The beginning of a new year is an important time on the church calendar. If your church is like mine, as the years pass, well-meaning initiatives turn into traditions. Before you know it, you’ve spread yourself too thin. And while you may be doing many good things, you no longer have the time, money, or bandwidth for the main things.
With the new year comes the opportunity to take a fresh look at existing programs and procedures, and it is a natural time to introduce change. For many churches, the new year is the right time to reconsider your vision and rally your congregation toward a renewed sense of mission and purpose.
A fresh mission vision for the church is incomplete without a strong focus on making new disciples both near and far. Churches must be concerned with both their neighbors and the nations. Christ called us to nothing less. Healthy churches are involved at home and abroad, so an international missions strategy is an irreducible component to a proper missions vision.
“A fresh mission vision for the church is incomplete without a strong focus on making new disciples both near and far.”
The world is smaller than ever, and that means the nations are more accessible than ever. Just over two hundred years ago, William Carey reflected on the ease of reaching the nations.
“As to their distance from us, whatever objections might have been made on that account before the invention of the mariner’s compass, nothing can be alledged [sic] for it, with any colour of plausibility in the present age. Men can now sail with as much certainty through the Great South Sea, as they can through the Mediterranean, or any lesser Sea.”
If he could make such a statement to the churches of England back then, how much more true is it in a day when planes circle the globe in a matter of hours?
But the world is still a big place, and for the average church, getting involved in international missions can be a daunting task. Here are three specific steps to casting a fresh vision for international missions in your congregation this year.
1. Be a Water Hose, Not a Sprinkler
For a church with no clear international missions strategy, the temptation is usually to spread thin. Like a water sprinkler, we scatter our resources across the planet, sending a team here and giving a little money there.
Spreading your international missions involvement thin can lead to two frequent problems that undercut a vibrant missions vision in the local church. First, focusing everywhere usually means focusing nowhere. For a church to really communicate a vision for overseas missions to their congregation, it is helpful to have only a few specific places and peoples that are constantly set before them. Second, and more importantly, scattered mission trips can quickly become “missions tourism.” Before you know it, the trip may be more about the next exciting place than truly serving the ongoing mission. Advertising a new place each year may fill teams, but it does little for a long-term missions vision.
Instead, be a water hose. A hose shoots a single stream at a specific location. A hose has precision and range. If you want an international missions vision that compels people to long-term action, narrow that vision to only a few strategic partners. Think high commitment to a few instead of low commitment to many.
By doing so, you can dedicate more resources, focus, and become a real partner to the ongoing work in that area. Over time, your church will become part of the mission story for that place and those people. Short-term volunteers from your church will become regular faces in villages and city neighborhoods overseas, and deep impact can occur.
If you have missionaries from your church serving overseas, consider starting there. If not, organizations like the IMB can connect you to long-term field personnel for such a partnership.
2. Develop Care Teams for Your Missionaries
Sending missionaries is more than putting them on an airplane; it involves support. As your church forms specific partners on the field, develop care teams within your church to provide ongoing support to these missionaries.
Missionary care teams are an important piece of a fresh missions vision. They provide a vital service to your missionary partners. Separated from family, their home culture, and often the life-giving fellowship of a church, missionaries need close connections back to churches here in the United States.
Care teams also keep your congregation connected to the vision throughout the year. They function as advocates for their missionaries year-round, praying for their work and keeping others informed of the ongoing strategy overseas. These teams can meet regularly to hear updates from the missionaries, pray for them, and learn how to meet their needs. They will also serve as the liaisons for the missionaries to the rest of the congregation. Do not be surprised, though, when the care teams decide they need to go on a short-term trip to serve alongside their missionaries.
3. Reflect, Pray, and Do
Finally, a fresh vision for international missions is not complete without a steady call for church members to reflect, pray, and do when it comes to missions. Members must be called to regularly reflect on the work overseas. This is, of course, made much easier when a church has specific partnerships to communicate and care teams as advocates. In addition, pastors should highlight the missionary heart of the Bible and sprinkle their sermons with application that points toward the nations.
God’s heart for the nations is found in more places than the last chapter of Matthew, and we need to keep that vision in front of our congregation week after week. Teach your congregation to interpret world events in light of the Great Commission as well. When you do, immigration and turmoil in the Middle East will look completely different. And a newfound concern for faraway places will develop when you know your missionaries and church plants there.
Lead your congregation to pray for missionaries by name. Stay informed about the specific needs and events in the ongoing efforts of your partners, and keep them before the church. Develop a prayer resource for your congregation that prompts them to pray for specific people and needs throughout the year, including your international partners. Finally, call your congregation to action. You will be surprised by the desire that wells up when a congregation is presented with God’s work through his people across the world. Ask God to send some of your own. Then ask them too.
Keelan Cook leads the Peoples Next Door project and is a senior church consultant with the Union Baptist Association in Houston, Texas. He is working on a PhD in missiology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In previous years, he spent time as a church planter in West Africa and doing ethnographic research in Washington, DC.