7 Things Your Church Should Not Do in Missions
The Great Commission is a clear command of Jesus to his church. By and large, part of what it means to be an evangelical church is to support the spread of the gospel to those who have never heard it. For most of church history, that has meant sending long-term missionaries, giving money to support them, and praying for them. In the absence of air travel and the internet, there simply wasn’t much else a local church in the West could do.
Now, however, the opportunities for direct engagement in overseas missions are legion. In the face of so many possibilities, how is a church to decide what they should do? Based on decades of experience on the other side of the equation (as a field worker living overseas), here is a list of things your church should NOT do as it considers its involvement in fulfilling the Great Commission.
1. You should not ignore the missionary imperative.
Lots of excuses can be given for doing nothing about global missions other than, perhaps, an occasional missions offering. Taking the gospel to the unreached is expensive, uncomfortable, inconvenient, and sometimes even unhealthy or dangerous. There are so many lost people right around you where you live. You have so many needs within your own church. The list could go on.
All of those things are true—and none of them are valid excuses. Jesus didn’t call you to safety, or comfort, or convenience. He called you to take up your cross and die. There are indeed many lost people around your church, but you are there to share the gospel with them. Over two billion people in the world have no churches, no believers, no access to the gospel anywhere near them, and they will never hear if no one goes. You should indeed meet the needs of those in your church, but there is a difference between real needs and wants or preferences, and most churches in the West have more than enough of both to cover real needs within their ranks and to take the gospel to the unreached. Sure, doing so may involve some level of sacrifice out of our abundance, but we should be doing that anyway. Do not ignore the missionary imperative, and do more than pay it lip-service. Engage the lostness of the world in a serious way.
2. You should not go it alone.
While it is true that the evangelization of the world is the responsibility of the local church, mission agencies and field partners can be incredibly useful to you as you fulfill that responsibility. Mission agencies have experience in sending and supporting missionaries, both long term and short term, and they also have perspective on what needs to be done and how to do it.
Likewise, field workers on the ground overseas have experience, connections, and know-how that can be invaluable to a local church as it seeks greater involvement. Both with mission agencies and with field partners, the local church should do its homework and make sure that there is real compatibility both in theology and in mission philosophy between the church and those with whom they will work. Once this is established, however, the church will find that good partners make missionary involvement both more manageable and more fruitful.
3. You should not try to run the show on the field.
If you are in a partnership with workers or an agency on the mission field, your local church in the West should not try to be in charge of what happens over there. Cultures, peoples, and situations vary wildly around the world. The people on the ground understand those variables in ways you do not. If you want to send a short-term mission team, send them to do what the field workers need done, not what makes the short termers enjoy the trip or feel good about themselves. Go with a spirit of humble servanthood, not with a spirit of entitlement. Follow the customs and practices that your field hosts ask you to follow, even if they don’t make much sense to you. Make sure your contributions fit into the long-term strategy of the field team. In your use of money, allow yourself to be guided by the wisdom and experience of the field workers when deciding what should and should not be funded. If you cannot trust your field partners to this extent, you have the wrong field partners. Simply remember that they have to live with the consequences of your actions long after you have left.
4. You should not try to do everything everywhere all at once.
Churches that have recently acquired a passion for reaching the unreached often engage in a shotgun approach to global mission. They want to go everywhere, and sometimes they try. They may send a short-term team to one place and a long-term worker somewhere else, all while funding a project in a third location and committing to pray for a fourth. This zeal is commendable but not very helpful. It is much better to start with a clear focus on partnership with an overseas worker or team, or with a specific people group or place. Over time, the capacity of the church may grow to include other peoples or places, but you will do far more good, both for the church and for the field, if from the start you focus on one or a very few long-term commitments.
5. You should not forget your workers once they are overseas.
All too often, overseas workers feel like they are “out of sight, out of mind.” Given the possibilities of modern communication technology, there is no reason for this to happen in most overseas locations.
As a sending church, stay in touch with your overseas workers. Make sure that your congregation hears from them, knows about them, and prays for them regularly. Make a point of praying for special strategic initiatives they take, and also make a point of praying for mundane things in their lives. Send them cards and care packages as much as possible. Pay them a pastoral visit at least once per term if it’s feasible. Keep the communication deep enough that you know about their struggles as well as their triumphs. Welcome them, love on them, and listen to them when they return for short breaks from the field. Don’t let overseas workers feel as though they have been abandoned.
6. You should not leave missions to chance.
Too often, local churches are more reactive than proactive, endorsing missionary candidates who come to a sense of calling on their own, and supporting mission causes that happen to interest someone in the congregation. Instead, the church should provide opportunities for cross-cultural ministry, identifying those who show gifts in this area, encouraging them to pursue missions, and training them in being disciples and making disciples globally. The church should also be thoughtful and strategic in its own missions involvement, prioritizing those who still need to hear the gospel, and focusing on the church’s long-term overseas partnerships. Local churches should pray, prioritize, and plan their missions involvement carefully.
7. You should not let missions become just one special interest among many in the church.
Missions needs to be integrated into all the normal components of church life. To this end, the senior pastor must be fully committed and must lead the way. Prayer for missions and testimonies about missions should be incorporated into the main worship service, the small group meetings, and whatever else the church does regularly. The pastor should preach on missions and God’s heart for the nations whenever it comes up in the text of Scripture, not just during one special missions service a year. Missions education should be delivered to everyone in the church, not just to a small interest group. Missions giving should be prioritized in the church’s budget and emphasized as a normal component of discipleship. The global advance of the gospel is not just a niche interest of a small elite within the church. Every believer shares this responsibility, and the entire church needs to be mobilized to take the Good News to everyone who has yet to hear.