By Derick Sherfey
“Oh, so you’re the missions guy.”
If I had a buck for every time I’ve heard this the past few years in the church planting world as I’ve shared our vision of being a sending, global church from “Day 0,” my support raising goals would be a little less. Don’t get me wrong—most, if not all—of my fellow church planting brothers have right theological categories that include every tribe, language, and nation gathered around the throne worshipping King Jesus. And they all have “develop a global mission strategy” sketched away in a Moleskin somewhere, buried in all the other dreams of what will be as this church plant increasingly becomes more of a reality. It’s not that we don’t care about missions; it’s just that North American church planting can easily be lulled to sleep to think we are just recipients of the Great Commission ourselves and not active participants in it.
Most of us are planting in contexts that are overwhelmingly in vast need in every way— spiritually, economically, socially, emotionally. It’s hard. When a lot of churches are struggling to “make it,” it can almost seem arrogant to roll in with a vision to not just cultivate a church community in an unlikely place, but also to see a movement of multiplication through a church to all nations. Being a sending church looks good on a vision document, but in reality, we’re learning it is a lot more difficult to put into practice and seems like a faraway pipe dream to ever be like the churches who sent us. My limited experience is enough to know this isn’t just a church plant issue, but something most pastors feel regardless of location, size, or stage of church life.
It is good, right, and true to have a robust theology of seeking to see God’s kingdom come in our cities more than just trying to grow our church. It is necessary to relentlessly seek the flourishing of our local contexts and to plant deep roots that are committed to, as one author has put it, a “long obedience in the same direction”. There is more work than we’ll ever make a dent in within a mile or two of our front doors.
But even though obedience to Jesus is never less than a commitment to our cities, our clear mission means it must be more.
We’re convinced that missions and sending cannot just be something stowed away in our 3-5 year plan to implement after other things are more settled and established. Rather, it must be a sacrificial commitment and part of our culture from the very beginning. The Oaks Church is just getting started here in urban Denver, and we feel like we have more questions than we have answers. Even writing this feels a bit aspirational at best and deceptive at worst because of how poorly we’re doing this. We find comfort to be content, and motivation to keep going when we remember that stumbling—and sometimes only crawling—is still following Jesus. At the end of the day (and all the time), that’s really the only thing that ultimately matters: being with Jesus and joining him in what he is doing in the world.
So, friends, may our good God be “gracious to us and bless us and cause his face to shine upon us, so that his way may be known on earth, his saving power among all nations.” May church planters and core teams say with him from the very beginning, “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy!”
Derick Sherfey was Upstream’s former Director of Content Strategy. He now serves as the Lead Pastor of The Oaks Church in Denver, Colorado, and is married to Cayla. Prior to being sent out to plant churches he served over six years as one of the teaching pastors at Tri-Cities Baptist Church before becoming a church planting resident at Sojourn Community Church East.