I was recently talking to a student deploying to the field for missionary service, and she informed me she was the only person to ever serve as a missionary from her Baptist association back at home. Now, she’s from the South where there are many churches in even the rural associations. In fact, there are churches in her association that have been around for a century or more, and yet she is the first Baptist her county has ever sent to be a missionary.
My first reaction is, “How does that even happen?”
Then I remember my home association has only sent two that I know of in the last 25 years, one other guy and myself. [pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=”24”]What would happen if it was the norm for every church to send at least one person instead of the exception?[/pullquote]
Before we get too judgmental though, realize that so many of these Southern, country churches have been faithfully praying for (and paying for) the work of other churches that do send missionaries. For us Southern Baptists, at least, I would hate to make the naive mistake of thinking churches who have not sent an actual person have had no part in our giant, cooperative effort of sending missionaries around the world. That said, this post is written for a much wider audience than Southern Baptists, any evangelical church can benefit from creating a sending culture.
We need to encourage all churches to send missionaries. Imagine what would happen if it was the norm for every church to send at least one person, instead of that being the exception. Imagine the number of churches that could be planted if every church saw itself as a sending church, if every church took steps to raise up and send people to be missionaries, oversees and in other parts of North America.
But how? That’s the million dollar question, right? I get it on a regular basis from pastors and students here at the seminary who want their church to be a sending church. The following are a few steps that I think help a church create this kind of culture. It takes time, and it does take culture change.
Cast a vision.
I think the single biggest deterrent to missionary sending in a local church is a lack of vision. Many churches claim to be missions-minded, and by that they mean they pray for missions and they even give money to support the work. These a good activities. However, so many of these churches never think of being the church that sends the missionaries. They never consider the fact that God may want some from their number to go.
A vision like this has to be instilled at all levels of church communication. For instance, when was the last time a call to missionary service was an application point in a sermon? Has it ever been? Pastors need to regularly communicate to their congregation that the church wants people to go. This happens by seeding it into sermon application. Luckily, you do not have to force a call to the nations into your sermons, it is already all over the text! Just speak it faithfully as part of your application. By making this a regular point, people begin to consider that God may want them to go.
In addition to this macro-level communication from the pulpit, Sunday school and small group leaders must be trained to call people to this question regularly. Imagine the kind of dialogue that could happen in your small groups if it turns the corner from talking about the importance of the Great Commission to asking who in the group is willing to go. That starts to change a church culture.
Identify sent out ones.
After a church begins to cast this vision repeatedly on macro and micro-levels, then the church must begin to identify those who are wrestling with this call. In order to do this, set up easy on-ramps for conversation and service. At our church, we have a general equipping class that meets once a month for anyone in the church who might be interested in serving in ministry in any way. It is always open for people to join any week they would like. As the Spirit begins to impress on people their need to serve, we see them show up here.
In addition, regular challenges to consider going should be followed with regular offers to counsel people. Have staff time dedicated to meeting with people who may have questions, and let the congregation know that answers are only an email away. This should be an ongoing offer. Many times pastors, staff, and small group leaders assume that people know they can bring these questions. Do not assume, make it explicit. Tell people they should be wrestling with this and that they do not have to do it alone.
Equip for ministry.
By having an equipping program in your church dedicated to sent out ones, you do many things for your church culture. First, you demonstrate that sending is a priority, and that your church expects people to go. Second, you provide the necessary training that is your responsibility to members who would go. This equipping strengthens their commitments, sharpens their ability to minister, and motivates them to encourage others to go. Consider putting a program in place for anyone considering ministry, missions, or church planting. In my estimation, a good equipping process has three rails.
Send them and celebrate them.
Of course, this should go without saying, but actually sending people is one of the best recruiting tools. Celebrate those who have gone through your equipping process and are now making plans to go serve. Bring them before the church so you can publicly commission them as a church. After all, sending is a church-wide responsibility. By celebrating those who have committed to go, other church members are given permission to desire the same.
Finally, sending missionaries is more than putting them on an airplane. We must realize that the missionary is still our church member while they are overseas. We still have the responsibility to support that church planter that moved across the country. The primary weight for ongoing care of the missionary rests with the local church that sent them. Keep the conversation going with your sent ones. Find out about the successes and failures and keep the church updated. With technology, it is now possible to have them join a worship service live. Regularly keep them before the body. Not only does this care for their soul, it also demonstrates the kind of concern that gives confidence to those who may want to go. They will know, after all, that they are part of a church that takes care of its sent ones.