Drop by any culture, any place, anywhere, and someone will tell you what’s wrong and how to fix it. But the answers usually flow more from worldview than from analysis. The religious folks will have answers related to giving people a purpose. Others may think education is the greatest solution to whatever problems you have. Many believe that people need more abortions—since overpopulation is the greatest evil, that makes population control is the highest good. But the complexity of humanity challenges this approach.
Tolstoy opened Anna Karenina with a classic: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Each joyful family must reflect certain patterns; but each grieved one can be shattered in a myriad of ways.
But life’s complex narratives challenge this, too. J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is a memoir of a family and culture in crisis. From the author’s addiction-torn Appalachian family, to his military service and graduation from Yale Law School, we see themes that can hardly be ignored—addiction, poverty, and hopelessness.
For Vance, he gives many people a first-time look at an ignored class—poor whites—that wear the ugly patterns of poverty proudly, like a Confederate flag in the back of an old truck. But rather than stop there, he then asks what can be done to help, and uses them (to the criticism of some) as examples of the failures of various conservative social policies.
This draws us back to the need to know the people to whom God is calling us to reach with the Gospel and the good news of a good life with God’s people. If the nations live next door to me, and I have no idea who they are, or what to say, or what to do, then we are stuck. How do we move forward?
Let’s start by looking locally. God has most certainly called your church to fulfill the Great Commission in your area, and then extend your ministry reach into other parts of the world where the Gospel has yet to take root. You are called to live a quiet, hard-working life before the world and boggle their minds with your determined focus, work in your field, public faithfulness, and love of freedom. Or as Paul says, “Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thess. 4:11-12).
If that’s all there is to it, then we would hardly have any reason to know (or love) our neighbor. I can follow that Scripture and stay focused on God, work hard in my vocation, be as faithful in public as I am in my church, and live free without knowing much about anyone around me, right? But what about “walking properly before outsiders”? How are you going to be faithful in public and private without obeying the Great Commandment? Love of neighbor requires that we know them. If I ask you if you love your wife, and you can’t tell me anything about her, I’m going to question your passion.
What’s my Mission?
God’s mission is to reveal his kingdom throughout the world, which means in your hometown and around the world. This is not a physical kingdom, but a spiritual one that is claiming elect souls from the fallen world. Missions is God’s victory march towards his eternal triumph, and the mop-up battle is being waged wherever God has placed faithful followers.
The purpose of our lives is to see God’s glory everywhere. “May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth! May desert tribes bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust! May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands render him tribute; may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts! May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him!” (Ps 72:8-11).
We are all sinners saved by God’s grace. The Fall turned the world away from its’ true purpose, and the Cross is God’s means to set it all right again. Missions is Christ on earth, working through the church, bringing the ordinary means of grace to the lost, and delighting to see the elect responding in repentant faith. Throughout history the world has coveted strength, but God has always used weakness. When trying to conquer the world the Nazis sent brute force, the Romans sent skilled warriors, but God is sending the weak, poor and uneducated. Our churches are imperfect, our pastors are but men, our welcomes and hospitality often go unnoticed, yet God delights to work through precisely that.
God used ordinary people like Aquila and Priscilla, a couple running a small business in Asia Minor, to invite people to faith and then with Paul, plant a local church for the new believers. That pattern continues—lay people connecting people with a local church.
How can my church do this?
Steve Childers, church planting expert behind hundreds of successful new churches around the world, gives seven steps for planting a healthy church that knows and loves its neighbor. The second of seven steps to planting a successful church is as follows:
Determine the Proper People-Focus for the Church (People Group/Area)
____ I have named them in prayer and conversation with my elders.
____ I grasp the necessity and difficulty of understanding their culture.
____ I have utilized recent demographic studies and resources.
____ I have studied carefully their behavior, values, beliefs and worldview.
____ I have exegeted their culture by personal observation, networking and interviewing.
____ I have experienced “incarnational insight” by living and serving among them.
____ I have developed a “People Profile” including a description of their behaviors, values, beliefs, worldview, felt needs and primary idols.
____ I have determined their greatest (3-5) specific felt-needs.
____ I have determined how the ministry of the Gospel, in both word and deed, is the ultimate solution to all their real needs, both personal and social.
I began to pray through and apply these seven steps at Dayspring PCA as a way of preparing for revival and renewal in our community. When I looked at US Census data, I was surprised. I learned that we have the second lowest percentage of African Americans in Florida in our county (5.7, Citrus county to our north is lower) and a growing Hispanic population (12.4 in 2016, compared to 10.3 in 2010).
Overall, it’s reported that 10.2 percent of the 70,452 households speak another language in the home. In the three zip codes around our church, 30% of the homes have one or more people in them who speak another language as their primary language and English as a second language.
If you wanted to beautify our community, if you wanted to show the hospitality of God to our neighborhood, would you open a free clinic? No. Or low-cost apartments? No evidence that’s needed. But what about English as a Second Language Classes? One church has already started them and we are right behind them—pray for our seven volunteers and the need for roughly $1000 to get our ESL classes started.
God has called everyone to view their neighborhood as a mission field. To do that, take loving your neighbor seriously, and knowing your neighbor will immediately follow. As you understand their felt needs, then you’ll be able to meet those and build relationships that will make it simple to invite them to your birthday parties and soon after, your church service. There, they will learn about the faithful Savior who has called your church to make the nations glad to hear the Gospel—especially the nations’ next door.