With preaching, planning and managing the Sunday service, orchestrating small groups, facilitating childcare, and putting on the occasional church event, pastors are often forced to give missions whatever scraps of time and energy they have left over.
But missions deserves to be one of the core ministries receiving the firstfruits of the church’s attention—because it is at the heart of the gospel. It is, after all, part of Christ’s great commission to the church:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20).
Missions is central purpose for which the church exists. And while it is often difficult to make missions a core practice of the local church—especially because the mission field is so far away—it is worthwhile to strategize ways of putting the Great Commission front and center for our congregations..
Consider these 10 ways your local church can begin to cultivate an excitement toward missions without overtaxing church leadership.
1. Pray for a particular nation during every Sunday service
Paul had a heart for his brethren in Israel to come to Christ (Rom. 9:1-3). He loved them and wanted them to know Christ: “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (v. 3).
Sometimes, this love comes only through intense prayer. In Scripture, God often cultivates ministry partnerships through the seed of prayer. One church praying for another church was a key piston in the engine of church growth in the book of Acts:
“Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 8:14-17)
Notice that ministry opportunity is preceded by prayer. As we practice prayer, God often honors our intercession with opportunities, desires, convictions, and callings that form long-term cross-cultural partnerships between churches across the globe.
2. Partner with a “sister church” in another country
The Apostle Paul encouraged collaboration between churches. This was a critical aspect of making cross-cultural ministry relational. Paul goes so far as to commend this kind of collaboration to the Galatians: “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10).
Through your denomination, church network, or affiliation, find like-minded churches that you can support in parts of the world that are under-resourced. Ask them what they need, what you can do for them, and begin praying that God would show you a clear path toward a blossoming partnership. This gives people a way to tangibly pray for God’s kingdom to expand across the globe.
3. Ask your missionaries for updates to share with the congregation
Missionary stories have always enchanted the people of God. Whether it’s conversion stories, prayer requests, discipleship opportunities, or evangelistic moments, somehow, the mission field has a unique ability to showcase both the supernatural and ordinary beauty of Christianity that we take for granted in our own context.
Video updates are a fantastic method for doing this. If videos don’t work, share praise and prayer requests from their newsletter as often as possible.
Paul’s letters often serve a triple function as theological instruction, personal encouragement, and ministry update. For example, he writes in Colossians:
“At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. … They [Aristarchus, Mark, Justus] will inform you about the whole situation here. … these are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are from the circumcision, and they have proved to be an encouragement to me.” (Col. 4:2-4, 9, 11)
4. Pray that your congregation would have a heart for the nations
Pray with your leadership team that your church would share God’s heart—given that he “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).
You may find that, as you pray for your church members, they will begin to hunger for opportunities to participate in the bigger project of growing God’s kingdom globally through the expansion of the local church.
5. Preach a sermon series on God’s desire to bring the nations to Christ
Preaching a sermon series on missions will not only give your members an opportunity to find a passion within themselves for missions, but will also trickle down to small group discussion and informal post-church conversations. Most people are delighted to hear about missions, but don’t think much about it unless they’re prompted. Give yourself permission to give them that prompt. The chances are high that your members are hungry for an opportunity to support the growth of Christ’s kingdom across the globe.
It is the pastor’s job, not only to build his church through evangelism and discipleship, but to send his church after the example of Christ: “And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing” (Luke 9:2).
6. Task your missions committee with a strategic plan
Your missions committee can be a great powerhouse of mobilization for missions excitement in your church. Task them with generating small events, ideas, and meetings to spark interest in missions in your church.
Prayer initiatives. Fundraising breakfasts. Prayer/praise updates. Missionary speakers. Encouraging young people in the church to consider missions. These are all small ways that your missions committee at your church can stoke the fire of excitement for missions. When people feel like missions is part of the day-to-day culture of their church, it more easily occurs top-of-mind to them when they pray, when they relate, when they serve, and when they give.
7. Bring your missionaries in to speak to the church as often as possible
Missionaries on furlough are often hungry to share their victories and obstacles with their supporting churches. They need encouragement, but they also desire to bear witness to God’s work on the field so that their supporting churches can be edified and encouraged.
Bringing in your missionaries to speak during Sunday service can help to enliven the imaginations of your members to the reality of God’s work on the global stage. As missionaries share stories, pictures, joys, and sorrows, your members are spiritually equipped to support them in prayer and mentally prepared to partner with them financially.
8. Send groups on short-term missions trips
Short-term mission trips are notorious for their propensity to devolve into tourism. But that isn’t always the case.
At age 16, I was blessed to be sent by my church on a short-term trip to Ghana. We prayed with the people there. We partnered with a church to build a building. At the time, I couldn’t understand the depth of what we were doing or the importance of the Ghanian church’s ministry to the kingdom of God. But it planted a seed in me that grew into a love for Christ and a passion to participate in God’s global project of bringing Christ to the nations that I believe will last for the rest of my life.
Those memories matter in my life. And for others, these short-term opportunities for service, while seemingly insignificant, can be a seed that blossoms into a movement-level work of God among churches here to mobilize laborers for the harvest.
“May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah—that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!” (Psa. 67:1-3)
9. Encourage students to consider missions internships
The Apostle Paul tells Timothy: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). The context of this passage is particularly relevant for missions, because Paul was mentoring Timothy to do church planting that was in many ways cross-cultural.
Missionary work isn’t just for grown-ups. When high schoolers and college students go global, their involvement often engages their parents as well, shaping the culture of the church along the way. This is a simple way to introduce personal sacrifice into the lives of your people and help them develop a taste for the work of missions.
10. Fully support and send a missionary from your church
The ideal situation for every church-missionary relationship is one in which a church fully supports and sends the missionary as an extension of itself. Accountability is maximized, leadership qualifications are valued, and the ministry of the cross-cultural worker can more easily become the project of his or her whole spiritual family back home.
But if a missionary is forced to gather a multitude of supporters, the impression arises that ministry is just “happening” out there, in the abstract. No one church can own or celebrate what God accomplishes. Conversely, a church that fully supports and sends a missionary is an example of a specific collection of God’s people sharing the love of Christ with a specific collection of lost souls.
When a church sends a missionary, all ministry updates are relationship updates. Missionary updates take on the feel of Paul’s letters, in which he goes on about how those who are on the field with him send their love to the other churches (cf. 1 Cor. 16). We ought to pray that God blesses us each of our church’s missions work with this kind of loving connection with those serving far away.
Perhaps your church isn’t ready for all 10 of these steps. That’s okay. Sometimes small steps of faithfulness have the longest-lasting fruitfulness.
Discuss with your elders, deacons, or missions committee which of these practices would be a healthy regular practice for your church. Amidst the busyness of all the other ministries elbowing for your attention, you may discover that when missions is given center stage, every other aspect of the church benefits and is strengthened—as God gives your church a passion to bring Christ to every tribe, tongue, and nation.
ABWE exists to fulfill the Great Commission by multiplying leaders, churches, and missions movements among every people.