Reformed mission is thoroughly church-oriented. Mission begins with the church (in sending) and ends with the church as disciples are gathered into local assemblies. While the church sends out its best to foreign lands—imagine Paul and Barnabas leaving your church!—conversions occur by God’s grace, and new churches are organized and established. These new churches then continue the cycle. They begin sending out their own to foreign lands, with conversions occurring by God’s grace, and new churches are organized and established. Mission endeavors separated from the church is foreign to the Scriptures. And a church separated from mission is equally foreign to the Scriptures.
When I think of Reformed missions, an old motto comes to mind: For the glory of God and the salvation of our fellow-men. This wonderful summary of the call to mission stems from a letter the 1791 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States sent to the “churches under their care.” In this correspondence, they make an appeal for the funding of missionaries sent to minister on the edges of the new American nation. It is worth quoting in part:
We have made provision for the sending of missionaries to the frontiers of our country; you will also see that the effects of those missions in some places have been such as to open a pleasing prospect of advancing the Redeemer’s kingdom in the salvation of men, and of sending the light of the gospel to those who have hitherto been involved in the grossest darkness. To carry into effect so noble a design, we cannot doubt that all who have a supreme regard to the glory of God and the salvation of their fellow-men, will cheerfully contribute.”
If we asked, “Why does the church exist?” we could respond with the same motto: For the glory of God and the salvation of our fellow men. We have been called out of the world to be sent into the world as witnesses to the lost and perishing of the world. This upholds the two greatest commandments and is to dominate our thinking, willing, and acting. Fellow image bearers of the eternal God are, as the 1791 General Assembly said, trapped “in the grossest darkness.” The spiritual need proves great. What glory we ascribe to God and what love we show our fellow man, when we give, risk, and go to see souls brought from death to life. This mission is a ministry of spiritual necessity.
The fact that this is a spiritual need informs the means and framework by which we seek to accomplish this mission. If the need is spiritual, the answer is spiritual. First, this means that our mission’s endeavors must rely upon the work of the Spirit and that reliance demonstrates itself by the means of prayer. We cannot accomplish heavenly things without heavenly help. We cannot exercise power that does not belong to us. Thus, Reformed mission begins, continues, and ends in Spirit-filled prayer. If we can accomplish the work apart from prayer, it’s not worth doing. If we can’t accomplish the work apart from prayer, then we know it requires us to be upon our knees.