In part one of this series, we highlighted the unhealthy and often counterproductive use of emotions and reason in cultivating awareness of missions within the church. Basically, emotional manipulation creates the outcome of shallow engagement, and purely reasoned promotion can sometimes lead to a silo mentality where congregants have to choose sides. These opposing approaches are very popular and successful to some degree, but neither is very healthy, and the long-term effects are not profitable to the church or the mission.
Due to the fact that people in the church are busy and many are experiencing information overload, mission leaders need to be creative in raising people’s awareness as they seek to get them properly engaged in the Lord’s Great Commission. We have seen some very healthy themes in highly effective churches around our country, so we have put them into a few overarching categories.
The church should celebrate those they want to emulate.
The Poster Child
Effective mission churches make a regular habit of celebrating those within the congregation who are actively engaged in missions and ministry. Sometimes it is a very quick video that narrates the person’s activity or an onstage interview. The three-minute-or-less highlight calls attention not only to the lives of people who are benefiting from the ministry, but also to the impact on the volunteer’s spiritual walk with the Lord. Everyone wants their days on earth to matter, and highlighting those who are doing meaningful work is a powerful way to call others into ministry with eternal significance. In short, the church should celebrate those they want to emulate.
Make Missions Normal Again
When missionary candidates visit, I always ask them to share about a time when they first started sensing the Lord calling them to become a missionary. Invariably, they say, “When I met a real, live missionary in person.” Sometimes it was at church, or a conference, or even in their home for a meal—the important thing is that meeting a missionary made missions seem both real and normal. It may not have been their calling to missions, but those moments of normalcy subconsciously opened a door that allowed the Lord to begin working in their hearts and minds. Church mission leaders would do well to create a regular rhythm of inviting missionaries and mission agency representatives to visit and share God’s global story with their congregations.
The Local/Global Connection
Our world is increasingly interconnected. A church in our city sent out a church planting team to the Middle East (eight adults and nine children) about five years ago. So far, they have launched two indigenously led churches and seen multiple salvations and baptisms in a place that is very hard to reach. When we spoke to their mission leaders, we asked the question, “How did this all start?” They shared a beautiful story of how their church began adopting some refugee families who arrived in town through the United Nations refugee resettlement program. Those families were so touched by the outpouring of support they received (helping with a place to live, jobs, school for the kids, doctors’ appointments, driving lessons, etc.) that, even with all the challenges of language and culture, a strong bond of connection developed between these families and the church. The whole church was engaged in making sure these families were loved and cared for, and those relationships served as a natural bridge for them to begin praying for that country in the Middle East. Prayer led to sending short-term vision trips to that country, and then a few years later, they sent a team to live and work there. We are reminded of what Henry Blackaby says in his work Experiencing God: “Watch to see where God is working and join Him in His work” . . . both locally and globally.
It would be difficult to evaluate the overall success or failure of the modern use of short-term mission trips in creating a heart for missions. While not everyone who goes on a short-term trip will become a missionary, most of the missionaries we have on the field today have been on a short-term trip in the past. We feel it is necessary to include some “best practices” for using short-term trips as a way of cultivating mission awareness in the church:
First, make sure that the trip is not the end itself but a means to the end of growing your church’s heart for missions. Use volunteer trips to enhance your church’s long-term efforts and goals.
Second, focus on sending smaller teams so that it is not a burden to the long-term workers who receive you. This will aid in personalizing the experience for the volunteer and will likely have a greater impact on your team.
Third, do an appropriate follow-up to the journey by providing a debriefing and re-entry training time. This will help the volunteer process their emotions and begin thinking about God’s future plan for their lives.
There are so many other things to consider when using short-term trips in the church. We have a training guide and free downloadable resources to help you in this journey on our website.
First Step, Next Step, Step Up, Step Out
Try thinking back to the first time you either entered a church or considered serving the Lord in some way. With a few exceptions, most people begin their faith journey with a small, simple, and feasible step in the right direction. If you found that to be a positive experience, then you likely looked around for something more challenging or more rewarding to do next. And once you found that perfect fit for your personality and gifting, you made that a part of your life and ministry. A church we visited awhile back created a “Pathways of Discipleship” program with the four steps above in mind. We are including some examples of these steps, but each church should customize this plan according to how the Lord has uniquely designed your church for outreach and discipleship:
First Step – Giving: Providing regular opportunities around the calendar for people to give selflessly: coats for the homeless, backpacks of school supplies for children, food for the local food bank. These are low-impact opportunities to just go shopping and give.
Next Step – Serving: Providing consistent opportunities for volunteer service in the church or in the community: serving meals at the homeless shelter, tutoring children after school, serving at the church in the coffee shop. This meets the goal of having a regularly scheduled time to serve.
Step Up – Leading: There is a popular debate around the topic of leadership: “Are leaders born, or are they made?” And the answer is, “Yes!” This church believes that there are big “L” Leaders and there are little “l” leaders. Not everyone can serve as the Lead Pastor of the church, but most people can lead a ministry, a small group, or a mission project. In order to help them decide what to do in the church, they go through a series of spiritual gift assessments, discipleship, and mentoring to determine a good fit.
Step Out – Going: Most believers find a ministry to be a part of within the confines of the local church, but some are designed for something more. They have God’s calling on their lives to reach beyond the place where they found salvation. This church looks for people who exhibit an “X” factor. That “X” crosses cultures, boundaries, and languages and feels a sense of belonging in places that the majority would find uncomfortable. Perhaps they are called to full-time vocation ministry, cross-cultural missions, or other career opportunities that will enable them to advance the Kingdom of God here on earth. When a church prays “earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Luke 10:2), they need to be prepared for the Lord to answer that prayer with a strategy of ministry preparation.
Basic discipleship is the path to missionary mobilization.
These “steps” or “pathways” should be clearly articulated, discussed, and adopted by the whole church and continually reinforced so that everyone knows where they are in their own personal journey. The mission leaders of the church must commit to keep the vision visible: on the walls, in the halls, on the website and signs, in the bulletins, and in every classroom. They should flood the campus and the homes with clarity of purpose and calling.
When I visit these churches and spend time hearing their strategy for people to join the Lord in his Great Commission, I am reminded that basic discipleship is the path to missionary mobilization.
Churches that talk about calling uncover people who are being called.
Churches that promote vision produce a local body that is active and alive.
Churches that implement a strategy will see the fruit of their labor.
David J. Wilson (DMin) and his wife, Lorene, have served together in the local church since 1996. David was a missions pastor for over twenty years. They currently live in Kansas City, MO, where David serves as the Director of Church Engagement at Avant Ministries. They have written three books together: Pipeline: Engaging the Church in Missionary Mobilization; Mind the Gaps: Engaging the Church in Missionary Care; and Transforming Missionaries: A Short-Term Mission Guide.