The Spirit’s Role in Missions
The Church still is tasked with taking the gospel to all nations and tribes.The pivotal first two chapters of the Book of Acts contain impactful action: the last words of Jesus while on the earth, the passing of the baton to the Early Church, the powerful move of the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room, and the result of preaching on the day the Spirit filled those early Christians. Can you imagine the excitement and joy, as well as societal turmoil, as the apostles baptized thousands of early believers? The Church miraculously expanded as crowds believed and were baptized in water in the pools near the south gate of Jerusalem.
Jesus’ words establish the link between missions and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere — in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8, NLT). Acts 2 happened because Jesus knew we would need the Holy Spirit to be His witnesses.
Jesus told His followers to wait for the Holy Spirit. Why? So they would have the power to be His witnesses. They couldn’t effectively be His witnesses to this world without the supernatural empowerment of the Holy Spirit. That still applies today. How can we preach the gospel and have it penetrate the hearts of those gripped in the false teachings of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, secular- ism, or animism? How can we awaken people who have a form of religion, but no life, unless the Holy Spirit both empowers us and thaws the hearts of the listeners?
That Holy Spirit moment in the Upper Room changed the fearful apostles to bold proclaimers of the message of Christ’s saving grace. The Spirit moved them from sitting within the walls of a room to a missionary movement. Even the initial languages in which those people were baptized represented languages of myriad nations, instantly showing that the gospel was not meant for one culture. The message of Jesus’ death and resurrection was meant for the “ends of the earth.”
The rest of the Book of Acts shows this link between the Holy Spirit and missions. The ensuing chapters unpack the expanding work of the Spirit. God continues to grow the church, moving followers from ground zero in Jerusalem to cities and regions throughout the Roman Empire. It ends with the apostle Paul pushing onward, desiring to take the gospel to Rome. Many think Paul even made it to present-day Spain!
As the Holy Spirit fills the heart of Christians, He compels us to share the message of God’s great love to those who have not yet heard. That is the missionary heart.
As the Spirit empowers, the Church must make Acts 1:8 a core tenet. Each local congregation is not only responsible for its “Jerusalem,” its particular community, but also for the ends of the earth.
The concept of “missionary” traces its origin to the Greek word apostolos, with a root meaning “send, messenger, herald.” In simplest terms, a missionary is someone sent from the church to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth. Assemblies of God World Missions (AGWM) defines a missionary as a person called and empowered by the Holy Spirit and commissioned by the Church to cross barriers of culture and language in order to proclaim the gospel, disciple believers, establish the Church, and demonstrate compassion.
Spirit empowerment is significant for two parties: the missionary being called to go, as well as the heart of the Church to send and engage in the task.
First, the missionary must be empowered by the Holy Spirit to uproot and go. We believe that the Holy Spirit must call missionaries, supernaturally speaking to them about the global task.
Andy Raatz, AGWM communications director, says, “Christ has called us to reach the inconveniently lost and go to inhospitable destinations and unwelcoming populations. Missions is not simply sharing Christ with a neighbor or a coworker. Instead, missions is purposely crossing the chasms of geography, culture, and language to share Christ with those who have never heard.”
It takes the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to enable our missionaries to cross those chasms. No human effort can do that impossible task; it’s only by the power of God.
But there is a second part to this missionary task: the empowerment of the Church to send, support, and pray. The missionary task is not just for the missionary who is sent; it is for the entire Church. Our congregations need the empowerment of the Spirit to wholeheartedly engage in the task for missions!
AG World Missions is an example of the work of the Holy Spirit empowering missionaries. J. Philip Hogan, former AGWM executive director, stated, “The missionary venture of the Church, no matter how well planned, how finely administered, or how fully supported, would fail like every other human enterprise were it not that where human instrumentality leaves off, a blessed ally takes over. It is the Holy Spirit who calls, it is the Holy Spirit who inspires, it is the Holy Spirit who reveals, and it is the Holy Spirit who administers.”
Unless we have the Holy Spirit empowering us — the senders and the sent — we will fail. This is a spiritual war that we face, and we need the Holy Spirit to enable us to give, to pray, to bless, to send, and to go.
As the apostles grew in their understanding of their God-given assignment, the revelation came to them that God wanted the message of the gospel proclaimed to all nations, all peoples, and all tribes to the ends of the earth. I pray that the Holy Spirit grips your heart and your greatest preoccupation will be to make your church a missionary church, and you a part of this great mission.
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the magazine Pentecostals.