Different Church Stories, Common Elements
There is no one right way to establish an effective mission program. Each time Serge helps a church start, reboot, grow, or strengthen its international mission program, it’s a unique journey influenced by the gifts, needs, callings, and passions of all the people involved. It isn’t easy work. But two things always seem to emerge.
First, churches experience the joy that comes from seeking God’s face and direction in mission. Despite fears of inadequacy or failure, a peculiar freedom takes root. After all, we are not alone. Our Father loves the world. Jesus gave himself for sinners like us. And the Holy Spirit has come to take the gospel into the world! When we believe these things, and churches believe them too, it becomes easier to put aside the things that so easily dampen and sidetrack our efforts and instead trust God to use His people to grow His kingdom.
Second, over the years and across locations, we have seen common traits emerge from effective mission programs. While it looks and feels a bit different from place to place depending on the people and churches involved, programs that have a sustained, lasting impact always seem to include the same essential elements.
The Role of Leaders: Discerning How Everyone Is Involved
The Spirit of God calls believers into mission, equips them with spiritual gifts, and assembles them together into churches where these gifts support each member and demonstrate the good news of the gospel in the community. Shaped by the people and gifts the Spirit brings together, each church uniquely affects its surroundings. Each develops its own voice and sense of calling.
When leaders believe the Spirit is at work in this way, their roles begin to shift. They understand their primary calling is to help others recognize what the Spirit is doing and to identify the role He is building for them in mission. Leaders encourage, identify, and organize the gifts the Spirit brings, focusing the church so it speaks the gospel in new ways to the culture around it.
Faith and focus are critical to this process. As people believe gospel promises for themselves, they grow in strength and conviction that God will not only change them but also use them for His kingdom despite their flaws, sins, and unbelief. As the gospel looms larger in individual lives and in the collective life of the group, the church stops being defined by smaller concerns (our own “kingdom building”), and is defined instead by an expanded view of God’s kingdom.
The church learns together what it means to be blessed by God’s love and in turn to bless the world. Their primary identity becomes “beloved sent ones” who proclaim the same grace and mercy they have received to those who, like them, need the forgiveness and healing of the cross.
That can sound abstract. It’s about being led by God’s Spirit, so it isn’t always linear or easily seen. It’s a mysterious and beautiful process that has happened time and time again throughout the history of God’s people. Remember, God put you in a leadership role in your church because He intends to use you. He has given both you and your people just the right mix of gifts to accomplish the things He is calling you to.
How do you get started? Hopefully, you’ve already read and completed with your team the initial diagnostic survey Where is God Calling You to Go? 13 Questions to Get You There. If not, please take some time to do so.
How to Use This List
As you read the seven components, remember this isn’t a “to-do” list. Churches are all different. You and your leaders have a broad range of gift mixes. Not everything on this list will apply to where your church is at the moment. The point of collecting these observations is to help you get a feel for what you are already doing well, what may need to be strengthened, and, in some cases, what may need to start.
It’s quite likely that God is going to reveal some things about you and your church we don’t touch on here. That’s great! The greatest value will come from you and your leaders intentionally listening to God and each other as you seek to grow the extension work of your church.
1 | An effective mission program reflects the gospel dynamic between personal renewal and mission effort.
The gospel is God’s message of reconciliation and renewal to the world. We all want to see people across the globe come to faith in Jesus Christ and, through him, find a relationship with God. But the gospel is also for us! It provides both the motivation for engaging in mission and the manner in which we pursue mission.
The Motivation for Engaging in Mission: In order for local ministries and global mission to even exist, the gospel must stay fresh in the lives of all church members. The goodness of God’s grace motivates and empowers us to follow Jesus into a lifestyle of faith and repentance, loving those who don’t yet know Him. In particular, the costs and rigor of global mission will always push us back to the triune God for help, forgiveness, support, and encouragement.
The Manner in Which We Pursue Mission: The same gospel we take to the world also forms and guides the manner in which we pursue mission. Regardless of the model you choose for organizing your church’s mission work, the gospel changes our tones and relationships with one another and with our partners. We are always called to be Christ to others. You can uniquely represent him to missionaries, to your fellow committee members, and to your church.
2 | An effective mission program needs a leader communicating a clear, shared vision. The pastor plays a leading part in a mission program as a central, visible communicator of the church vision.
As the pastor engages the congregation, it is vital to communicate a clear vision of how the church engages God’s mission. Practically speaking, this means that:
The gospel should inform every part of the vision. Losing a central gospel message results in the church becoming disconnected from the reality of its calling. Smaller substitutes become central. Programs become empty activities. A mission life centered on Jesus and the good news of grace will prevent strategies, opportunities, programs, institutions, personal preferences, or opinions from becoming the driving force of local and global mission efforts. Leaders should seek to keep the gospel at the center of their vision and work in practical and clear ways:
Gospel ministry means reconciliation. Church leaders must engage in local ministries of reconciliation, discerning the church’s context and community needs.
Every part of church ministry (Sunday School curriculum, mercy ministries, worship liturgy, etc.) should have clear gospel content with practical application of grace to everyday life. Programs should reflect the church’s desire to know Christ and make Him known. Pastors need to ensure centrality and clarity of vision in each of these areas.
Elders and other leaders should model lives being transformed by the gospel before the congregation and a watching world.
Prayer leads to vision. A leader emulates Jesus’s ministry model when he or she pursues the heart of God in prayer and leads a congregation to do the same. Since prayer connects to God’s grace and power, every part of mission work should be characterized by dependent and expectant prayer.
The Spirit forms the church and guides it into its unique mission. Vision simply reflects this reality. Church leaders recognize the gifts the Spirit brings, fitting them together to make a unique response to God’s mission, both locally and globally.
To ensure a shared vision, the pastor and other leaders will often travel to see and engage in cross-cultural work. Engaging in vision and mission trips allows pastors to gain perspective and motivation for leading mission and keeping the local gospel presentation from being enculturated. The gospel’s movement is much bigger than we think!
3 | An effective mission program is integrated with the entire missional calling of the church.
A church’s missional calling should be characterized as integrative rather than segregative. Rather than splintering into multiple programs with mission being viewed as “one among many,” all local and global ministry expressions should unite under one central, missional calling. This ensures the programs (or ministries) within a church operate symbiotically instead of independently.
In our present cultural context, this might specifically be applied to youth ministry. Drawing youth ministry into a more interdependent and integrative expression in the church rather than allowing it to satellite (operate independently of the church’s wider ministry), will shape and strengthen the future of the church.
Likewise, all parts of a healthy mission program (sending short-term teams, receiving international visitors, supporting long-term missionaries, creating international partnerships, sponsoring development projects, etc.) work together as a whole. They don’t compete with each other for time, money, or attention. The intent of an effective program is not simply to argue for its priority and a piece of a budget, but to communicate its centrality to God’s mission for the church.
>>> This article has been adapted from Going Global: A Guide for Deepening Your Church’s International Mission Program. Get your FREE copy today.