I live in a city full of people in need.
You do too.
I live in a city where houses are crumbling, students go to school hungry, violence persists, hundreds of kids need mentorship, and kids walk to and from school and down our streets in the middle of the night.
You do too.
These issues are nuanced and specific to certain contexts and communities. But there are needs that need to be met by God’s people in every single place where people reside.
Here’s the heartbreaking issue.
We too often forsake the local needs of our community for the national or international needs we come across.
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? – James 2:15-16
That one puts some tears in my eyes. How often is that me? How often do I proclaim the good news of the gospel but don’t care enough to meet physical needs as well?
Well, I guess I have met some needs.
They’ve just been overseas or across the country.
Surely that counts right?
That’s a pretty good combination at least.
Preaching the gospel locally and meeting the needs of people internationally.
My brothers and sisters, I don’t believe this is how the church is supposed to be.
My brothers and sisters, I don’t believe this is how my life is supposed to be.
To use the context of the verse, you could say:
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm and well fed. I would help you, but I’ve expended all my energies and resources on overseas missions,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? – Nathan’s Opinions 2:15-16
What I do nationally or internationally should be out of the overflow of what I do locally. This is what I imperfectly practice and strive to be about. For me and my wife, we choose to focus on local missions first, and then if there is anything left over, we extend out from there.
Think of it as circles that are expanding.
Local, regional, national, and international.
My desire and prayer is that I will focus on doing things in my local circle, but our churches have become places at times where we focus on national or international and forsake the local. We go on short-term mission trips, but fail to evangelize our neighborhoods. We collect goods to send overseas, but we ignore the kids walking to school hungry in our own community. My heart breaks at this.
International Efforts Are Great, Local Efforts Are Too
I want to start by making this abundantly clear: Gospel-centered, Jesus-proclaiming international efforts of sharing Jesus and meeting needs are great things. Let us pray and support them financially. I have nothing against them. That being said, I want to lovingly push back and remind us that local efforts are great too.
International Efforts Are Easy, Local Efforts Are Hard
Please hear my heart again. My sister is literally a missionary overseas sharing the gospel right now, and nothing about her situation is easy.
But, for me in North Texas, to get involved in international efforts is easy.
It’s easier for me to send money per month to help some child overseas whose picture is on my refrigerator, then it is for me to open up my home to a child here who is in need. Why? Because it’s hard.
It’s easier to go take part in a VBS on a short term mission trip than it is to build relationships with students in town all year long. Tonight my wife and I are having a couple students over, whom we love. But opening up our home to a couple Junior High boys takes some effort.
It’s easier for me to send a gospel tract to a missionary overseas than it is for me to meet weekly with young men in our community and guide them closer to Jesus.
It’s easier for me to take a trip to Washington D.C. for a focused week of service, than it is for me to volunteer at the local food bank or local Boys and Girls Club.
International Efforts Make Discipleship Uncertain, Local Efforts Put Discipleship On Us
If you’ve been on a national or international mission trip, the discipleship, the follow-up, is often uncertain. I served on teams three consecutive summers with the North American Mission Board, and each year when we left we were unsure if those we had conversations about the gospel with were being discipled or followed up with. We had faith churches we partnered with would do so, but we just didn’t really know for sure.
But sharing the gospel in a local capacity puts the discipleship on us. That’s hard. That’s messy. That’s difficult. That’s time-consuming. This is how it should be.
I recently was part of a regional youth weekend at a camp near where I live and work. I taught a breakout session on Discipleship. I asked the room of students who had ever been discipled, led in their faith, by an older follower of Jesus. 5% of the students raised their hands.
Wow, how that rips me up inside.
That’s the purpose of the church.
It is not a matter of time, but of priority.
If we are not actively discipling those younger than us in the faith, our priorities are way out of whack.
International Efforts Should Be The Overflow Of Our Local Efforts
Here’s what all this boils down to for me. International efforts should be the overflow of our local efforts. I’m all for raising money and goods for kids overseas, but only if we are matching that in our local community. I personally don’t feel at peace about kids walking to school hungry in my community while we send all we have to other countries. I’m all for short-term mission trips, but only if we are evangelizing and discipling our own community as well, opening up our homes to any and all.
The community of faith is to be one that is irresistible, one that draws people in. One reason I think that our churches are fighting to even stay afloat is because those who don’t claim Christ see communities full of need filled with churches doing nothing.
Let me say that again.
One reason our churches aren’t drawing people in is because we preach the good news of Jesus to communities full of needs while often doing nothing to meet those needs.
Let me be clear. I’m imperfect. While my wife and I strive to focus locally, we fall short. I’ve missed the last two weeks of meeting with a couple High School boys I’m mentoring. We are opening up our home for just the first time in 2019 tonight. But we’re striving to meet the needs of Vernon, TX first and foremost.
Pray for international missionaries like my sister. Give to international organizations doing great work. Go on short term trips throughout the nation, partnering with churches.
But do this out of the overflow of what you are doing locally.
Before you get on a plane or write a check,
Go down the street.
In His Name,