Missions is one of the essential works to which Jesus Christ has called His church. Christ’s church is the body of believers. Thus, believers, missions is your work. No, that does not mean that all believers are called to be missionaries. On the contrary, ordained ministers are called to be missionaries in order to do this official mission work of the church. But even then, “how shall they preach except they be sent?” (). The church sends them out, as Paul and Barnabas were sent out, the Holy Spirit commanding the church in Antioch, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” Then the passage records: “And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands upon them, they sent them away” ( ). Missions is the work of the church, of believers, working through the institutional church, that is, the special offices in the church.
Since it is your work, believers, it is good that you be involved in the work and be knowledgeable of it. At the PRC Seminary, we are always pleased when members of the churches visit our classes, or even come for a brief tour of the facilities. We will often remind them, “This is your building, and this is your work.” We are happy that they take an interest in their (the churches’) work of training young men for the ministry. Similarly, it is good that members of the church take an active interest in the mission work of the church, to the extent that they make an effort to visit the mission fields.
Some of the benefits of visiting a mission work were brought home to us (again) a couple months ago when my wife and I had opportunity to worship in Pittsburgh. This was an enjoyable time of renewing old acquaintances and meeting other believers for the first time. What planted the seed for this editorial was the presence of a number of visitors at the worship services that Sunday. Two elders from Southwest were present—not at all unusual. Travelers from Singapore were present—quite unusual. And what especially impressed me was the presence of four young adults from Crete Protestant Reformed Church, who came to the area for a race (a half marathon), and stayed over Sunday to worship and fellowship with the members of the mission. And the fellowship was excellent.
The goal of this editorial (and the next) is to encourage you, especially the members of the Protestant Reformed Churches, to visit your mission fields. The PRC have missionaries preaching in two areas—Pittsburgh, PA, and the Philippians. A visit to some of our smaller churches is included in this goal. Readers who are not members of the PRC should know you are cordially welcome to do the same, and the editorial intends to encourage you also to visit a mission work of the PRC, or a mission field of your own church(es).
Visiting a mission field is to be encouraged because of the many benefits it yields both for the field and for the visitors. This was reaffirmed recently in another connection. This past summer five seminarians had opportunity to live for three to six weeks on a mission field (or a small congregation in a mission-like situation, Covenant of Grace PRC of Spokane, WA). All the students returned aglow with enthusiasm for the work being done, for the saints they came to know and love, and for the worship they enjoyed in these places. Likewise, the reports from the fields/congregation expressed appreciation for the visits and labors of the students.
Obviously, the longer the visit, the greater will be the mutual benefits. But even a one-Sunday visit is usually better than no visit at all.
What, specifically, are the potential benefits of a visit to a mission field, or to a small congregation with a good mission outreach mentality?
For the people on the field, the benefit, first and foremost, is encouragement. This includes a boost in the attendance at the worship services in the day, weeks, or months you attend. Probably only members of small congregations will fully appreciate this point, and yet, do not we even in large congregations enjoy visitors to the worship services? But in a small group, to have additional voices in the singing and confession of faith, more chairs filled, more fellowship before and after the service, add an unmistakable vivacity to the service. The benefits are perhaps difficult to quantify, but they are real.
In addition, the mission group is encouraged by your interest in them and in the work. Your presence indicates to them that the churches are aware of them and are behind the work, not merely the calling church, consistory, and mission committee. For the same reasons, your visit also encourages the missionary greatly. He can at times feel quite alone and forgotten in the work, far from family, from the calling church, and from the center of the churches’ life. Your visit reminds him that he, his family, and the work are remembered and supported by the churches as a whole.
Furthermore, the personal acquaintances and friendships formed are important for people of the mission group. The PRC become more real and concrete when members of those churches visit the field. This enables these distant believers on a mission field more easily to identify with the PRC and to tie their groups in with the denomination in their own minds.
Another potential benefit is the good example of the visitors. Most often members of the mission group have been raised in homes that were not Reformed, and quite possibly not even believing. Many know nothing from experience of a godly marriage or of a believing covenant family. The visitors have opportunity to give small glimpses of the blessed covenant life which is essential for Reformed believers and the congregation.
Oh, and consider taking some “work clothes” along. More than one family or group of visitors have enjoyed helping in fix-up/landscaping/ painting projects in Spokane and in Pittsburgh. What a boost for a small group with many demands on a relatively small number!
Although this next is, perhaps, in a special category of visitors, it can be noted that visiting ministers from the PRC benefit the field in a unique way. They come preaching the same doctrine as the missionary. While most everyone in the PRC will say, “but of course,” this is not something that members of the mission group would take for granted, because in many denominations this would not be the case. The blessings for the field are obvious—the members of the group learn to trust the missionary and the denomination because of the consistent agreement in doctrine and life. Congregations who give up their pastor for a few weeks to preach and teach in the mission field should know that this can be a significant benefit to the work.
But, truth be told, you probably will benefit more as a visitor than will those visited. How so? First, your understanding will be enlarged. If you are observant, you will begin to grasp what mission work is and what labors it requires. What does a missionary do? What essential role does the mission group perform? How is the calling church involved? How does this diverse group of people meld into a unified group, even a congregation? These questions for starters.
In your visits you will gain some knowledge of the struggles in the work of missions. These include, but are not limited to: getting family, friends, co-workers, or students interested to attend a Bible study, speech, or worship service; disappointments due to visitors who come for a while, and then simply, without notice, never come to another service; tremendous heartache and significant setback when a member (or family) of the mission who was a pillar of strength and vitality—inexplicably rejects what he formerly confessed; trying to correct the lies spread by others of what the PRC teach; sorrow over so many that come and express a lively interest, but then discover our biblical stand on divorce and remarriage, which teaching and practice touches them personally. You can read about these kinds of struggles in missionary reports, but visiting the field makes it real. The missionary, the calling church, and the mission group deal with these sorts of struggles on a regular basis.
At the same time, visitors will note progress and evidence of God’s blessing in many ways as well. You will hear Protestant Reformed preaching on the mission field—proclaimed boldly and uncompromisingly. You will see new members who join with enthusiasm; regular attendees taking membership classes and being thrilled by what they are learning; children born into the group, raised in the fear of the Lord—a new generation receiving godly instruction in the home, catechism classes, and Christian education. If you stay for a longer period of time (or come back more often), you will be privileged to observe regular attendees and members growing in their understanding of the Reformed faith, and loving the doctrines God has given to the PRC to proclaim and defend.
And then there is the blessing of getting to know the members of the mission group—who they are, where they came from, and what love and zeal they have for the Reformed truth we love. This is part of a growth in appreciation for the church catholic—even more so when it is a foreign mission. A visitor experiences that the church of Jesus Christ is indeed far broader than the predominately Dutch congregation where he worships weekly. At the same time, visitors to the field should be infected with the excitement for the work of Christ gathering, defending, and preserving His church by His Word and Spirit. From that day forward, it will be much easier to give his full support, including money—in synodical assessments or special collections—for the cause of missions. Now, indeed, he can pray with more understanding for the work of missions—generally, and for the field(s) he visited specifically, as well as for the church universal.
What other positive fruits might grow out of a visit to a mission? It may well plant seeds that produce good fruits. A young man encountering the exciting and powerful work of Christ gathering His church, and seeing the need, might give serious consideration to pursuing the ministry of the gospel. In others, the desire for more knowledge of missions may grow, so that they begin to read about missions with zeal. The yearly Acts of Synod and the missionaries’ reports are a minimum for all confessing members of the church. Some may well go beyond and read some good Reformed books on missions, such as What is the Mission of the Church? (by Kevin De Young and Greg Gilbert) or Missions: The Biblical Motive and Aim (by John M. L. Young). Perhaps such a visit might even motivate some members to move to a mission field to live and work. (Rev. Bruinsma has written on this, and pointed out that some churches find this a powerful good on a mission field.)
What we have written above is little more than a listing of the benefits of visiting a mission field. Much more could be said, but these should give some idea of the blessings.
Yet, one might ask, is it all positive, always beneficial to me and to the members of the mission group?
The answer, sadly, is no. There are potential pitfalls to a visit. Visitors can do damage to a work. About that I will say more, D.V., in the next issue.