January 19, 2016

Strengthening the Church's Muscle

John Piper has given to the church (both online and in book form) a collection of delightful biographical sketches of various worthy saints of old. One of the best, in my judgment, is his message on the life and labors of that great Scottish missionary to the New Hebrides, John G. Paton.

Drawing heavily from Paton’s own autobiography, Piper draws a number of lessons to be learned from this godly, intrepid, and sometimes humorous missionary saint. And one that is on my mind as I write is Piper’s observation that, when a church spends and is spent on missionary labors … God never allows such mission-minded generosity to hurt that church! We might think the opposite, from a human perspective: ‘If we are generous to missions (financially or with our man-power), we might weaken the work right here inside our own church doors. We might be giving away the very things that our church needs to survive.’ But not so, says Piper. God does not allow missionary zeal and generosity to handcuff the local church! And he cites the testimony of Paton to demonstrate this reality. And here is how the story goes:

After serving for four years in what is now called Vanuatu, Paton was basically chased from the island by hostile natives. And so, before eventually returning to engage in a highly successful work on another local island, Paton toured both Britain and Australia, telling his story and marshalling support for missionary work in the South Seas. And the result in his own native Scotland was remarkable – to the extent that, by the time Paton was himself ready to return to the Pacific islands, one out of every six ministers in his denomination was now a missionary!

Just think that out: One in six pastors sent to the mission field! Imagine if one in six of the churches in your fellowship sent its pastor to the mission field. You might naturally think that the church back home would suffer. But not so, says Paton:
Nor did the dear old Church thus cripple herself; on the contrary, her zeal for Missions accompanied, if not caused, unwonted prosperity at home. New waves of liberality passed over the heart of her people. Debts that had burdened many of the Churches and Manses were swept away. Additional Congregations were organized.
What a testimony of God’s faithfulness! “Give, and it will be given to you.” “Those who honor Me I will honor.” And thus it always is – maybe not always in exactly the same way as Paton saw in 19th century Scotland; but the principle will not fail. God will not cripple His church when she reaches and gives and sacrifices to share the gospel beyond her own neighborhood and walls! And that encourages me as it regards my own little flock. Recent days have seen them with a good number of opportunities to give time, effort, energy, and money to churches, missionaries, and ministries other than our own. And many have been faithful to extend themselves in this way. And yet, at the same time, our own budget is flourishing like it hasn’t in the 13+ years I’ve been in Cincinnati. And it also seems to me that those who are spending themselves in this way, far from being sapped for local church ministry, are being all the more re-charged to give their all here at PRBC, too! Our attendance is as high as it has been in a good long time, fellowship is happening outside the regular meetings of the church, our new Sunday School curriculum is being well-received, and so on.

In other words, “the dear old church” that meets here at the top of this pleasant ridge is not crippling herself by extending her reach beyond our four walls … but is only strengthening her muscles to lift all the more weight here locally as well! And so it will ever be! We can cripple ourselves by spending foolishly, but never by being sacrificially kingdom minded.

So pastors, as you read this, be encouraged to do more, not less, to bless and partner with other like-minded church, missionaries, and ministries. Your church will grow, not suffer, from such large-hearted endeavors. And individual Christians, be encouraged yourselves to commit wholeheartedly to those who meet inside the walls of the local church, yes! But seek to bless, serve, and fellowship outside those walls, wherever possible. You might be surprised how much more you will give to your own church if your heart is more and more set on the larger Kingdom of which she is only a small sliver!

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