Evangelicals have a rich history of sending missionaries. We have been doing it for more than 200 years. People volunteering to take the gospel to the nations has been a major part of our tradition ever since William Carey reminded us that the Great Commission still applied to churches today.
In order to accomplish this task, we have started organizations, raised funds, and sounded the message. Ironically though, all this work makes it easier than ever for local churches to play smaller and smaller roles in the sending of their own missionaries. It is not uncommon today for a local church to go about business as usual expecting families to occasionally feel a call to the mission field. If that happens, they are sent off to any number of organizations where they will learn how to raise funds (or be vetted for funding from the organization) and then be trained to go.
[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Missions agencies are very important, but the church should take the lead in preparing and sending its own missionaries.[/pullquote] Many churches are reactive senders. In other words, they do not plan for missionaries, they do not equip people to be missionaries, and they ultimately outsource the sending of missionaries to other organizations. Missions agencies are very important, but the church should take the lead in preparing and sending its own missionaries. Unfortunately, if a church is reactive long enough it usually ceases to send missionaries at all. At best, this church completely outsources the missionary task by sending some money along so that others will go. Sending money is good, but the Great Commission is not something to be outsourced.
Instead, churches can become proactive senders. A proactive sending church will actively call for people to go, equip them to go, and partner with them and their organizations while they are gone. The benefits of proactive sending are too many to count for a local church. More and more people will understand a need live on mission, both overseas and down the street. It can, in many ways, revitalize ministries across the church.
This type of sending takes a plan, but churches of any size can do it. Here are a few components of a proactive sending strategy.
Get the word out
The first step in any proactive missions strategy is regularly casting a vision. Local churches need to work this into every area of teaching. In the past missions was a vital part of children’s curriculum. A generation ago everyone in a church grew up hearing about it that way. Now, churches need to find ways to work a call to the nations into their teaching.
Pastors, regularly make this a point of application in your sermons. That will not be too hard if you are being faithful to the text. Missions is all over the Bible! Sunday school teachers and small group leaders can do the same. A constant reminder of the church’s global mission accompanied by a call to participate should be a regular diet of teaching.
It is important to keep international missions in front of the congregation in teaching, but it is equally important gauge the interest of people in the church. As a local church casts the vision for missions, it should also draw the net. Communicate the ways that people can let the church know they are considering international missions as a calling. Create an atmosphere where it is celebrated when people consider this option, and regularly give the opportunity for people to make this known to the church leadership. By doing this, a church will begin to develop men and women who are willing to step forward for the task.
Start them on a path
This next step is crucial, and it is often the one that churches lack. A local church should be the primary equipping agent for their sent out ones. Churches today often rely on missions agencies to do this. We have, unfortunately, created a culture where this kind of training only comes from “the professionals.” Churches often feel like they cannot provide adequate training to missionaries, and so they provide none at all. This is a false assumption and it leads to outsourcing that vital role of discipleship.
While missions agencies can and should provide specialized training that is helpful, local churches should lead out in preparing their sent ones. Many issues in the equipping of missionaries are actually assumed by agencies. A robust understanding of the gospel, how to study and teach the Bible, the essentials of church community and polity, and the biblical foundations of missions are all subjects in which a local church can lead out in equipping.
[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]It is a church’s responsibility to determine the readiness of those they send.[/pullquote]
This can be done through a missions residency at the local church. As the vision is cast, the net is drawn, and people are ready to take the next step, a local church can create a specific equipping program for these families. Imagine the benefits of meeting together as a group and discussing these important issues prior to going. In addition, this gives the church a way to assess those that want to go. It is a church’s responsibility to determine the readiness of those they send. Overseas missions is hard, and sometimes families are not in the right place to go. Sending people who are not spiritually or emotionally ready can hurt them.
This also allows the church to develop its own missions strategy. As people volunteer to go and the church walks alongside them in equipping, the church and the new missionaries can think through where and how they will serve. This allows the church to know how they can help before they go.
Partner with organizations
Finally, we come to the step that most people place at the beginning, working with a missions agency. Agencies are helpful partners in the work of international missions; however, they are not the primary agent… that is the local church. A proactive sending church will cast a vision, draw the net, and prepare its sent out ones all before the partnership with their agency begins.
These partnerships can provide great benefit to the missionary and church as they go. First, agencies do provide specialized training that the church may not be able to give. Second, they serve as a network and team overseas for the missionary. Third, they often have a large, overarching strategy that gives structure to the work of the missionary and local church.
With all of these benefits listed, the local church still needs to realize they are partners in this process. The church does not send and forget its missionary. The church enters into a partnership with the agency to care for and serve the missionary while they are on the field.
Each of the above steps looks different from church to church, but they are all important. Perhaps your church has shifted from reactive to proactive in its sending. If so, let us know how! Or, if you are interested in more information about how these steps can look, feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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