The local church always is, or should be, at the heart of the global advance of the mission of God. However, hopes for actual partnerships between a church’s pastor(s), members, and sent ones are often belied by the realities of the average missionary-church relationship. This became unexpectedly clear to my family as we began, with our church family, to try to build a healthy, biblical partnership. Helpful models were few, and most of those came from very large churches, not church plants with limited budget sending their first missionary.
We hadn’t meant to fall in love with this church plant; we’d meant to come to Denver, get some church planting experience and leave for the mission field a year later. God’s way was different, and the first thing that our new pastors did was slow us down. Actually, they told us we weren’t ready three different times. Those delays were critical for the development that we needed, but they were hard. First, the pastors invited me to become a pastoral intern so that I could be developed in leading a church and then be sent out as a pastor if God wanted me to plant churches.
The second area of development came when I realized and then confessed, still as a pastoral intern, that I had never seen God do the sort of evangelistic gospel work through me which I hoped to see in our future ministry. I was secretly scared God wouldn’t use me! So, our pastors laid out a plan in which our family moved into a new area and formed a team to reach that neighborhood, much like we will need to do on the field. Then they left us there, with encouragement and input. As we waited, worked, and cried, God worked, and we were changed.
Along the way, the church affirmed me as one of their pastors, and we were cleared to begin planning for deputation. Our pastors met extensively with our facilitating agency (IBMGlobal), including flying out with us for candidate school, so that we could be certain the fit would be good and our mutual philosophies wouldn’t contradict.
Then, the church began pouring other resources into our mission, providing people and equipment for the media we needed to create, both video and literature. I came up with a plan for fundraising; the pastors pointed out its weaknesses. Most crucially, they emphasized the need to share with individuals and families—not just churches, like I was used to. The leadership team as a group watched our full presentation and then gave us a list of things to fix and improve. Listening, advising, critiquing—making us better in invaluable ways. Once we actually started traveling, they kept giving input and helping us fine-tune our efforts.
Finally, they funded our start so that we could launch out on full-time deputation while feeding our family and without starting at 0%. When we left home, we were already over 25%, largely thanks to our sending church. Now, their portion of our needed support ($5000+/mn) is nearly 40%, both corporate (17%) and individual (22%).
I hope at a certain level you are unimpressed, because if you are too impressed, you may think this is written for someone else. But local churches, pastors, “normal” Christians, and the sent missionary all need to work together if the laborers are going to reach distant harvest fields more quickly! It would be incredibly difficult to overestimate the positive impact which a committed local church can have in preparing and launching a missionary well! May this encourage you in the global gospel endeavor!