“I don’t know why you’re traveling all over the world when there’s so much to do right here!” an exasperated friend expressed to me with strong emotion. I’ve heard similar statements from pastors: “When we get things fixed here, we can think of going there.” Or, “We have more than enough problems to take care of in our own neighborhood.” These statements sound perfectly logical. I’m convinced, however, these individuals and others like them are forgetting part of our biblical mandate.
Sequential or simultaneous?
Acts 1:8 records Jesus’ statement about being his witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Four dimensions of ministry are revealed in Jesus’ commissioning:
Jerusalem — your local region.
All Judea — an emphasis to expand your witness.
Samaria — cross-cultural ministry right where you are, crossing psychological and religious hurdles.
The ends of the earth — cross-cultural ministry faraway.
The Acts commissioning compels us to consistently push the gospel outward in an ever-increasing scope of influence. But there is another important factor here. The four categories are connected with the conjunction “and,” which is not standard grammar unless a specific point is to be made through the sentence structure.
Well-known author and pastor Rick Warren states, “These four dimensions of ministry, expressed in this way, are intended to be simultaneous, not sequential.” In other words, we don’t wait until we’ve reached our Jerusalem to influence Judea, or Samaria or the world’s remotest parts. If Jesus’ followers go sequential — focusing on the ministries one at a time — many peoples in the world will never hear the gospel because our work at home is never finished.
It has been almost 2000 years since Jesus gave us the command to go and “disciple the ethne’ (foreign nations).” Yet over 6500 people groups that are 2 percent or less Christian remain unreached in the world. And another 1300 people groups are unengaged and unreached, having no Christians and no one currently working among them to declare the gospel.
How can this be? Has the church focused on doing ministry sequentially rather than simultaneously? Could it be we have been remiss in pushing the gospel with an urgency to deliver the good news of Jesus to every people group in the world?
What I have seen
Having been a pastor for 28 years, I understand the need to resist sideways energy — those ministry engagements that may be good but fail to push us toward our stated objectives. However, in the churches I’ve led, some very significant things happened when all four dimensions of ministry were simultaneously engaged with strategic intentionality:
The churches grew — and they grew primarily through conversion growth.
There was holistic, radical transformation in the lives of our regular attenders.
Our people became more generous.
The communities were impacted by our church’s engagement among them.
Our influence was extended far beyond the local church.
There was an obvious blessing of God upon our church.
As the lead pastor of Edinbrook Church in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, I was convinced we needed to intentionally engage all four dimensions simultaneously. When I arrived as pastor in 1996, the church was struggling to survive, even considering dissolution shortly before my arrival. Sixteen years later, Edinbrook had developed into a healthy, dynamic church that was passionate for the lost here, near and far. Consider a few of the achievements in each of the four categories:
Jerusalem: We grew from a congregation of 150 to 1500, now passionate for the lost in our community. In each of my last two years as pastor, we saw over 200 first-time decisions for Christ, with follow-up and discipleship teams ready to help each one.
Judea: We expanded our reach by helping plant two new African churches in the Twin Cities, consulting with and assisting struggling churches and providing worship mentoring for many churches around us.
Samaria: We adopted a grade school near us where 62 percent of the students lived under the poverty level, most first-generation immigrants from African nations. This required weekly volunteers, special projects for the school and creatively honoring the teachers. We also consistently engaged in various service projects in the community, many cross-cultural, striving to be a highly valued presence there.
The ends of the earth: Our missions giving increased from $4,000 annually to $180,000 annually. The largest Sunday morning offering in the church’s history took place in 2007, when $157,000 was given for a Converge ministry in Africa. Short-term missions was nonexistent in 1996, but for my last five years at Edinbrook, we sent out 100 short-termers each year. We also developed a burden for unreached peoples — those in the world with no access to the gospel — sending a culturally similar pastor to a suffering unreached people group in India to bring them to faith in Christ. The church has also sent numerous longer-term missionaries into the world in recent years.
The four dimensions of ministry are not either/or — they’re all/and. The more we find balance in all four dimensions of ministry, the more we will experience God’s favor. When our city’s mayor heard I was leaving Edinbrook for my current role, he declared an Edinbrook Church Day for the city, recognizing our value and influence in the community. At the same time, this church aggressively embraced the responsibility and privilege of bringing the gospel to the lost peoples of the world.
Like Edinbrook, your church can expand its missions reach. Let us courageously recommit ourselves to the great cause of bringing Jesus to lost people here, near and far.
Ivan Veldhuizen, Vice President of International Ministries
Ivan Veldhuizen has served as Vice President of International Ministries since January 2012. With missionaries and ministry partnerships around the world, Ivan’s goal is to lead initiatives that will move us toward fulfilling the Great Commission in his lifetime. Ivan served as a field associate with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for five years (1991-1996), bringing Dr. Graham’s vision for evangelism to 24 countries. He is a graduate of Bethel Seminary and formerly served as a Converge pastor for 28 years.