In November, 1963, at the age of two, I left the bitter cold of Illinois to travel with my family to the bush of southern Africa, as my parents accepted the call to be missionaries. In the 54 years since then, the world of missions has changed so rapidly and dramatically it is mind-boggling. Technology, communication, and ease of travel have revolutionized world evangelism and made reaching this globe for Christ a reality. As one who now serves as a mission minister in a local church, as well as chairman of the board for a large mission in Zimbabwe, it is my desire not only to be on the cutting edge of cross-cultural evangelism, but constantly to analyze how our church can be involved corporately and individually.
After much thought, prayer, and study, along with plenty of trial and error, here are some simple action steps I have found effective. I’m convinced every church and disciple can make a difference and be personally involved in global evangelism, and I pray these simple steps will prove beneficial.
Too often missions get confined to one week or one day out of the year. Church members then look at it as one of many programs of the church, rather than seeing it as the main objective. Don’t misunderstand me; I believe in a Mission Emphasis Day or Week. At Mt. Gilead Church in Mooresville, Indiana, the church where I serve, we have been blessed to bring in some powerful mission speakers like Ajai Lall, Denford Chizanga, Jim Tune, and Gianni Bruno, who have challenged our people greatly. We display flags from every nation where we are planting churches, hand out a small booklets listing every mission we support with contact information and a synopsis of the ministry, and feature videos highlighting the work we are involved in around the globe. A church needs to emphasize and celebrate what God is doing through them. But it’s not enough.
There are many ways to keep missions at the forefront: articles and information in blogs, on websites, in newsletters and bulletins; emphasizing meetings and events where missionaries are present; featuring quality mission videos in services; and inserting missional challenges and practical action steps into the yearly preaching and small group calendar.
One of the most effective mission tools at Mt. Gilead has been our annual Vacation Bible School. We set specific goals each year, like purchasing a vehicle for a mission or building a house at an orphanage, and have seen offerings in excess of $20,000. Great effort goes into making missions a central part of each night, with top-notch speakers and presentations and fun ways to celebrate reaching goals. Many of our younger people, now preparing for the mission field, trace their initial desire and calling to VBS. It’s just one way we are able to regularly promote missions.
Options for Engagement
Since members bring different gifts and passions to the table, along with limited time, not everyone will be involved in the same way or at the same level. We want every believer to be personally invested, though, and we love it when families find ways to serve together. Jon and Ann Dunagansay it well: “God’s mission is for your family to expand his family.”
At Mt. Gilead we encourage our members to sign up to invest in at least one of five ways.
I Will Pray. Although everyone can do this, some will be especially called to pray daily and specifically for evangelists, missionaries, and unreached people groups around the world. Renowned missiologist Rose Dowsett says of Western Christians, “I think we are too readily seduced by the worldly and in fact humanist assumption that we can fix everything through our own effort.” Mission work, by its very nature, is difficult, and intentional prayer is the power behind all successful global evangelism.
I Will Give. Mission work requires money, and some believers have been gifted by God to give in significant ways. However we remind members that sacrifice involves more than financial generosity, and giving sometimes costs much more than dollars.
I Will Go. Many people respond to this challenge by choosing a mission trip, but our prayer is that some from our flock will commit to vocational mission work. In fact, we have set our sights on ordaining one person or family every year to “go into all the world,” and are ordaining two couples in 2017 who have made that commitment.
I Will Encourage. One of the most underrated ways to undergird mission work is through encouragement of servants, whether American missionaries or national evangelists. Cards, e-mails, texts, phone calls, and care packages are treasured by those on the front lines. Build friendships and provide “cold water to a weary soul.”
I Will Host. Beyond opening homes for missionaries and traveling teams, encourage church members to seek out international people living in their own backyard. College campuses are full of people from around the world. God has brought them to us, and many are lonely and hungry for American hospitality. ABWE International reports that 86 percent of Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists do not know a single Christian. And yet many of these people are around the corner from us, living in our neighborhoods and attending local universities. If we open our eyes and hearts we will see that the fields are white unto harvest.
Remember, it takes everyone to accomplish the mission, and the body is better because of that. But many of these commitments mean we have to get out of our comfort zones and learn something about our world. Paul Bortwick writes, “To be effective in world mission, North Americans need to ‘learn’ a lot more. The average American (forgive me) is amazingly ignorant of world politics, non-Christian religions, culture outside their own continent and even world geography.” Let’s fix that in this next generation.
Short-term mission trips often get a bad rap, but when they are properly planned they can be an effective way to get members thoroughly invested in missions. Having grown up on the mission field, I am sensitive to those hosting teams, whether Americans or native evangelists. I start by communicating with them to find out what they want, what they need, and how we can be of help. We have a thorough process for vetting candidates for these trips, and once chosen, we provide training and preparation. In addition, we have an agenda and schedule and make it clear that we do not travel to be poverty voyeurs or sightseers, but to serve, love, encourage, and learn. It is vital that Americans going on trips are reminded to be courteous, humble, flexible, and ready to serve as needed.
Regularly those we have visited tell horror stories of teams that have come ill-prepared or with the wrong motive. Thankfully they have also commended our teams and consistently asked us to return. If you are interested in some of the tools that we use at Mt. Gilead in this process, please contact me, and I will gladly share them with you. We have taken many people on trips, and most of them have become lifelong participants in global evangelism.
Think Next Steps
Space does not allow me to present many examples, but all of us should seek a higher level of mission participation: from going on a mission trip to a third world nation to sponsoring a child in poverty who lives there; from learning a foreign language to offering to be a translator at a university for an international student; from taking a stand on an issue like sex slavery to joining an organization that is doing something about it; from attending the International Conference on Missions or another mission conference to forming a friendship with someone on the field with whom you can get personally involved. Many people in our churches travel the world for business but seldom think about ways they can make a difference in the countries they visit. Let’s challenge them to take the next step. We are limited only by our imagination and commitment.
In The Church is Bigger Than You Think, author Patrick Johnstone writes, “There is a you-shaped hole in God’s Kingdom. Find it and fill it.” That’s my goal and prayer for every church and every disciple.
Dave Thurman is the Missions and Teaching Minister at The Church at Mt. Gilead, Mooresville, Indiana, and chairman of the board for Hippo Valley Christian Mission in Zimbabwe.