Over the past five years, my passion for training and coaching nationals here in the United States has continued to increase. By God’s grace, I spend the majority of my time in working with church planters and teams to launch disciplemaking, reproducing churches to reach our nation — and the nations among us, around us, and around the world!
This week I am participating in the General Conference of the Missionary Church in Dallas, Texas. On my flight I spent some time reading a short history of the Missionary Church Association, which merged with the United Missionary Church in 1969 to form the Missionary Church.
Sixty years ago in 1951, Walter Lugibihl and Jared Gerig published this historical account of the origin and development of the Missionary Church Association (MCA). They recount the birth of the denomination in August 1898 and its early development and expansion. At that mid-century point, the MCA numbered seventy-one organized and twelve unorganized churches in four districts across ten states.
“From the very beginning, foreign missions has been a primary goal in all of the ministry of the Missionary Church Association. The name itself gave definite emphasis to the central interest and first love of the men who founded it . The Great Commission was made the battle cry and every effort was made to spread the Gospel into all the world.” (p. 89)
One conclusion summarized at various points was the lack of attention given to starting and organizing new churches here in the United States. “Much revival work was conducted in which the results were plenteous, but the building of the converts into a congregational unit was neglected. Much attention was given to foreign mission and this may account in measure for the failure to take advantage of the gains made in establishing a strong home base. The present inadequacy of the home base is being keenly felt and a more aggressive extension program is being launched for the founding and building of churches in the United States.” (p. 88)
When I joined the Missionary Church in 1988, I was drawn to this commitment to a more aggressive extension program. I’ve been involved in the efforts to plant churches in the Missionary Church Western District (MCWD) for the past 23 years. Over the past five years, we’ve seen nearly twenty new works launched in California, Arizona and Colorado.
Why are we starting churches?
Consider these powerful insights regarding the need to start more churches here in the United States:
“In any review of the past, there will inevitably and inescapably come to one’s attention the primary aim and objective of the church which was missions. The church was born with a missionary passion and vision. It came into existence to carry out the great commission. It was named the Missionary Church Association, an association of churches united and working cooperatively to do the job of the evangelization of the world. The founding of churches in the homeland was only a means to an end, to more adequately, more effectively, and more quickly care the message of life-giving hope into all the world.” (p. 160)
That’s it! The vision and passion for planting churches was to plant more churches all over the world! We are planting churches to plant churches to plant churches so that the whole world may know the hope of Jesus Christ.
I’ve heard church planters and teams tell me all kinds of reasons for starting churches. Ultimately – this is why we start churches! We start churches to start more churches to start even more churches – making disciples who make disciples who make disciples – sending disciplemaking missionaries to cities, counties, and countries!
This must happen at a local level with global impact.
“Local churches must become centers of evangelistic and missionary activity. Pastors must become enthusiastic leaders using every means and method to stir and stimulate their churches to greater sacrifice and service. Let the thought of ever retrenching be far from us, but let it be faced too that there can be deadly peril in stagnation, in consolidation of present positions without an aggressive program for advancement. We must set up new aims and objectives and then strike out to reach them. Evangelize is still the cry and challenge echoing down the corridors of time into the present. We must be rising more nobly and more energetically to meet this challenge in the present.” (p. 160-161).
I agree wholeheartedly! What is your aggressive program for advancement? What are you aiming for? What are you striking out to accomplish for the glory of God?
Will you rise more nobly and more energetically to meet today’s missional challenge?
These are sobering words that still ring as true in American churches today as they did in 1951:
“A great revival has not stirred for many years and we have become content and complacent in our orthodoxy, routine and regular in our forms and methods, and lacking in a faith which believes God for the impossible and the incredible. Many local churches hold regular revival meetings but experience no revivals. Evangelism is still part of our heritage but it has been lost out of our hearts. The salvation of souls is still the creed and cry, but there are few churches where souls are being saved with any regularity. Altars which one felt the hot splash of the penitent’s tears are barren, and the faithful gather to worship week after week with little concern or burden. The need of the mid-century hour is for a mighty awakening throughout our churches which will restore the heart and heat of evangelistic passion. No denomination can stagnate and remain small where evangelistic fires burn, where compassion for the lost leads to agonizing prayer and where heart-felt responsibility for witnessing leads men and women afield.” (p. 161-162)
What was needed then is still needed today!
“In the protection of the church and the preservation of the creed, we have confined and cloistered ourselves. Too many churches have become ingrown with no open-faced, out-of-doors ministry. There is the paralyzing tendency to hide behind stained glass windows and such indoor life has left the church colorless and anemic.” (p. 162)
Are these words true of your church? Have you become colorless and anemic? Are you too confined and cloistered and ingrown to make any impact in your neighborhood or zip code?
How are you reaching out in “open-faced, out-of-doors ministry”?
“The Missionary Church needs to go forth into the open air, into the great areas around her. Every local church ought to give birth to and mother another Missionary Church or two or three. Such aggressive evangelistic effort and revivalistic spirit will bring a new glow of health upon her cheek, a new pulse of strength into all her veins. She will have a sweeter-temper, a warmer love, a clearer voice, and firmer grasp in the face of increasing opportunities.
“The Missionary Church has not always been challenged with the larger vision, the greater conquest, the bigger job the quicker move. All of this had led too many times to doing only the little things, often sluggishly, and with little effectiveness. There has been a dangerous content to move along slowly and to make some progress, but not to measure that progress in terms of well-defined objectives and goals. Measurement of such progress can only be made either by the yardstick of such aims and objectives, or by comparisons which have long ago been declared odious. That there is a dissatisfaction with the achievements and accomplishments of the past fifty years constitutes a most hopeful sign for the future of the church.” (p. 162-163).
These are not just words for the Missionary Church sixty years ago, they are for the Missionary Church today!
These are not just words for the Missionary Church today, they are for the church in America today!
How often is the church “doing only the little things, often sluggishly, and with little effectiveness”?
When will the church view its progress as odious? When we will be dissatisfied to the extent that we actually pursue a larger vision, a greater conquest, a bigger job and a quicker move?
“The Missionary Church Association faces a crucial hour and stands at a most decisive crossroad. It is the conclusion of history that institutions reach their zenith of might and ministry at the half-century mark. Then decline and decay sets in to begin the downward trend which leads to organizational perversion or distinction. The second half-century has already begun. The opportunities are incomparable and overwhelming. Doors of ministry are wide open both at home and in foreign lands. The time is short and the light of day is passing. The night cometh when no man or church can work.
Will these remaining years be years of doing little more than consolidating the gains already made? Will they be years of marking time, waiting without working, looking up without looking ahead, praying with planning, services without sacrifice? Or will the Missionary Church reverse the decisions of history and rise to the challenge of the present to do its greatest work in this crisis hour and in the years that remain if Jesus tarries? The answer rests with you and me and a host of fellow Christians who love the church, appreciate its message, and who still believe in its mission. Let us rise with fresh vigor and renewed vision to do the greater work which remains to be done.” (p. 163-164)
The Missionary Church faces just as crucial an hour today as it did sixty years ago. Will we rise to the challenge? Will we choose to “decline and decay” or “rise with fresh vigor and renewed vision”?
This Mid-Century Call for the Church to Awaken Still Echoes Today!
While you may never have heard of the Missionary Church Association – how will you answer the call to do “the greater work which remains to be done”?
Love the church, live its message, lead its mission in your neighborhood!