top of page

The Importance of Local International Ministry in Mobilization

As missions leaders, we work hard to get our people overseas on short-term trips and as long-term missionaries. This is an awesome endeavor. However, with a growing international and refugee population in our cities, we need to ask the question, “Why are we working so hard to send people to the nations when the nations are in our backyard?”

In the month of May, we are going to focus on ways to involve the entire church in global missions. One of the best ways to do this is through local outreach to internationals and refugees. And since we are finishing up our series on mobilization, we wanted to talk about the value of local ministry toward internationals and refugees in mobilizing our people to long-term missions.

As we assess potential Sent Ones in my church, we are looking for qualities specific to global ministry: faithfulness when ministry is hard; flexibility when the schedule or situation changes; the ability to adeptly speak the message of the gospel cross-culturally; etc. While we can assess how most of our church members are doing at reaching people within their own culture by observing their participation in the normal rhythms of the church, it’s more difficult to discern how they will do at reaching another culture once they’re living overseas. How can missions leaders get a view into their ability to meaningfully engage the lost with the gospel in a cross-cultural setting?

Providing opportunities to be involved in international and refugee ministry can be of great help in your identification, assessment, and development of potential Sent Ones. We have made it a borderline requirement at our church that those aspiring to minister overseas be involved in some kind of international ministry before they are sent. Here are some of the reasons why:

  1. It gives them the opportunity to see if this kind of ministry is life-giving. Global missions often draws in those who have a romantic view of global missions and are looking to do something radical with their life, but we know that thriving in missions requires much more than that. Those aspiring to go overseas need to have an opportunity to discern if doing the most important part of their work—sharing the gospel cross-culturally—is something that actually fits their calling and gifting. Being involved in international and refugee ministry provides that opportunity.

  2. International and refugee ministry also gives the church the opportunity to discern the quality of faithfulness in a potential Sent One. If they are able to make the transition from fruitful same-culture ministry to a more challenging cross-cultural ministry without getting discouraged and quitting, then they’ve given you a good indication of their overseas readiness. Conversely, if they flake out, then it should serve as a warning sign that this might not be the right pathway for them. They may be stellar at doing evangelism, leading Bible studies, preaching in our churches, and even going on short-term trips, but there is something about the daily, weekly, and monthly grind of trying to balance work/school while meaningfully ministering to internationals that helps us see how those we’re considering sending will handle life and ministry overseas.

We can never expect someone to do in another culture what they are not already doing in their home culture.

In the end, there is no “plane transformation” that occurs when people move overseas. They can change their location, but their sins, strengths, and weaknesses won’t change. We can never expect someone to do in another culture what they are not already doing in their home culture. International ministry gives us one of the best opportunities to observe and develop the character traits and skills that are necessary in those we want to send overseas.


Mike Ironside is Missions Pastor at Cornerstone Church in Ames, Iowa. He has served on staff with Cornerstone since 2006 in varying roles–from college ministry to pastoral staff to being an overseas missionary sent from Cornerstone for two years. Mike is the Director of Cohorts and Content for the Upstream Collective. He also serves as Chairman of the Board for Campus to Campus, a missions organization dedicated to getting US college students connected to church-planting movements among college students worldwide.

1 Comment

For anyone who is serious...or just curious...about working with internationals among us, ERI's book, INTERNATIONALS WHO LIVE AMONG US, is a top resource! (

bottom of page