Here are ten lessons I’ve learned while serving as a missions pastor at my church.
1. Take time to learn, dream, and build a good foundation.
Before you jump into "doing" missions, take time to build a solid, well-thought-through foundation for missions engagement and activities. This process is critical for having a 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 in my own context. No matter what season of life and ministry you find yourself in, you will benefit from creating space and pathways to learn from others (both those you agree with and those you don’t). Options for learning 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 above about being a learner. Our greatest resource and source of learning in ministry is often others who are in the trenches of ministry. Fellow missions pastors can provide a good support system and create valuable partnerships in your ministry. Because these leaders serve in different contexts and have had different experiences than you, they can often provide wisdom and solutions you might otherwise not have considered.
4. Learn your church context.
The local church's missions engagement should flow out of the culture and giftings of that church. In order to create this kind of natural outflow, we need to take the time—and create the space in our work week—to connect relationally with other leaders in our church. We need to ask questions about their experience with the church and their specific ministry. As we learn the DNA and culture of the local church we serve in, we will be better equipped to lead missions and cultivate a missional culture within the church.
Leadership development, though slow and frustrating at times, produces lasting results that leading alone never could.
5. Develop other mission leaders.
It’s one thing 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 key to fostering healthy, lasting missions growth over the long term. 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 not only need to develop leaders within the church, but we also need to give these 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 5 above.
7. Realize that sending hurts.
If you send out people frequently enough and long enough, you will suffer deep loss—loss of friends, ministry partners, and the core community in which you’re investing.
Sending will hurt, but it’s worth the cost.
Sending people out is a beautiful thing, but it is important for us to count the cost. Sending will affect your personal relationships and the relationships of your family, and we need to be prepared to deal with the loss we will feel along the way. Sending will hurt, but it’s worth the cost.
8. Cultivate your own heart for missions.
If you are not careful, your own heart for missions can wane as you mobilize and lead missions stateside. Be intentional about keeping your heart ablaze with missions passion. You can do this by:
Visiting locations and ministries that will maintain and increase your passion for God’s global mission.
Traveling to see places and peoples you’ve never seen before.
Regularly reading missionary biographies. I’ve found this to be an especially helpful practice. There are hundreds of great missionary biographies out there, so make sure to read about missionaries you’ve heard of and missionaries who are lesser known.
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 the issues they face. You may raise up other local leaders to do member care, but make sure you stay active in loving on and providing care for your missionaries.
9. Learn how to Sabbath.
Learn Sabbath rhythms that are life-giving to you. Being a leader in missions can sap you like few other things can. We live in a church culture where overworking for the kingdom is acceptable, even praised, but God’s plan for us is different. He wants his children to enjoy the gift of rest, the gift of Sabbath.
Build regular rhythms of rest and soul work into your work week. These rhythms can include weekly blocks of time to read and reflect, yearly days of rest and retreat, setting aside money to care for and counsel 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.
To do that, you will have to create space in your work to learn, read, engage in missiology, and try new things. It's okay if you fail along the way; 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 that will result in better global engagement, mobilization, member care, and overall ministry leadership.
I pray these ten lessons that I’ve learned during my time of leading missions in a local church will prove helpful to you.
LET'S HEAR FROM YOU!
What are some additional lessons you’ve learned during your ministry?
Nathan Sloan is the Pastor of Sending at Sojourn Church Midtown in Louisville, KY. His responsibilities there include leading local mercy, church planting, and international missions. Nathan has a Doctor of Missiology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Before serving as a pastor, Nathan and his wife, Sarah, served as missionaries in Kathmandu, Nepal, where they trained national pastors and worked with an unreached people group. He currently serves at Upstream as a consultant, contributor, and Chairman of the Board.