the church to be mobilized in mission. Jesus said, "pray that God would send", and our response should be, "Lord, I will go". If you want to see your church revitalized, get into missions.
I believe so strongly in this that I have directed Threefold Ministries to host a conference in Nicaragua for pastors and church leaders who would like the opportunity to experience short term missions for themselves. We have a dynamic slate of speakers who will be sharing from their Heart for Mission at this conference in January 2009. They include Will Graham (grandson of Billy Graham), Galo Vasquez, Glen Pitts, and Bruxy Cavey. If you are pastoring or leading in a church that is struggling with some of the issues identified by Chuck Swindoll, I would encourage you to attend this conference. When you go there and see, then get involved with short-term missions. I believe your going, seeing, and doing will breath new life into your congregation. It has ours.
If you would like more information about Threefold Ministries or the Heart for Mission Conference visit our website.