The answer to this question lies at the feet of the church leadership. How you answer will reveal your true priorities in ministry. Our short answer is, “As soon as possible.” However, the answer may vary widely depending on your local situation and ethos. Let’s consider several scenarios that may illustrate how your church may answer this question.
Consider a church which, by God’s grace, has an excellent, well-informed lay leader for missions ministries. This person may have considerable cross-cultural field ministry experience. This person should have good leadership and administrative skills. This person is committed to the local church and understands how your church leadership decision-making operates. This person may serve on the elder or leadership board of the church. This person should have significant time available to commit to their missions leadership role in the church. When a local church is blessed with a person like this, someone who works closely and well with church leadership and staff, you may not feel the need to hire a Missions Pastor. This case does not mean that hiring a Missions Pastor wouldn’t produce better results; neither does it mean that you should never consider “hiring” a Missions Pastor; rather, it means that your church may have more resources to exercise stewardship along different lines of priority. We have seen this scenario work well: a senior church leader/businessman functions as the missions leader until retirement, then becomes a volunteer staff Missions Pastor as a transition for the church to eventually hire a Missions Pastor.
Consider a small, one-staff church wanting to grow. We’ve stated previously, “If we were consistent in biblical priorities, the second staff pastor of a church would be a Missions Pastor.” The Missions Pastor is rarely a full-time position, especially in a small to medium sized church. It is quite common for a missions-minded church to make the second full-time pastor position a combination of roles. Among those potential roles: Missions Pastor, Youth Pastor, Worship Pastor, Small Group/Discipleship Pastor, Evangelism/Outreach Pastor, Counseling Pastor, University and Young Professionals Pastor, “Enfolding” Pastor, Administrative/Executive Pastor. In our experience, the best Missions Pastors are those gifted in administration and communication. it’s takes a lot of organizational leadership skills to lead, facilitate, and mobilize the church body in this complex, international endeavor toward fulfilling the Great Commission. If the church leadership wants to make missions a priority and grow significantly in vision for ministry outside the walls of the church property, there is no clearer statement than hiring and giving the (at least part-time) responsibility for facilitating missions ministry development to a full-time staff pastor. Be careful to not give untested or broad-scope authority to a greenhorn. i.e. – If your new half-and-half Missions Pastor – Young Adult Pastor is coming straight from seminary graduation, he will most certainly need significant on-the-job training and experience under wise guidance from qualified lay leaders before he exercises significant policy or decision-making powers.
Consider a medium-sized church desiring to define or implement a clear missions vision. A Missions Pastor can be a wonderful complement to a growing church. Not only does he have a heart for strategic cross-cultural ministry overseas, but that mindset applied to local ministries can be a big help to local outreach, general administration, small group ministries, discipleship, and/or local church planting initiatives. Rarely does the senior pastor have the time and focus to do the interpersonal spade work to develop and implement a larger strategic plan for the church; but a Missions Pastor must think in those terms as part of his overall philosophy of ministry. A number of Missions Pastors have been effectively utilized in some leadership function in the strategic planning and implementation process for the local church. A medium-sized church should consider giving significant oversight and/or facilitation of missions ministry to a staff pastor. At the same time, there should be a commitment to training and seeing that staff pastor grow in understanding and ability in church missions administration. Propempo.com is a good place to start. There are many others useful Internet resources, as well. A strong reading program, using Propempo recommended resources and other available resources documents sprinkled throughout the website would be helpful. Then, have the designated staff person contact other like-minded churches to learn from them. One phrase we hear often is, “There is no sense in re-inventing the wheel.” Request Propempo to come and do a leadership training session for your church staff and missions leadership. Or, use a Propempo diagnostic to discover your church’s strengths and weaknesses; then use that knowledge to address issues and grow.
As an aside, though “vision” is idealized in American church culture as part of the requirements or expectations of the “senior pastor,” such “vision” is usually more like “hyperactive imagination” or even “vain imagination” than a biblically-informed perception of future trends and outcomes. Biblically, one person’s subjective sense of supernatural revelation does not become normative (applicable) to the whole church just because the senior pastor thinks so. A corollary to Propempo’s axiom, “Don’t let missionary candidates ‘lay hands on themselves,'” would be, “A leader’s vision must be tested by biblical truth and reality as understood by those affected.” Be Bereans!
Consider a larger church. What about larger churches? At what point should we move from a part-time or shared-responsibility staff position to a full-time Missions Pastor? We don’t know your church’s particular situation, but typically a church that gives $100,000 per year or more to international cross-cultural missions should put a full-time Missions Pastor on their radar. The cause of missions has all the elements of an international Christian business, with communication and management issues on both local and global ends of the spectrum: prayer, priorities, “product,” promotion, personnel, program, and “pesos.” If mobilizing your congregation in missions is a priority in your ministry philosophy, as we think it should be, then your Missions Pastor will be very active in cultivating individual participation and ownership in missions, as well as mentoring and training those aspiring to become career missionaries, as young adults or second-career workers. Short Term Missions and “Business As Missions” facilitation and management push the envelope of responsibility to higher and broader intensity. Missions becomes a regular elective in your Christian education curriculum and a requirement for those pursuing missions ministry. Guidance and fund-development for projects and missionary personnel grow with your missions support commitments. Frequency of meetings for leadership of missions grow as well.
Another check point for staffing is when your church approaches 1,000 in Sunday morning attendance. At that point, if you don’t already have a Missions Pastor in a North American church context, your church is behind the curve in missions development. The priority proven by having a designated Missions Pastor will have positive benefits to all the ministries of your church. A Missions Pastor can influence every ministry of the church to have an outreach mindset, every ministry to think of the Great Commission as central to their distinct purpose.
Every church scenario is unique. If you are thinking about this question, perhaps the Lord is already prompting you and your leadership to consider the timing, qualifications, and impact of hiring or designating responsibilities as a Missions Pastor to pastoral staff. May God lead you to just the right mix and person to see God glorified through your local church (Eph. 3:20-21).