One of the most exciting moments for church missions leaders is when someone in the body expresses a call from God to serve cross-culturally. Naturally, our brains start running through our long-term training and support processes as we begin laying out the plan for moving this soon-to-be “sent one” from point A to point B. However, for most followers of Jesus, there were hundreds, maybe thousands, of previous moments of formation that led to this particular moment when they said “yes” to the call to go.
In his short book, Surprise the World, missiologist Michael Frost claims that the “key to equip believers to see themselves as ‘sent ones’ is to foster a series of missional habits that shape our lives and values.”1 For ages the Church has emphasized the importance of believers’ formation through spiritual disciplines, one of which is typically evangelism or witness. I believe that spiritual disciplines are developed within each of us through a series of small, habitual behaviors that we engage in on a regular basis. As such, if we hope to develop people who practice the spiritual discipline of evangelism or witness, we must also be helping them practice missional disciplines.
However, for most followers of Jesus, there were hundreds, maybe thousands, of previous moments of formation that led to this particular moment when they said “yes” to the call to go.
As mission leaders we must regularly make an assessment of how we are guiding our faith communities to live outwardly focused lives. For many of us, this is (or ought to be) the key aspect of our job descriptions, not necessarily training and sending long-term cross-cultural workers. So, what does it look like to encourage believers to live outwardly focused lives in our world today?
if we hope to develop people who practice the spiritual discipline of evangelism or witness, we must also be helping them practice missional disciplines.
More Inviting, Less Doing
In Romans 10 Paul reminds the church at Rome (and the Church today) that one of the primary responsibilities of God’s people is equipping and sending witnesses of the Good News, both near and far. As we consider how to aid our sisters and brothers in Christ in forming outwardly focused lives, we must understand that the role of a missions leader is primarily about creating consistent opportunities for people to engage in the work of compassion and witness, not necessarily executing these tasks themselves. Here’s what I mean: as a missions leader, my job ought not to be running our church’s food pantry–that’s a task. Instead, my goal should be promoting the opportunity that exists for living out the disciplines of compassion and witness through a ministry like a food pantry and inviting people within my church to be involved.
The role of a missions leader is primarily about creating consistent opportunities for people to engage in the work of compassion and witness, not necessarily executing these tasks themselves.
Taking this approach can be challenging. Inviting someone else to get involved is often harder than just simply getting the task done myself. I can run a food pantry. But if I am truly fulfilling my calling as a missions leader, I will consistently find myself in the role of “connector” or “inviter” rather than “doer.” A missions leader must simultaneously live attuned to opportunities for compassion and witness and to the giftedness of the body. It is through small (sometimes seemingly insignificant) moments of being invited to use one’s giftedness for the kingdom that lives begin to be formed in an outwardly focused fashion.
Tell Stories about How God Is Working
At my church we have found that consistently telling stories about the amazing things God does when we say “yes” to opportunities for compassion and witness is an essential driver of future missions engagement and outwardly focused lives. Some will read this and think, “That’s just modern church marketing baloney.” But, we have absolutely found that when we tell stories about others living generously, giving witness of their faith, and showing up on behalf of the kingdom, we grab the attention of those who may not yet be doing those things.
Are your church’s missions efforts struggling to come to fruition? My question would be, “How are you telling the story of kingdom wins to your congregation?” Don’t just talk about the need; talk about, play videos about, and make social media posts about what God is doing through those in your church who say “yes.” This may look like creating a platform for people in your church to submit kingdom stories that can be crafted by a team and shared with the congregation. Or perhaps every time you visit with one of your sent ones (either via video call or in person), you record a quick video allowing them to share with the church what God is doing in and through their work. At my church we make it a goal to share at least one local and one global kingdom story every month, and we are finding that in doing so, our corporate attention is constantly turned outward rather than inward. Church social media and marketing must become less about upcoming events and more about celebrating and being formed by God’s consistent faithfulness to transform hearts and lives in our city and around the world.
Outwardly Focused Living: A Lifelong Process
While it may have been true for the Apostle Paul (and a few others along the way), I am convinced that very few people adopt the identity of a “sent one” overnight. Living out this identity is something that we slowly grow in as apprentices of Jesus. By watching others, being invited into opportunities to use our giftedness, and hearing stories about God’s faithfulness to transform, we begin to realize that we are each sent to share the gospel with our neighbors, our city, and our world. As missions leaders we must take the time to pause, look, and listen to determine where the Spirit of God is at work. Then, we must fulfill our calling as missions leaders to highlight, champion, and campaign for these opportunities as we encourage our fellow followers to take a step toward living an outwardly focused life for the sake of the gospel. This is the task before us.
"Jonah Fox serves as Missions Pastor at Vista Community Church in Temple, TX. Jonah is a graduate of the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor (BA-Christian Studies) and George W Truett Theological Seminary (MDiv-World Christianity & Witness). Jonah is married to Brooke who is a neo-natal/NICU nurse and they are active foster parents. Jonah can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org"
1 Michael Frost, Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People (Colorado City: Navpress, 2015), xii.