How does God advance His Kingdom upon the earth? A short answer is that God calls missionaries from among His people, equips them by His Spirit, and sends them out from one of His churches. The missionary is sent to preach the gospel, gather those who believe, and form a church(es).
This pattern is clear in the Book of Acts where the Holy Spirit led the church in Antioch to “set apart” Paul and Barnabas and send them out to do the work that God had called them to do (Acts 13:2f). The remainder of Acts shows Paul being led by the Holy Spirit to certain places and peoples, where he preached Jesus Christ and gathered believers into churches. There is no indication that the church in Antioch, or Jerusalem, or any other place, dictated where Paul went and how he started churches. He was a God-called man, empowered by God to do the work, and supported by the Antioch church and others as he did so. How the Kingdom was advanced in Philippi was different from Ephesus and Athens and Corinth. What remained the same in each place was the work of the Holy Spirit through the missionary to preach Christ, deal with particular people and situations, and gather those who believed.
Something clearly seen in the New Testament is that each local situation is different. Some of the cities had Jewish communities and some did not. Some had “persons of peace” who received Christ and helped the missionary establish a presence , but this did not happen in every place. The missionary, as he was led by the Holy Spirit, had to determine what to do in each given situation.
Northwest Baptists seek to follow the approach to missions and ministry that we see in the New Testament. We believe that no one is better capable of understanding the local ministry context than the pastors and leaders of the local church. If an area is without a church, we seek to gather information and gain direction from those in proximity to the area. This includes pastors of nearby churches and the local associational leadership. We believe that those best positioned to understand the needs and opportunities of a given locale are those who live there.
As I see Kingdom advance, you must have two things, with a third being helpful to varying degrees:
1. A God-called, Spirit-led gospel witness/preacher sent out by a church to advance the Kingdom.
2. The gospel witness must be present in the local community, talking to individuals and assessing the local situation. The strategy and tactics used to reach a community require local presence.
3. The work of the gospel witness can be aided through the prayers and support of the church(es), association, state convention, and national entities.
God advances His Kingdom through people who live and serve in the community. Often these individuals are trained and supported by others, outside of the community, but those on the outside are not positioned to know the specifics of how to reach a local community. So much depends on local relationships and situations that can only be established and known by someone present and working in the community. This does not mean there should be no accountability for the missionary, nor that the missionary mustn’t learn from others. Those who support the work of the missionary can determine how and whether to support a given work, but the fact is they are not the ones doing the work, and deference should be made toward those actually doing the local ministry, understanding that some will choose not to support a particular ministry for theological, strategic or tactical reasons.
This conviction that leaders closest to the field are best able to determine where and how to evangelize a people, and gather believers into churches, is the reason Northwest Baptists through the NWBC are in the process of developing formal partnerships with local associations to advance God’s Kingdom in their area. Changes a decade ago in how local associations are funded have greatly weakened associational work in the northern and western regions of the U.S. But in the Northwest we have some associations that are quite active and doing Kingdom work. Should an association choose to partner with the NWBC for Kingdom advance, we desire such partnership.
The following is the basis of a document I recently shared with our local associational leaders. I share this with each of you so that you will have some understanding of what we are seeking to accomplish and the approach we are taking.
The “Big Idea” behind the Purpose of Partnership between the NWBC and local Associations
The most effective means of advancing the God’s Kingdom is to partner with local churches, associations, and the NWBC, as we seek God together for what He wants to do in our cities, towns and rural areas. We do not seek our best thinking about what to do. Rather, we seek the heart and mind of God as to what He is doing, and how He wants to use us as His means to advance His Kingdom.
Questions to direct our thinking:
1. What is God presently doing in your Church, Association, and area (including other ministries and churches in which God is at work)?
2. Where do you see opportunities for Kingdom advance in your locality? What are these opportunities?
3. How are things changing in your area, demographically and in other ways, that would affect praying and planning?
4. What specifically do you believe God is inviting you/us to do?
5. What resources can you identify that could be used to expand God’s Kingdom?
Areas of focus for cooperative ministry include:
1. Evangelism training and activity
2. Leadership development, both pastoral and lay leaders, including “calling out the called”
3. Small groups and discipleship
4. Church starting
5. Mission engagement (Asia Pacific Rim with IMB, Disaster Relief, Collegiate Ministry, others)
6. Soul Care for pastoral leaders
Ways to bring partners together to pray and plan:
1. Invite associational leaders to the NWBC Church Planting Retreat at Cannon Beach. Dual purpose is to connect them to church planters where needed, and to begin discussing how a Kingdom advance strategy might be developed for their association.
2. Each partner has unique contributions to make in developing and implementing the plan.
3. Planning could be launched in a one or two-day conference in the associational area. Participants would include pastors, associational leaders, NWBC staff.
4. Quarterly meetings with participants to monitor progress, address issues, and make needed adjustments.
God is at work in the Northwest. This spring about 100 pastors are involved in Shepherd to Shepherd groups. In addition to fellowship and soul care, they are discussing ways to reach Northwesterners in this pandemic/post pandemic world. In 2021 we saw a record 29 new church starts, worshipping in 5 different languages. Mission giving from our churches exceeded our NWBC budget and mission giving in 2020.
God is at work. And yet, with this needed emphasis on Kingdom advance, we continue to see that pastors are weary and many are struggling. Already this morning I have talked to two pastors who reached out needing some form of biblical counseling or soul care. In order to be God’s means to build His Kingdom, we must deal with the real world and not pretend everything is “just fine.”
I just finished reading through Deuteronomy. As Moses gave final instructions and reminders to a people about to enter the Promised Land, he reminded them that the wilderness they were leaving was strewn with the corpses of their disobedient fathers. One message from that is that God will advance His Kingdom, but he does so through a righteous, faithful, obedient people. That’s what we must be.