Sending Overseas Missionaries in Community
If love for one another within a local church distinguishes us as Christ’s disciples (John 13:35) . . .
if there is a uniqueness to the display of the gospel through the local church (1 Pet. 2, 1 Cor. 14) . . .
if we desire to model the communal elements of discipleship for new believers in unreached nations . . .
doesn’t it makes sense to send people in community to engage in mission, even in overseas mission?
We at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, thought so. We began a discussion in 2005 which culminated in the decision to send groups of members to two unreached overseas cities as church plants.
A NEW STRATEGY
The conventional approach to mission in our context has been for an individual to experience a call from God to engage a people group with the gospel after being sent out from a church through a mission board. We praise the Lord for sending out laborers in these ways.
But God began to open our eyes to the potential of approaching global missions in community, not merely as isolated individuals. Others have done this, but the idea was new for us. This discussion began with the conviction that global church planting is fundamentally a result of faithful biblical preaching. And this happens as local churches faithfully preach the gospel to their communities. Yet how do you reach a community where there is no church?
Our new strategy involves being the church as we seek to plant churches of indigenous believers. This allows unreached areas to see the power of the gospel worked out amidst a people. The team who goes does not necessarily need to follow all the forms of our gatherings in the United States because we want them to be culturally appropriate. But we do want them to show lost people the new corporate identity that comes with following Christ.
This community that Providence plans to send has been gathering regularly in the States for over a year now (minus a few who have already gone to the field). This time has been helpful to discern various gift mixes, deepen fellowship, engage in conflict resolution, and wrestle with theological, personal, and practical issues in order to be unified in preparation for the field.
The next step is to go. But where will they go? And what role will Providence play?
WHERE? WHERE THERE IS NEED AND GOOD LEADERSHIP
Two factors have influenced our thinking as to where we send missionaries: need and leadership. In terms of need we asked the question, which people groups still have no exposure to the gospel? The answer has led us to two cities with no missionary presence.
In terms of leadership we wanted to know who the sending agency would use to supervise our team overseas. What is their vision? Is it a good fit for our team?
We didn’t need to fabricate chemistry among the team; God had already established our unified vision. Yet we have worked diligently to find the right “mix” between the sending agencies regional leadership and our team by visiting the workers on the field. This has been incredibly important for us. Emails are convenient but cannot substitute for in-person interaction.
WHAT’S THE SENDING CHURCH’S ROLE?
There are four components involved in Providence Baptist’s role as a sending church:
1. Giving the body at Providence opportunities to engage: The body at Providence can engage in the mission through short term trips each year. College students can participate in a five week projects. And different groups regularly pray for our workers. These opportunities expose our congregation to God’s heart for this region and will hopefully raise up more laborers.
2. A commitment to informal and formal communication: As the sending church, we do not want to disconnect or distance ourselves from a team we send out, nor do we “hand them off” to someone else’s care once they are officially part of the sending agency. Providence will take on a new role with them, just as parents do when their children leave the home and get married. We will counsel and care for each of them. They are an extension of us to this frontier region. Our commitment to the teams we are sending out is for life, and theirs to Christ is the same.
3. A commitment to prayer: What greater thing could we do daily than pray Ephesians 3:14-21 over them?
4. A commitment to shared resources in platform development: Because our missionaries are going to a country that doesn’t grant missionary visas, they have begun to work on developing a legitimate business platform that will work in this foreign country. Most of this team has been trained in theology, but they have little experience in developing and managing a business. This is where the body of Christ, in all its diversity of gifts, can be a huge asset. A group of businessmen from Providence are currently training our team in business skills and have already started a legitimate business as a platform strategy.
God’s desire is to reach the nations for his glory through church planting. May he find us faithful.