Getting Church Leaders on Board with Missions
If there’s fire in the pulpit, there’s fire in the pew. The very first thing you can do to help your church in missions is to get your Senior Pastor on board. To be most effective, the train shouldn’t even leave the station without the Senior Pastor on board. While different churches will have differing viewpoints as to the pastor’s scope of authority and influence, American churches overwhelmingly cede a large breadth of latitude and leadership to the Senior Pastor.
Moving ahead without the Senior Pastor’s full and explicit ownership of missions has long been the Achilles heel of Missions Teams’ effectiveness. One of the most asked questions at church mobilization conferences and seminars is, “How can we get our Pastor motivated for missions?” My standard answer to that question is somewhat facetious, “Send him to the mission field with a one-way ticket. When he begs to come back and get personally involved in leadership of missions in the church, only then give him the return trip portion.”
Now, don’t misunderstand me on this point. Please don’t extrapolate the above too much. I’m not saying that the American Pastor’s exaggerated influence is supported biblically; I’m just saying that that’s the way it is. A lot of growth can occur, even without the Senior Pastor’s full-fledged support and participation. Likewise, the Pastor doesn’t have to personally lead every charge and be responsible for every decision. However, the church cannot normally move farther in missions development than the Pastor’s personal vision and agreement with that direction. With respect to missions: If there’s fire in the pulpit, there’s fire in the pew.
Let’s start at the beginning. If your church’s leaders view missions as only a possibility, then you’ve got to minister to them in a way that lifts their eyes and stirs their hearts.
Here are a few ideas, which could apply at almost any level, to win the hearts of your pastor and/or church leaders:
- Pray for them.
- Come alongside them.
- Don’t bludgeon them with missions.
- Be supportive.
- Ask them questions about their view of missions and their view of how it fits inthe church.
- Help them think positively about missions.
- Give them only the best and most concise materials. Don’t overwhelm them with data and resources.
- Feed them information which reinforces a high view of God and of the Scripture and the effectiveness of the Gospel. It should inspire and challenge them to study more.
- Point them to good models of missions churches and pastors to which they can relate.
- On their behalf, hunt and gather the best stories and materials demonstrating the impact of churches like yours in the task of world evangelization. Pass the best along.
- Invite them to a missions party!
- Model for them the celebration of the Gospel going forward.
- Expose them to the joy of being partners with God in His global mission.
- Take them to missions events. Then discuss with them what they liked and what they didn’t like and why.
Two stories illustrate this process of exposure and expectation. A few years ago I asked a local church pastor out to lunch. My purpose was to find out what their church was doing in missions and if I could help them. I had visited his church, and I knew nothing beyond the minimal routine denominational missions obligation was happening there. After we’d eaten, I asked, “What is your missions vision for your church?” His face was blank. I don’t think anyone had ever asked him that question before. After a thoughtful pause (it looked like his mind was racing to come up with an answer), he replied, “I think our church has been very successful in evangelizing our community. I think we should plant some other churches just like ours in nearby areas.” I could tell that he felt satisfied with his answer. It seemed like he thought, “See! That’s a great answer!”
Then again, I hadn’t responded yet. I wanted to compliment him. I realized that he was a pastor in this first level: missions was only a possibility. I could tell that he wasn’t sure where this was going. So, I said, “That’s a great start! You can use local church planting as your laboratory and internship process to train people to plant churches all around the world.” You could have knocked him over with a feather. He looked like he’d just had the wind knocked out of him. Fast forward: Six months later, while visiting this dear brother’s church, I found in the lobby a freshly printed missions vision statement. It stated, in essence, “Our church is going to plant other churches, locally and overseas. We’re going to get experience here that we can use to deploy missionaries around the world.”
John Piper tells this account of his own growth in missions “ownership.” When he first came to Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, it already had a missions program with an annual missions conference planned well in advance. Being the typical, well-disciplined pastor at the time, he decided that the annual missions conference week would be a good week to take a vacation. One year, just weeks before the conference, the missions pastor came to him to insist that he stay. The planned keynote speaker couldn’t make it at the last minute. They urgently needed him, the preaching pastor, to be the speaker for the week!
Let me interject here, while this was an unplanned incident, it was a genius stroke of Providence. I’ve often wondered if the situation couldn’t be duplicated in other churches. i.e. – Could you try doing this same thing with your pastor? Maybe you should consider asking your pastor to preach on missions!
Back to the story: Piper panicked! He had little or no experience in preaching missions. But there was no way out. The vacation was shelved; off the shelf came the Bible and commentaries to start studying. He shuttered himself into his study to do the tedious work of preparation on short notice.
What happened? God spoke through His Word! John Piper got it! His whole perspective on missions and his role was transformed. His classic book on the supremacy of God in missions, Let the Nations Be Glad was the result.
Top books to help your pastor and/or church leaders:
- Let the Nations Be Glad, John Piper
- The Key to the Missionary Problem, Andrew Murray
- Six Dangerous Questions, Paul Borthwick
- Short-term missions trip to hang-out and observe missionary life and ministry, NOT to teach/preach or be in the limelight
- Propempo International’s website and e-resources, see https://propempo.com and http://CMP.Propempo.com
Fuel for the leaders’ prayer life and missions stimulation:
- Operation World, Johnstone & Mandryk
- Eternity in Their Hearts, Don Richardson
- The Church is Bigger Than You Think, Johnstone
- Magnify Your Vision for the Small Church, John Rowell
If you are a pastor who wants to rise above the missions staying at the “Project level”, one key is to develop a personal and pastoral relationship with missionaries. This is a more difficult task if you are in a traditional denominational setting. You have to work at it, but it is possible. If your church doesn’t have an individual relationship with any of your denomination’s missionaries, ask them to assign you one (or two or three). Usually they will try to identify a missionary whose natural home base is geographically close to your church.
How to start? Quarterly updates about the church ministry from you to your missionaries is a good start. Requesting specific and more-personal-than-usual prayer requests helps build that bond. Opening a two-way channel of communication will enhance your own ministry, give you a more global perspective, and fuel your burden for evangelism.
Perhaps your pastor sees missions as a priority. He is to be commended! Your pastor readily agrees to give visibility to missions through platform time, preaching opportunities, and missions events.
In order to move beyond the Program and Priority levels, the pastor and church leaders need to understand that missions is not a threat to the budget of the church. Missions is not in competition with the building fund. It’s not a threat to the preaching ministry or the vision-direction of the church (unless, of course, that vision is heading in a man-centered direction!).
Missions funding is not a zero sum game. There is something dynamic and magnetic about a church that is not ingrown, focused on itself, consumed with mostly selfish interests. All the ministries thrive when the church leaders challenge the congregation to be a part of something bigger than themselves, to a vision that finds satisfaction in the proclamation of the glory of God to all nations.
One of the keys to grasping this new paradigm is to see missions as the core vs. a piece-of-the-pie mentality. Most church ministries require some kind of coordination meetings for scheduling and budgeting. Despite the façade of Christian grace and teamwork, it’s just human nature for those meetings to degenerate into competition for resources. Every ministry wants their piece of the pie. Every ministry wants their piece of the pie to grow. Every ministry would like the other ministries to bow in subservience to their own undeniably awesome importance.
If missions is at the core of the church’s ministry philosophy, it’s a different story. When every ministry is concerned with discipling and equipping toward maturity, seeking to perform its role in fulfilling the Great Commission, then every ministry has a unifying theme and purpose. Missions informs, inspires, and influences their planning, staffing, and budgetary expectations. The Head of the Church is honored by conformity to His express will and desire for the church.
I love a statement made by Doug Christgau. He is one of the handful of elite, long-term missions pastors in the country and an officer of the (now extinct) National Association of Missions Pastors. Doug said, “If we were consistent with our theology, the second full time staff person hired by any church would be a missions pastor.”
What a difference it would make if every church had church leaders who were passionate about the cause of missions? Our communities would be different! Our churches would be salt and light – to the ends of the earth! The reputation and effectiveness of the church of our Lord Jesus Christ, the bride for which He died, would be powerful!
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless. [Eph 5:25-27]
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. [Eph.