The Sending Church Elements are a framework for growing as a sending church. They point out the strengths and weaknesses of churches in missions. Although The Sending Church Elements do not always describe linear steps, Cultivating Missions Awareness is a natural starting place for churches to take ownership of missions. This series addresses why being aware of God’s mission is important to missions, how to practically cultivate missions awareness in churches, and some of the most common challenges to accomplishing this.
In Part One of this series we introduced four means of churches practically and progressively cultivating missions awareness:
- Sent Ones
In this article we want to give a fuller explanation of each one.
CULTIVATING MISSIONS AWARENESS THROUGH PREACHING
Preaching lands at the top of the list for an important reason. As the Book of Acts reveals all that Jesus continued to do through the Holy Spirit, we read of the church being established through devotion to the apostles' teaching (Acts 2:40-42). In that day the words that fell and spread like fire, though it may appear less dramatic, carry the same "power of God for salvation" when hurled faithfully from pulpits today. For the vast majority of Western churches, preaching is our primary incendiary device for exposing people to the word of God.
Some might call it an overemphasis, but we believe that preaching with God's mission in mind is actually the same as just preaching the word faithfully. Sure, this might come off like staff and church members who lobby for a little more emphasis of their ministry in the preaching pastor's sermons. But God's redemptive mission isn't just a ministry emphasis. As Lesslie Newbigin reminded us decades ago, "The separation of church from mission is theologically indefensible" (2).
One of the most clear and compelling examples of this kind of preaching comes from Acts 19, which describes Paul's years in Ephesus. Though no Spurgeon-esque volumes of Paul's sermons survive today, we at least know the results: "all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks" (v. 10). Understanding that not all of Asia could come to Ephesus and squeeze into the hall of Tyrannus, we surmise that something about Paul's preaching was mobilizing. It inspired and propelled people to take it with them and share along the way.
Here, it is worth quoting a seasoned preacher, in this instance, Dr. George Frederick Pentecost, as he addressed a New York missions conference in 1900:
Every pastor holds his office under Christ's commission, and can only fulfill it when, as a missionary bishop, he counts the whole world his fold. The pastor of the smallest church has the power to make his influence felt around the world. No pastor is worthy of his office who does not bring himself into conformity to the magnificent breadth of the great commission, and draw inspiration and zeal from its world-wide sweep (11-13).
What, then, does it look like to cultivate missions awareness through preaching? Though it is ultimately about the effect of God's mission in the heart and life of the preacher, there are some practical tips for making it happen. They include:
- Planning sermons series that emphasize God's mission
- Including stories of local and global mission
- Addressing current events that show the need for gospel movement
- Lamenting local and global lostness
- Expressing personal experiences of living on mission
- Being honest about struggles and failures in living on mission
- Applying biblical-missional principles to everyday life
- Developing simple, memorable language for biblical-missional principles
- Casting vision for the entire church on mission
- Contextualizing missionary stories and skills
- Sharing the pulpit with missional leaders
CULTIVATING MISSIONS AWARENESS THROUGH PRAYER
Prayer may come in second on the list, but it's a close second. If preaching is the fire that engulfs the heart, then prayer is the ignition (or vice-versa depending on how you spin the analogy). In other words, anything spiritually effective requires both. One thinks of Paul's parting words to the elders at Ephesus, "'I commend you to God and the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified'...And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all" (Acts 20:32, 36).
When pastors begin to pray for God's mission, the church will change. When church members begin to pray for God's mission, the world will change. John Piper called prayer "the work of missions" and applied it to the church in this way:
Prayer is the walkie-talkie on the battlefield of the world. It calls in for the accurate location of the target of the Word. It calls in to ask for the protection of air cover. It calls in to ask for fire power to blast open a way for the tanks of the Word of God. It calls in the miracle of healing for the wounded soldiers. It calls in supplies for the forces. And it calls in the needed reinforcements. This is the meaning of the amazing Word of the Lord in Matthew 9:38. "Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." Reinforcements come into the missionary enterprise when the churches know they are in a war, and when they bow down in their trenches with bullets flying overhead and get on their walkie-talkies and cry out for more troops.
Since prayer is one of the critical hinges of Sending Church Element 02: Embracing Spiritual Conviction, we won't go into great detail now on practical application. However, here are a few simple ways to leverage prayer in cultivating missions awareness:
- Pray for specific missions needs at Sunday gatherings
- Pray for specific missions needs in small group gatherings
- Compile and distribute prayer requests from sent ones
- Preach a series on prayer
- Utilize resources like Pray For The World and Joshua Project
- Make the prayer cards of sent ones available
- Schedule regular missions prayer gatherings
CULTIVATING MISSIONS AWARENESS THROUGH DISCIPLESHIP
The spirit of what we mean by the muddled yet popular term "discipleship" is communicated in Upstream's first book, Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission. There, co-author Caleb Crider defines discipleship in the following way:
The Christian life [requires] skill. Reading and interpreting the Bible requires that one know a bit about the context of the Scriptures. The conscious decision to deny one's self and follow Christ is a constant struggle that only becomes a habit through practice. Prayer, fasting, taking a day of rest--these are learned behaviors that do not come naturally to most of us. These skills are honed through instruction, and are fostered to familiarity through repetition. Someone who has mastered the skill teaches it to those who need to learn the skill. Jesus called this discipleship (22-23).
So when we talk about cultivating missions awareness through discipleship, we aren't simply referring to education. Though the passing of information has its necessary role, if it is separated from some form of application to the heart and to everyday life, then let us call it what it is: education. But we must be warned that information without application can easily lead to hearing without doing (James 1:22-24) or doing without loving (1 Corinthians 8:1, Revelation 2:2-4).
Perhaps the most critical juncture here, then, is a church's definition and execution of discipleship. Are all members sent ones, reconciled to be ambassadors for Christ, who need the local church to sharpen and spur them on to love and good deeds? Or are they more-so targets for the next class, the next Bible study, the next big internal initiative that assumes their discipleship and leaves life application optional? An imbalance could make churches more like the kind of seminaries who "hinder world evangelization precisely because they treat missions as an optional subject" (Wright, 17).
What might it look like to be a discipling church who cultivates missions awareness? Here are a few suggestions:
- Define discipleship clearly and talk about it often
- Define what discipleship is not and talk about that often too
- Integrate the vision for discipleship throughout all the church's ministries
- Make discipleship practical enough to build metrics from it
- Celebrate stories of simple daily discipleship (not just evangelistic ninja skills)
- Incorporate practical application questions and activities in all programs, classes, etc.
- Set a goal that everyone in the church can confidently say, "I know how to disciple others"
- Lead the church to memorize 2 Timothy 2:2 together
CULTIVATING MISSIONS AWARENESS THROUGH SENT ONES
Finally, we arrive at the dark horse of the list: sent ones. Yes, let us revel a moment in vintage stereotype. Picture the missionary family filing on stage, seemingly endless children in tow, clad in distracting cultural outfits, clicking through infinite slides, haunting everyone with the talk of baby-eating baboons and Falciparum malaria.
Now think about this: despite what seems irrelevant to us today, God still used them to inspire and mobilize churches on mission.
How? Because inherent in the call to mission globally is the unique gift/ability/role of encouraging and exhorting those who remain on mission locally. This is what we call "sent ones speaking back," which is so significant that we made it one of the Sending Church Elements (Element 14: Inviting Sent Ones to Speak Back). Thomas Hale challenges us to see it in this light:
No one better than the missionary can bring the missionary vision to the home church. No one better than the missionary can inspire young people to a life of sacrifice and dedication to Jesus. No one better than the missionary can expand people’s outlook, broaden their thinking, and stimulate them to become part of the world church. The missionary represents in person the wider world, the field ready for harvest; he or she is the contact point. The missionary is able to bless, to edify, to inspire the home church. If you come across a church that has grown cold to missions, it may well be they haven’t hosted a “live missionary” in a long time. And remember, most people considering missions work finally offer themselves for service as the result of a face-to-face appeal from a missionary. Don’t let such an opportunity go to waste; don’t let such an obligation go unmet (487).
Sent ones can also help church leaders fight the endless battle with mission drift. Yes, church leaders are responsible before God to keep their churches launching outward, but it's impossible not to be affected by the gravitational pull of local needs and concerns. To balance this, they need something that sounds like it doesn't exist: mature insiders who have a trustworthy outside perspective. Leader, behold your oxymoron: sent ones.
Consider Paul. His life and ministry was a helix of pastoral ministry and pioneer missions. And this was not him wielding his apostleship, as George Peters confirms:
[Paul] did not exercise such authority in missionary partnership. Here he was a humble brother and energetic leader among fellow laborers, and a dynamic and exemplary force in the churches in evangelism and church expansion (236).
To a lesser extent, but still worth noting, is the effect of internationals and refugees on cultivating missions awareness. Even if they are not Christians, their presence and stories are just what many American Christians need to awaken to the carnage beyond our borders. It's almost as though God brought them to us...
Here are some practical considerations for using sent ones to cultivate missions awareness in your church:
- Develop and remain in deep relationships with sent ones
- Regularly allow sent ones to share at worship and small group gatherings
- Ask sent ones to send regular newsletters and prayer requests
- Ask sent ones to provide occasional videos or to Skype into a gathering
- Invite sent ones to attend and provide feedback at leadership meetings
- Keep sent ones updated on church life and invite their input
- Ask sent ones to provide occasional handwritten letters to be read to the entire church
- Facilitate your children's ministry to connect with sent children and sent children to connect with your children's ministry (photos, letters, Skype, etc.)