How to Pastor Members with a Missions Interest

Written by Bradley Bell, Director of Content Development

A church member walks up and says:

Excuse me, pastor. I think I want to be a missionary.

Oh crap. What do I say?! Here are a few common responses that you might find yourself uttering:

  • If you know the person and approve: Awesome! Gimme a high five. Here’s my short list of mission organizations to go talk to…
  • If you know the person and don’t approve: Umm, cool. Let’s talk about that. Sometime.
  • If you don’t know the person at all: Hey, that’s nice to hear. So, who are you?

In the flurry of immediate ministry demands and expectations, having someone pulling on your pant leg about far away ministry can naturally go to the back burner – unless you’re ready. What’s it take to be ready? And why does it matter? Here’s a few considerations and a handy resource to help out:

It’s a biblical part of following the Spirit in leading the church.  Let’s start by speaking to the hearts of church leaders. You entered ministry because you wanted to shepherd people toward Christ, right? See your response to potential sent ones for what it is: not a potential administrative overhaul, but a sweet pastoral moment to make much of Jesus. When the Holy Spirit made his move to get Barnabas and Saul out of Antioch and on the road in the beginning of Acts 13, the leaders at Antioch were ready. While fasting and praying together, they heard the Spirit clearly say, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (v. 2). Now let’s not make that too romantic—nor you guilt-ridden for not fasting and praying right now instead of reading this. But let it define readiness for us: an utter dependence and listening ear. Otherwise, how can you, like Antioch, along with the Spirit journey with your people and send them out?

The more you send everyone into the neighborhoods, the more will want to be sent to the nations.  So many different tributaries seem to be adjoining one grand missiological push: we are all people on mission. That’s what TradecraftThe Sending Church DefinedLife on MissionLive SentEveryday ChurchGaining by Losing, and most anything by Ed Stetzer are all about. Naturally, the more people awaken to these norms of being disciples, the more open to the Holy Spirit they will be, and the more they will ache for people with no access to the grace they have received. As throughout history, some will not be able to salve that ache without moving their lives, families, and careers amidst those people. If sending was a dripping faucet, that’s one thing. But if God is turning the faucet wide open—and it seems like he is—then churches will have to be ready. You don’t want to be a greasy, hairy clog in the drain.

Not everyone who says, “Send me!” should be sent.  The way that many churches have operated over the past century in regard to sending is to submit not necessarily to the leadership of the Holy Spirit, but to the “calling” of the missionary candidate. They are not always the same thing. If the Holy Spirit actually isn’t leading someone to be sent overseas, then there is massive grace in saying, “Don’t go.” And it’s wise for even the most promising candidates to hear, “Proceed with caution.” How’s their character? What’s their motivation? Are they being faithful already? These are important things to know if you’re sending them because they will be extensions of your church and its ministry—more than that, they will be Christ’s ambassadors—for better or worse.

How you initially respond to them will set the tone for the rest of the journey.  It’s not just that they will always remember how you reacted to them—we all struggle too much with people-pleasing to worry about that. It’s that whatever you run up the flag pole, they will stand before it and salute. In other words, they’ll follow your lead. If you’re unsure what to say, they may lose confidence in themselves or in you. The spark in them could snuff out, or if it doesn’t, they’ll likely figure out a way to just go without being sent. If you don’t ask the right questions, you may dangerously separate the sending from the Sender, focusing on their desire and skills while ignoring their spiritual health. Jesus was the master of asking open-ended questions that both welcomed conversation and revealed the heart (Proverbs 20:5Mark 10:51Acts 10:29). Take some time to sit with the candidate(s) and ask good questions. Listen. Celebrate what God is doing. Then challenge and give them next steps.

What are some of those questions? Glad you asked! Available for download is our practical “Initial Missions Interest Questionnaire”. It was adapted from the basic list of questions used by a local church when members express missions interest.