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How Personal Renewal Fuels Mission

Benjamin Ranger on Unsplash

Has my growth in spiritual depth made me more or less evangelistic?

The question began to haunt me. I had been reading deeply in spiritual formation and was growing genuinely more in love with God. Yet as my pursuit of conformity to Christ continued, this question came up again and again.

Consider the question yourself: Have you become more or less evangelistic with time? And if, like me, your fruitfulness among those outside the church has atrophied, where do you begin again?

Pattern of Mission

Tim Keller has observed the consistent pattern of mission throughout the Scriptures: God draws us in to send us out.

In Genesis 12, God speaks to Abraham, draws him into his presence, and promises to make him a blessing to all the nations. Then the Lord says, Go! “Leave your country and your people and go to the land I will show you.”

In Exodus 3, Moses is a killer on the lam when God appears in a burning bush. Moses falls on his face in worship, and the Lord says, Go! “I have heard the cry of my people. Now go, I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people out.”

In Luke 5, Simon Peter is a hardworking fisherman who hasn’t caught anything all day. A man from the beach says, “Put your nets out one more time.” Peter draws in so many fish that his nets break and the boat begins to sink. Peter cries out that Jesus is the Lord, and Jesus says, Go! “Leave your fish behind; from now on, you’ll be a fisher of men.”

In Matthew 28, after the resurrection, the women reach the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene turns to see the risen Lord calling her name. Overwhelmed with joy, she clings to him. Jesus embraces her but then says, Go! “Don’t hold on to me; go instead and tell others what you have seen!”

Over and over, God draws us in to send us out. He draws us in to know him; he sends us out to make him known.

Renewal-Driven Mission

In the various seasons of my 12 years in ministry, I’ve emphasized either spiritual depth or missional advancement to the neglect of the other. While serving with church-planting teams in 2008 and 2010, relationship building, evangelism, and one-on-one discipleship were the priorities of my ministry. Yet while serving in a more established congregation, I was busy with pastoral care and administration to the exclusion of missional engagement.

But as I return to the pattern of mission in the Scriptures, spiritual formation and missional living can’t be separated. As one pastor once said, “The gospel needed to change our hearts is the same gospel needed to change the world.”

To borrow a phrase from a pastor-friend: “Renewal-driven mission” occurs when an individual or community is renewed by the Spirit to an awakening around the gospel and is then sent out to reach people, disciple new believers, and start new churches. Again, God draws us in and sends us out.

Renewal-driven mission is the great need of our day.

Renewal-driven mission is the great need of our day. When the Holy Spirit produces depth and renewal in our souls, it isn’t for our own sake alone. We exist not for ourselves but for Christ and his glory among the lost. Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonian church demonstrates this great need: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you” (1 Thess. 3:12).

This is the pattern he prays for: that our love for God may (1) overflow in our hearts, (2) overflow to one another in the church, and then (3) overflow even more to “everyone else”—to those outside the faith in desperate need of the good news about Jesus.

Love isn’t a limited commodity in the kingdom of Christ. It can “increase and overflow” over and over. Such is the great love of God—abundant, ever-renewing, always seeking and saving and multiplying.

So how do we cultivate this love for God, church, and world—and form the foundation for renewal-driven mission?

1. Watch and Pray

Before Paul gave his famous message to the Athenians, he walked around the city and was “greatly distressed” by the city’s spiritual confusion (Acts 17:16). He spoke in the marketplace from a deep, heartbroken compassion for their souls.

To the degree we look at our communities with the eyes of Paul, we will see brokenness and be moved to prayer and action. Our cities, neighborhoods, and rural communities are in desperate need of Christ and community. Most people I talk to week in and week out feel disconnected, lonely, and overwhelmed. Our hearts should break, and prayer should be our first impulse.

All great revivals start with prayer gatherings. How can you and your people begin gathering regularly to pray for your city?

Christian history has shown that all great revivals start with prayer gatherings. How can you and your people begin gathering regularly to pray for your city?

2. Do Hard Things

About two years ago, after six great years at a large and thriving church, we decided to move back home and plant a church. We recruited friends to join us, moved to our little flyover city, and began building relationships from the ground up. At once, renewal-driven mission went from a doctrinal conviction to a lifestyle. But even though it’s been consistently trying, it’s thrown us back on the Lord unlike anything else.

Wise counsel suggests that we should choose difficult, even humanly impossible things to grow our hearts in dependence on God. It doesn’t require a big move or planting a new church. Every day presents us with opportunities to walk across the hall or lawn to check in on a neighbor, text a coworker to get together, or share the good news about Christ with a friend. And after some fruitfulness in evangelism and discipleship, your local church can equip you for the next step—helping to plant a church, start an organization with a redemptive mission, or take the gospel to the nations.

What might the Lord be inviting you into right now? A new relationship? A new redemptive opportunity? A new mission field?

3. Work from Rest

Ministry is exhausting. Relationship-building requires emotional output. Evangelism incurs frequent rejection. Hard things are, well, hard. But the pattern of Jesus is to work from rest. He often retreated in complete solitude, or just with his disciples, before major ministry trips. His earliest followers in Acts found rhythms to balance fervent prayer with vibrant outreach.

Conformity to Christ means participation in his renewal-driven mission.

I think of it in terms of input and output. I’m an endurance cyclist, and on a two-hour ride I will burn about 1,800 calories. That means I need to take in additional calories—donuts! hamburgers!—before and after the ride, or I will collapse. The body needs an intake of nutrients equal to the output of the demands placed on it. Spiritually, we all need to take in God’s presence and Word through prayer, reading, and other spiritual disciplines so that our inner strength matches the demands placed on us.

What would it look like for you to be drawn in before you are sent out?

Earnest Prayer

Conformity to Christ means participation in his renewal-driven mission.

Has growing in spiritual depth made you a more evangelistic person? My earnest prayer for myself and for you is that what the Lord has begun in us inwardly will be manifested outwardly in a harvest of new disciples and healthy, multiplying churches.

Heavenly Father, draw us in and send us out! Amen and amen.

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