If you’re a missions leader, then you’ve been stirred by the vision of Revelation 7:9: to see every tribe, tongue, and nation worshiping before the throne of God. This passion often begins in the Scriptures and then becomes deeply personal through an experience overseas like going on a short-term trip or serving as a long-term missionary. You’ve also likely realized that this same passion is not always shared by your fellow church members or the leadership of your church.
There are many reasons for this. It may be because of the ethnocentric culture we live in or the consumerism and materialism we get caught up in as Americans. A theological misunderstanding of God’s heart for the nations can also temper one’s excitement about global missions. The list can go on and on.
For church leaders, it’s rarely a theological misunderstanding that inhibits a passion for world missions; more often, it is the product of having a limited amount of time and having to focus on what is most urgent in their sphere. Lead pastors, elder teams, and staff are continually faced with: reaching the lost in their city; discipling those who are in their church; planning events; meeting the needs of a disgruntled member; settling theological or cultural disagreements; divisiveness in the church; and much more.
For many, global missions may just feel like another in a long list of responsibilities that they don’t feel equipped to take on and, therefore, would be better off avoiding.
Pastors, elder teams, and church staff are continually faced with an endless number of opportunities and needs. Some leaders struggle to maintain the emotional strength required to be effective in many of the areas mentioned above, and for something as “out of sight and out of mind” as global missions, that feeling is often magnified. For many, global missions may just feel like another in a long list of responsibilities that they don’t feel equipped to take on and, therefore, would be better off avoiding.
As a missions leader, you have likely experienced a time of great passion, joy, and optimism about how God wants to use you and your church to impact the world with the gospel. You have gotten passionate about a mobilization strategy, a training, a conference, an overseas family, or a place. And your passion has led you to have some incredible God dreams. You envision church members going overseas on short-term trips, serving as long-term goers, or returning as Sent Ones who want to use their missions experience to influence your church. Perhaps you have even believed that you will see the Great Commission fulfilled in your lifetime, in part, because of how God has used you and your ministry.
While I hope many of you have been able to see your vision come to fruition, I suspect that more of you have experienced your ideas getting modified or possibly even crushed. If you haven’t experienced this yet, I promise you, you will experience this in your life as a missions leader. While that may sound pessimistic, it is common for leaders in all areas of the church to experience their goals and dreams being crushed. I have found that this is especially true for those championing the cause of global missions in churches.
It is good, however, to remember that we are not the only ones in history who have experienced this. Listen to what one church leader said to William Carey in 1786 about the prospect of going overseas:
“Young man, sit down, sit down!” was the reported response of one minister. “You are an enthusiast. When God pleases to convert the heathen, he'll do it without consulting you or me.”
Or what Jon Patton was told regarding his call to go to the New Hebrides Islands:
Among many who sought to deter me, was one dear old Christian gentleman, whose crowning argument always was, "The cannibals! you will be eaten by cannibals!" At last I replied, "Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honouring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or by worms."
These guys faced dream-crushers, but, thankfully, they did not let their discouraging words get to them. In 1793, William Carey moved to Calcutta, India, to begin his mission work that would last until his death in 1834. Jon Patton went to the New Hebrides Islands in 1858, where he did encounter cannibals, and devoted his life to bringing them the gospel. Today, the New Hebrides people are no longer cannibals, and they have a worldview that is predominantly Christian.
“Let us not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up.” - Galatians 6:9
This is a passage modeled to us by the disciples and the heroes of the faith throughout the centuries, but its exhortation is easier said than done. In the remainder of this blog, I want to give you some advice for not growing tired of doing the good God has called you to do and to continue on, even when your dreams get crushed.
Remember – Remember that Jesus fulfilled all righteousness on your behalf; therefore, his power is available to help you continue on when you feel like you don’t have what it takes to keep going. God is in love with you because of Jesus, not because of what you accomplish.
Calling – Go back to your calling to global missions. Think back to the passages of Scripture that opened your eyes to God’s heart for the nations, and consider your unique passions, abilities, and opportunities that led you to this role. Remembering your calling is an important motivator for persevering.
Empathize – Take on the perspective of your leadership. Consider the things they have to think about and deal with before condemning the decisions they made that resulted in your dreams being crushed.
Look Inward before Outward – Remember to ask how you can improve—and ask your leaders how you can improve—before you place the blame on them. Focus on what you can control—your actions and reactions—instead of what you can’t control.
Prioritize the Local Church – Global missions is important, but it’s not the only thing in the life of the local church. Be a servant to your lead pastor, elders, and staff in arenas other than global missions.
Lead Up – Be careful not to move forward faster than what your leadership is ready for. You will spare yourself a lot of heartache and wasted energy if you take leadership along with you in the journey of forming what you dream, rather than sharing it with them after you have constructed it all.
Remember – Remember that God is sovereign, and he will accomplish his will. We don’t have to defend God or bring him justice—he will make his name great among the nations.
We don’t have to defend God or bring him justice—he will make his name great among the nations.
The Upstream team has written an article titled “Leading Up” in which we walk through the above bullet points in depth and give specific ways that you can learn to lead up in each of these areas.
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.