The Pastor As Initiator in Missions
Note: This is the sixth of seven articles on becoming a sending church that started with “Cancel the Missions Program”.
A previous post (Pushing Dominoes 8/16/17) used the metaphor of falling dominoes for preparing and sending out a missionary and the first person who could push a domino to start the process is the family. Another way to look at Romans 10 sequence is as a chain reaction that is started by a single event or person. In the church, that key person must be the pastor of the church. Unless the leadership team of the church has a driving desire for reproducing themselves, the church will struggle to become a sending church. Leadership is critical to this process. The pulpit that is silent about the Great Commission will signal a lack of priority. It is rather difficult to persuade others that something is important if a pastor rarely mentions it.
The process is rather simple. Step #1 is to simply decide if sending people from your own congregation to the mission field is something you want to do. Step #2 is to over-communicate and strategize for that vision.
There are many reasons why leaders may not want to take Step #1. There is a price that the local church will pay to send their own. Imagine what that first Sunday would have been like after Paul and Barnabas left Antioch for the mission field (Acts 13). They had just given up two of their main theologians, expositors, mentors and donors. What if Paul and Barnabas were members of your church and one of your leaders. How ready would you be to send them away? It is incredibly generous for a church to give of their best.
There is no question that sending missionaries from your church will hurt. It will drain the budget. It will leave a leadership vacuum. It will mean others have to be trained to fill the slots left vacant. It seems self-defeating to send your best to the mission field. Most churches aspire to have more leaders, not less, so why release them to work somewhere else? Most churches highly value the key leaders they have and it doesn’t make sense to send them away. It is obvious that finances and manpower will evaporate. This seems like cutting off your own hand. So the first step is simply a decision… a tough decision. Though it seems painful, it is uncanny that Pastors who decide to do this tend to see missionaries emerge from the congregation. Those who don’t have this goal, rarely see missionaries launch from their church.
If the church is not Great Commission-oriented, it might be good to look to the pastor, elders, and deacons. What if we took a poll of everyone in your church and asked, “What is your pastor’s top priority for the church?” If the answer doesn’t include something about Acts 1:8, then the missing link could be the pastor. A church will not produce missionaries unless the pastor has a hunger to do this. If the congregation doesn’t know this is a driving force for the pastor, it is not yet a passion. . . it is not a priority.
In the book “Gaining by Losing,” author J. D. Greear argues that the future belongs to churches that send. Chapter 9 is entitled “Your Church Doesn’t Need a Missions Pastor.” The guiding principle of their church is “every pastor is our missions pastor.” Unless the pastor has the mission as his driving force, it probably will not be evident in the congregation. That means the pastor must be a loud voice about the cause. Greear further says: “Vision needs heat, not just light. If light is the brilliance of the idea, heat is the energy the leader puts behind spreading that idea. You not only have to articulate your vision well; you have to repeat it a lot.” He calls for “repetition, ad nauseum.”
He further indicates that the Great Commission must be infused into the DNA of the church by mention in every message, by the decorations in the building, by connecting the offering to missions, by including it in the baptismal confession, by missionary testimonials, and even in the way they end every service as they send people out. Ultimately the pastor is a key to launching missionaries from your church.
Sending your own will require a paradigm shift in several ways. The budget will change and the church should look differently at the position of a missionary. Pastor Bob Alderman of Shenandoah Baptist Church writes the following scenario:
Let me paint a scenario for you in which to frame the question. Consider two young people who grow up in the same local church. Both are taught missions, and both are aware of the significance of being a part of a mission-minded church. Both prosper in Christian nurture, growth, and service. Both attend the same highly-approved Bible college and seminary. During the time of their education, one student senses the call to go into cross-cultural ministry, and he prepares for that type of ministry. The other student senses the call to prepare for a hometown pastoral ministry and does so. They both graduate at the same time and call their church pastor for advice and counsel as to the next steps. Here is where the story changes: To the person preparing for hometown ministry, the pastor says, “We are so glad to hear that you have been called to this ministry. We’re sending you a check to cover your moving expenses. We have an office for you. Your salary will be as we have discussed; plus, you will have the same benefits package as the rest of the staff. Welcome to the ministry.” To the person preparing for a cross-cultural ministry, the pastor says, “We are so glad to hear that you have been called to this ministry. You will need to select a mission board to help you raise prayer and financial support. When you have selected a field, please contact us, and we will do our best to have you speak to our congregation about the work to which God has called you. We wish you every success and will be praying for you. Welcome to the ministry.”
The sending church should view missionaries are part of the staff who are simply doing their ministry “over there” instead of on the church property. This kind of church looks at missionaries as an integral part of the leadership team. Since they emerged from your church there should be great confidence in their ability to accomplish the task and great trust to know they can do it. Send them.
Another paradigm shift might be the “missions conference.” This is not to suggest we discard the conference but using those terms does tend to reinforce the concept that this is just one more program. The conference typically features a few people who travel overseas to do ministry. What if instead we had an annual conference on THE mission? The focus would shift to everyone in the church to evaluate if are they are on mission. It could be a time to re-focus and re-align the church. It would ensure that when we report to Christ at the Bema, we have done the things that He asked us to do.