“Excuse me, pastor. I think I want to be a missionary.”
Oh no. If you’re a pastor or leader in the church, what do you say?!
Here are a few common responses that might come to mind:
- If you know the person and approve: “Awesome, give me a high five! Here are a few missions organizations you should go check out…”
- If you know the person and don’t approve: “Umm, cool. Let’s talk about that–sometime…”
- If you don’t know the person at all: “Hey, that’s nice to hear. So, who are you?”
Ok, so your conversations with those expressing initial missions interest may not sound exactly like any of these examples. But hopefully they capture the abruptness (and potential awkwardness) of not being quite ready for such conversations.
In the flurry of immediate ministry demands and expectations, being ready for a conversation about a church member’s interest in missions may not be a high priority. What’s it take to lead such conversations well? And why does it matter?
Initiating missions conversations is a biblical part of following the Spirit in leading the church.
Many church leaders enter the ministry in part because we desire to shepherd people toward Christ. Leading healthy conversations with potential sent ones is yet another opportunity for church leaders to fulfill our desire and calling. Stepping into the heart- stirrings of these church members isn’t just a potential distraction. It’s a sweet pastoral moment to make much of Jesus in the lives of his people.
When the Holy Spirit made his move to send Barnabas and Saul out of Antioch, the leaders there were ready. While fasting and praying together, they heard the Spirit clearly say, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (v. 2). No doubt, this would have been a painful loss to the church. Yet take note of their openness to the Spirit’s leadership, and their discernment of the missionary call as a group rather than individually. This is a critical example for today’s church leaders, leaders who follow the same Spirit into the same mission.
The more you send all your members into the neighborhoods with missionary identity, the more who will want to be sent onward to the nations.
If God is a sending God, then each of his sons and daughters are sent ones by nature. That’s a significant part of what books like Tradecraft, The Sending Church Defined, Life on Mission, Live Sent, Everyday Church, and Gaining by Losing are trying to communicate. Naturally, the more people who awaken to these norms of being disciples, the more open they will be to the Holy Spirit, and the more they will ache for people with no access to the grace they have received. As throughout history, some will not be able to salve that ache without moving their lives, families, and careers amidst those people.
God is turning the faucet wide open to flood the world with the knowledge of his glory. Churches, therefore, must be ready aquifers. As we have said before, the mission of God doesn’t restrain well into a topical study on the Book of Acts; it flows from Eden to New Jerusalem, and we are caught in its currents. None of us want our church to be that greasy, hairy clog in the drain!
Not everyone who says, “Here am I, send me!” should actually be sent globally.
“Sending” for many churches over the last few decades has looked more like submitting to the personal calling of missionary candidates rather than the sure calling of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, the two are not always one and the same. If the Holy Spirit actually isn’t leading someone to be sent globally, then there is great grace in saying, “Don’t go.” It’s even wise for promising candidates to hear, “Proceed with caution.”
How is the candidate’s character? What is his or her motivation? Has he or she proven to be faithful? These are initial questions too important to assume. Your sent ones will be extensions of your church and its ministry. More than that, they will be Christ’s ambassadors. That brings great cause for sobriety and excellence in our sending.
Furthermore, due to the common idea that missionaries are an elite group, many church members fail to see their opportunity and ability to live out missionary identity in their current context. Perhaps their sense of calling to go overseas is actually a hidden need to appease God by doing something difficult, or simply a desire to live out the abundant, exciting life of a true disciple. They may need discipleship more than mobilization.
How you respond to people expressing interest in missions will set the tone for the rest of their journey in missions.
It’s not just that people will always remember how you reacted to their inquiry, it’s that whatever you run up the flag pole (so to speak), people will stand around it and salute. In other words, they’ll follow your lead.
If you’re unsure what to say, they may lose confidence in themselves or in you. The spark in them could snuff out. If it doesn’t, however, and you fail to give good direction, they may figure out a way to just go without being sent by your church. If you don’t ask the right questions, you may dangerously separate the sending from the Sender, focusing on their desire and skills while ignoring their spiritual health.
Jesus was the master of asking open-ended questions that both welcomed conversation and revealed the heart (Proverbs 20:5, Mark 10:51, Acts 10:29). Take some time to sit with the candidate(s) and ask good questions. Listen. Celebrate what God is doing. Then challenge them and give next steps.
What are some of those important initial questions? That’s what The Upstream Collective‘s Initial Missions Interest Questionnaire is for. It was adapted from a basic questionnaire used by a local church when members express missions interest. You might use them as an outline of questions over coffee, and/or post them as an online or written form that people can fill out. However you choose to utilize them, may they strengthen your leadership as God cranks open the faucet in your church!
You can access the Initial Missions Interest Questionnaire here.
This is a republication from The Upstream Collective. Used with permission.