When one of your church members shares they want to serve overseas, what should you do next? OMF worker Andy Stevens who has been supporting missionary candidates and churches from post-Catholic and post-Communist Europe for many years, shares six areas that you might want to consider.
It might start as a phone call. Or a text message. Or a quick chat after church. But as soon as it comes, you realise that it is the beginning of a significant amount of work.
You’re a busy pastor with a church that has been doing alright recently. The evangelistic course you ran has led to some new believers and some baptisms. That difficult former elder found work in a different part of the country. You’ve recently been able to hand over the youth work to an enthusiastic church member. And now this.
“Pastor, I think I am being called to go on missions.”
You smile. You encourage. But there are thousands of questions swirling inside you hear. No one from your church in this small town in Western Poland has ever gone on mission.
“I spoke with a mission agency, and they said to speak to you.”
It’s worse than you thought. This lovely church member has already involved an outside agency in the conversation. And now they want to involve you.
“That’s wonderful,” you say. “Let’s make an appointment to talk.”
And so it begins.
On the one hand, this is fantastic. The discipleship of your church member, let’s call them Alex, has progressed to the point that they are ready to sacrifice their current circumstances to serve Jesus overseas. On the other hand, Alex does everything: worship, welcome, preaching, kids ministry. How will you replace that? And then… budget: you don’t know the size but you know it will be big.
What should you do next?
Here are six areas to consider:
- Prayerful discernment: You have done the first thing right. You have set up an appointment with Alex. Bravo. The mission agency will initially be very excited. Here is someone who wants to join their team. Later on, there will be a rigorous application process, but the first reaction is one of excitement. You do not need to be the same. Chat with Alex. Be encouraging, but ask questions.
Figure out where this compulsion came from – it may even be something your preached! Is it a sudden desire that will soon fade away?
Or were the seeds sown years ago? Is this really a ‘missionary call’ or is it just an escape from current circumstances?
If you are married, involve your husband or wife in the chat. Or another leader. Four ears are better than two. And pray together. In particular, listen to how Alex prays: is his heart for the lost, or for his own adventures?
- Preach patience: Most missionary candidates are enthusiastic and keen to get going. They have unrealistic hopes that things will move fast. They won’t. If you discern that this is a genuine call for long-term ministry, remind Alex that these things take time. Three years is not unusual. And if there is a need for Bible College training first, it could be even longer. Alex will have to learn the art of waiting, and you will have to support him through that.
- Mentor and champion: This might be you, but it may well be appropriate to appoint someone else to be Alex’s mentor and champion. If you have a missions committee in your church, it would make sense to ask one of them. You might love to do this yourself, but you know how stretched you are as a pastor. Is that a realistic ambition? Or would it be better to have someone else, someone you trust, be the person that Alex can check in with Alex. This champion will also present Alex’s prayer needs to the church and ensure that Alex is regularly lifted up in prayer.
- Prepare your church: Missionary ‘going’ is what Alex will do. Missionary ‘sending’ can be the job of the whole church. In fact, it should be the job of the whole church – even the kids. Although Alex will eventually leave, he will still be a church member. In fact, he will represent your church in his country of service. Your church will have their eyes opened to the spiritual needs of another part of the world. This is a golden opportunity for them. Alex’s example might even spur others on to bolder evangelistic deeds in their own neighbourhoods. And certainly, the church’s involvement in ‘making disciples of all nations’, will move to the next level.
- Money: Hudson Taylor, the founder of OMF, was very clear that when people are acting in obedience to God, he will provide all that is needed. You probably have that experience in your own life. It is very appropriate that your church will financially support Alex. But you do not need to carry that burden. This is God’s burden, not yours. One practical thing you can do is introduce Alex to churches in your network or in your town so that they can share the joy of this missionary activity. They may also be keen to join in with the financial support. On the same note, don’t panic about replacing Alex in church. God knows your needs. Everyone is vital, no one is indispensable.
- Partnership: Eventually, God willing, Alex will go overseas. Although he will still be a church member, your contact with him will be less, and his accountability to you will be different. When your hand your own kids over to the Scouts on Thursday evening, this is a partnership. You meet with your scout leader. You get to know her. When there are concerns you share them, and she will share her concerns about your children with you. So with a mission agency. Hopefully, this will be a new and fulfilling partnership for you. Overseas, the mission agencies will be looking out for Alex. At home, the mission agency, on its good days, will be looking out for you. This will not result in overbearing and overwhelming communication. It’s a gentle friendship. Helping each other to learn and to put in place the best package of support for your missionary. In your first conversation with Alex, talk about the mission agency. Why did he contact that one? Then do your own research and make the first move. The mission agency would love to hear from you. You don’t need to wait for them to come to you.
And so it continues.
Alex might never go abroad. Maybe he will stay just for a few years. Or maybe this will be a lifelong career that will outlast your tenure as pastor. But hopefully now, when you receive that phone call or WhatsApp message, you will have a few more ideas of what to say and how to respond.
Perhaps you haven’t had this conversation. But we pray that one day you will. You are a busy pastor. You can wait for this conversation. Or you can get ready in advance. There are many mission agencies who would love to help you think about missions sending from your church. OMF is definitely one of those. We’d love to hear from you.
Get in touch with a local OMF representative if you are in a similar situation.
Andy Stevens has served as the Strategy Coordinator for OMF New Horizons in Europe and Africa since 2016, and previous to that spent 11 years in the UK meeting church leaders and candidates as a mobiliser. He loves to help churches figure out the best way to stand with their missionaries.