My interest in watching golf tournaments on television depends on two factors. First, if it’s the Masters Tournament, I will watch every round, as I can. The Masters stands out in my mind as the most sensational golf event of the year. Second, if it’s an event in which Webb Simpson is playing, I watch with a stake in the game since he’s from my hometown.
Churches seem to operate in the same manner—the factors that motivate people are either sensational or relational. Sensational events can compel people to take an active interest. But in my experience, churches that are strongest in missions have strong relational ties with missionaries.
Moving videos, exciting speakers, stirring projects, and convicting sermons can stir the missions engagement of a church. But few things have more impact than being connected with people who already live and love missions. Zeal for missions spreads through close contact with others who already have it.
Few things have more impact than being connected with people who already live and love missions. Zeal for missions spreads through contact with others who already have it.
Here are few of the relational characteristics I have observed among those local churches with a strong disciple-making culture:
Strong Personal Relationships Among the People
Disciple-making starts with a personal relationship. Someone loves you and wants to invest himself in helping you love Jesus and grow to maturity in him. In my early years following Christ, faithful preaching of the Word of God anchored my faith. But until my faith became personal and relational, a certain formality kept the Lord at a bit of a distance. When I met others who demonstrated the love of Christ in godly friendships, my faith came alive. These friends walked in a manner worthy of Christ, and I joined them on that path.
Close Personal Ties with Missionaries
It’s hard to feel connected with just a name on a prayer calendar. Because the majority of the 40,000 or so Southern Baptist churches never send a missionary, there may be millions who have never actually met a missionary in person. Interest in missions comes alive when Christians get to personally know and love missionaries.
When they become friends, church members personally care about them and what they are doing on the mission field. Compassion and financial support also grow stronger when there is a relational stake involved. The development of a global disciple-making mindset happens best in the context of a personal relationship with someone who is a missionary.
The development of a global disciple-making mindset happens best in the context of a personal relationship with someone who is a missionary.
A Culture of Specific Prayer for Missionaries
Improved travel and communication now make it possible to meet Christian leaders from other nations and cultures. Once those relationships grow, you can no longer just hear about missions challenges in the Middle East without wondering about your friend(s) there. Armies marching into eastern Ukraine and violence on the streets of Kiev capture your heart because you wait to hear how it impacted others you know. When a tragedy hits India, you cannot rest until you learn about the impact on someone you know there.
And on it goes. The news comes alive, and the desperate need for the gospel hits home. You know people there and it matters. When missionaries become your friends and extended members of your own family, what happens in their part of the world captures your attention and informs your prayers.
Modern communication allows relationships to develop in ways that have never been possible before. Once, prayer lists and maps were the only connection we had with nameless, faceless people we did not or could not know. Now, stories from the field come to us rapidly on social media, drawing us into closer connection with spiritual brothers and sisters who are actively spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations.
But watch out. Once you start rubbing shoulders with global disciple-makers, their passion can be contagious. You may discover that those relationships could lead to pathways for you to join them!
David Horner serves as the Executive Director for Equipped for Life, a ministry established to train men and women to grow in Christ and learn to excel in their ministry callings. For over thirty years he has traveled the world to equip and support national pastors for effective gospel ministry.