The church embodies sentness by cultivating the involvement of every member in the sending vision and strategy through education, prayer, and onramps.
The Sending Church Elements are a framework for growing as a sending church. They point out the strengths and weaknesses of churches in missions. Involving the Entire Church is the difference between having a few passionate members and a whole church that lives to glorify God on mission. This series will address how a sent identity incorporates every believer on mission, how we practically live out sentness as body, and how the process of sending cross-culturally begins with the entire body.
At different times, we have suggested that the Sending Church Elements do not necessarily represent a step-by-step process, but they are all the various pieces that make up the entire ongoing process of sending. The original purpose of the Sending Church Elements is to be a diagnostic tool for our initial talks with pastors and missions leaders as we help them take a self-inventory of how their church is presently doing. In this way, all the elements are connected and pull on one another like a spider’s web. And it starts to become more obvious that the elements overlap with each other when we get into Involving the Entire Church.
The first time I mentioned a “mission identity” in our Sending Church Element series was actually in Cultivating Missions Awareness. The temptation, I said, for churches is to quickly get busy with missions activity, building a program rather than building a culture. When it appears that projects are where mission begins, only a limited number of church members will ever get excited. A programmatic approach revolves around the same few people who pray, give, and go, and it will rarely permeate throughout the church. By contrast, it takes time and requires intentional education for a mission identity involving everybody to seep into everyone's mind—but the result is a more consistent, steady stream of activity, which grows out of a collective unity and vision. To describe the difference between these two approaches of involvement, I like to use a coffee analogy of an espresso shot versus pour-over coffee.
Short-term Missions Versus Slow-brew Missions
The espresso is my go-to for a quick and intense cup of coffee. I rarely put milk in my espresso. I just love the boldness and taste of espresso.
In my analogy, espresso is like a short-term mission trip. It only takes a minute if you’re making espresso with a machine. In some coffee shops an espresso is automated and the machine does it for you. You simply push a button and after a few seconds, out pops an espresso.
Of course, even a shot of espresso takes intentionality to pull well. It is important how you prepare it in terms of getting the right grind for the coffee and tamping the espresso grounds properly. The barista has to “dial in” to hit the sweet spot for such a focused burst of flavor—not too bitter, acidic, or sour. Short-term mission trips are much the same, and they also take skill and planning to execute well.
The other side of the analogy, the pour-over, describes what it looks like to intentionally educate your church about their mission identity, allowing identity to soak in and permeate every individual's thinking. It requires a bit more patience. It is art and science combined. Think Ethiopia Yirgacheffe as you read about this pour-over.
It requires the right amount of perfectly ground coffee, measured to the gram on a scale. You also need the right amount of water, heated at the perfect temperature. You wet the empty filter with hot water. You also pour some hot water in the coffee cup you plan to serve the coffee in. Then you pour just a little water over the freshly ground beans to wake them up a bit. Finally, you slowly pour the water over the grounds at a controlled rate. The water trickles its way through the grounds to produce an awesome cup of coffee.
Holding Out for a Holistic Approach to Sending
I have been involved in church planting and missions for almost 30 years now. I have had to produce quick opportunities often, but I have come to realize that what I really want to see in a church is a slow trickle of missions that saturates the entire church.
One issue that we face in missions in many of the churches in the United States is that it is so shaped by our ready-to-order consumerism. We are used to a quick turnaround on production. We want things fast—immediate results. The problem with that is that it rarely lasts long. Mission identity needs to work its way through the entire church body, and that takes time. Sometimes little is produced in the beginning.
If I always go for an “espresso” approach to involvement in missions, then I will often get a good experience but it is rarely long lasting and it involves just a few people. What I want to shoot for is total church involvement. I want to see the entire church get behind the venture. I love to see the entire church buy into our mission strategy, and this often cannot be forced in a short amount of time. It is an art and it is a science, guided by the Holy Spirit.
You may start out with a vision trip. I recommend that not only a pastor go on such a trip but also a few others in the church. It is best if a prayer oriented person goes along as well as a person who is able to implement. This way you have prayer, vision, and implementation coming along on the trip.
Once back, you start praying and casting vision to the entire church. You start vetting your partnership options for that place and people. You begin casting a vision for your church to send out workers. This could be short term teams, mid-term sending opportunities and finally long term workers who are willing to move their lives to this place. The church starts casting vision to students, business people, and other marketplace workers as well as people who are retired. You start gathering a group of people who are willing to pray for the work. Over time you will start seeing the entire church praying, resourcing, and sending people to this place—not to mention living in close proximity to their own church and engaging their community.
All of these elements take time. But in the end you get a more holistic sending process.