This is the eighth post in a series discussing a pastor’s personal involvement with international missions. While it is geared specifically to senior pastors, I believe that the principles apply to all leaders in the church. If you would like to start from the beginning and get a feel for the main thesis of the series, click here.
“Because it will educate you concerning what’s actually going on in the world of missions”
The history of missions is a complicated thing. There’s a lot of good stuff we can point to. But there’s also a giant pile of bad. We prefer to talk about the William Carey’s and the Hudson Taylor’s of our past but there’s a real reason why those guys stand out from the rest. Telling the stories of Adoniram Judson and John G. Paton never fail to inspire young missionary hearts but there’s a reason that we don’t like telling the stories of forced conversions during the colonial era or the failure of the Church in the 4th and 5th century to evangelize anything not named Rome.
The history of missions is full of successes and failures. It’s full of good ideas and utterly terrible ones. At times the church has walked in obedience, but there are also long seasons of compromise, pragmatism and outright betrayal of the cause of the gospel. We can point to eras (not years, eras) of missiological strategy that was blatantly disobedient to the commands of Jesus.
And where was the church in all of this?
When missions is done right, it’s shaped by the community that shapes every other good thing: The Church. When the Church is healthy, healthy missionaries are produced. When the Church is submitted to the Lordship of Jesus, it sends out missionaries who are too. When the Church knows it’s bible well and structures itself after the frameworks that the bible unfolds, our missionaries do the same.
Or, to say it another way: Weak and compromising churches produce weak and compromising missionaries.
Churches that don’t keep the sufficiency of Jesus and His gospel at the center of what they do and who they are, produces missionaries who think Jesus is something other than central to their mission.
But this relationship does not end with sending.
The best church/missionary relationships are the ones that continue long after the sending happens. And they are a relationship that goes much deeper than simply helping them pay the bills while on the field. When William Carey committed to going to India, he told Andrew Fuller “Well, I will go down, if you will hold the rope.”
Carey wasn’t just talking about financial support in that moment. Carey understood that if a missionary was going to be successful, it was because work was being done at both ends.
Whenever the church and missions exist as separate things, we lose more than just a steady stream of support. We create islands where there should be peninsulas. We leave missionaries to be unchecked and underserved. And while there are thousands of great missionaries who are walking as faithfully as they can in those environments, there are still others who are attracted to missions because they prefer to be left unchecked. But regardless of which group your missionaries fall into, can we honestly argue that this reality is a good thing?
Replace the characters and the setting— retell our story in a slightly different way and we would balk at the idea. Take any small group in your church. Stop talking to it’s leader(s) except for an irregular, faceless checkin through email. Never examine what they’re teaching. Never step in on the class and see with your own eyes how things are going. Just let them run their own path for a handful of years with your blessing and a budget. Is it possible that it’s an incredible group that’s making disciples consistent with the teaching and direction of your church? Of course it is. But it’s more likely that you’ve got a rogue group on your hands. A group that will be very displeased to have you speak to anything they’re doing from that point on.
Brother pastor, your missionaries need more than your financial support. They need your pastoral support. I’m not arguing that the church should dictate everything on the field, but you need to know what’s actually going on. Are they walking consistently with your statement of faith? Are they practicing missiological systems that are consistent with what you believe about the gospel? Trends have come and gone and come again in the world of missions that you need to be aware of. And stepping foot on the field and having face to face conversations with your missionaries will help to make sure you’re talking about the same things.
Great pastors delegate well, but they also shepherd the ones they delegate to. Hang on faithfully to your end of the rope.