By Larry Barker, director of church planting
As featured in mission:world magazine
In Mark 11:17 Jesus says, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” Through the years my focus has always been on referring to the church as a house of prayer, as it should. There is no doubt that prayer is all too often talked about more than it is practiced. Recently I noticed the last three words, “…for all nations.” We know how angry Jesus became with those turning his house into a “den of thieves,” but there is more to the story here than meets the eye at first glance.
Jesus was not only outraged at the exploitation of people coming to worship, but he was also infuriated that they were blocking the view of Gentiles coming to observe. The court of the Gentiles was really the only place that “outsiders” could come and easily observe the Israelites in worship. Now they were blocking the main access point the Gentiles had and what was it being obstructed by but tables set up providing services and conveniences to those for the already saved.
It is fascinating that God instructed his people to provide a place where those who had still not decided to worship him could come and be “observers.” A kind of Old Testament approach to Jesus saying, “Come and see!” Yes, Jesus was angry with their focus on making money and their materialism, but he was perhaps even angrier at their unconcern for those all around them who did not know him! While they were focused on their programs, fundraisers, and temple worship there were people in the room next to them for whom they were unconcerned.
What walls have we built in our churches that keep people at a distance? What kind of prejudices have we held onto that are contrary to the heart of God? What practices have we allowed that are restrictive to every tongue, tribe, and nation? What people live right next door to our churches and we go on having church while unconcerned about reaching them with the gospel? While we are supposed to be the tip of the gospel spear, have we kept certain people at arms length because of what people group they are?
BMA Texas says their goal is, “sixteen new Texas missions underway at a time and a Hispanic work alongside every BMA church that is willing and has a desire to reach Hispanic people in their community.” To do this we must be willing to, as J.D. Greear puts it, “de-clutter the Court of the Gentiles.” Will we see this as an open door of opportunity the same way Paul did in 1 Corinthians 16:9, “For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.” Are we willing to remove any barriers there might be to reaching over 55 million people?
That means that Hispanics represent 17% of our total population. It has been said well, “Opportunities multiply as they are seized but they die when neglected.” Texas Missions Director Heith Mitchell and BMA Texas have embraced a great visionary goal in saying, “a Hispanic work alongside every BMA church that is willing and has a desire to reach Hispanic people in their community.” The problem will be making sure that this is an actual value, not just an aspirational value. Will BMA churches take the necessary steps to make this goal a reality?
Here are some things that must happen for it to become a reality. Will we surrender to evangelism once again and be obedient to the Great Commission? First, will we commit to be missionaries in our zip code no matter who lives there? God has placed us where we are for a reason and Charles Spurgeon said it well, “Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.” Will we be willing to reach every tongue, tribe, nation, and people group even if they have not learned our language?
This is not primarily a political issue; rather, it is theological. Will we obediently share the gospel with all nations? As a good friend often says, “You must interrogate your reality.” The reality is that we are not being evangelistic when only 1% of all church growth is conversion growth. Hal Seed challenges us to pray this, “Lord, I don’t ask you for much today. I just ask that you give me your heart for lost people!” Pray that for 90 days and see if it doesn’t change your heart. Paul said to Timothy, “Do the work of an evangelist!”
Second, we must empower Hispanic leadership. A strength of the BMA, through the years, has been working with nationals who understand their people and their culture. A great missiological principle can be learned from Naomi and Ruth. It was Naomi who understood the customs and was able to instruct Ruth in what she needed to do. Fortunately Ruth was teachable and willing to listen to her.
It has been said that if you desire diversity in the pew you must have diversity in the pulpit. You must be intentional about reaching out to Hispanic leaders knowing that their leadership capacity is even greater than yours. Our job is to develop and release leaders, and we should not bow to the temptation to control. Proper assessment, training, and coaching are needed, but then we must allow them to lead as they are directed by his Word and the Holy Spirit. Paul told Timothy, “Let no man despise your youth” and we must tell all leaders, “Let no man despise your ethnicity.”
Third, develop a discipleship that moves your people toward spiritual maturity. Jim Putman gives this biblical definition of a disciple, “A disciple is one who follows Jesus; is being changed by Jesus; and is committed to the mission of Jesus.” As a result of knowing who Jesus is we decide to follow him. As we follow and fellowship with him we are changed by his work and transformation in us. As we are changed by him we gladly do whatever he asks us to do. Because we are walking with him we become 100% committed to carrying out his mission. We are at his disposal so that he can complete his mission through us.
When we spend time with Jesus and he begins to transform us (sanctification) we cannot help but care about what he cares about. We begin to care about what really matters. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost and that means all lost people from all nations. The reality is that the people who do not know Jesus are lost for eternity without him. Could it be that our churches have not made the mission of Jesus their priority because we have overestimated the spiritual maturity of our congregations?
Fourth, exegete your culture and learn who lives in your community. Once you know who they are then you can begin to prayerfully discern how you can best reach them. Three questions you must ask are: Who are the lost people in our community? Where do they live? How can we reach them? This enables you to go deeper when walking through the community and using your observation skills. You can then begin having conversations and building relationships with them. When dialoguing with them, listen closely and ask what you hear them saying? This enables you to determine their level of receptivity and know what action you can take to engage that people group and reach all nations! Think through how you can B.L.E.S.S. them by Beginning to pray for them, Listening to them, Eating and fellowshipping with them, Serve them, and then Sharing the gospel with them.
The question now is, “Will we be obedient and will we do what God has commanded us?” Romans 14:11 says it well, “For it is written, as I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will give praise to God.” A friend said it this way, “If you are more passionate and vocal about health care, immigration or the Supreme Court than you are the gospel, you’ve misunderstood the gospel.”
When Jesus calls us to follow him, he must be the goal. If he is the goal, then we desire to have his heart of compassion for all nations. We refuse to allow anything to obstruct anyone from the view of who Jesus is and how much he loves them. We are passionate that our mission field is to reach every tongue, every person, and every nation…right where we are. Jim Putman puts it this way, “Some believers are more interested in their rights outlined in the Constitution than in giving up their rights as Jesus did so that people could be saved.”