The Mission of Local Churches
The Lord Jesus has given his Church clear marching orders. We are to “go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all that He has commanded us.” This and this alone is the mission statement of the Church in general and of local churches in particular. When a local church fails to make the Great Commission its guide for mission, it has gone away from its divine mandate. Local churches are called to proclaim the Gospel into all the world, make disciples that obey the commands of Jesus Christ and replicate itself through church planting. This commission can be summed up in three words, win souls, build disciples and send workers.
Many local churches around the world have been faithful with what was handed down to us by our Master, Jesus Christ. Because of this unswerving focus to the vision of win, build and send through church planting, I believe these churches have earned the commendation of the house of the Rechabites mentioned in Jeremiah chapter 35.
Congregations faithful to the simplicity of the Great Commission know who they are and what they are commanded to do. They are committed to radical evangelism. They understand that men are lost and that the Body of Christ must go outside the four walls of the church building to seek and save them. They are not content with reaching those that are easy to deal with; but they have the heart of the Good Shepherd that prays, “Give us those that no one else wants.” They win people to Christ through Gospel proclamation!
These congregations understand that when people come to Christ that is not the end of the journey, but the very beginning. After these lost souls come to Christ with all of their filth and darkness the Church is then called to work with God as He refashions them into the image of Jesus. They don’t just make converts who believe in Jesus, but they make disciples by teaching them how to obey all that He has commanded us. These kingdom communities are committed to building lives through personal discipleship!
They note that the Great Commission is included among his commandments; so they understand that they haven’t taught their disciples “to obey all he has commanded” until these disciples are themselves making disciples and walking in the destiny God has for them. Each soul is destined to be a co-laborer with the Lord and so they practice radical release by sending workers throughout their region. As God’s kingdom representatives on earth, local congregations must send laborers into the Harvest!
Though Christ uses many organizations and groups to accomplish many wonderful things, his main work is to “build his Church.” Since the manifestation of the universal Church of Jesus Christ is the local church, we must recognize the importance of these congregations in God’s plan. It is through the local church, in conjunction with other local churches, that Christ “builds up his body and equips the saints for ministry.” It is within the power of the local church to reproduce itself, and so fulfill the Great Commission. Wherever the territory of God’s kingdom spreads, local churches must be planted. Pioneer churches are like kingdom outposts. And it is from these outposts that the Gospel is spread to the surrounding areas and beyond. We must value the ministry of the local church and we must establish new churches.
Strategy for Establishing Local Churches
We see the biblical strategy for establishing new local congregations illustrated in Acts 14:21-23:
After they had evangelized that town and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch, strengthening the disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith and by telling them, “It is necessary to pass through many troubles on our way into the kingdom of God.” When they had appointed elders in every church and prayed with fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
Only Christ can build his Church, but he does it through his Church. As local churches in cooperation with other churches and ministries obey the Great Commission, Christ builds his Church by saving souls and adding them to his Church. He then establishes these believers into congregations for mutual edification in the things of God. If we are going to be co-laborers with God in expanding His kingdom indo new areas, we must diligently practice three things.
- We must evangelize cities, towns and villages. This cannot possibly be done through friendship evangelism or humanitarian projects. Though God can use both friendship evangelism and humanitarian projects in the planting of churches, the time and money that is spent on establishing friendships and establishing various projects is too long and too high. The Gospel is meant to spread like wildfire from region to region. The biblical model of kingdom expansion is through public proclamation of the Gospel. This might include reasoning with people one on one where they gather, going door to door or loudly declaring the gospel on a street corner or at a village market.
- We must make disciples. It is not enough to proclaim the Gospel. We must follow up with those that are open to hear more. And when people come to saving faith we must baptize them into the Body of Christ and then teach them to obey all that Jesus has commanded.
- We must appoint elders. After disciples are made they must be gathered into congregations. And congregations cannot be considered truly established until local leaders are chosen and ordained in accordance with biblical standards.
Structure of Local Churches
Though there are a variety of ministries in the local church, but each local church has only two ministerial offices; namely elders and deacons. Among the elders there is a further distinction. Lead elders are recognized as the pastor.
Pastor: The pastor’s role is to shepherd the church in the things of God and be the decisive leader among the elders.
Standards for Pastors: The pastor must live a godly life and diligently teach, pray for, challenge, encourage and lead the church.
Elder: The elder’s role is to assist the pastor in shepherding the church in the things of God.
Standards for Elders: The elder must live a godly life and diligently teach, pray for, challenge, encourage and lead the church.
Deacon: The deacon’s role is to assist the elders in serving the more practical needs of the members. This includes distribution of the diakonia fund, visiting the sick, etc.
Standards for Deacons: The deacon must live a godly life and diligently serve the leaders and members of the local church.
Scenarios of Church Planting
It should be noted that there are various scenarios that can lead to the planting of a new congregation. Though evangelism, discipleship and ordaining leaders are always key ingredients, God’s providence is always the key factor. Churches can be established through gathering those who have heard the Gospel for the first time and been discipled by the evangelist. Other times, as in Acts 19, a small group of believers exists in a given location and merely needs further instruction and leadership. There are also times when a key believer is already laboring alone in an area and just needs the guidance and support of local church from another area. These are only a few examples of the way God can initiate a new congregation, so we must be sensitive to the Spirit in order to recognize where God is at work so that we can join Him.