Significant portions of ministry staff who originally were temporarily laid off are not being rehired. A large number of church leadership and congregations are now struggling to pay mortgages. Not only this, but in the missions world, many Western missionaries have come home from foreign lands; now it appears that the funds needed to return them to their fields of service will not be forthcoming. In addition, the pandemic has practically ground short-term missions to a halt. Almost universally, travel to various destinations for young people and older believers—for experience or ministry of some nature—has ceased, with no window of opportunity apparent in the near future.
Therefore, based on these developments, the following conclusion is being drawn by many believers:
Missions is over. COVID-19 has curtailed the ability for us
to fulfill The Great Commission.
After being questioned on this belief over the past few weeks by many well-meaning saints, I've decided to tackle this “misconception” head on.
Nothing… Absolutely nothing… can be further from the truth!
The Church of Jesus Christ is currently being built at record speed despite the
temporary or permanent absence of the vast majority of Western personnel.
This fact is completely in line with what we see pictured in the New Testament writings on church planting and growth, and especially in Luke 10. In that passage, Jesus commissioned 70 disciples to fan out ahead of Him in His travels and preach the Gospel. People were being healed and saved in the Name of Jesus like never before. Jesus cautioned the disciples though, not to let their remarkable success go to their heads, but rather to remain humble and thank the Lord that their names were written in the Book of Life for eternity. Like today, when we are discovering a new “normal” in the midst of a pandemic, so they were discovering a new normal for the people of God going forward.
No wonder the disciples returned home almost giddy with delight in the fact that Jesus had granted them the right to use the authority of His Name in touching lives. But the part of the story that grips me more than anything else is what Jesus Himself experienced. We read in Luke 10:21 (NASB), “At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit…” The standard translation of “rejoiced greatly” is actually a bit weak. The original language conveys this thought: Jesus was “thrilled with joy that was inspired by the Holy Spirit.”
The question is ‒ Why was Jesus so thrilled? I believe there are a number of reasons:
Jesus was witnessing, through spiritual eyes and into another dimension, Satan's dominion beginning to fall apart like never before.
People were coming alive in their understanding of who Jesus was and the power that God was releasing in their midst. Jesus could see that His Father was revealing the fact that He was the Messiah, not to the wise and intelligent of this world, but to the common folk that He referred to as "babes."
The disciples He sent out had grasped the unimaginable power of the Gospel that could be released in the Name of Jesus. In other words, the baton was being passed from Jesus to an army of future disciples who would carry His Message and transform the world—and He was overjoyed!
And this is why I am overjoyed today as well. Western missionaries have, and will again, perform their tasks in seeding the world with the Gospel. But it appears that they also are passing the baton to local nationals—indigenous believers. And this transition is immediate and massive.
We see this development also played out in another part of the New Testament—that being in the Church in Thessalonica. Paul sowed the seeds of the Gospel there in Acts 17, during one of his missionary journeys. After seeing the power of the Gospel explode in that community, he then had to leave abruptly due to persecution. So, was the church in that city doomed to failure and death? Never. It says in 1 Thessalonians 1:6-8:
You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything.
The national church of its time picked up the baton when Paul left and moved forward under the anointing and power of the Holy Spirit. Was Jesus, who was in heaven at this point, “thrilled with joy” because of this? Absolutely! And in the midst of a pandemic, with its wide-ranging effects, the national church is again picking up the torch of the Gospel in a big way. Personally, I have no doubt that Jesus is thrilled with joy at this adjustment to our historic methods of church planting.
Not only this, but we can learn a lesson from China’s recent history during the period of 1949 to 1953. When communism swept through China in 1949, all Western, protestant missionaries were told to leave the country. By 1953, all were gone, and the belief was that Christianity would be eradicated by communist atheism. But God had a different plan. Today, under a powerful move of the Holy Spirit, China has the largest and fastest growing Church in the world.
Therefore, regarding missions and the current state of the Church in the West, remember this:
We will change… We will adapt… We will overcome…
But we will never be put out of business!
Missions is not dying! In fact, our best days of success, growth, and power in the Holy Spirit lie just ahead.