As a missions pastor, these are ten lessons I’ve learned along the way as I’ve served my church in this role.
1. Take time to learn, dream, and build a good foundation.
Before jumping into engagement and activities, take the time to building a good, well-thought-through foundation to mission engagement and activity. This is critical for long-term impact. I suggest developing mission convictions that will lead your ministry forward and help you know what to say “yes” to and what needs a “no.”
2. Always be a learner.
Some of my greatest wins in ministry have come from learning things from others and applying what I learned to my context. No matter what season of life and ministry you find yourself, create space and pathways to learn from others, with those you agree with and those you don’t. This could include books and articles, personal relationships, and educational opportunities.
3. Visit other churches and befriend other mission pastors.
This is an outworking of the lesson about being a learner. Often in ministry our greatest resource and source of learning from from those in the trenches of ministry. Other missions pastors can provide a good support system and create valuable partnerships in your ministry. Because the leaders serve in different contexts and have varied experience they can often provide wisdom and solutions of which you would have never thought.
4. Learn your church context.
Mission engagement from the local church should flow from the culture and giftings of that church. This means that we need to take the time—and create the space in our work week—to connect relationally with others leaders in our church. We need to ask questions about their experience with the church and their specific ministry. As we learn the overall DNA and culture of the local church we serve in, we will be better equipped to lead missions and cultivate a mission culture within the church.
5. Develop other mission leaders.
It’s one things to lead missions within a church, it’s quite another thing to lead a team of other leaders who collectively lead the church. Developing other leaders is a key to lasting healthy and missions growth over the longterm. Invest significant time in building up other men and women in your church to serve alongside you. Leadership development, though slow and frustrating at times, produces lasting results that leading alone never could.
6. Give ministry away.
We need to not only develop leaders within the church but also give the new leaders responsibility and opportunities to grow, lead, and make their own mistakes. The best leaders are the ones who give away leadership, influence, and the spotlight. This is an outworking of lesson five above.
7. Sending hurts.
If you send out people enough, for long enough, you will personally be the one who suffers loss—loss of deep friends, ministry partners, and the core community in which you’re investing.
Sending people out is a beautiful thing but it is important to count the cost. This will affect your personal relationships and the relationships of your family. Sending will hurt but it’s worth the cost.
8. Cultivate your own heart for missions.
If you are not careful, your own heart can wain as you mobilize and lead mission stateside. Create space to keep your heart ablaze for missions. You can do this by:
Traveling to places and to ministries that will maintain and increase your passion for God’s global mission.
Traveling to places and peoples you’ve never been before.
Reading missionary biographies regularly. I’ve found this to be an especially helpful practice. There are hundreds of great missionary biographies out there so make sure to read both those you’ve heard of and those about lesser known missionaries.
Reading great books on missiology and mission strategy. Staying engaged in missiological development and practice should be a part of every mission pastor’s job description.
Doing missionary care as you are able, even if it’s not your strength. Caring for missionaries will help keep your heart sensitive to your people and to the issues they face. You may raise up other local leaders to do member care but make sure to always stay active in loving on and provide care for your missionaries.
9. Learn how to Sabbath.
Learn Sabbath rhythms that are life-giving to you. Being a leader in missions can zap you like few other things can. One of the reasons is because we live in a church culture where overworking for the kingdom is acceptable, even praised. God’s plan for us is different. He wants us as his children to enjoy the gift of rest, the gift of Sabbath.
Build in your work regular rhymes of rest and soul work. These can include weekly blocks of time to read and reflect, yearly days of rest and retreat, budget money for care and counseling for your own soul, and of course, regular vacations where you completely disconnect from ministry.
10. Always be innovating.
Missions is not a static idea but a dynamic one. Don’t just create an engagement strategy for your church and walk away. You should always be asking the hard questions of all you do and seeking to make it better.
This means that you have to create space in your work to learn, read, engage in missiology, and try new things—even if you fail. In fact, creating a work environment where you can fail and try again is critical to mission innovation. Never be satisfied with what got you to where you are. Always be thinking about what changes and improvements you can make for better global engagement, mobilization, member care, and your overall ministry leadership.
I pray these 10 lessons that I’ve learned during my time of leading missions in a local church prove helpful to you. What are some additional lessons you’ve learned during your ministry?
Nathan is the Pastor of Sending at Sojourn Church Midtown in Louisville, Kentucky. His role includes leading local mercy, church planting, and international missions. Nathan has a Doctor of Missiology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Before being a pastor, Nathan and his wife Sarah served as missionaries in Kathmandu, Nepal, training national pastors and working with an unreached people group. At Upstream he currently serves as a consultant, contributor, and Chairman of the Board.