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Preaching In The Transition Zone: Pioneers or Settlers

My Wife Jeana - Pioneer

SERMON TITLE: Pioneers or Settlers!  – Texts:  Matthew 28:18-20

We’ve all heard stories about the westward expansion of the United States.  Leading the way were the pioneers.  They were the forerunners who preceded all others exploring the uncharted territories. Their ambition was to investigate every valley, climb every mountain, traverse every desert, cross every river, and face every foe as they explored the land of opportunity that lay before them.  They were adventurers, ready to face danger and quite possibly even death in their quest to conquer the new frontier.  

After the pioneers came the people we call settlers.  When a pathway was created and territories mapped out, caravans of horse drawn wagons took colonists on a westbound trek looking for a place to establish a community and raise a family.  When such a place was discovered the settlers pitch tents and then erected homes.  Then they built towns, stake out farmlands, and began  settlements.  Though willing to face danger if it came their way, they had no desire to go out and place themselves in harm’s way. They had no desire to explore the next valley or climb the next peak.  They were more interested in safety and security then with adventure and excitement. 

That’s the difference between pioneers and settlersPioneers are explorers, seeking to go where no one had gone before.  Settlers are different.  They seek safety.  They avoid risking life and limb preferring the shelter and security of the settlement to the adventurous danger of uncharted territories.  

I. Pioneers Versus Settlers

A fellow pastor recently made an interesting observation about pioneers and settlers.  He said:  “It use to be the settlers who were assured of safety.  It was the life of a pioneer that was fraught with danger.  In today’s world this has changed.  It is no longer the settlers who are safe, but the pioneers.  The settlers are dying.  The pioneers—those who are willing to venture forth and take risks—they are ones who are truly safe because they are the ones who have the potential to grow and experience new life.”

My friend was thinking specifically about the church when he made this statement.  He argues that the contemporary church has rejected the opportunity to be pioneers, opting instead to be simply a settlement. The church at large sees itself as a fortress to which believers can retreat from the pains and disappointments of daily living. It sees itself as an exclusive club created for the satisfaction of  the believer’s social needs.  The church today sees itself primarily as a cloister designed  primarily for the enrichment of the individual Christian’s personal piety, nothing more.  The church today sees itself as a settlement of safety amidst the dangers and difficulties of our contemporary culture.

Research indicates that Christian numbered nearly 33 percent of the world’s population, yet they earned 62 percent of the world total earning.  Of their earning, Christians spent 97 percent on themselves, 1 percent on secular charities, and gave only 2 percent toward operating the structures of Christianity.  The institutions of the Christian church didn’t fair much better.  Only 5 percent of what congregations receive is spent on some type of outreach or ministry for those outside the church.[i]  The problem seems clear.  The church has become a settlement whose primary purpose is to take care of its residents rather than a community of pioneering pilgrims blazing a trail for the Kingdom of God. 

The difference between the pioneer and settler mentality can also be seen in many other areas of the church life.  When it comes to ministry, for example, the settler church is self-centered, focused primarily on the wants and desires of those in the church family.  The ministry of the pioneer church, on the other hand, is centered on the needs of the world—on feeding the hungry, caring for orphans, clothing the naked, and sheltering the homeless.  When it comes to outreach, the settler church says:  “Everyone knows we are here!  They can come and join us if they want to.”  The pioneer church, however, goes out into the highways and byways to offer an invitation to the Kingdom. The settler church views the members of the parish as a group of hurting people who need continual strokes of support and encouragement. Conversely the pioneer church sees the members of the parish as a group of people who have been blessed by the knowledge of God’s grace and are therefore gifted to be a blessing to others. The settler church sees the pastor as a chaplain whose primary job is to visit members to make sure they feel good about the church.  The pioneer church, on the other hand, sees the pastor as a visionary leader whose primary job is to equip the saints for ministry and evangelism.

II.   The Call of Christ

When Jesus called his followers into service, did he call them to be pioneers or settlers?  Did he call them to create a fortress of security for the protection of the saints, or did he call them to leave their security behind, venturing forth in a bold fashion as pioneers of God’s Kingdom?  Consider the commissioning statements of Jesus found in each of the four gospels.

In Matthew’s gospel Jesus says: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”[ii]

In Mark, Jesus is portrayed as saying:  “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”[iii]

In Luke-Acts, Jesus says that the disciples shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes and they shall “be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”[iv]

In John, Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”[v]  In other words, the disciples are to continue the pioneering ministry of their Master. 

Certainly each commissioning statement is different.  Each one can only be fully appreciated when interpreted from within its own unique theological context.  Nevertheless, there is at least one area of similarity that stands out in my mind as readily apparent.  In each case Jesus indicates that his followers are being sent to engage the world as his witnesses.  Their objective is not to build a settlement. Their goal is not to build a place from which they can hide from the dangers and difficulties of the world.  Their call is to be bold and courageous.  There are called to go forth as pioneers for the Kingdom.

During the reign of Oliver Cromwell, there was a shortage of currency in the British Empire. Representatives carefully searched the nation in hopes of finding silver to meet the emergency.  After one month, the committee returned with its report.  “We have searched the Empire in vain seeking to find silver,” they said.  “To our dismay, we found none anywhere except in the cathedrals where the statues of the saints are made of the finest silver.”  To this, Cromwell replied, “Then let us melt down the saints and put them into circulation.”

In today’s world Christians have become settled.  They have become like silver statues in sanctuaries of security and safety.  The call of Christ is that we be melted down and put into circulation. Jesus calls us to be pioneers for the Kingdom. 

III. How?

Whenever a sermon like this one is proclaimed, one calling the followers of Christ to be bold in their witness—the same questions are always asked.  How?  How are we to be pioneers for the Kingdom of God?  How can the church make a difference in our contemporary society?  What is the methodology of our evangelism? 

To answer these questions I would like to draw your attention back to the story we read a few moments ago from the gospel of Luke.  I believe that this story can serve as a paradigm—a model—for the greater mission of the church in the world.

As the story begins we notice that Jesus has appointed seventy-two persons to serve as his forerunners—pioneers if you will—preparing the way for his arrival in the various villages and towns of Palestine.  As they are sent, Jesus says some important things about their style of life—about their character.  He begins by indicating that they are linked to one another in mission.  They are sent in teams of two.  They are not lone pioneers.  They are a part of a pioneering community. 

As they go, Jesus says that they should expect some trials, troubles, and tribulations.  Some people will accept them, but many wills not.   In fact, Jesus says that they go as “lambs in the midst of wolves.”  In other words, the mission will be dangerous.  There will be risks involved. They have not been promised a life of safety, security and relative ease. This being the case, should they then bring some means of security as they travel?  No!  Jesus says, “Do not take a purse or bag or sandals.”  In other words, his disciples should have no independent source of security or power.  They should depend entirely on God to meet their needs.

Next Jesus speaks about the methodology of their witness.  He says, “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you.  Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The Kingdom of God is near you.’”[vi]  Notice the three imperatives in this commissioning statement.  First, Jesus told his disciples to eat what was set before them.  Second, he assigned them the task of healing the sick.  And last, he commissioned them to tell the people that the Kingdom of God was near.  If we were to paraphrase these  imperatives into a more formal statement of methodology, we might say this:  First, identify with the people.  Second, demonstrate the reality of God’s power for deliverance and healing.  Third, announce the nearness of God’s saving presence.[vii]  This methodology allows for a holistic approach to evangelism.

First Jesus said they should sit at a table and break bread with those who had greeted them.  They were to share a meal with those whom God had called them to evangelize.  This was a radical step when you consider the society in which Jesus lived.  Within that culture eating a meal with somebody indicated a bond of appreciation, respect, and acceptance. 

Isn’t this what got Jesus into so much hot water with the religious elite.  Jesus ate dinner with all kinds of folks.  He ate with people with whom a good Jewish rabbi would not be caught dead.  He ate with common peasants, traitorous tax-collectors, anonymous alcoholics, and even unclean prostitutes.  Jesus associated with the wrong kinds of people.  In so doing he affirmed their value and worth in the Kingdom of God.  Certainly he did not accept all that they did—but he did accept them. When Jesus instructed his disciples to identify with others by the sharing of a meal, he was telling them to communicate by their actions God’s acceptance of all people.  

Second, Jesus commissioned his disciples to “heal the sick.”  They were to demonstrate by their actions the power of God to bring deliverance and healing.  The gospel they proclaimed would be validated by their ministry—by the mighty deeds they did in Jesus name.  Don’t you think that’s why Jesus spent so much time healing the sick, feeding the hungry, casting out demons, and forgiving sins?  The mighty deeds all served to illustrate the claim that in Jesus Christ the power of God was present for salvation. 

Do you remember the story about that day when John the Baptizer  sent two of his followers to Jesus, asking: ask, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” How did Jesus reply?  He said:  “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”[viii] The miraculous deeds served to illustrate that Jesus was the Messiah.  He was the one who had come to initiate the arrival of God’s Kingdom.  The miraculous deeds performed by the disciples would also serve to illustrate the validity of their claim that in Christ the Kingdom of God had drawn near.

There is certainly a need for some mighty deeds of healing to take place in our contemporary society, aren’t there?  There is a need for our society to be healed from its addiction to materialism and greed.  There is a need for our society to be exercised of its demons of violence and vengeance. There is a need for our society to be delivered from its deep rooted sense of hopelessness and despair.  The disciples of Jesus today are still commissioned to bring the gift of healing to our society.  We can leaven the loaf of our contemporary culture by patterning our lives after the teaching of Jesus and calling other to join us.  Through our actions—by our healing—we can illustrate the presence of God’s saving power.  Jesus says, “Heal the sick.”

Jesus’ final instructions to his newly commissioned evangelists involved the command that they verbally proclaim the nearness of God’s Kingdom.   What is the Kingdom of God?  In simple terms, it is the place where the Sovereignty of God is acknowledged and on display.  It is only because of the nearness of God’s Kingdom that we have any hope for salvation.

Jesus said:  “Tell them: ‘the Kingdom of God has drawn near you.’”  The nearness of the Kingdom implies an invitation.  “Come and join us.  Submit to God’s rule.  Reorder your entire life under the authority of God’s sovereignty.  Become a part of God’s new world order.”

Perhaps the next response to this invitation ought not be expected from those who are outside the church.  Maybe it is we who are within the church who must first respond. Do you think we need to be evangelized?  Do you think that we need to heed the call today to commit ourselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ? Do you think that we may need conversion?

This was certain the experience of John Wesley.  By all accounts, Wesley was a very pious and devoted Christian.  He attended Oxford Seminary, served as a minister in the church of England, and even traveled  to Georgia, in 1735 to become a missionary.

On his way back to England from America there was a great storm at sea. The little ship was about to sink.  Huge waves broke over its deck.  The wind roared in the sails. Wesley feared he was going to die. On the other side of the ship a group of Anabaptists—Moravian missionaries—were joyously singing hymns of faith. Wesley asked, “How can you sing when this very night you are going to die?”  They replied, “If this ship goes down we will go up to be with the Lord forever.”  Wesley went away shaking his head, thinking to himself, “How can they know that?”  Then he added, “I came to convert the heathen, but who shall convert me?”

The ship survived the journey.  Back in England Wesley made his way to a small chapel on Aldersgate Street in London.  There he heard a person reading a sermon written two centuries earlier by Martin Luther.  This sermon described real faith as trusting Jesus only for salvation—and not in our own good works. That night Wesley wrote these words in his journal: ”About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed.  I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

Maybe we who are in the church need to experience a similar conversion today.   Let’s not become to set in our ways.  Let’s not become silver statues of saints sitting silently in the safety and security of the sanctuary.  Let’s not become a settlers, content to hide behind the walls of the church, never boldly engaging the world with the good news of the gospel. 

God is calling his church today out of the settler mentality to become pioneers of the Kingdom.  God is calling us to the adventurous task of going into this world, identifying with it pains, affirming its worth, demonstrating God’s power to save, and proclaiming the nearness of the Kingdom.   God is seeking to evangelize us with the message of the Kingdom so that we can be sent out to evangelize other. 

Before we expect those outside the church to respond to the Kingdom, those of us inside the church—the ones commissioned to be evangelists—must first respond. 

What is your decision?

Will you be a settler or a pioneer?


[i] As quoted in David Lowes Watson, God Does Not Foreclosed:  The Universal Promise of Salvation.  (Nashville, TN:  Abingdon Press, 1990), 24. 

[ii] See Matthew 28:16-20.

[iii] See Mark 16:14-20.

[iv] See Luke 24:44-49 and Acts 1:1-11.

[v] See John 20:1-23.

[vi] Luke 10:8-9.

[vii] I owe appreciation to C. Norman Kraus for his treatment of this passage in his book The Community of the Spirit: How the Church is in the World, (Scottdale, PA:  Herald Press, 1993), 172-179.

[viii] See Luke 7:20-22

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2 Responses to “Preaching In The Transition Zone: Pioneers or Settlers”

  1. Jay says:

    Excellent sermon. I couldn’t have said it any better. I’ve often thought about this and I just typed in the words ‘pioneer’, ‘settler’ and ‘sermon’ and out popped your website. Very good food for thought. Do you mind if a ‘steal’ some of your points?

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