“Before I came to London, I wondered: Why London? Now that I’ve been involved, I see the immigration and influence of London. I see the decline of Christianity in London. We need to go to the people of London.”
Sam Mann, a business professional in our church, shared these words with me after traveling to London with a group from our church. He had been to London many times for business, but he had never thought of London as a city for strategic mission. Over the last few years, Sam’s growing passion for God’s mission in London has persuaded other business professionals to join that mission.
As a missions pastor, one of the greatest lessons that I’ve learned is that churches need to offer multiple pathways for members to be on mission. If churches are going to impact London—or any other global city, for that matter—then we must go beyond one or two short-term mission trips every year that involve only a few people.
And, though we are thankful for their amazing work, it’s going to take more than a relative few IMB missionaries. We need to mobilize the whole body of Christ, encouraging people to leverage their God-given gifts, passions, and vocations to engage cities short-term, mid-term, and long-term.
Our church has decided to focus on a plan we call “Pathways to Impact” that sends out students, professionals, families, church planters, and retirees to be witnesses and disciple-makers in London.
As a missions pastor, one of the greatest lessons that I’ve learned is that churches need to offer multiple pathways for members to be on mission.
Once we embraced the vision for pathways, we began to ask what it would actually take to accomplish it. Here are three of the steps we are taking that may be helpful for you and your churches, as well:
1. We are promoting the pathways throughout the year.
In John 20:21, Jesus said: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (ESV). Jesus expects all of his followers to participate in the mission, and the church has the responsibility to communicate that expectation in passionate and creative ways throughout the year, not just missions emphasis times. In our church, we use Sunday gatherings, small groups, and social media to promote the pathways we are utilizing and encourage our members to make an eternal impact wherever they go locally and globally.
One of the primary ways that we promote our pathways is by publicly commissioning every mission team that we send. Because we believe that sending teams is a big deal, we commission them in our Sunday services. With each commissioning, team members stand on the stage and share why they are going, what they will be doing, and how we can pray for them. One of our pastors then leads the church in a time of prayer for them. Without question, commissioning teams throughout the year keeps the mission in front of the entire church and helps our members to see how their praying and giving enable others to go.
2. We are narrowing the focus of our church’s mission strategy.
There are so many good things that we can do in the world. But we’ve discovered that focusing on long-term partnerships with a few strategic cities (rather than short-term partnerships with many cities) fosters credibility and trust with the lost peoples and mission partners in those cities. As Bob Roberts has said, “It’s not on the first trip that you see any results. It’s on the return trips, when you’ve come back with help for the needs they identified, that trust and friendship are established. And that’s where kingdom impact is made.”
As a pastor, I need to model this strategic focus. When I went on my first mission trip to London in 2013, I connected with missionaries, local church leaders, city leaders, and lost people from all over the world. As soon as I returned home from my first trip, I knew that London needed to be a long-term focus for me; it was the only way I could cultivate relationships with the people I met. And the best way to lead my church was through my own example. Six trips later, God continues to strengthen my relationships with Londoners and use me in ways I never imagined.
3. We’re taking a step at a time.
When we made London part of our church’s global cities focus, our first step was to offer short-term mission trips that introduce students, professionals, families, church planters, and retirees to what God is doing in London. For example, one of our college students went on her first trip to London in 2015. God used that short-term trip to grow her love for the city. She was ready to take the next step in 2016, and our church sent her to London for the entire summer. As a church, we’re always asking the Lord what our next step in London is. And God is always faithful to show us exactly what He wants us to do next.
The mission can seem overwhelming and impossible, so we’re simply taking a step at a time as we trust in the God who makes all things possible.
Focusing on a global city is a long-term investment. The mission can seem overwhelming and impossible, so we’re simply taking a step at a time as we trust in the God who makes all things possible (Matthew 19:26). And thankfully, though we are ordinary servants, God plans to use us to make disciples and promises to be with us every step of the way (Matthew 28:19-20).
Michael O’Neal serves as Minister of Evangelism and Missions at First Baptist Church, Cumming, Georgia. He also serves as an adjunct professor for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (North Georgia Center). Michael and his wife, Carrie, have been married for sixteen years and have two sons. You can follow him on Twitter @tmichaeloneal.
IMB is also focusing on several global cities, including London, through the Global Cities Initiative. Learn about how you and your church can be involved.
You can also read more about marketplace workers here.