At General Conference 2007, I came to a fork in the road on my faith journey.
Indian Bishop John Gollapalli spoke, reminding us of God’s collective call to all the nations and encouraging us to let our imaginations go free with the help of the Holy Spirit. It was a “God moment,” where I sat among more than 1,000 Free Methodists but heard the message as if I were alone. I had an overwhelming sense of God’s presence.
With tears streaming down my face, I avoided eye contact, made my way through the crowd and walked across the Spring Arbor University campus to the dormitory. In the room, I fell to my knees, burying my face in the carpet. I poured my heart out
to God, and He met me there.
In this place of grace, Isaiah 6:8 came to mind: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’”
I was serving as the lead pastor of the Davison FMC in Michigan, a four-generation church working through a transition and learning how best to reach out to the world and our local community. Sensing that God was tugging at my heart, calling me to a deeper place and a broader perspective, I responded “yes.”
Fast-forward to the present. I still feel like I am at the beginning of an
incredible journey to understand what it means to be a mission-minded Christ-follower in this world. In my role as missions mobilizer for the Free Methodist Church, I have the rare opportunity to see the church at work across the United States and around the globe.
Although it’s true that travel expands a person’s mind, my basic conviction regarding missions hasn’t changed much since 2007. I view missions as near — not just in some faraway place. Missions can be both global and local. The boundaries of missions as we have understood them in relation to the local church have radically shifted.
As followers of Christ, we are all called to be missions-minded. Three guiding principles can help each of us and our local churches connect with God’s heart for the world.
We can begin by reflecting sincerely on God’s Word and what it means for us to fulfill the mandate to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) in an ever-changing world. I am humbled by the smallness of my own heart when I consider the grace and unconditional love of God. Often I have to confess my own wrongful attitudes and place a higher value on others.
Additionally, we must become students of culture and servanthood. We must learn how to bridge cultural differences to reach people. This requires studying culture beyond the surface of what we see, hear and taste. We need to understand people’s feelings, attitudes and world perspectives. We should identify predisposed views of Christianity among nonbelievers and adherents to other religions. Relying on God’s Spirit, we have to discern how best to communicate the truth of the gospel and the teachings of Christ in ways that are understandable and relevant to people.
We must cultivate a greater awareness of God — who is with us wherever we go — as we seek a deeper understanding of people. When we attempt to understand the world that people experience, we become the ears, eyes, hands, feet and heart of Jesus. We cannot help but be changed, and our influence for Him will surely increase.
As a pastor, I discovered a fundamental difference between individuals making a decision to believe in Jesus and actually following Him. We’ve learned how to follow Jesus to church and to be with our own kind, but we don’t necessarily know how to be the church in our daily lives with those who are different from us. Consequently, we often treat the idea of missions as something external from (rather than intrinsic to) the church.
Missions reflect God’s movement in the world toward all people, and the local church is His chosen instrument. Joining Him in this movement begins where we are locally. It represents more than focusing only on our kind. It must consist of more than a project or a program in order to truly impact the identity and life of the local church.
As the mission field within the United States becomes more diverse, living in social and cultural isolation will only cause our churches to become irrelevant if we do not change. We must decipher new methods for translating the gospel within our own culture and the culture of others without changing the message.
Brad Button is the missions mobilizer for Free Methodist World Missions. Visit fmchr.ch/bradbutton to learn more about him and his work.
National leaders around the world have taught me many things. I’ve also realized how much I don’t know. As in our own communities, there are no quick fixes for the problems others face in the world. Yet together with our global brothers and sisters, we can discover how best to do ministry.
The global church’s passion and zeal are infectious. Due to hardships and persecution, believers demonstrate a greater dependence on Jesus and expectation of His work in their lives and ministry. They pray often. They ask and anticipate that God will respond. They believe He still does miracles and that He restores, heals and transforms.
Partnership with the global church includes giving of our resources, but it can be much more if we approach partnership with humility and mutual respect. Within a cross-cultural setting, it’s important to remember that the process for decision making is circular, not linear. Relationships are more important than task completion. Achieving good results takes time; accomplishing great outcomes takes even longer. We can encourage one another as we share our faith stories and focus on the assets we all have to offer rather than merely attempting to meet the needs we see.
I believe God is calling the Free Methodist Church to a broader perspective when it comes to missions. We say “yes” to Him when we engage personally, act locally and partner globally. To connect with God’s heart for the world, we must face our fears, make commitments and risk the potential for failure.0