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Entrusting Mission Ministry to Lay Leaders

A decades-long debate regarding who is a missionary has reverberated through the halls of churches, universities, seminaries, and mission agencies. The result is a workforce made up of both "professionals” and “non-professionals" who are engaged in the missionary task. While there is value in this dialogue, it can become a distraction preventing us from seeing a more important issue.

 

I would never suggest that “just anyone” can be a rocket scientist. However, “just anyone” has not been commanded to be a rocket scientist. We in the church must contend with the truth that the Great Commission was given to every disciple in every church. The Great Commission is not a task for an individual to do alone but is for a community to accomplish together. Effective missionaries and mission leaders are those who interpret the Great Commission task for every disciple under their influence.

The Great Commission is not a task for an individual to do alone but is for a community to accomplish together.

A few years ago, International Mission Board (IMB) leaders shared with global partners our experience in assessing missionaries. After some time, those national agencies and churches reported experiencing high attrition rates, and the leaders gathered to assess the problem. Out of that discussion came a workshop and a book titled Eight Steps of the Missions Continuum, which identified several foundational issues causing this attrition. Establishing healthy church leadership and church mobilization were the first two “steps” identified. These leaders recognized simply plucking missionaries out of churches and sending them was unhealthy. Church health—from pastor to member—was of utmost importance for providing a healthy foundation for mission.

The Great Commission is not just the missionary’s task; it’s the missionary task of the church.

Who? Or What?

The Scriptures reveal a foundation for the Great Commission given to every disciple. At the IMB we call it the Missionary Task, which includes: Entry, Evangelism, Discipleship, Healthy Church Formation, Leadership Development, and Exit to Partnership. This is not just the missionary’s task; it’s the missionary task of the church. It’s what we do. With a people group or a place in mind, we first seek to enter—to research, obtain access, and learn their language. We move to evangelism and open our mouths in the language of our people with the clear gospel message. When people believe, we seek to provide basic discipleship by employing the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and the people of God. Effective discipleship brings transformation to the heart, mind, affections, will, relationships, and purpose. Discipleship leads to healthy church formation, which is marked by twelve characteristics: biblical evangelism, discipleship, membership, leadership, preaching and teaching, the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, worship, fellowship, prayer, accountability, giving, and mission. To maintain church health, attention must be given to leadership development. Effective leaders are trained to be, know, and do. Finally, we seek to exit to partnership with a humble posture. If the missionary exits too early, he leaves unequipped leaders in an unequipped church. If the missionary stays too long, the church becomes dependent. 


This simple but profound framework guides effective mission work.

 

Defining the missionary task is more important than determining who should play a part in the missionary task. This is not rocket science; it’s the Great Commission. Could it be that our most important task is not to determine who should be involved but to help every disciple find their appropriate place in the missionary task? Could it be that the “who” has already been determined and the task has already been defined by the One who gave the commission? Could it be that the mission leader’s task is to inspire and equip every church member, every disciple, to find their place? Could it be that every disciple is already meant to play their unique role in our task?

 

Every Disciple Inspired and Equipped to Pray, Give, Go, and Send

Mission leaders in agencies and churches should partner together to inspire and equip every member to play their part in the Great Commission. The laser focus of the missionary task helps leaders to identify where a disciple’s gifts fit in that task. However, we have realized that mission leaders need a framework to guide them in leading their church. Disciples need to be mobilized—inspired and equipped—to find their role in praying, giving, going, and sending. As important as it is to focus on people groups or places in the missionary task, it is just as important to focus on church members in this mobilization task. Mission leaders need lay leaders to deliver the mission-focused DNA into the fabric of the church. We aren’t just entrusting but are also empowering every member with Great Commission responsibility. Mission leaders must think strategically and in a context of humble spiritual leadership as they empower and unleash the laity to engage in their God-given command. 

As important as it is to focus on people groups or places in the missionary task, it is just as important to focus on church members in this mobilization task.

Imagine a church where a selfless mission leader seeks opportunities to empower a team of lay leaders to focus on key outcomes. Some lay leaders develop a strategy to inspire the membership. Others seek a strategy and develop a curriculum or discipleship regimen to equip the membership. Others take responsibility to develop a church-wide strategy to mobilize the members to pray. Some brainstorm ways to personalize the opportunities for members to give. Others seek ways to partner overseas and provide members with strategic opportunities to go. Finally, other lay leaders will need to give leadership related to those the church will send, including care for those sent out.

 

Empowering lay leaders to impact the church’s DNA will include inspiring and equipping members to pray, give, go, and send. While there are many good things we can do across the world, we must address the greatest problem of lostness because it affects every nation, tribe, people, and language. To do this, mission leaders must focus lay leaders to mobilize the membership to play their part in entry, evangelism, discipleship, healthy church formation, leadership development, and exit to partnership. We must entrust and empower this mission to every member of our churches because Jesus gave the Great Commission to every disciple.

 

D. Ray Davis has served with the International Mission Board (IMB, SBC) for 32 years. He currently leads the church mobilization team. D. Ray and Amanda Davis live in Richmond, Virginia.

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