Small Churches Can Be Sending Churches, Part Two

imageLane Harrison is the church planter and pastor of Lifepoint Church in Ozark, Missouri. I met him earlier this year when he partnered with The Upstream Collective to conduct a Sending Church Roundtable. His eleven year-old church isn’t necessarily “small,” but it is small-er than other multi-thousand member churches. Thus it was pure joy to hear how the church isn’t waiting for more money nor more staff to make a difference in their city and around the world.

Lifepoint’s perspective toward sending is captured well by the Mission page on their website. In their words:

Few tasks seem more daunting than formulating a vision or strategy to reach the nations. LifePoint strives to reach nations not as a separate program or emphasis, but as an extension of how we make disciples at home among our neighbors. Our first step doesn’t mean forming a great plan, but worshiping the God who is able. Only a great vision of God can enable us to go to every nation to make disciples. The gospel forms our unifying strategy to see Lord Jesus worshiped as disciples are made among all peoples.

Don’t miss it—to them, sending begins in the neighborhood, the people of God living out the mission of God in their context. This is critical. So many churches today boast of their service in foreign fields while failing to apply the same zeal and strategic focus among their neighbors. That’s just old-fashioned backward.

Lifepoint then holds to this strategy for moving beyond their locale:

  • pray for the field
  • partner with missionaries on the field
  • send short-term teams to support the field
  • send some of their own members to the field

That’s right, small churches can have big strategies too! It may take them longer to see the vision come to fruition. And when it does come in, it may be quantitatively less than that of the well-resourced church. Yet if they are faith-filled enough to ask “him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20), he will prove himself obliged with yeses.

Lane also described some of the unique blessings of being a smaller church who sends. The biggest one is deep relationship with missionaries. “We’re able to provide more focused care,” he said. “It’s easier to keep fewer missionaries before the church, so we can actually get to know them, and have our small groups adopt them.” And that goes for the missionaries’ relationship with the pastor as well. “It’s a deeper connection. It’s pastor as missions pastor. I get to help assess them and affirm them.”

Yet Lane was also honest about some of the challenges that come with sending as a small church. For one, “You just have limited resources. Our involvement with self-funded opportunities is intentionally limited because we don’t have the funds and can’t vet all the agencies. We only allow covenant members who are actively serving to raise support from the church.” It’s a bummer, but also makes it possible to strategically focus the use of Lifepoint’s resources.

Also, without other missions leaders on staff, it puts great pressure on the pastor. “I must be intentional to pray for our partners,” Lane emphasized. “But it’s hard even when you’re passionate about it.” The demands make it challenging to attend sending church events or utilize sending church resources. Conferences and books are great, but it’s just hard to find time for them amidst all the other responsibilities.

Thankfully, Lane’s honesty didn’t come with despair. Despite the hardships, Lifepoint is moving forward as a sending church. “You must find what you can do, and be ok with it until you can do more.” He gave the example of wanting to do more short-term trips, but simply not being able to make it happen yet. Moving slow, according to Lane, is better than not moving at all.

Lane also tries to emphasize sending simply by talking about it often—and especially among students. “We’re all over young adults about going. We’re not as much on families because we’re not sure that we could adequately support them.” It’s an example of a church finding what they can do, and being ok with it until they can do more.

We wrapped up our conversation on the topic of partnering with other churches. Smaller churches partnering with larger churches is, honestly, tricky business according to Lane. There’s great potential for benefitting from larger churches’ resources and structure, such as joining in one of their short-term mission trips. However, without defining the relationship clearly, smaller churches could easily feel controlled more than empowered by larger churches. On the other hand, “smaller churches should definitely be partnering together,” Lane said. “Key like-minded networks are the future.”

A future that depends on God graciously multiplying our efforts to send locally and globally.

 

This is a republication from The Upstream Collective. Used with permission.

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