I wish I could say that I’ve always recognized the significance of the role my local church played in preparing me for missions. But not until recently did I truly begin to appreciate it. From a very young age, on up through high school, my home church not only taught me the importance of missions but involved me and showed me how I could make a significant contribution to spread God’s glory to the nations.
I’m not certain whether I’d even be on a path to serve cross-culturally today if it weren’t for my home church. Looking back now as one who has served internationally and is now studying in seminary for more effective service, I see the impact that my home church has had on preparing me for missions.
Here are some of the ways they did that:
“I’m not certain whether I’d be on a path to serve cross-culturally today if it weren’t for my home church.”
1. They sent out missionaries.
I knew who the missionaries at my church were. Whether it was those who went on short-term trips or served as long-term missionaries, we commissioned all those we sent out. They were made visible to the entire church. And the whole church was given the opportunity to pray over them and care for them. Though we were a larger church, I felt united with them as we prayed for our missionaries.
2. They maintained long-term relationships with missionaries.
We didn’t forget about our missionaries while they were away. From an early age, I saw people from my church going out and serving with missionaries in the same places year after year. Our church even had a house where missionaries could stay whenever they were on stateside assignment. I saw the consistency in our partnerships so that by the time I was getting ready to be sent out, I had no doubt that my church would continue to care about me while I was on the field as well.
3. They taught us about missions from an early age.
My home church didn’t just say “missionary training begins in the nursery.” They believed it and lived it. Our children’s groups regularly learned about missions and missionaries. When we were older, we were given opportunities to serve alongside adults in a weekly evangelism night. I remember first learning about world religions in a weeknight class that was done in conjunction with evangelism training. Opportunities like those helped me understand the world better, see other people share the gospel, and be challenged to share boldly as well.
“My home church didn’t just say
‘missionary training begins in the nursery.’
They believed it and lived it.”
4. They provided ways for students to get involved in missions firsthand.
I waited with anticipation each year in youth group for our summer mission trip. In middle school, we started out locally in “our Jerusalem” ministering in our own city. When a little older, we partnered further away in “our Samaria” somewhere else in the United States. I had my first true cross-cultural exposure while serving on those trips. That made me fall in love with learning about and experiencing other cultures of the world.
Not only were we able to travel further as high schoolers, but students were given the opportunity to lead the younger students on their mission trips. The leadership of older students made an enormous impact on me when I was young. I was able to participate in that same way later by leading middle schoolers on their mission trips when I was in high school. This helped me learn valuable skills for working well on a team as well as leading a team—both of which I needed when serving internationally.
My church took these trips seriously in another sense, too. Interested students were asked to talk with our youth leaders to ensure that not only were they true believers but they were also growing in spiritual maturity. This helped me see that being spiritually healthy was important for serving faithfully in missions.
5. The student leadership saw the Lord’s working in my life and helped me to see it too.
When I was old enough to go on an international trip, my youth pastor asked me to pray about whether the Lord would have me go on one of our trips. His observation of the Lord working in my life and his encouragement opened my eyes to the possibility that God might use me internationally. If my youth pastor hadn’t asked me to pray about it, it’s uncertain whether I’d have ever thought of it on my own.
By the time the Lord led me to longer-term international service and ultimately a commitment of my life to vocational ministry, my church had taught me to understand that
- Missions is vastly important
- Because I am a Christian, I have a significant role to play in missions
- I need to obey the Lord and be spiritually maturing
- I can trust that my church will care for me as a missionary
Even more, I’d been given numerous ministry experience opportunities that helped equip me to succeed cross-culturally rather than be paralyzed by culture shock. I’d had practice sharing the gospel, and I’d experienced leading others on a mission team. My home church saw that young people aren’t just the future of ministry. They’re also part of its present. They can do ministry now. And what they do now will prepare them to be more effective in ministry in the future—perhaps even serving internationally as a career missionary or marketplace missionary serving as a vital member of a missionary team.
If your church is already faithfully teaching these things, pouring into the lives of young people, and preparing future missionaries, don’t give up! Don’t grow weary of doing good (Galatians 6:9, ESV)—even if those who benefit from your efforts don’t recognize it or show appreciation until years later.
Rebecca Hankins is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Intercultural Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. She works remotely for the International Mission Board and also enjoys creative endeavors such as growing a photography business on the side. She is a member of The Summit Church and plans to continue serving in cross-cultural ministry after completing her graduate studies.