At that age, it’s a handful of kids crammed into a huddle trying to get the ball from members of their own team. Learning to kick a soccer ball isn’t difficult. But learning to pass takes more effort.
Our mission to proclaim the gospel is similar. Individual believers and the church have the same goal, but it may take effort for us to see how we as individuals work effectively as part of a larger body.
Individual Christians are called to proclaim the gospel to the unsaved (1 Peter 3:15) as well as to the saved (1 Corinthians 11:26, Colossians 3:16). The apostles model the work of individuals to proclaim the gospel to the unreached (Galatians 2:2) and to the church (Colossians 1:28, 1 John 1:3).
Yet we also are part of one body, with one Lord, powered by one Spirit, proclaiming one gospel. As part of a single unit, our individual gifts and callings become part of the work Christ is doing through his church to proclaim the gospel to the nations. This means that using our gifts to strengthen the church, even among the unreached, is one of the greatest ways we fulfill our mission.
Consider Paul, who says in Acts 13:47, “For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” This references his initial call in Acts 9:15, where God says “he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.”
Yet even with Paul’s unique experience on the road to Damascus, the Lord still sends Paul and Barnabas out through the work of Christ in a local church (Acts 13:1-2). In Acts 13:47, Paul says the Lord commanded not just him, but his team to be a light to the Gentiles. Paul often backtracked to strengthen the churches he had helped plant (Acts 14, 20).
Paul remembered that even as a chosen instrument, his mission and the church’s mission were the same. There were times when he needed to pass the ball, encourage others, and pour into the strength of his team.
My wife and I recently served at a small church plant in southern Japan for two years. Though I was tempted daily to despair over my lack of ability, the Lord reminded me that his power is displayed by arranging individuals in his church to accomplish his mission. He taught me in Japan that it is not my own growth and service that I must consider, but also the growth and service of my brothers and sisters.
I often think of Ms. A., a sister at the church plant in Japan. She listened intently when we walked through Ephesians 4 and saw that even though we have one call, one Lord, and one hope, Jesus Christ saw fit to give each individual unique gifts to display his victory over sin and death. He gave the church “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (4:11-12).
Her approach to serving changed. She became more open to reaching out to the unreached. She became more eager to learn from others how to clearly communicate the gospel. She became more focused on studying what the Word has to say about the good news of Jesus.
More than a year after we left the church plant, I open a video on my phone to see her and the rest of the believers gathered around a baptismal, watching our ABWE team member hold the first baptism at that church plant. The person being baptized had not been at the church before we left. Ms. A., along with the other brothers and sisters, had been faithful to our shared mission after we left.
You may wonder how your individual gifts play a part in reaching the ends of the earth with the gospel. Perhaps the Lord will send you to the unreached someday, and your current service at your local church will equip you for that. Or maybe someone you serve with will go, and they will be prepared because they gained valuable training as you served with them. Maybe the Lord will give you an opportunity to go on a short-term trip and encourage missionaries with what you have learned at your local church.
My son knows how to kick a ball, but he wrestles with the concept of kicking the ball to another member of the team. This is often because his gaze is focused down at his feet. Why not look up, think about who the Lord has placed in your life, and see how you can together contribute to strengthening the church among the unreached?
We at ABWE believe that God is raising up a new generation to go to some of the farthest frontiers of missions. Recognizing that time is short, and eternity matters, we’ve launched the Open Initiative to send 7 teams to unreached people groups in the next 7 years. Explore how you can join us through prayer, sending, supporting, or going.