Many chess players know how to get off to a good start in a game of chess, but a number of players would probably admit that following through on key strategies for an entire game is rather difficult. The game gets more complicated once the opponent begins making unexpected moves. Missions activity is somewhat similar. Christians often venture into the realm of missions outreach by adopting a sound strategy of promoting the gospel and prioritizing prayer. Likewise, missionaries often make it their goal to learn a foreign language and build up local Christian leaders. Things get complicated, however, once churches and missionaries attempt to cooperatively carry out fundamental missions strategies over a long period of time. Sometimes, supporting churches change pastors. Other times, supporting churches or missionaries change key points of doctrine or practice. Occasionally, miscommunications between churches and missionaries occur. It is even possible for a church to feel disrespected by a missionary or a missionary to feel undervalued by a church. In any serious relationship, both parties need to take responsibility for making the relationship work. However, as in marriage, the primary burden for making a relationship work falls on the leader of the partnership. In the case of marriage, that person is the man. Likewise, in the partnership between churches and missionaries, one party needs to take the lead role in making the relationship work. Often, that role is foisted onto the missionary, but the ideal strategy is for the church to take the lead. Here are three ways that churches can take the lead role in missions.
1. Step up to the plate with support.
Missionary work requires significant funding. One of the frustrating things for young missionaries is the amount of time that deputation often requires. When God-called Christians are spending five to seven years simply gathering funds to get to the mission field (instead of being on the field and immersing themselves in years of language study), one has to wonder how the church can be more effective in sending out her workers. Churches can ask, Is the amount that we give to our missionaries really putting them in a position to get to the field quickly, or will the missionary need to spend the next few years finding forty more churches to support him at a level of support similar to what our church gives? A missionary with forty supporting churches will ultimately spend many years in America raising funds and visiting supporters rather than on the mission field. For example, a missionary who spends seven years on deputation and then visits supporting churches once every four years for the course of a twenty-eight year ministry will spend a total of fourteen years in the States and twenty-one years on the mission field. Churches can ask, Is this approach to missions either time efficient or cost efficient? Also, churches can ask themselves, “If we invite a missionary to speak, and we know that we are not going to support him, are we being up front with him about that matter before we ask him to travel here? The church that tells a missionary in advance of their financial plans for a visit, including travel expenses, food expenses, lodging expenses, honorarium, and potential support levels will be a true blessing to a missionary. If a missionary knows these factors in advance, he can decide if it is cost-effective for him to partner with a particular church. When a church supports a missionary at levels befitting an ambassador of the King of kings, the church will find that the missionary feels a deep sense of loyalty to that church.
2. Actively initiate communication with missionaries that the church already supports.
If a church really wants to be involved with missions, it should take the first step of action. Pastors, missions committee members, and church members need not sit back passively and wait for a missionary to tell them about the mission field. God is waiting for Christians and churches to take action by showing Scriptural, loving initiative toward missionaries. A pastor or church member can easily pick up the prayer card of a missionary, look at the phone number or the email address on the card, and begin communicating with that missionary. Also, pastors can take the initiative of keeping track of when missionaries will be back in the United States and writing to those missionaries to ask them to speak at the church. Likewise, church leaders and church members can take a personal interest in various missionaries by visiting their fields of service. As well, a pastor or Sunday School class can take a virtual visit to a missionary via Skype. Churches and church members need to be regularly asking the question, “Is there a way for our church family to communicate with a missionary so that he knows that we appreciate the work that he is carrying out on behalf of our assembly?”
3. Take the initiative in finding missionaries.
When a church is the one seeking out a relationship with a missionary, the relationship often flourishes. Missionaries love it when churches come looking for them. Unfortunately, much of the trend in the modern missions movement requires missionaries to go from church door to church door and request an audience with that particular church. This method is perhaps comparable to a young lady going from guy to guy and asking, “Will you consider dating me and taking care of me?” Female-initiated relationships rarely work. Instead, churches should take on the male role of initiating relationships with the missionaries that they want to support. A church can initiate contact with missionaries by first of all getting in touch with a mission board and finding out which people are going to which fields. Churches can do some behind the scenes research to find out which missionaries need support. Then the church can contact a potential missionary and say, “We want to love and support a person like you. We have researched your ministry by contacting your board and are now interested in getting to know you personally.” The church that exercises this kind of initiative will take the lead in missions and will win the devotion of the missionary selected.
Naturally, all of the above ideas or strategies mentioned in this series might not apply to every situation. In missions, one size does not necessarily fit all. Nonetheless, missions-minded Christians might find a number of these strategies effective for carrying out the Great Commission in today’s world. God is dedicated to succeeding in world missions. If you commit yourself to finding God’s way of carrying out global outreach, you will find, as Hudson Taylor found, that “God’s work, done God’s way, gets God’s supply.”