When we replanted Pleasant Valley Community Church (PVCC) in 2006, we hardly knew anything. However, the one thing that we knew with certainty was that we wanted to see people come to know Jesus. From personal gospel conversations over the water-cooler at work, to homeless shelter ministries, to VBS, to simply seeing people converted in our worship services, we’ve been able to see many people in our city come to place their trust in Christ. We celebrate this and thank God often for the impact we’ve seen the Gospel make in Owensboro, but it was really a few years ago when our pastoral team just became incredibly burdened that there was a real sense in which we were restraining the power and scope of the Gospel.
It was as though we had limited our Gospel proclamation to our city, and to our city alone. To put the Gospel in a geographical box is as absurd as trying to put Jesus Himself in a box. Yes, we wanted to reach “our city” and yes the mission of Christ starts with our neighbor, but we were overwhelmingly convicted by the Spirit that He was calling us to do more with this powerful Gospel. It became increasingly clear to us as we began to fast and pray that the Kingdom of Christ is so much bigger than Owensboro, and that we could in fact be instrumental in getting the Gospel to those nations and people around the globe for which the Savior shed His blood.
We were not necessarily shifting our focus away from “the city” but that we were coming to redefine “the city.” To merely focus on our city had the potential to distract us from the glorious picture in Scripture of the final heavenly city – the eschatological city that the Apostle John tells us about – the city that is comprised not simply of white-middle class Americans, but a city comprised of people from every tongue, every tribe, and every nation. It then struck us that the goal in reaching our city should actually be, in turn, to reach all cities so that someday the final city will be one filled with skin colors that we have never seen and languages that we have never heard.
In other words, the mission of Christ, while it may begin in “our” cities, doesn’t end in “our” cities. The biblical goal of getting people the Gospel is not to simply save them from hell, but to see them set aside as missionaries – missionaries who understand, like Paul in Romans 15, that the mission is not complete until the Gospel has been preached everywhere, including those places where Christ has not yet been named.
There seems to be a fear in the hearts of many pastors that an ambition to get the Gospel to the nations could compromise or negate a church’s passion and calling to reach their own city. Since we began to share with our church that we are adopting an unengaged, unreached people group in Northeastern Thailand (that would otherwise have no access to the Gospel), our experience has been precisely the opposite. The level of excitement for the Gospel and the mission of Christ has exponentially and furiously grown at PVCC as we have cast this vision. Since our people began to grasp the scope of the Great Commission to include the ends of the earth, more people are sharing the Gospel with their neighbors and co-workers, not less. More people are talking about the power of the Gospel, not less. More people have a burden for Jesus to be made famous everywhere, not less. Owensboro is being better served, not less served, as a result of our passion for the nations.