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Where’s Your Focus?

In the third grade, my buddy Jimmy let me borrow his new glasses. I shouted, “Hey Mom, when you wear these glasses, you can see every leaf and every blade of grass!”

Mom looked and me and said, “And you can’t?”

Let’s just say that I had my first pair of glasses within a couple of weeks! We sometimes need to borrow others’ glasses to help us focus.

Nik Ripken’s book, The Insanity of Obedience, is like a workbook. He pulled from his years as an IMB missionary to address the focus of mission work. He drew three triangles that represented priorities. He described the consequences of each from a missionary perspective. If the focus was on Triangle 1: Sending Agency and Triangle 2: Missionaries, then work among Triangle 3: the Lost was hampered and created entitlement in some cases. In other words, if you prioritize your church and its members above all, then the Lost will not only have a diminished priority, but your church will begin to think that being persecuted by the Lost for witnessing would not be tolerated.

You might need to listen to or read that again. Is your church willing to suffer for the cause of Christ? What if a witnessing team was attacked by lost people. Would your church stop sending out witnessing teams? That’s what Nik Ripken was discussing.

At the funeral for missionaries that were gunned down in a Baptist Hospital in Yemen, Avery Willis, who was then the IMB’s vice president for Overseas Operations quoted from an email that he got from a lady who said, “Please bring home all the missionaries until it’s safe.” Avery firmly told us that the world would never be a safe place for a Gospel witness.

In Luke’s account of the growing church, three phases emerged. In general, these characterizations matched up with Ripken’s three triangles.

The Jerusalem Church was a structured organization. Its leaders had authority over its members. There was an inward focus. They settled doctrinal disputes. They investigated Antioch. It was traditional enough for Jewish converts. And strong persecution eventually scattered it.

The Antioch Church was where believers were called “little Christs.” They prayed and fasted before making decisions. Doors were open to all. They supported their members on mission. They broke traditions observed in the Jerusalem church, but they sent out a few of their members into God’s harvest fields.

The Harvest provided resources. Out of the harvest came more mission teams, some relief gifts for the hurting Jerusalem church, and across the region, churches started churches with no expectations of support from Jerusalem or Antioch. Harvest reaction brought persecution, the need for discipleship, and counsel from godly leaders.

It got me thinking about evangelizing among the lost in the Cincinnati Area. How much of a priority are they really? Out of everything that your church prioritizes, where would your church prioritize the unsaved? And then I thought about discipling efforts in our Baptist churches. What if Sunday School teachers and small group leaders focused primarily upon the needs of their participants or the church to which they belonged? Now, step back and let me ask what if the Lost were seen merely as not-yet members of our existing churches? Would they be expected to assimilate to the dominant church culture?

Missionary trainer Curtis Sergeant once said, “The resources are in the harvest.” Do we really believe that? As many SBC churches in our Baptist association are aging out, did they once miss out on resources that God provided to them, but were in the hands of the Lost at the time?

Is it possible for churches to really prioritize the lost in God’s Harvest fields? How would that change things? Would baptisms increase? Would believers awaken to the power of God’s Word active and alive in their lives despite the cost of discipleship?

Top Priority 1. Harvest: Rather than just looking at lost people and new believers to be convinced to come to our existing churches, why not think about unsaved or newly-saved as truly part of God’s Harvest fields? (Luke 10:2) What if the resources in the Harvest launched new small groups that formed new churches rather than return to solely bless the sending church? The church in Jerusalem scattered only after Stephen’s martyrdom. But later, the church in Antioch rejoiced that God was opening new doors of faith among all peoples (Acts 4:27).

Lesser Priority 2: Church members: When focused on the lost in the Harvest, it is likely that your church members will suffer. Think of Paul being stoned, imprisoned, etc. Antioch’s “sent ones” sacrificed their time, money, and resources. They endured peer pressure and persecution. If your church members suffer serving God’s purposes, will you celebrate instead of clamping down? Disciple-making is geared to multiplication and sending into the Harvest. Members know success is not measured by attendance. As we like to say, “Saved people are sent people.” In Paul’s second letter to Corinth, he told them that they were God’s ambassadors bringing reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:17-21).

Lesser Priority 3: Church/denomination – Focusing on the Harvest sends a clear message to church members that biblical disciple-making is costly. They don’t just send out a few, but continually send as many as possible. Making disciple-makers becomes the norm as priorities shift. It sets a clear example for new believers in the Harvest to follow when persecution kicks in. Meanwhile resources and services may need to be limited.

Thanks for letting me try on your glasses, Nik. It helped me re-focus. What does God bring into focus for you? And how can I help?

-Mark Snowden directs the Cincinnati Area Baptist Association


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