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A Spirit-Led Mission

by Randy Hurst

In the first General Councils, our leaders gave eloquent and passionate expression concerning the missionary purpose in forming the Fellowship.


Melvin L. and Lois M. Hodges, "A family's wayside scene in the country of Nicaragua.

During the Pentecostal revival early in this century, the Holy Spirit led our founders to form the Assemblies of God. The fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit into hungry hearts resulted in an immediate, Spirit-imparted concern for a lost world. In the first General Councils, our leaders gave eloquent and passionate expression concerning the missionary purpose in forming the Fellowship.

Unlike many church bodies whose missions focused only on certain parts of the world, our early leaders were compelled by the Spirit to obey our Lord's command, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel.”1

The boldness of our forefathers' response to our Lord's command is astounding. How could such a small group of Christians even consider attempting to preach the gospel in all the world? Because they were truly Pentecostal. They believed both Jesus' command to reach the whole world and also His promise that they would receive the Holy Spirit's power to do it.2 This Spirit-imparted zeal was not mere enthusiasm, but a purposeful mission guided by a thorough study of biblical directives.

The cutting edge of our mission is evangelism. Pentecostals are characteristically at the forefront in proclaiming the gospel of Christ to the lost. W.W. Simpson, one of our earliest missionaries and a member of the first Foreign Missions Committee, said it well: “It is the simple preaching of the real Jesus as revealed in the Gospels…showing how He really took our place on the cross and became our sin and thus put away our sins forever as proved by His rising from the dead that prepares the way for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. That is the method used by the apostles, and it is the only method which will produce apostolic results now.”

From its inception, however, our mission went beyond evangelism. The Great Commission involves more than proclamation. Our Lord also commanded, “Go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”3 Unless they are discipled, most people reached through evangelistic efforts will be lost.

To obey our Lord's command to make disciples, we must establish churches. New believers need a church where they can receive ongoing teaching from God's Word. They need a pastor who will instruct them and a spiritual family in which to grow and serve Christ. We are called not only to reap a worldwide harvest, but also to conserve it.


Missionaries working in Nigeria.

The first Assemblies of God Missionary Manual published in 1931 stated: “The winning of souls to Christ and establishing of assemblies in all places where converts are won should be regarded as the primary objective of all missions. All other branches of ministry should be subordinate to this.”

The term “indigenous church” describes the nature of the churches we establish. The word “indigenous” describes something that begins, grows, and lives naturally in its own setting or environment. We do not merely transplant the American church. From the earliest years of our Fellowship, Assemblies of God missionaries have established indigenous churches to support and govern themselves. Our mission is to plant local bodies of believers that will live and grow without dependency on the mother church that sent the missionaries. To do this, we must commit the work into the care of national ministers who are divinely called and gifted. As a church grows and matures, the missionary relationship progresses from spiritual parenting to spiritual partnering.

Our Assemblies of God missionary outreach around the world is extensive in geographic scope and in breadth of ministry because our strategy has been formulated by the Spirit of God himself. And God's designs are much greater than we could conceive ourselves. The distinctives of our worldwide mission are not formulations of a strategy committee; they are based on careful observation of what the Spirit of God led our early missionary leadership to do and what successive leadership has reaffirmed and maintained. Our strategy for worldwide missions has been to cooperate with the Lord of the harvest, who is fulfilling His promise to build His church.


Missionaries crossing the Nipoko River by pontoon, ca. 1939.

Four words describe our mission: reaching, planting, training, and touching. They are not four separate objectives, but an integrated and comprehensive God-given plan. They represent the four activities of our missionaries: evangelizing, establishing churches, training national church leaders, and demonstrating Christ's compassion to poor and suffering people. These are the four biblical mandates we strive to obey. A strong and mature indigenous church will participate in and support each of the four aspects of our mission.

Each of these is right in itself. However, what is distinctive about our mission is not that we perform these four functions, but how they work together to achieve our primary objective. The heart of our mission is establishing the church. Each of the other elements of our mission contributes to that end, and each is served by it as well.

Evangelism must result in established churches. If that doesn't happen, the fruit of the evangelistic endeavor is largely lost.


Everett and Dorothy Phillips in Nigeria.

In training leaders, the priority is not merely for their personal fulfillment and advancement, even though educating people for that purpose is right and good. The primary objective of education in Assemblies of God foreign missions is to train spiritual leaders to serve as the gifts the Spirit has set them in the church to be—evangelists, pastors, and teachers.

It is appropriate for Christians to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and minister to the medical needs of poor and suffering people. But we do so with the intent of integrating compassion ministry with a presentation of the gospel, inviting people to become His followers and part of a local church.

The local church should be a spiritual outpost for the proclamation of the gospel to the surrounding population. It is also the wellspring of missionary service, as local churches and national fellowships around the world increasingly send out missionaries to foreign lands.

The local church is the source of potential church leaders and is the foundational environment in which people are first discipled. A local fellowship is the most efficient and effective means of distributing relief and reaching out to poor and suffering people with the compassion of Christ.

While we are to be obedient to divine commands to evangelize, train spiritual leaders, and minister the love of Christ to poor and suffering people, the heart and highest priority of our mission is to establish New Testament churches that will mature, last, and multiply.

Our missionary founding fathers were led by the Holy Spirit to do what the Word of God taught in the Book of Acts by establishing churches after the New Testament pattern. This has always been the heart of our mission and will continue to be in the new millennium.

ENDNOTES

1. Mark 16:15, NKJV

2. Acts 1:8

3. Matthew 28:19,20, NIV

Randy Hurst is communications director for the Assemblies of God Foreign Missions.

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