Churches rarely celebrate slow, hard-slogging work that’s yet to see fruit. In doing so, we unintentionally create spiritual versions of get-rich-quick testimonials, showing how through only a little extra giving and a little extra prayer, you too can see an entire unreached people group saved in your lifetime.
Almost everyone knows the story of Adoniram Judson. But among the most God-honoring and baffling parts of his story is what happened on his way to the mission field: he broke his ties with the Congregationalist Church because he changed his convictions on baptism. His friend and fellow laborer, Luther Rice, had similarly shifted. Rice returned to the U.S. to raise support from Baptist churches for Judson, who was now a missionary without any sending churches. Under Rice’s initiative, Baptist churches in the U.S. supported Judson for decades—without ever even meeting him. Rice returned home in 1812, but Judson’s first and only visit back wasn’t until 1845, more than 30 years later.
In other words, these churches faithfully supported the ministry of a man they’d never met. They only knew Judson by way of his reputation and the letters that came several months after current events. He never once visited with rousing stories of regular converts.
How does a church get its members invested in the Great Commission like that? It’s a question many church leaders ask themselves. We know Christians are called to take the gospel to the nations, yet often it’s challenging to get people motivated about evangelistic work in faraway places.
Perhaps this is why pastors assume that what their church members need is more excitement about the spiritual results of missions. They need to see how thrilling it is when men and women step out of a culture where Christianity is totally alien, and into the kingdom of light. So why not use whatever means possible to excite churches with those images?
Spiritual Get-Rich-Quick Schemes
The result is story after story of dramatic conversions and mass movements. Churches rarely celebrate slow, hard-slogging work that’s yet to see fruit. In doing so, we unintentionally create spiritual versions of get-rich-quick testimonials, showing how through only a little extra giving and a little extra prayer, you too can see an entire unreached people group saved in your lifetime.
In our efforts to quickly mobilize churches in missions, I fear we’re unintentionally undermining the church’s ability to patiently invest for the spiritual long-term. I fear we’re training churches who would’ve brought home William Carey or Adoniram Judson due to their evangelistic inefficiency in the first seven or eight years.
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