In my role as a Baptist associational leader, I love to see churches cooperate together. At the associational—that is to say, local—level, cooperation is a way of life. None of the services we provide or trainings we conduct would be possible without churches working together. By cooperating together, individual churches recognize they cannot reach a city, country, or the world on their own.
Besides giving cooperatively, churches seem to combine forces most readily around prayer and acts of service. Whether pastors pray together regularly or as they lead their congregation to corporately pray for other churches in their community, prayer is generally something everyone can support. Communities are also routinely blessed by churches working together on food drives, backpack collections, or disaster relief.
“There is one continual approach to cooperation that taps into an enormous reservoir of kingdom potential: missionary sending.”
Occasionally churches will also put on youth or children’s events together, harnessing the collective resources from the participating churches and bearing the burdens that such events can produce. When I was a youth minister, my students loved those events. And after they were over, each ministry would go back to their routines and look forward to the next collective event, probably a year in the future.
There are many ways for churches to occasionally partner together. But what if we think beyond the occasional event?
There is one continual approach to cooperation that taps into an enormous reservoir of kingdom potential: missionary sending.
Missionary Sending Isn’t Just for Big Churches
If you listen to current well-known preachers—even the younger church planters among them—you know that many of them came to the know the Lord in churches that have less than two hundred people in attendance, otherwise known as “normal size” churches. I suspect the same is true for many of the missionaries serving across the world.
When a normal size church earnestly prays that God would raise up a missionary from within its midst, and God answers that prayer, they may suddenly feel as if they don’t have the resources to carry out the sending. But the answer is startlingly simple: rely on the body of Christ.
Consider these stories.
- A normal size church caught a vision for Senegal and, working with the IMB personnel in the region, began to routinely visit the same village. Over time, they made sustainable investments in that village thanks to partnerships with other churches. Those efforts have led to the identifying and support of a full-time missionary and twenty-nine house churches planted to date.
- A collection of churches ranging in size worked through the IMB to adopt an unreached, unengaged people in Southeast Asia. Over ten years, each church sent teams, funds, and prayed consistently for the work being done there. An established work is now present there, the gospel is readily available, and church planting is happening. That people is no longer considered unreached.
- A collection of several normal-sized Spanish-speaking churches, none of which has a full-time pastor of its own, has identified, equipped through online seminary classes, and sent a full-time missionary to another region of Senegal.
“There is not a more worthy expression of cooperation than the literal fulfillment of the Great Commission.”
Sending Requires Preparation
For churches to identify, equip, send, and support missionaries together, there is work to be done on the front end so when God answers those prayers, the churches can respond effectively.
- Pray together regularly.
When pastors pray together or when churches pray with members from other congregations, pray specifically for the opportunity to send a missionary through a local partnership.
- Learn about missions.
There are myriad ways to learn and experience what God is doing and how he is calling us to join him around the world. When people understand the needs, their prayers will be more fervent.
- Be vocal from the pulpit.
Pastors must lead this effort from the stage. The people in the pews need to hear frequently that the pastor is passionate about cooperation and missions. Tell your congregation about the churches with whom you are partnering. Explain that missions and missionary sending are a collective effort. As pastors call for people to be saved, baptized, and join the church, they must also be bold in calling out the called. Explain that you’re joining other churches in your community to pray that God would raise up a missionary from within your midst. Point out that the missionary may be someone from your own congregation.
- Share the burdens.
There is a tremendous amount of work that goes into equipping, sending, and supporting someone (and their family) who has answered the call to missions. The IMB can provide guidance on what to expect, but it will be less daunting if the churches understand that sending is a team effort from day one.
- Celebrate together!
The day will come when God will answer that prayer: your church along with a few others will begin the process of sending a missionary. Celebrate together! Make sure all the churches participate when the missionary is commissioned. When the missionary sends updates, share them with all the churches through appropriate channels (make sure to ask the missionary about any security concerns before sharing). Arrange calls to the missionary when all the pastors can be present. When the missionary (and their family) comes home, have all the churches receive them, love them, and dote on their children together.
Every Church Has a Part to Play
Fulfilling the Great Commission requires all churches, regardless of size, budget, and resources. As Baptists, we are a people who confessionally believe in cooperation. There is not a more worthy expression of that cooperation than the literal fulfillment of the Great Commission.
Josh Ellis is the executive director of the Union Baptist Association in Houston, Texas. He has a PhD in leadership studies from Dallas Baptist University (2015). Josh and his wife, Valerie, have two sons.