If you’ve been in a church at least 10 times in your life, chances are you’ve seen this scene play out at least once:
A visiting missionary from (fill in country name here) takes the stage and updates the congregation on the last few years of their ministry while a slideshow of photos plays behind them. They thank the congregation for their financial and prayer support over the years, the pastor prays for them, and they exit the stage.
And the church moves on.
We have no issue with that scene (unless the slideshow is set to some sappy CCM song…then we have a problem). Most missionaries will come back every few years to make the rounds of the churches who support them to refresh their memories and hopefully keep the donation checks coming. I believe in this formula. It helps local churches remember how their tithe is being used globally, and it reminds the missionary that the check from (fill in the blank church name here) isn’t from some anonymous source…it’s from a group of people who believe in their ministry.
Some go, and some send. THAT’S how we will reach the world.
Some time ago, when Hillside moved its headquarters to Richmond, we began a church tour in which we met with lots of local pastors and offer our help in their missions efforts. Some of them boasted huge missions programs: multiple short-term trips all over the world to their homegrown missionaries, large missions budgets, and great people leading them. Others were more recent church plants without the means to engage the world yet. And most of them fell somewhere in between: support for a few missionaries and maybe an every other year mission trip. In fact, this group was the overwhelming majority of the churches we encountered.
Very few were opposed to global missions, but for most churches, missions is what they would do when there was left over money in the budget, and because of that they rarely garnered a Sunday visit from a visiting missionary who had higher priority churches (read: bigger donors) to speak to. They’d love to do missions more successfully, but they really didn’t have a plan.
And that’s the root cause here. Most churches aren’t doing mission in successful ways because they aren’t sure what success would look like. As a result, missionaries serving right now all over the world are struggling to meet their expectations.
We have to do better. And thankfully, we don’t think it’s so hard. Here’s a quick game plan every single Lead and Missions Pastor should have:
1. We’ve got to admit we have a problem.
The first step in correcting a problem is first acknowledging that there is a problem in the first place. So often in churches, global missions is so low priority because we never decided on a plan with goals and checkpoints. If we did children’s ministry the way we do missions, parents might move across town to the church that does background checks, has organized teachers and safe, fun environments. Missions should be no different. Why don’t we set missions goals?
2. Choose a path and stay on it.
So many churches today are throwing pasta at the wall when it comes to missions to see what ‘sticks.’ As a result, everyone’s nephew who’s a missionary (insert missions platform here in country X, Y or Z) gets added to the budget. We didn’t have a plan and so we waited for missions opportunities to come to us. This a a wrong way to do mission. Our plan should have conquerable goals like “Plant a church in central Asia in 10 years” or “Send 15 missionaries to the Middle East in the next 5 years.” We aren’t necessarily advocating for you to cut cousin Timmy from the mission budget, but we can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results. Last year, 43% of the world lived without a church or missionary living in their town or village. We can’t afford to approve every single opportunity before us if we are going to accomplish our goals. Pick a goal, and build back tasks all the way until tomorrow. Now we have a path.
3. Bite, scratch and pinch your congregation.
We’ll leave it up to you to decide if we meant that literally. In the meantime, now that you have your missions goal, you’re gonna need to be offensively committed to it. The missionary you chose to support until your church plants that new church in his village needs yo to be. You’re gonna have to say ‘No’ to a bunch of other cool missions opportunities in order to complete the one (or two) you committed your church to. You’ll need to advocate on Sunday mornings for your congregation to keep giving and supporting the church’s vision of missions. You’re gonna have to be willing to cut funding in some cases. We think you’ll gain, not lose, the respect of your church if you do this. It shows how seriously you want to check a people group off of the Joshua Project website.
4. Communicate with your missionaries like crazy.
Chances are by now, you’ve stopped reading these paragraphs and are merely skimming the titles, but you’re gonna need to keep in regular communication with your missionaries. That doesn’t mean you need to sit on a static-filled phone call. Skype with them. Read their blog and write a comment. Check in on their Facebook and Twitter pages. Remember, the point is to do missions better, and so many of our missionaries aren’t wanting just a check to communicate your support of them. They want to see your face, hear your voice and read your notes. Start loving your missionaries. They’ll love you right back.
5. Don’t wait for them to ask for a Sunday. Offer it.
Missionaries know how precious Sunday mornings are to pastors, but instead of making them ask you, why not offer ways for them to communicate to your congregation? Invite them to make a quick video and play it in church. Give them 5 minutes in your weekly podcast. Geez, get their contact info to your church. Let THEM call your missionaries. Nothing communicates commitment better to a missionary than entire communities of people reaching out to them in support. (That was a lot of C’s.)
This is exactly what we said to the pastors we met when we first moved to Richmond, and what we’ve kept saying since. Our missionaries need our help. They need us to stop saying ‘Yes’ to every missions opportunity because we can’t articulate a ‘No’ very well. They need us to pick a path and stay on it. They need us to give them all we’ve got. And they need us to support them in ways a check never can.
We can do this. We can slowly but surely chip away at unreached people group statistics if every single one of us committed to it. And we can. And we should.