Where I live in suburban Washington, DC, professionals are standing by to take care of even the most basic domestic duties. From raising your children to cleaning up your dog’s waste to breastfeeding your babies for you, amateurs need not apply.
I’m all for professionalism or excellence in some contexts. I think that both have a place in the Christian life. As the old adage says, “If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” Yet I’ve often found G. K. Chesterton’s version to be more helpful: “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly [at first].”
Chesterton isn’t excusing apathy or mediocrity. Rather, he’s defending the place of amateurs in a world obsessed with professionals. He’s guarding us all against the temptation to leave the “things worth doing” to those we think can do them better. Otherwise, we’d soon find ourselves hiring someone else to raise our children, someone else to clean up after our pets, and someone else to leave the comforts of home to spread the gospel among the unreached peoples of the world.
The Need for Amateurs on Mission
Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m against the work of professional Christian missionaries. On the contrary, we need full-time workers on the field. Furthermore, some difficult contexts all but demand the kind of long-term training and commitment that only full-time missionaries can give.
Nevertheless, I think the primary responsibility for reaching the unreached rests on the shoulders of everyday Christians and ordinary churches. Jesus never intended the Great Commission to be exclusively professionalized, and the men and women who created the Cooperative Program never imagined it would become an excuse for churches to avoid directly engaging the unreached peoples of the world.
“No amount of training could compare with experiencing real challenges and sharing the gospel with real people who’d never heard it.”
That’s why, as a young pastor, I tried to find a way to lead my tiny, cash-strapped congregation to obey the Great Commission now instead of later. I determined that there was no other way to get started than just to get started. So, armed with Jesus’s commission and Chesterton’s advice, I boarded a plane with two other churchmates bound for a megacity in Southeast Asia.
A Quick Start Guide with a Caveat
I don’t mean to sound as if I hadn’t prepared at all. At that point in my life, I had read books on missions, talked to other pastors and missionaries, and reviewed important security protocols. (Just because a thing worth doing is worth doing badly doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to do it to the best of our ability.)
But here’s the reality: all those preparations, however important, were no substitute for arriving in Asia and beginning to form relationships with nationals. No amount of training could compare with experiencing real challenges and sharing the gospel with real people who’d never heard it. That’s why I’ve created the following “Quick Start Guide” to help you get your church involved in global missions.
Step 1: Create a Missions-Loving Culture
Before you can go anywhere, you need some idea of where you are going and why you want to go there. This may seem obvious, but pastors shouldn’t assume their people know—let alone desire to obey—the Great Commission. In fact, according to Barna Research Group, a shocking 51 percent of churchgoers have never heard of the Great Commission. Until this changes, no step-by-step instructional guide will ever help a church fulfill what it lacks the desire to do.
Step 2: Get on a Plane
Fifteen years have passed since our church’s first overseas mission trip, and I’m more convinced than ever that the best thing you can do to get your church started in global missions is to get on an airplane. You may do it badly at first, but if you keep doing it, eventually you’ll get better. And if you don’t give up, you’ll start to figure it out.
This sort of commit-first-figure-it-out-later approach may sound scary or even stupid (or both). But if I always waited until I fully knew what I was doing, I still might not have children. Similarly, I don’t want to give up the chance to obey Jesus because I think someone else might be able to do it better. Even if someone else could do it better, the point of Jesus’s commission is for all of us to obey.
Step 3: Get to Work
Although there is something to be said for learning from books and conversations with others, there is no substitute for learning through personal experience. Therefore, begin working to engage people directly as soon as reasonably possible. You will make mistakes—that’s to be expected—but the longer you wait to participate in the work of evangelism or church planting, the longer it will take you to develop the skills you need to be effective in a foreign context.
Step 4: Make a Friend
No one is more knowledgeable about the beliefs, culture, and context of a foreign environment than someone who is from there. Even the most experienced missionaries still have a limited understanding of the culture and context compared to a national citizen. Make it your aim to form a meaningful friendship with a local before returning home. I have had brief encounters with people on trips that have blossomed into deep friendships that have borne spiritual fruit years after our meeting. Consistent engagement over text, social media, and video chat can extend and amplify your relationship until you are able to return.
Step 5: Don’t Give Up
You should not grow discouraged when you experience difficulty, resistance, or failure. If reaching unreached peoples were easy someone would have done it already. Don’t focus on the hardness of the soil, however, but on the power of the gospel. It is essential that you enter the mission field assuming that God is already at work while remaining fully aware that it may be a very long time before you see much fruit.
Better Now Than Never
There are many voices that will urge you to take a slower and more measured approach to missions. Without a doubt, it is wise to make plans and it is essential to learn from others’ mistakes. But it is also imperative that we obey Jesus sooner rather than later. For the command to go and make disciples applies to every believer in every church, and too often we are tempted to put off what Jesus requires in the name of preparation.
“Jesus is with you always, even if you and your church are a bunch of amateurs.”
So do what you must in order to obey Jesus as quick as you can. Then you will discover for yourself that Jesus is “with you always” as you go (Matt. 28:20 CSB), even if you and your church are a bunch of amateurs.
Clint Clifton is the founding pastor of Pillar Church in Dumfries, Virginia. Since its inception, Pillar has started at least one new church each year, including churches in Iceland, Indonesia, Japan, and Hawaii. Clint also serves as the NAMB Send City Missionary for Washington, DC, and Baltimore, Maryland. He is the author of Church Planting Thresholds: A Gospel-Centered Guide.