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Navigating Missions Leadership When You Haven't Been a Sent One

The leadership of those who have “been there, done that” often goes unquestioned, even in ministry settings. When you hear of someone who has been a pastor for twenty-five years or on the mission field for thirty years, you assume they have a lot of wisdom and knowledge. The Bible even says gray hair is a sign of wisdom (Proverbs 20:29), and most people value the input of those who have been through the trenches. Few people seek out wisdom from those who lack experience. Would you ask a teenager who’s only ever played Madden how to coach a football game? How about marriage advice from a bachelor? Would you ask a preschooler about their 401k? 


In many settings, experience ranks higher than even positional authority. Titles mean little when you do not have the experiential knowledge to back them up. Your strategies, plans, and execution could be great, but others may not buy into them if you do not have direct experience. 


I was in this kind of situation at my last church. After serving as an intern/ministry assistant, I was elevated to Director of Missions and Mobilization. Shortly after that, my missions pastor was sent out to the mission field, so I took on the role of the focal missions leader. Our church was young in its sending awareness, and although we were beginning to build momentum as a sending church, I felt a disconnect between my lack of experience as a sent one and the responsibilities I had been given in the church. It felt like I was asking people to do something I had not done myself. This was not a problem that was going to be easily solved.


How can missions leaders move forward in their role when they have never been a sent one themselves?


Here are a few truths missions leaders should rely on who feel ineffective, unequipped, or helpless in their leadership because of a lack of field experience. 


Rely on the Joy of God

We hate to face adversity, even though the Bible tells us we should count our suffering as joy (James 1:2). We want to do our jobs well and see many mobilized for the sake of the Great Commission, so when things are going slower than we want or we feel as though we are not getting anywhere, we must respond by relying on the joy of God. It is there whether we feel it or not. “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18). Do not allow your circumstances to rob you of the goodness of God and the joy he offers us. Joy comes in obedience, not in your accomplishments. When your role feels difficult, rely on his joy. It will be there for you always. 

Joy comes in obedience, not in your accomplishments.

Rely on the Authority of Christ

There may be some in the church that will question your effectiveness because of your lack of experience as a sent one. In these times, we must rely on Christ’s authority. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given” to him, and this is why we “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:18–19). The authority of Christ does not have a term limit. It is everlasting, and we can speak with his authority as ambassadors regardless of our level of experience. If anyone strives to dismiss your efforts, rely on Christ’s authority. Show that God’s global mission is woven throughout Scripture and that he desires for every believer to be a part of seeing people from all nations, tribes, and tongues worship him. 


Rely on the Experiences You Do Have

You are in missions leadership for a reason. God has placed you there, and he used his people to do it. It may be the result of your vision or passion or leadership on a short-term trip. Whatever the case, you can use the experiences you have as you continue to get more. My collegiate summer mission trip to the Philippines helped me in so many ways. It allowed me to give personal anecdotes from my short-term experience that were a help to others. While it was not the same as going long-term, it did give me some credibility. I could not attest to what I did not have, but I used the skills and experiences God had given me for his glory. 

We can speak with his authority as ambassadors regardless of our level of experience.

Rely on the Influence of Others

Missions leaders have one of the toughest jobs in ministry because they are trying to get people to be uncomfortable for the sake of the gospel. They ask others to consider moving across the world, shaking their schedules, or sending their children to proclaim the Good News to all creation. We have to rely on the influence of others in this effort. My best allies in ministry were particular elders and influencers within the church. Multiple women I worked with mobilized like recruiters at Pentecost. They reached people that I could not reach. Missions leader: build your team, and then let them help you. 

Navigating this leadership struggle begins and ends with God.

Rely on the Work of the Holy Spirit

This principle is the most important because it lays the results in God’s hands. You cannot save people. You cannot send people to the nations by yourself. You must rely on the work of the Holy Spirit as you do the work God has called you to. God keeps his promises. We can trust in these. He only asks us to be joyfully obedient and continue relying on him. Work diligently for the Lord. Do not do it for yourself, and do not do it for others. Do it for him, the one who made all things by, through, and for himself. 


You may feel tremendously ineffective in your role, but I want to encourage you to continue planting and watering those missions seeds. Then rely on the Holy Spirit to bring the growth. 


Missions Leaders: if you haven’t been a sent one, don’t worry. Rely on God, what he has given you, and the people he has placed around you. Navigating this leadership struggle begins and ends with him.

 

Christian Townson lives in Lebanon, Tennessee, with his wife, Danyel. He serves as the Director of Missions and Mobilization at The Journey Church. He is also pursuing a Master of Divinity from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

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