J.D. Greear is the pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, and an ambassador with Open Doors. Seeing Muslims come to faith in Christ has long been a burden of his, a burden that led him to serve in Southeast Asia as a missionary to unreached Muslims. In this conversation, J.D. shares about the rise of activism, creating persecution awareness and serving the persecuted through the local church.
Q: In today’s generation there’s a lot of talk about activism and human rights—how does this differ from the need to stand with the persecuted church?
I frequently tell college students, “Hey, I’m glad your heart is broken for the need for clean water. And for women’s rights. But the greatest need in the world is the gospel. And the greatest suffering happens in places where we’re trying to get the gospel to move forward.”
I feel like right now, the greatest need in this generation is not to teach students that the world is out there, but to teach them that the gospel is the greatest need in the world.
Q: How do you create awareness about the persecuted church in your ministry at The Summit?
There’s no replacement for a hot heart—a personal heart. I don’t have a strategy. Peter Drucker (known as the father of modern management) always said that, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”As the pastor, I’m kind of the culture center, and if I care about these things, our people will care about them because they’re part of our core.
The persecuted church makes its way into my public prayers, sermon points and the things I write. I’m personally involved. I read a lot of biographies and take a lot of global trips. My wife and I have committed a certain amount of days every year to be overseas.
Q: How has your involvement with the persecuted church shaped your own faith?
I feel like you can’t read the Psalms without psalmists talking constantly about how God’s glory covers the whole world. I don’t feel like you’re really a fully mature Christian until what God’s doing around the world has shaped your personal time. Christianity is multicultural. So simply being aware of different expressions of Christianity around the world ends up increasing and shaping our ability to distinguish between what’s culture and what’s gospel.
In addition, there are some things that God does overseas that are miraculous. I think He still does the miraculous here in America. But there are ways God answers prayer … some manifestations of spiritual gifts happen in frontier places that don’t happen as often in established places, whether it’s supernatural answers to prayer or visions and dreams. I’m skeptical by nature, and a lot of times when people tell me that God gave them a vision, I just don’t believe it. But I see things happen overseas, and there is no possible way to deny that it was an act of God. It’s been important in connecting me to the days of the book of Acts.
Q: Speaking of the church, what’s our responsibility to our brothers and sisters who live in dangerous regions?
The church was supposed to be a frontline organization. I love John 12, where Jesus said if my servant follows me—if you’re going to follow me—then you’re going to be where I am. In that context, Jesus is talking about reaching the Gentiles. And I thought, OK, this is where I see the manifestations of Jesus’ power—the place where He is. And that place is on the front lines where the gospel is least known.
There’s no generation that has as much responsibility to preach the gospel in all these places as we do. Previous generations of Christians will look at us and say, “We would have given anything to have what you have. You can literally send your people all around the world.”
And one way we can do this—a powerful way—is to partner with our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world.
Q: What are some ways we can serve the persecuted?
If we can’t get to them physically, we can pray for them. I look at it as a matter of responsibility between me and Jesus. I don’t want Jesus to say, I had all these brethren all around the world who were suffering, and you didn’t even think about them in your prayer time. Not only did you not come, you didn’t even think about them. I feel like prayer is a big responsibility and opportunity.
The 19th-century evangelist George Mueller was known as a man of prayer. He said the man who mobilizes the Christian church to pray will do more for the cause of missions than any other man out there in history. If I can mobilize our church to pray, what ends up happening is that God uses that prayer to work on their hearts—to challenge their hearts—because what you pray for, you begin to care about.
This interview originally appeared in the fall 2017 issue of Presence magazine. To download a copy of the magazine or subscribe, visit the Open Doors USA website.