Imagine moving into a new house. After getting your stuff situated you go about organizing, cleaning, and landscaping the yard. As time progresses the grass is looking good, you have flowers in planters, and even a swing set for the kids. But casting a shadow on all of it is the neighbor’s fence. It’s old, leaning heavily into your yard and in desperate need of paint. A month passes, then a couple more. After a year the fence is only looking worse. You see your neighbor from time to time and struggle with angry thoughts. Your neighbor never mentions it, never even acknowledges it, and to your chagrin never does anything about it. Finally one day you’re fed up. A board falls out of the fence and lands on your petunia. So you march over to your neighbor and let him have it. When your done, your somewhat bewildered neighbor replies: “That’s your fence bud. Completely on your property. It has nothing to do with me. It’s your job.”
I have recently felt the shock that such a homeowner must experience. But not with my house. With missions. In talking with mobilizers at our agency I have seen the difficult and diligent efforts that they put out to seek out, train up, equip, and send off new missionaries. But I have now realized, with the help of a book I have recently read, that all of their efforts are in a sense to do a job that is not theirs. Mobilization and equipping of missionaries is actually not the job of missions agencies. It is the job of the local church.
It is the Job of the Local Church to Mobilize Missionaries
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry…” Ephesians 4:11-1.
It is not the job of the church leadership to do all the ministry, nor to have their hands in all the comings-and-goings in the local church. It is the job of the church leadership to train up the congregation to do the work themselves. It is the job of the evangelist to train the congregants how to evangelize. It is the job of the teacher to train church members how to teach. It is the job of the shepherds to teach church members how to become shepherds themselves, in whatever capacity God has them in. With this “equipper” mentality, the congregation will then be able to go out themselves, independent of the church, to do the work of the ministry.
I think this idea can be illustrated through parenting. The parents who clean up after their children will not have children who know how to be responsible and care for themselves. However, the parents who teach and train their children how to clean up after themselves will, theoretically, have children who are responsible. The parents who pour their time into equipping and training will have children who are ready to leave the home.
It is the same way with the church. If it is always the church leadership doing everything for the congregation, the congregation will never be ready to leave the church to go out and make disciples of all nations. I propose that church leaders see themselves as “equippers” or “trainers” as opposed to those who do all the work of the ministry themselves.
As mentioned above, I recently read a book called Senders by Paul Seger, who is a director of a missions agency called Biblical Ministries Worldwide. In this book, he says that their agency has identified 16 skills that each missionary should possess. They are:
- Time management
- Exegetical skills
- Finances (personal and church)
- People skills
- Language aptitude
- Cultural awareness and sensitivity
- Computer skills
- Strategic planning
- Conflict resolution
- Writing skills
He recommends that potential missionaries be trained within the context of the local church in these domains and then come to the agency with this skill-set (this can be done by “outsourcing” to various schools, etc). Within the context of the local church, there are certainly people who could help train potential missionaries how to improve in time management skills, how to grow in their writing or speaking ability, and even how to drive a stick-shift. By combining forces within the local church, we could send out missionaries that are set up to thrive on the field. Just as a good parent wants to see their child with a certain skill-set before they leave the home, so a local body should want to see their missionaries equipped with these skills before they leave for the field.
Seger shares the story of when he was talking to a pastor who voiced some hesitancy to let missionaries fill his pulpit. The pastor said that he felt like they were not equipped to speak to large audiences. The author says that he asked the pastor, “Who is to blame for the fact that missionaries are often not good preachers?” The pastor just started at him blankly. Seger went on to say that it could be the fault of the sending church that the missionary can’t preach. It is the job of the local church to equip and if a sent one is poorly equipped the blame is shared. Ill-equipped missionaries may have some growing to do, but so do their sending churches.
Seger says it well when he says:
The accountability and family life of a local church provide custom-built opportunities for advancing sanctification. The church provides life-on-life relationships, struggling through situations together in real time. It must be a deliberate and planned part of the whole training process. No one can do the heart and hands like a local church (91).
A Call for the Local Church to Sacrifice
I was at a missions conference in San Diego where someone asked a former missionary, now missionary trainer, how the local church could support missions. He responded by saying that he wanted to see the senders make as great a sacrifice for the cause as the goers. The sacrifice of those who go is expected: snakes, bugs, heat, selling all they own, taking on discomfort for the sake of the gospel.
I suggest the following to local churches all across the nation in order to do the job of mobilizing missionaries:
- Put it on the table. In elders meetings, in seminaries, in small groups, at pastors conferences, ask the question, “How can we as the local church do a better job mobilizing missionaries?” “What steps does our church need to take in order to give people a passion for missions?” “Who among our congregation do you think would make a good missionary?” “How can we get the youth and children thinking about missions?”
- Talk to churches who identify, train and deploy well. There are churches who do an excellent job of engraving into the hearts of their people the importance of missions. The result is that they send out missionaries and unreached people groups are hearing of Christ. Talk to their leaders and ask them what they are doing to get their people there (we can provide contacts in these churches like these upon request).
- Read Senders: How your Church Can Identify, Train and Deploy Missionaries by Paul Seger. This book is very practical and is a good introduction in how to mobilize missionaries from your church body. In it, he lists specific ways to pray for missionaries, how to view the financial side of sending missionaries, the role of theological institutions, the role of the mission agency, and he gives a defense for why the church should “bother” at all with the task of winning the nations. This book is easy to read and would be an asset to any church.
- Do the Ask. Church leaders and lay people alike should be looking across the living room in small groups and asking themselves “Would that brother/sister be a good missionary?” If the answer is yes, then approach him or her and do the ask, “Would you consider serving overseas as a missionary?” Find the high school teacher and ask if they would consider teaching missionary kids overseas. Chat with the engineer or mathematician and see if they would consider analyzing an unwritten language for the purpose of Bible translation. See if your doctor friend would be willing to serve the undeserved overseas. Approach your pastoral staff and see if one out of the five elders would consider planting a church overseas. Most people will not consider missions unless someone places the idea right in their lap.
All pastors want to see their people grow in godliness and I propose that how one grows in godliness is not by focusing within but instead without. Regular times of prayer in churches for those who do not know Christ in our neighborhoods and overseas are what grow our people. Sending our missionaries from within the congregation and seeing their faithfulness and the fruit of their labors will cause the body to rejoice in what Christ rejoices in. Giving sacrificially for the cause means that our congregation will not be lovers of money. Working to deploy missionaries from within is not in conflict with the health of the local churches, it is a fuel that the local church needs to grow in passion for the Lord and for the lost.
* This is a subtitle to the book Senders: How your Church can Identify, Train and Deploy Missionaries by Paul Seger.