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Non-Staff Missions Leadership

Over dinner one night at my favorite Indian restaurant, I was listening to a new friend talk about his recent 5K races, Ironman triathlons, and a slew of other hobbies that consume vast amounts of his time. As I reached for another piece of Kashmiri naan, he asked me, “And how about you? What do you do in your spare time?”

I paused to choke and consider how to respond with something other than, “I daydream about my next Indian meal” (mostly true). Then, while taking another bite of an amazing spinach chaat, I said, “I normally just have time to focus on the three main spheres of my life: my job, family, and church responsibilities.” His response of “That’s so cool!” left me wondering if he really meant it.

Finding enough time and maintaining sufficient focus to carry out my role well is a constant challenge I face as I seek to lead my church in greater missions passion and involvement.

There are many challenges that non-staff missions leaders face as they serve in this role, but as a non-paid missions pastor with a large family, a demanding full-time job, and other responsibilities, finding sufficient time to do the job well is my biggest challenge. Finding enough time and maintaining sufficient focus to carry out my role well is a constant challenge I face as I seek to lead my church into greater missions passion and involvement.

As a result of this time shortage, I have often needed to forgo other interests and pursuits (like training for Ironman triathlons!). Time constraints as a volunteer missions leader have created greater challenges in moving tasks forward, meeting with people, doing missions-related travel, and the endless list of activities required to lead missions for a local church. So in a sense, I’ve needed to avoid getting “entangled in civilian pursuits” (2 Tim 2:4) since my aim is to please the Lord of the Harvest.

To be effective and, at the same time, achieve some measure of balance (both of which I’ve often failed at), it’s been helpful for me to keep the following points in mind. Many of these apply to paid, full-time-staff missions leaders also, but I think they are especially important for non-staff:

  • SIMPLIFY YOUR LIFE AND MINISTRY: To keep a clear focus in your life and ministry and keep yourself from being spread too thin, it’s vital to find your primary God-given calling. If that calling is to lead missions for a church in a non-staff role, then you may need to say no to many other things. You likely won’t have the time or energy to be involved in other areas of ministry that interest you, and you may not be able to take up that hobby that you’ve been dreaming about pursuing. Keep your life and ministry as simple and focused as possible.

  • SEEK TO NETWORK AND DELEGATE: Learn how to be a networker and tap into the vast human resources that exist in the missions world. The wisdom and counsel you will gain from people in the network you build are vital. Seek to find like-minded leaders from other churches and mission agencies; these missions-minded people will support you in myriad ways. Also, delegate well by seeking to build a missions team or committee, or at least identify others in your church who can share the workload. Call on them to help you make decisions, and delegate tasks to them whenever possible. Finding able and gifted people in your church to help you carry the load will allow you to focus on strategic areas that require your leadership.

Keep your life and ministry as simple and as focused as possible.
  • SEARCH FOR TOOLS AND RESOURCES: When you need a particular tool or resource to help you in your missions efforts, you can normally find something that already exists or at least gets you moving in the right direction. Find what others have developed and made available. For example, if you need a missions class curriculum, you could create your own, or you could find one of the many resources created by someone else and use it instead. There are so many resources available in the public space that there is rarely a need to spend time reinventing the wheel.

  • SET APPROPRIATE GOALS: Don’t have unreasonable expectations for what you can accomplish in a non-staff role; instead, set realistic goals and trust God for what you can accomplish by his grace, knowing that he will multiply your time and efforts and make them fruitful. Know your limitations, and don’t fall into the trap of trying to over-accomplish. At the same time, however, you shouldn’t settle for small goals that don’t require faith and be satisfied with accomplishing too little. Trust God to do big things through your own limitations. Yes, you may be doing this part-time or as a volunteer, but don’t underestimate what God wants to do through you.

  • SCHEDULE CHECK-INS WITH STAFF: This is a vital step for staying in sync with the staff pastor or whoever you may report to in your church. As an elder who is closely connected to all our staff, this hasn’t been as much of a challenge for me. The monthly meetings I have with my lead pastor keep him informed of my vision and goals, and I gain helpful insight from him as well. But this may be a much greater struggle for someone who, for whatever reason, doesn’t have as much access to staff pastors. Regardless of what your connection with them looks like, find ways to get time with your church staff or other key leaders and enjoy the mutual benefits that will result.

You may be doing this part-time or as a volunteer, but don’t underestimate what God wants to do through you.
  • SEIZE LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES: If there’s one thing I’ve learned over my years in missions ministry, it’s that global missions is a very complex topic. There are endless things that must be learned to send well, and being non-staff presents plenty of time-related obstacles to that learning process. For example, many church staff events are held during a weekday, when you may be at your day job or engaged in your other responsibilities. But there are always ways to learn despite the obstacles. Seize those opportunities and make the most of your limited time by seeking to be a learner in every situation.

Make the most of your limited time by seeking to be a learner in every situation.
  • STOP TO PRAY FOR HELP: Don’t attempt anything or make any important decisions without significant prayer before, during, and after the decision-making process. Pray that God will fill you with his Spirit and direct your steps in missions leadership, and then pray some more! I’ve clearly sensed God’s leading in certain areas that I’ve committed to regularly pray about, and it has convinced me that it’s the single most important thing I can do if I desire to be a wise missions leader. The time you spend praying will multiply your efforts many times over!

  • STAY COMMITTED TO REST: If you’re like me, you may be tempted to overwork and forsake rest when demands press in from all angles, something that certainly happens to non-staff leaders as well as others. But burning ourselves out does not help us effectively lead missions, and, more importantly, it’s not God’s design for our souls. Recharge your soul continually with God’s Word. Do things you enjoy that are not connected to missions. We want to be in this for the long haul. Set yourself up for faithful service and long obedience in the same direction by making time for the rest your soul and body need.

So today—a day off from my full-time day job that I will spend doing various missions-related tasks that have looming deadlines—I may be wishing for a break from leading missions. But I’m also so thankful that I can devote my time and energy to things that will bring glory to God and make an eternal difference in the lives of people I’ll never meet who live among the nations and peoples of the world. May this encouragement continue to give all non-staff missions leaders much hope and strength: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal 6:9).


Gary Eberly is a non-staff pastor/elder at Brandywine Grace Church in Downingtown, PA, where his primary responsibility is providing global missions leadership. His full-time day job is working in the public sector as a commercial real estate manager in Philadelphia. Gary and his wife, Laura, have four teenage/college-age children.


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