Written by Bradley Bell, Director of Content Development
From the Archives: This post originally published in 2015 is about a book that is still great. You can always count on Upstream pointing you to great books. One that is a bit dated but remarkably helpful to the sending church conversation is Today’s All-Star Missions Churches: Strategies to Help Your Church Get into the Game by Tom Telford. Telford is the vice president of mobilization for United World Mission and has been working for years to empower churches on mission.
With the NBA Playoffs finishing up, it’s about time for the annual mid-year sports drought—or smorgasbord—depending on how you feel about baseball. For those of you who are fans of the boys of summer, you can add to your seasonal excitement knowing there’s a mission book out there that analogizes baseball all the way through (yes, that’s a baseball globe on the cover). If, however, you find yourself longing for better days, the encouraging word is that this book has much more to offer than hard ball parallels. And hey, you’ve got time to read it while you wait. Here are a few reasons why mission leaders should keep it handy.
Excellent research. One of the most common practices of mission leaders new and old is compiling resources from well-known churches. Whether laying a foundation for sending or tweaking an established framework, we do well to ask those who are doing it well. Those are just the kind of churches that Tom Telford interviewed for this book. He includes history, statistics, leadership, mission involvement, and the kind of insider details that you can’t find online, such as the fact that John Piper and Bethlehem Baptist Church gained a global vision when
the guest speaker for the annual missions conference was unable to come to Bethlehem. Pastor [John] was asked to fill in…as [he] prepared the missions messages, he was “overwhelmed with the supremacy of God in missions.” He realized that missions is central to the work of the church and got excited about what God wanted to do (18).
Save some of that precious time—Telford has already done much of the work for you!
Variety in perspective. When it comes to mission, many of us tend to stay in the same streams of thought. However, Telford wisely sought diversity as he compiled churches. Throughout the text you’ll come across numerous denominations, emphases, sizes, settings, and stories. As such, the reader has the benefit of being exposed to things he’ll definitely want to emulate, and some that he definitely won’t. Deciding what your church will not be about is often just as important as finding what it will focus on. The information is, however, about fifteen years old, and the churches included may have changed tremendously in the meantime. (Word on the street is there’s new version coming sometime soon.) Nevertheless, you’ll encounter several timeless themes that undergird all the churches’ commitment to mission, regardless of their unique context or application. These are significant for the vision of a new leader, or the refreshment of an older one.
Doing one thing well. Surprisingly, Today’s All-Star Missions Churches is a quick read at only 176 pages, and works hard not to leave the reader completely overwhelmed. Being a sending church seems to demand excellence in almost countless categories: assessing, developing, commissioning, caring, partnering, giving, etc. And it thus appears possible only for large churches. Yet Telford shows over and over that all-star churches are doing their best holistically, but really thrive in one particular way, whether it’s missionary care, partnering with nationals, developing strategy, involving families, or casting a biblical foundation. He writes,
[Many] churches have found their particular skill in missions and are throwing their strength into doing that one thing well. We all can’t do everything. Some churches don’t have the manpower, staff, or financial resources to do what others can do. Thinking, however, that if they can’t do it all, they won’t do anything is not a good mindset for churches (149).
The one thing that churches do well is a divinely designed fit for them, so they thrive. And though they may be average in most sending elements, their excellence in one aspect seems to ignite passion and vision for Christ and his mission across the board.
So there’s the pitch. Pick it up this summer!