You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth. 3 John 6-8, ESV
When I first became a missions pastor in 2000, I knew immediately what I wanted to do. Drawing from my own experience living as a missionary in Russia, I wanted to lead a church to not only send missionaries, but also to go with them as full partners. A church that was not just mission-minded, but one that worked alongside their sent ones and was an active part of helping reach people with the gospel.
The opportunity to implement this idea came right away when our church adopted a people group in Africa. Shortly thereafter, we sent a couple from our church to work with our adopted people, among whom were no known believers. Since this journey began, we’ve worked in many places, and we’ve made mistakes.
The Bible places the task of reaching the unreached squarely on the church, which means we cannot pass it off solely to a para-church group or a missions agency.
Through our mistakes, we’ve learned what it takes to be a church that not only sends people out, but also stays the course. The church owns the responsibility of reaching the nations, and it cannot be achieved unless we both send and go well. The following are four of the key components that have helped us not only be a better sending church, but also go well with those we send.
1. Long Term Strategic Engagement
Our church is unequivocally in this for the long haul. We are committed to both those we send and the people to whom we send until a self-replicating church is planted among them. The Bible places the task of reaching the unreached squarely on the church, which means we cannot pass it off solely to a para-church group or a missions agency. The church is as much a part of the team that is reaching people as the missionaries on the field.
By making a long-term commitment to a particular people and place, we are positioned to be among them, even long after our missionaries leave. In fact, the original missionaries we sent out are no longer working among our adopted people, yet our church is still working with other missionaries who have answered the call to work among them. We are fully committed to them, long-term.
2. Missionary Support Teams
Before missionaries leave for the field, we work with them to develop a missionary support team, which is comprised of lay people in our church who act as a support for them in their ministry. This teams acts as a conduit of communication to both the staff and the congregation. It also plans trips, helps develop strategy ideas with the field, and provides love, prayer, and emotional support.
When there is a need, the support team is the first to know. These are important teams, so we offer them training in mission strategies so that they can be on the same page as our missionaries. The connection between our local church and missionaries on the field is absolutely dependent upon these teams.
3. Training Our Young People
We seek to build sending church DNA into our congregation at an early age. One of the ways we have done this is through training juniors and seniors in high school for a full year. They learn the biblical basis of missions and the same strategies our missionaries do. From the beginning, the idea that the church is the sending agency is engrained in them.
When the pastor and staff understand and communicate that God has given the church the primary responsibility for carrying out the great commission, amazing things happen.
At the end of the training, we take the entire group to work among unreached peoples in Africa, during which time they are able to put into practice what they have learned. They are required to do everything for themselves on the trip. They shop for food, prepare meals, clean up, and plan all of the activities.
The hands-on experience allows the students to glimpse what it is like to live in a cross-cultural setting. Even if they never become traditional long-term missionaries, they will be well-trained, with a clear understanding of what it takes to be a healthy sending church. Even if they leave our congregation after graduation, our prayer is that they will take what they have learned to their new churches and help them be healthy sending churches, as well.
4. All-Staff Engagement
We have found over the years that when the pastor and staff understand and communicate that God has given the church the primary responsibility for carrying out the great commission, amazing things happen. Everyone in the body of Christ has a role to play in order to see people from every tribe and nation around the throne worshipping the king as seen in Revelation 5:9.
Whether it is the children’s ministry, student ministry, worship ministry, or anything else in between, all play a vital part in helping a given church catch the vision of sending and preparing many to go. Church leaders play a key role in moving their churches this direction. If church leaders do not buy in, neither do the people they are leading. We must lead our churches to both send and go well.
Ken McLemore has served as the Missions Pastor at Liberty Baptist for the past 17 years. He can be found on twitter @nationsone.
On March 1, IMB will celebrate with Southern Baptists all over the country the sending out of our newest missionaries to peoples and places around the world. You and your churches can join in the celebration, either live, if you are in or around Richmond, or via Livestream around the world. Gather into small groups or watch it together as a church. Here is a quick preview of what you’ll experience when you join in the celebration: