I’m not brave enough to be a missionary. I can tell you right now that I don’t have what it takes. But in the same breath, I can name twenty people who have watched me grow, encouraged me in my faith, and pushed me to continue in God’s will. They believe I’m capable of accomplishing God’s frightening, unexpected, and wild plan for my life. Those people are from my home church, and they helped me become the missionary I am today.
The role of a sending church cannot be understated. Many think that the call to missions is for individuals or families. But the church can establish a foundation of love for Christ and fellow believers, a compassion for the nations, and can nurture the belief that our potential to follow God’s call is only limited by our fear. The local church should also understand that the responsibility of grooming missionaries to be biblical and unifying church representatives rests largely on their shoulders.
“The responsibility of grooming missionaries to be biblical and unifying church representatives rests largely on the shoulders of local churches.”
As I reflect on how my church family shaped who I am and how I minister, I’d like to thank my church family for a few things.
Thank You for Having a Sense of Humor
What I miss most since moving to a country where I don’t know a soul is laughing. I laugh around my new friends, but there’s something about being in a group of friends that you’ve known your whole life and just laughing until you can’t breathe. That kind of laughter is reserved for people who love you unconditionally.
Not only can I laugh at my home church, but my home church can laugh at itself. I’ve found that people who don’t sincerely laugh at themselves or their situation are prone to pride and control issues that attack their ministry or the ministry of those around them. Without laughter, our spirits can become dry, and we’re more likely to be crushed by culture, pride, or the need for control.
For me, humor keeps things in perspective and reminds me that God is in control and that I am only who he makes me (Prov. 17:22).
Thank You for Supporting Me from a Young Age
When you’ve known someone since they were five, it might be easy to only see them as a little kid and to be blinded to their potential, capabilities, or even spiritual giftings. But in my church family, no one ever told me I wasn’t capable. I taught my first Sunday school lesson when I was in eighth grade. We weren’t short on good teachers, but I was curious to know if I could do it, and my teacher let me.
When I joined the college group, we didn’t have a college minister, so each of the students took turns teaching the class. I cannot begin to describe how our faith and knowledge of the Bible grew during the four years we taught and learned together. Together, we learned how to lead, not only a Bible study but also a growing ministry.
Many people struggle when they get to the mission field because they don’t know where or how to start a new ministry. Sometimes they don’t have the confidence to step up and do the task to which God has called them. Training and letting younger church members lead is the responsibility of the local church. It’s not always easy and there are always lessons to be learned, but what you teach in the safety of your church family affects the future of the local church and, effectively, the global church (Prov. 22:6).
Thank You for Disciplining Me
For all the love and support I felt growing up, I also had my fair share of reprimand. Like any good family, my church family knows the value of discipline. As my husband and I started the application to join IMB, our pastor was there to encourage us along the way. But when he saw us mishandle a situation in the church, he lovingly came to our home and discussed it with us. He told us that in ministry, we must live above reproach and that our attitude and actions were unhealthy.
He took the time to have a hard conversation with us that helped shape how we view our responsibilities in ministry and as Christians, for which we are very thankful (Heb. 12:7, 11).
The mission field is full of imperfect people. With all our effort, we still depend on others to help us become more Christ-like.
Learning to accept critique and discipline isn’t inherent, it must be developed. Developing that skill is best done in the security of a loving church, not under the cultural pressure of living in a new country and under the watchful eye of people looking to you as their only example of Christ. Church families have a responsibility to disciple young members in all areas and have the courage to discipline actions or attitudes that aren’t biblical or unifying.
Thank You for Being Unified
Before I moved to Europe, I attended the same church for more than twenty years. I never experienced a church split, a dangerously heated business meeting, or a fight between deacons.
It wasn’t until I joined the mission field and heard from other Southern Baptists that I realized how rare that was.
My church family was made up of imperfect individuals who weren’t afraid to speak their minds. But we also knew when to submit humbly to leadership or to each other for the sake of the family. We didn’t always agree on everything, but we stuck together because we loved each other as the body of Christ, because that’s what Christ called us to do (John 17).
Isn’t that what church should be—a place where people come together in unity (Rom. 12:16; Eph. 4:11–13; John 17:23)?
“Unity is so rare in the world that it’s a powerful testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit alive in Christ-followers.”
These verses explain that unity is rare apart from the power of the Spirit. Unity is so rare in the world that it’s a powerful testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit alive in Christ-followers. As a church family, it’s our job to be unified. Our witness depends on it. Loyalty to the body of Christ and a spirit of unity is an essential commodity on the mission field. I am so thankful my church family emphasized its importance.
Thank You for Being There When I Get Home
It’s been three years since I left, but I still tear up nearly every Sunday when I think about my church family thousands of miles away. I know I’m where God wants me and I won’t leave until God tells me to. But I also know that I wouldn’t be the missionary God wants me to be if it weren’t for the lessons that I learned from those people I miss the most: my church family.
Samantha Conners is a writer for IMB. She serves in Europe with her family.