This is the theme of our next annual World Outreach Celebration (WOC), scheduled for 2–6 March 2016. Our keynote speaker will be Andy Johnson, an elder and the Director of Missions at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. Andy will soon be publishing his book on the local church and missions. I am looking forward to learning from him and to being challenged further as a local church in our efforts to disciple the nations.
Some thirty years ago, I listened to a radio interview of a well-known pastor who shared his philosophy of ministry. He was asked about the large membership of his local church. It had grown from a few hundred to some ten thousand members. He was also asked about his sermon tapes (NB. thirty years ago, tape recorders were considered high tech!), which had become global in their distribution. Specifically, he was asked to explain this phenomenon. I have never forgotten his answer. He said that the size of his ministry was never a consideration to him. Rather, he had long ago determined to take care of the depth of his ministry and to let the Lord sort out the breadth of his ministry. And what this brother experienced then, and what he is still experiencing, is that, as he and his local church grew (and grow) locally, the ministry continued (and continues) to go globally. This needs to be the perspective of every local church. I strive to keep this mindset as I aim to feed, give heed and lead the flock of God here at BBC.
From the earliest days of BBC, missions has been at the forefront of our existence. The church has been blessed to both support and to send missionaries. We have been privileged to have a part in planting churches in South Africa, on our continent, and abroad. And, by God’s grace, we will continue to do so in the near and distant future. Yet as important as it is to have a global view, we must never lose sight of growing locally—local as in local church. Yes, global is great, but we must also realise that “local is lekker”!
I am persuaded that, if we are committed to growing locally, we will continue to find ourselves going globally; in fact, even further than we are going now. In other words, the following principle applies: depth > breadth. Romans 1:8, it seems to me, is a case in point.
Paul greets the church at Rome with these words: “I thank my God though Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.” It seems that wherever the apostle went he heard about the believers from the local church in Rome. He would hear of their “faith.” In v. 5 Paul speaks of “the obedience of faith,” and he uses those words again in 16:26. This is a major theme in this epistle. Paul makes an irrefutable argument that the believing sinner is graced to be justified by faith alone. But this justifying faith is also sanctifying faith. In other words, the faith that justifies is revealed in “the obedience of faith.” The root of saving faith always produces the fruit of obeying faith. And apparently the church at Rome had quite a basket of it. In fact, like Joseph, their fruitfulness was a “bough” that ran “over the wall” (Genesis 49:22) into the world. We are on good exegetical ground to conclude that, because they were growing locally, they were at the same time able to go globally. They were both deep and wide. This should be the goal of every local church: to be faithful and fruitful at home with a desire to be used of God to also be faithful and fruitful elsewhere—at the same time. (Note the “both/and” emphasis of Acts 1:8.)
Again, it can be easy at times to focus on the Great Commission globally, but where the “tekkie hits the tar” is usually closer to home. The work of making disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ in our own community, the hard work of healthy local church life in our own community of faith, calls for the hard work of “the obedience of faith.” But when we are characterised as faithful in these areas where we are, then we are in a much better position to go global to where can be. When we are faithful to the Lord, and therefore to His Word, in our local context, the Lord so often provides the ways and means for our faith to be spread globally.
But lest I be misunderstood, this “faith” has an object: the Lord Jesus Christ. Our objective must be to faithfully serve Him locally with a passionate commitment to see Him faithfully served globally. We must be growing in our knowledge and in our devotion to Him locally. And as we do so, then in God’s all wise sovereignty He will providentially make a way, in some way, for our faith to have an impact elsewhere as well.
Most likely, within six weeks of the conclusion of our upcoming WOC, our church will lay hands on another missionary family as we send them to labour alongside one of our families in a different part of the globe. Again, this is the by-product of their growing locally. This should thrill us and motivate us to continue to grow deeper that we might go even wider.
And this encourages me to pray that this year’s World Outreach Celebration will be a means to grow us locally so that we will continue to go globally. Yet we need not wait until March for this to happen. Rather, let us grow right now where we have been planted, trusting the Lord to use us to support, to send and to serve in His global harvest.