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Interview with Nathan Sloan, Executive Director of Upstream Sending

The Upstream Collective, along with a dozen churches, have come together to build a new type of sending organization—one that intentionally takes a back seat so that local churches can lead the way in sending their people to the nations. Upstream Sending's mission is to put the church in the driver's seat of sending.

We're excited to announce that Nathan Sloan will be the Executive Director of Upstream Sending. Below is an interview with him about the organization, his new role, and what he's excited about.

What is Upstream Sending?

Upstream Sending is a church-centric, missions sending organization that started out of the Upstream Collective. About a year and half ago, the Upstream Collective board were brainstorming how to think "upstream" when it comes to sending and how to innovative in our missiology. One of the conversations we were having with churches we serve was about their desire to work with an agency that truly puts them in the driver's seat, that allowed the church to have influence and ownership in sending. There are a lot of great sending agencies out there, but the churches we serve wanted an organization that could really empower them well and would maintain deep relationships along the way.

So, we landed on this vision to create an organization from the ground up. It's an organization that puts the church in the driver's seat of sending and that lives out the theological conviction that the church sends. The agency is here to help and support.

So, over the next nine months we are going to create an organization with the help of our partner churches and from experts in the field to serve the sending churches of today.

Why Upstream Sending?

What we've noticed is that there are a lot of good sending agencies with a long and beautiful history, but increasingly there are local churches who want greater ownership and authority in missions. They want to be part of casting vision, mobilizing, training, assessing, and developing sent ones. They want to journey with their people on the field, assist with strategy, and care for them along the way.

Not every church does all of these things, but a lot of our partner churches do some of these things and do them really well. So why not create an agency that marries well with this type of church?

Upstream Sending won't be for every church, but it will be for churches who want greater ownership and authority in sending. We really think it fulfills a niche because we've had churches ask us to create this type of sending organization. We have 12 churches who have given financially to help get this off the ground. And that number is growing.

We're also committed to helping churches that want to know how to send in such a way that the church is at the center.

What specifically will Upstream Sending do?

You can check out our distinctives on our website, but one overarching distinctive that is unspoken is that the conversation will start with the local church and then move to the missionary. Typically in the missions sending world, the agency and the missionary have a partnership and the church can or cannot be part of it. In most cases, the church is part of it, but the primary relationship is between the agency and the missionary.

We want to switch that. We want to start with the local church to see if we're a good fit for that church. We can provide coaching for churches and help that church send their missionaries. We will share the sending responsibilities. It will be an interdependent relationship. We will send together. If the church or the agency doesn't do their part, the system falls apart. We built it that way intentionally—we will be dependent on one another.

How does this fit into The Upstream Collective?

As a Collective, we didn't want to spin off another non-profit. We wanted to create a sending arm that comes from the Collective. As we [The Upstream Collective] seek to serve churches, we are coaching, consulting, writing resources, etc. So, we are creating a sending arm because that's what our churches have asked us to do. We are seeking to serve the 300+ churches that are part of The Upstream Collective with this new sending organization.

So, while it may look like a separate non-profit, with its own website, leadership team, and financial structure, it will share the same board of directors and will flow out of same vision and values of The Upstream Collective. It will be an arm to serve our churches.

What is your role?

For the last six years, I have served on the board of The Upstream Collective. I came to the board eighteen months ago with the idea of creating a sending arm. As we discussed it as an organization, I was asked to be the Executive Director. After seeking counsel from my church elders, I have decided to take the role of executive director. I will start part-time in July and then full-time in November, after finishing my commitment to my local church. Over the next nine months I will work with our staff and advisory team to build this new organization.

I will also facilitate a design team. The idea is to have leaders from local churches who are working together. We will be building the organization for the church, by local church leaders. So I will facilitate that design team, which will be made up of missions leaders from different churches. Moving forward, I will oversee Upstream Sending's maturation and leadership.

As we start sending missionaries, I will continue to relate to both churches and missionaries.

What are you most excited about?

I am excited about a lot of things but also realistic about other things. I know that to build something beautiful it takes time, so I don't want to rush the process. I want to build this organization well by listening to and working alongside other churches and leaders in the field.

One thing I am excited about is building with the churches who will use the services. I am excited to be able to use all the things I've learned as a mission pastor myself—raising up, sending out, and sustaining missionaries. I get to create some models to help churches send their own people. I am excited about the vision of replicating and multiplying sending churches.

I also just love starting new things—to meet a need in the world of missions and be able to create a new model of sending agency that is both different and learns from the past and those around us. We want to continue to maintain that posture of learning. I am excited to create something that's needed for the future of missions sending.

What are the biggest benefits and challenges you foresee?

Anytime you building a business or nonprofit or ministry there are a lot of things to overcome. There is a big learning curve. I am reading and seeking mentors, trying to learn best practices from organizations that I respect.

Reaching sustainability is a big challenge. Financially, we are trying to keep our overhead purposefully low. Because we are placing the local church at the center, we will share the load of sending responsibilities with them.

A benefit to partnering with churches will allow us to be flexible with our models and systems based on the need of the missionary and capacity of the church.

I think our biggest benefit to the local church is that we are a sending organization that will provide services, coaching, and a full-orbed system, but we will just do it with the church. The church won't have to do it by themselves.

How can churches get involved?

Let's have a conversation. That's the first step. We believe every great partnership starts with trusted relationships. We want to build those relationships with churches.

We have twelve churches who are fully invested. They have given financially and want to send their missionaries through Upstream Sending. There are other churches who are asking good questions. In every case, we want to start with the relationship. Let's have a conversation and figure out if we're a good fit.

Learn More

If you're interested in learning more or partnering with Upstream Sending, visit the website and contact us so we can start the conversation.

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