During this time of national election season I remember a phrase former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill would use, “All politics is local”. That is such a funny phrase considering we have city, county, state and national elections. Now you would think on the surface that at the very least national elections would not be local politics. They would be grander and more issue driven. But as we have seen over and over again in this primary season, to win the national nomination you have to win at the local level by securing your delegates and sometimes that has very little to do with the big picture or so we would believe.
Now what does that story have to do with missions? I believe that no matter where you are in the world or how you are serving in the mission field that all missions ARE local. I can hear some of you objecting right now from your homes in Florida, Georgia or Panama but let me explain.
In I Thessalonians 1:4-8 Paul writes to the local church in Thessalonica –
1 Thessalonians 1:4-8New International Version (NIV)
4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. 6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it.
We all know who Paul, Peter, Barnabas and Timothy were but do any of us know by name members of that local church in Thessalonica? Why not? Paul says about them they “became a model” throughout all of Macedonia and Achaia. This is a huge area of the known world at that time. This is an area that included Athens one of if not the most influential city of this time! This didn’t just happen because Paul and Timothy planted it and so it flourished, no it happened because the local believers became imitators of the Lord and endured suffering with joy given by the Holy Spirit!
The Church at Thessalonica was modeling what it looked like to be a Christian in first century Greece. Because of their commitment to Christ and his church we know who Paul and Timothy are. I am sure there were plenty of church members walking around Greece saying
“Let me tell you about Paul, can you read? I have a copy of this letter he wrote to us and Paul is just so great going around sharing the Gospel…”
“You don’t know what the Gospel is? Let me share this good news with you”
You see it was early church planters from Jerusalem who started local churches in these far off cities and lands who spread the word of who Jesus is and ultimately of whom Paul and the other apostles were. These local missionaries were the life blood of the early church. They took ownership of a city or a whole area like Macedonia and became permanent fixtures in those cities, in a good way. Without the locals the Gospel becomes like that seed planted in shallow soil. It’s great to have a visiting pastor, teacher or mission team to refresh the spirit but ultimately it takes local believers that have THE HOLY SPIRIT to grow disciples in any community. You have to BE THE CHURCH in your shared culture not just bring a church to a foreign culture. We see every day what it looks like to have Christians who have been in in Utah nine, thirteen and even seventeen years teaching the gospel with intentional words, phrases and actions that the local culture will respond to and have responded to. We have also seen what it looks like to bring a service straight out of a typical Southern Baptist Church in the South from the 1980’s and how, because they are not trying to integrate the local culture, they are just being ignored by the locals. We need to think local and teach local!
This is not to sound like some “Locals Only” surf culture we see an example of being sued in Federal Court. You know the guys that are soooo protective of their break that they chase off any non-locals. Because they invented surfing and have never had an outsider surf their waves before. Except you know Hawaiians had to show the white guys from California how to surf, and all the surfers not related to this “crew” that surfed Lunada Bay in the 1960’s. I am not trying to say to non-local Christians, “Get off my wave!” On the contrary, I think all Christians should treat even those short term mission trips as local missions. We have to pay attention to those Christians who were there before, see what is working, see what isn’t, and especially pay close attention to those Christians who were born and raised in that particular area or culture.
As Tip O’Neill showed time and time again, if you don’t win the hearts and minds of the local delegates you are never going to make it. So shape your message to those you are talking to. If you are talking to a union hall filled with electricians you don’t tell them about the need for a local hospital but you do tell them you are bringing a large construction project to build a hospital that will require lots of electrical work.
Paul said in I Corinthian 9:22…“I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” Paul knew and modeled how to contextualize the Gospel. Jesus of course was the master of this. He used scriptures Jews would know to show them he was the Christ. When speaking with the woman at the well he breaks all convention and asks her for drink, putting her at ease so she could understand the Gospel of Grace. Learning how to put the Gospel into a context that “locals” can understand IS becoming all things to all people. So no matter if you are at work talking to an engineer and explaining how the order of the galaxy screams “LOOK AT THE CREATOR WHO SET THE STARS IN THEIR PLACE” or are delivering diapers to a young single mom showing that God is the Father to the fatherless, you are doing local missions.
So when thinking about your next mission trip to Kenya, Nicaragua, or Utah or when talking to the lady in the next cubicle over remember All Missions Are Local and treat your preparation as such.