First Baptist Church of Charleston is the SBC’s oldest church. Yet in 1997, their involvement in missions—the foundation of the Southern Baptist Convention—was, well, lacking. At that time, they had no members serving on the mission field and gave only a token amount to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Twenty-one years later, however, First Baptist has nine people serving with the International Mission Board on three continents, and the church generously gives through the Lottie Moon offering to reach the unreached. First Baptist of Charleston is not a huge church with a full-time missions pastor, so what factors made it possible to transform them into a missions-sending, missions-supporting church?
The primary factor was simply a vision for getting the gospel to unreached peoples. The old adage is that the speed of the leader determines the speed of the team, and this is especially true of developing a vision for missions within a church. A pastor’s passion for missions will naturally flow out of him to the congregation, guiding their direction.
“A missions culture develops when the pastor and the church leadership resonate with the heart of God for lost humanity. Magnifying Jesus compels churches to be on mission.”
A healthy passion for God’s mission in the world will shape how the church reaches beyond its walls from the immediate neighborhood to the ends of the earth. The pastor’s passion, above all other human factors, will determine the missions climate of the church. Once God gives a pastor a passion and vision to reach the world with the gospel of Jesus, though, communicating that vision is the essential challenge. Here are a few ideas for doing so from our experience in Charleston.
Missions in Preaching
One of the keys to leading change of any kind is communication of a compelling vision. Whether cognizant of it, leaders are always communicating something. Pastors especially must be aware that every action, every word, every reaction, is a powerful communication of true value. If we are indeed passionate for missions, it will show, especially in our preaching. Focusing on missions once a year communicates that it is not a priority. The Bible is the record of God’s mission to reach a lost world, so every sermon should build on that background.
Additionally, in Charleston, we use real-life examples to illustrate the sermons. We’ve made it a habit to learn what God is doing around the world. When our church sees what is happening in the war in Syria, for instance, and learns what our workers are doing to bring hope to refugees, they see the real-life value of our missions efforts. Our missionaries are carrying the hope of the gospel to people and meeting some of their physical needs. Our church senses that we are impacting the world for good because indeed we are.
Missions in Prayer
Developing a missions culture affects elements of every worship service. Sunday worship at First Baptist always includes public prayer for a missionary by name (or pseudonym) with a specific request. Our people know it is not a generic “bless our missionaries” prayer, but an authentic and real-time request for which they will often receive a follow-up report.
We regularly give updates on our missionaries on the field during worship services. We publish prayer cards that are available at every service. Sometimes we have video-call conversations. Any time there is a major activity going on with one of our mission families, it is highlighted in worship services; every time one of them is back in town, they are called upon to share. Keeping our church informed about what’s going on with our missionaries provides an example and encouragement for our congregation to continue praying individually for these missionaries.
Missions in Partnerships
Choosing the right missions partnerships is also important. Over the past twenty years, we have built relationships with partners on the field who have invited our teams to serve with them in various roles. These experiences have given our church a compassion for the lost who have little or no access to the gospel, as well as a connection to the missionaries who are reaching these precious people.
We developed and trained volunteers who were able to serve well and tell others about the experience when they returned home. By God’s grace, we found projects that stretched us beyond our comfort zone, but God blessed our obedience and everyone who participated saw Christ magnified through the experience.
Missions offerings began to soar as our people came home to tell the stories of the real people whose lives were saved and transformed by Christ. These church members began to see churches planted and people coming to faith in Christ among previously unreached people in Central Asia and North Africa. They witnessed the sacrifices our missionaries were willing to make to take the gospel to these hard-to-reach places. They came home with a new depth in both their faith in Christ and their love for non-Christians—including our neighbors at home.
“God used these mission experiences to convict us of our complacency and move us into the world on our knees, with our offerings and with some of our best leaders.”
Consequently, offerings for missions started to become truly sacrificial. God used these mission experiences to convict us of our complacency and move us into the world on our knees, with our offerings and with some of our best leaders whom we sent out as full-time missionaries.
Missions in Practice
While these volunteer opportunities were valuable on their own merit, they also started the journeys of those who we’ve sent out to serve full-time in global missions. Interaction with missionaries and unreached peoples and places both at home and abroad helped our people discern their own calls to missions.
As we have sent missionaries, we’ve learned how to support them. All of our members on the field know they can count on our volunteer teams to help them as needed. Our missionaries regularly receive support from our volunteer teams, and they know their pastor will visit them in-country at least once during every term.
I will never forget visiting one of our couples in North Africa. The timing of our trip was providential, and my wife and I were able to serve them in meaningful ways during a difficult season. My heart broke, however, when one of their colleagues told us that in twenty-five years on the field, no one from her home church had ever visited. A mission-sending church cares for those who are sent.
A missions culture develops when the pastor and the church leadership resonate with the heart of God for lost humanity. It takes time, vision, communication, and faith-stretching partnerships and projects. In the end, however, magnifying Jesus is what compels churches to be on mission. Since Jesus is the ultimate missionary, he invites us to follow him to the ends of the earth.
Marshall Blalock serves as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina, and was president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention in 2018. He has been married to Cathy for thirty-six years. They have three adult children, all of whom are married and serving Christ with their spouses. Marshall is also the grandfather to one cool little boy!