The Antioch church in the Book of Acts is often pointed to as the church to emulate. Antioch was filled with believers who were fully engaged in God’s mission. And while it may be admirable to strive to become an Antioch type of church, how can you know for sure whether your church is fully “on mission?”
To start, I believe that Antioch wasn’t a church that just had missions activity—as if missions was just one among many optional things to do in the church. Rather, Antioch had a missions identity. They commissioned the very first missionary journey recorded in the New Testament. Scripture says that the people were well-taught and lived such Christlike lives that “the disciples were first called Christians” there (Acts 11:25–26 ESV). In other words, the mission-focused living, prayer, effort, giving, and sending (Acts 11:29–30) at Antioch were expressions of what the church was at its very core (see also Acts 13:1–3).
Three Basic Approaches to Mission
Some churches today wait passively for missionaries to rise up or come seeking support. These churches see their involvement in missions as, primarily, financially supporting the missionaries. Other churches take more direct ownership in the sending process and intentionally train up and send out their own people.
A step further, though, is the growing trend in this current era of missions toward embracing the reality that the mission is not only for missionaries who are sent out around the globe but for every follower of Christ in the local church.
The first two approaches focus primarily on the missionary while the third approach focuses on the full development and health of the whole church—every member. This makes a world of difference.
There’s a saying among missiologists that goes something like: “God’s church doesn’t have a mission. Rather, God’s mission has a church.” I couldn’t agree more. Global missions is every local church’s reason for existence. Therefore, a truly mature local church engages every believer in God’s global mission to some degree—whether it’s praying, giving, going, or sending.
“Global missions is every local church’s reason for existence. Therefore, a truly mature local church engages every believer in God’s global mission to some degree.”
To that end, here are six traits of mature, mobilized churches to which every church should aspire.
1. Mature churches inspire their people
A robust understanding of every Christian’s identity and how it affects his or her role in missions begins in the pulpit. Church leaders must inspire their people with biblical teaching as the basis of missions. Teaching must also lead to faith-driven action. Andrew Hebert, lead pastor of Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas, recently shared with me, “If pastors would take bigger risks in their own faith, the faith of their members would be stretched.” So, pastors must inspire their churches by what they teach about missions and by how they live an “on mission” identity.
2. Mature churches equip their people
Inspiration alone doesn’t produce good disciples. Intentional equipping is the key to moving from enthusiasm to effectiveness in mission. Equipping includes basic discipleship but also instruction in missions history, training in sound missiology, and hands-on experience—ideally through short-term trips that are planned and carried out in coordination with partners on the field. Furthermore, mature churches focus their equipping simultaneously on four broad commitments: praying, giving, going, and sending. Excellent training resources exist at IMB to help churches fulfill this essential task of equipping their people.
3. Mature churches prompt their people to pray
Jesus tied the provision of laborers in the harvest to whether his followers would “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:38 ESV). Therefore, mature churches disciple men, women, and children to consistently pray for the nations. This quote from The Hour That Changes The World sums it up well: “Every step in the progress of missions is directly traceable to prayer” (Dick Eastman, The Hour That Changes The World, p. 74).
If you want a fully engaged church, don’t skip, minimize, or assume prayer. Wesley Duewel wrote, “God’s cause creeps forward timidly and slowly when there are more organizers than agonizers, more workers than prevailing prayer warriors” (Mighty Prevailing Prayer, p. 290). Simply put, we must pray.
4. Mature churches challenge their people to give sacrificially
Giving is the normal response of a disciple’s heart. After all, as Matthew 6:21 reminds us, our hearts reveal what we treasure. I recently heard Grant Etheridge of Liberty Baptist Church in Hampton Roads, Virginia, in a sermon series on generosity. He stated, “We want something for you, not from you, ”referring to generosity and the freedom it brings from being owned by one’s possessions. Generosity is a mark of a happy Christ follower and a mature disciple.
Andrew Hebert—again of Paramount Baptist—emphasized the importance of a leader dreaming big. “[P]art of my heartbeat for missions was that not only we would go, not only that we would pray, but that we would give big. . . . Our desire is to leverage our resources for God’s global mission” (SBTC Texan Online, p. 14). Generosity is a sign of life among disciples. Pastors must challenge people to give generously.
5. Mature churches provide opportunities to go and partner short-term
Well-planned short-term trips that are tied to long-term partnerships with career missionaries boost mission efforts. They not only encourage missionaries on the field, but they also provide meaningful ministry and training experiences for your people. By “well-planned” we mean that serving on location is entered into with intentionality. In other words, the experienced missionary team serving on the field sets the strategy so that short-term teams help to accomplish that end. This is healthy, intentional partnership.
6. Mature churches send their people mid-term and long-term
As momentum builds in the five traits above, God may lead some of your members to plant their lives for longer terms cross-culturally. Sending is not just launching people to live internationally. It also includes nurturing, supporting, and partnering with those sent.
Fully mobilizing a church leads to creating a pipeline through which disciples will be sent to their community and to the nations as a normal activity born out of missions identity. Establishing the foundation of inspiration, equipping, praying, giving, and going results in a culture in which sending is expected and experienced. Lead your church to send well.
To what end?
The desired end is to accomplish the missionary task. IMB has carefully defined the missionary task as being comprised of these six components: (1) enter a people group, (2) evangelize, (3) disciple believers, (4) plant healthy churches, and (5) develop leaders from within those churches so that full-time vocational missionaries are then able to (6) exit well. We’re finding that partner churches sharing this same understanding of the missionary task are best positioned to form healthy, long-term partnerships with IMB teams because we’re in complete agreement about what we’re all trying to accomplish together. And that’s critical.
So, inspire and equip your church to pray, give, go, and send. As your membership grows in the six traits above, may you know the joy of being what God calls you to be—a people who understand their mission identity and who are actively on mission with God as he makes his glory known among the nations.
D. Ray Davis serves on the mobilization team at IMB. He and his family previously served among Sub-Saharan African Peoples. You can follow him on Twitter at @DRayDavis.
Editor’s note: the mission of IMB’s Mobilization Team is to inspire and equip Southern Baptists to be involved in global missions through praying, giving, going, and sending.