Why Local and Global Missions Need Each Other
Mission agencies like TEAM exist because of our conviction that mission is incomplete if it ignores those beyond our immediate geographic reach. A critical aspect of the agency’s task within the church is to remind the larger community of far-flung needs that might otherwise be forgotten. We have beaten this drum loudly and persistently.
In our passion to keep the global unreached in the North American church’s vision, however, we have sometimes encouraged the belief that international mission is of a higher order than domestic mission. We have inadvertently created the belief that international missionaries are the hardcore, the totally committed, the “radical.” We have subtly contributed to the belief that domestic ministry is a cop-out and that those engaged in this kind of ministry are shirking the highest of callings and the deepest of sacrifices. In our zeal for the far-flung, we have occasionally fallen into the trap of condemning those called to pour out their lives in our neighborhoods.
This is as unfortunate as it is unbiblical. We are desperately in need of a more nuanced conversation around the topics of local and global mission. As one small attempt to bring balance to this conversation, we offer here four reasons why we insist on viewing local and global mission as fundamentally intertwined.
Global Mission is Born Out of Local Mission
Global mission is nothing more than local mission outside your home environment, and ministry at home is the best preparer for and indicator of success overseas.
It is easy to forget that Paul, the prototypical New Testament missionary, started out in local ministry. In fact, before his year-long ministry at Antioch under Barnabas’s supervision (Acts 11:25-26), Paul wasn’t really the man we think of. What activities made up this year of ministry? No doubt many of the things that make up local ministry as we know it today: relationship-building, outreach, evangelism, discipleship, teaching, leadership development, etc. These building blocks of ministry were as fundamental to Paul’s success as they are to ours. They are equally as critical to local ministry as to global work. And, like Paul, missionaries called to global engagement will need to learn these skills within their local context before ever moving to the other side of the world.
This is a case of being faithful in the simpler things before you are entrusted with the more complex. While we’re convinced that local mission is just as critical as global mission, the latter is often a more complex proposition. Moving a family thousands of miles away, investing years in language study and crossing major cultural barriers are all exceptionally risky endeavors. And there is no greater predictor of success in global mission than success on the local front. Without local mission, there is no global mission.
Local Mission Requires Global Vision
It is easy to focus on local ministry because local needs surround us on a daily basis and demand our attention. But since the very beginning, God has been in the business of pushing his people out of their current context and sending them into the wider world. Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Daniel are all notable examples. And these individual instances are microcosms of God’s larger emphasis on sending Israel to the nations.
Significantly, we should also add Jesus to the list of individuals sent as part of God’s mission. John 1, Philippians 2 and Hebrews 2 make clear the implications of Christ’s incarnational ministry — setting aside his former context to take on flesh, humbling himself, speaking our language and sharing our suffering.
God sent Israel as a whole and Abraham, Moses and many others in particular. He left his own throne to live with us. But to what end? To the end of blessing the nations, of bringing the good news of his kingdom to the lost and broken kingdoms of the world. We see this taught clearly from Genesis right through to Revelation (Genesis 12; Psalm 22:27-28; Isaiah 2:2; Revelation 5:9, 21), and emphasized by Christ’s own commission to his earliest followers (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8).
It will not do, then, to separate local ministry from global work, picking and choosing the emphasis that suits our purpose. To do so is to fundamentally change the mission of God and set off down a path that is foreign to God’s heart as revealed in Scripture.
Global Mission Multiplies Local Mission
We can measure effectiveness in many different ways, but most of us agree that bringing the good news of Jesus to those who don’t yet have it is a primary calling for the church. This being the case, the question for each congregation becomes, “To which unreached are we called?” How we answer this question will determine whether global missionary-sending feels more like subtraction or more like multiplication.
Here’s what I mean: If you feel called to exclusively reach the unreached of your neighborhood and city, then sending a member of your body to another city (let alone another country or continent) will always feel like a loss. If, however, you recognize God’s heart for the global lost, and set your vision accordingly, then engaging beyond your borders will be a fulfillment of your mission and a multiplication of your ministry.
It’s easy to focus on what we lose by turning our attention globally. If we send people or money to the other side of the world, we won’t have those resources at our disposal to address the needs of our community. If we pray for global needs, we draw our attention beyond our immediate needs and might overlook the more obvious opportunities next door.
These are valid concerns, and we’re right to raise them. But don’t overlook the way global engagement can multiply local mission too. Practicing generosity tends to foster a heart of generosity, which can spill over into all areas of life. Calling your people to give to God’s global mission will engage them in ways that can increase their openness to support local projects as well. Individuals who serve overseas will return with invaluable experiences that will make them more effective workers on the local front, too, and will serve as powerful local examples of those who obeyed God’s call to engage his world. Mobilizing fervent prayer for the nations can be an easy way to open hearts to local needs as well. Quite apart from draining precious resources, global engagement multiplies our ability to engage locally too.
Your Local Mission is God’s Global Mission
Two years ago, I met a family who expressed their desire to move to the Middle East as missionaries. The specific location on their hearts is one of the most difficult places in the world to reach; the odds of this family ever acquiring the skills to successfully live on mission in that context were nearly impossible. At the same time, they shared with me that the Lord had cultivated their heart for this people by embedding them among a community of expatriates in their home city. As we spoke, they told me story after story of individuals from this people group whom they knew at a deep level and with whom they would soon be able to share the gospel. The truth is that this family was having a greater global impact in their own city than they would ever have overseas.
It was once true that the only way to reach China, Pakistan or Japan (for example) was to physically move to these places, live among the people, learn their language and share the gospel in their context. Of course, there are many people groups that still require this kind of engagement, but the distinction between local and global mission is becoming murkier by the day. Today, it is most likely that your best opportunity to reach the unreached will come from getting involved in outreach within your own city or state. You may not have the opportunity to take the gospel across borders, but you certainly have the opportunity to reach the unreached in your backyard.
And let’s be clear: From a missional perspective, this blurring of local and global should be celebrated. Our God is never constrained by geography, and his singular mission requires both local and global engagement. The diversification of our neighborhoods and the increasing ease of global migration can all be harnessed to push our congregations deeper into the mission of God.
So, who is God calling you to reach? Where do they live? How will you reach them? Will you limit your focus to those that look like you, act like you, speak your language, and eat at your restaurants? Or will you look beyond your own cultural borders to the lost of the world? If you do, you might just be surprised to find that they actually live right next door.
7 CommentsLeave a comment
My niece and nephew a removing to Paris this month with their young family. He is working as a nuclear engineer, she is a stay at home mom of three. They are radical Christians and would be excellent candidates to plug into local Paris churches. Any ideas of where they could get involved with Alliance??
Hello, Gail! Thanks for reading and reaching out. You can send your niece and nephew to france.team.org.
What an amazing discussion regarding the globalized church, and overarching trends in global ministry. The pendulum does tend to swing between local and global missions, as if those ministries are somehow in opposition to one another. The reality of how we use our resources is a valid discussion, but that’s really only the starting point. The world is more connected than ever before, and being the Church called to reach the unreached means engaging in ministry from the streets of cities around the globe to the street outside my home.
Thanks for that perspective. Enjoyable and thoughtful read.
Great Article! Read a couple of times. I pastor a large church as the lead missions pastor so I tend to see the trend of the mega and giga church churches. That trend is not trending on the global side. In fact, it’s trending on more local and less global in the large churches. Why? because local sells better, local fills seats better. The other reason it makes sense is that over the years the western church has drifted from the 4 to 5 great commissioning statements, to fighting justice issues or even investing in leadership within the local church. Stopping sex trafficking in our city will get a hundred times more support than reaching an unknown people group. Also, I think the western church can not define missions. It, can’t define disciple. Many think that unsaved = unreached. it is very very few unreached in the US. Unreached means no access to the gospel. I cannot think of any unreached in the US because it is the responsibility of the church to reach them. they have the capability. I think unengaged could or could not mean unsaved. Our problem is not resources, it’s passion. The challenge is balance. How do you know the balance? I love your statement from God’s view everything is Global. What is your opinion about Missions (the church budget) in a church heavily supporting justice organizations like, sex trafficking, food banks, foster care, etc, and not integration of foreigners into the church?
Hello, I am a born again/saved/regenerated Christian man. (PS: I do not believe there is any Biblical distinction between the terms and words born again, born of God, spiritually saved, regenerated, soul salvation, saved. I believe these are all different ways of saying the same thing: saved by trusting in the blood payment of Jesus Christ alone for eternal life) and I want to share a comment with you that I believe. I want your sincere and honest response and feedback to this.
I am a saved man and I have spent decades giving out the Gospel in the forms of tracts, booklets, literature, and street preaching. I have met with Christians and churches of all denominations and groups except the cults and false religions (Watchtower, Mormons, Catholic, Eastern orthodox, New Age, and all the spin offs and cults that deny faith alone salvation and Jesus is God and eternal Hell for lost and eternal Heaven for saved). While handfuls of individual people get saved here and there in America, and I am glad and rejoice over that, my comment is this:
When it comes to investing time and energy and resources, beyond “mere” offering strangers and non strangers Gospel literature, and inviting them to a Biblical church, the most efficient focus for investing in and giving to missions work beyond one’s local church, is FOREIGN NON USA missions. From my experience and the experiene of others, BIBLICAL CHRISTIANITY in the Western World (USA, Canada, Western and Northern Europe, New Zealand, Australia, all the UK territories and territorial areas among the Westernized White European based peoples) is DEAD. There was revival in the 1800s but then with the late 1800s and early 1900s as far as I can see Christian revival and Gospel spreading was dead by the late 1950s. It was dead earlier, but, it took a few decades for the deadness to sink in.
I will still by the grace of God continue to give the Gospel literature to individuals and support my local church and Biblical missionaries, by the grace of God, but people whom get excited about “American home missions” in places like big cities like Chicago and New York and Los Angeles and Miami and even most rural areas? Are you KIDDING ME?????? These Americans and Europeans have heard and have FREE ACCESS to the Gospel of Christ on radio, internet, bookstores, television, and Christian churches of all denominations. They are without excuse since about 1960 and even before then.
The US dollar goes alot further in places like:
Africa, South and Central America and Mexico, Asia, and there is the “10/40” window of people who are more open to the Gospel of Christ than Americans and Europeans and Westerners. In the Western World they hate the Gospel and they hate Christ. Yes, I know, in the Moslem world they hate the Jesus of the Bible but there is more fruit of the missions and Gospel being had over there than in America and the West. I do not mean to sound pessimistic but I just cannot get excited over someone preaching to post modern spoiled Satan loving American college kids and tv junkies as I get excited about someone reaching people in Kenya and Philippines and Mexico and India and other places. The persecution is worse in the Moslem and Communist dominated places but the people see the validity and need for Jesus in a way they do not see in America and Europe. It is sad and tragic.
We should support American Biblical churches and groups, yes, whom are teaching the truth of salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ alone. I agree with that. And the Biblical grace salvation is important to get rooted in and support.
But why waste resources on ungrateful Americans when you and I can instead focus those resources on children and adults in Latin America or Africa or Asia who will spend hours listening to a preacher and travelling miles through the mud to hear the Gospel preached?
I know this makes me sound like a hypocrite, considering that I read one chapter of the Bible every day, though I pray throughout the day.
That is my sincere opinion. What do you say to this?
I read your article here:
“In our passion to keep the global unreached in the North American church’s vision, however, we have sometimes encouraged the belief that international mission is of a higher order than domestic mission. We have inadvertently created the belief that international missionaries are the hardcore, the totally committed, the “radical.” We have subtly contributed to the belief that domestic ministry is a cop-out and that those engaged in this kind of ministry are shirking the highest of callings and the deepest of sacrifices. In our zeal for the far-flung, we have occasionally fallen into the trap of condemning those called to pour out their lives in our neighborhoods.”
I actually agree with the premise you are speaking against, and here is why: PERSONAL EXPERIENCE and the NATIONAL SITUATION.
The fundamental flaw in your defense of local missionary work is this: WE ARE NOT LIVING IN THE FIRST CENTURY ANYMORE. We are living in the LAST DAYS of the END TIMES. We are living in a place (USA/Western world) that is GOSPEL hardened and packed with GOSPEL hardened people. They walk by and laugh and mock and have been saturated with the Gospel of Christ and hate HIM. Even with the persecutions done against Christians in foreign nations, the masses are amazed and glad to hear the Gospel of Christ there.
“It’s easy to focus on what we lose by turning our attention globally. If we send people or money to the other side of the world, we won’t have those resources at our disposal to address the needs of our community. If we pray for global needs, we draw our attention beyond our immediate needs and might overlook the more obvious opportunities next door.”
American Community = Welfare and government social programs or jobs and careers if they are not on those. Educations full of atheists and Satanists and new age pagans and Unitarians whom hate Christ and hate the Bible and laugh at the Gospel.
I see this every single day with mine own eyes.
This is my own opinion. You are free to have your opinion, too.
If God has called you to witness to people like that, in America and the Western world, so be it.
Thanks so much for your perspective, Aaron! TEAM is pleased to serve in kingdom work around the world as well as in the U.S. and Canada (often with populations displaced from other areas of the world). Since this post was written, we’ve begun many new initiatives in the global south and other areas where the global Church is thriving. Missions is truly becoming a phenomenon where workers are sent “from everywhere to everywhere.” A couple of new pieces you might like to check out: