Partner With Your Local Church

When I first started pursuing long-term cross-cultural missions, I really wanted to bypass my local church. My short-term missions experience had introduced me to the red-tape and bureaucracy of the local church and I remembering thinking to myself, Can't I just raise prayer and financial support from my family and friends?

Two Stories

Diane's short-term missions trip seemed great at the outset. She had connected with a good mission agency at Urbana, she received excellent financial support from her family and a few friends, and her peers in her fellowship group on campus were very excited for her. But when she arrived in Central Africa for eight weeks, she found out just how alone she was. Her family wrote regularly, but others seemed to forget about her. When she returned home, no one seemed interested in the intense experiences she'd had in a new culture. Her aloneness made her think, "I doubt I'll ever go into missions again."

Louise had a very different experience. Rather than going with an independent program, she decided to go through her church-affiliated short-term program to Eastern Europe. At the start of the summer, she experienced some deep frustration with the church’s sending process. She wondered, Why do I have to do all of this paperwork? Why do I have to meet with the missions committee? When I'm so ready to go, why does it seem that my church is dragging its feet in actually sending me out? The church’s pre-field training required that she spend time developing relationships with people in her church. After a special send-off service, a dozen friends took Louise to the airport from the church.

During her summer, letters and emails came regularly. She never felt the same sort of aloneness Diane felt because there were constant reminders that her church was behind her. She returned home two months later to an airport reception crowded with church members toting Welcome Home signs. Several expressed anticipation about hearing her reports.

Although Diane and Louise are extreme (though true) cases, their contrasting experiences were related to their pre-field relationship building with people in their local church.

Why Should I Work With My Church?

First, it's biblical. Jesus promises that the Church will prevail against the gates of hell (Matthew 16:18). The book of Acts shows the Church in action to fulfill the Great Commission through establishing churches. Missionaries are sent to establish churches, not to make solitary converts. If we ignore the local church in our own culture, what will we have to offer the local church in another?

Second, it's practical. Our local church has plenty to offer in the sending process. Financial and prayer support are the most basic means of involvement. But going with the support of those who know us—even those who have known us since we were young—is crucial too. The church can advise us on what we need to do to prepare for all of the stresses related to cross-cultural ministry and receive us with open arms when we return.

Third, it multiplies the vision. Our cross-cultural calling can be a tremendous mission catalyst to the sending church. Most churches will get very excited about the thought of sending one of their own. If we partner with our churches, the vision for missions can spread to others.

On-Ramps to Missions in Churches

Churches are different and churches change, so the starting point is to know your church. We can miss out on great opportunities to base our efforts in our home churches if we fail to explore all the opportunities. Three great steps from there are:

  1. Local church-based programs. When first exploring a calling to cross-cultural ministry, most of us start with a short-term assignment. Instead of going through an independent agency or group, consider going with your local church.
  2. Denominational programs. Explore missions possibilities in your church’s denomination. A local church will more eagerly support you if they see that your missions service is connected with an established denominational program that they already know and trust.
  3. Missions Leaders. If your best option for missions means going with an independent mission agency, you can still build a solid church partnership through your church’s pastor, the missions committee or whatever structure we discover in our churches that serves as the launching group. Building rapport with the missions leaders in your church will provide avenues for counsel, training, prayer, and financial support.

Practical Ways to Partner with Your Church

Communicate.

A true partnership with our church will mean involving people in the church from the outset - not just after we choose a location, task or ministry. Get people praying as you begin looking for a missions opportunity. Ask for advice and listen to it. If we're communicating with our church and pastor months or years before we go, everyone will have a greater sense of being involved in our sending.

Be a giver.

Too often we contact our home church leadership only when we need something—especially money. Our church is not a religious ATM to be used only for withdrawals. Partnering means that we look for ways to financially give and serve in our churches long before we leave as cross-cultural missionaries. Volunteer to serve where the church needs it—not just to teach the "Missions" class.

Learn the church's channels.

Discovering the ways to apply for financial support. Become familiar with the church’s faithful prayer warriors. Get to know the church leadership and the church's history. If there is a missions team, get to know their vision locally and globally.

Submit.

Submission is perhaps the hardest aspect of partnering, but whether it's easy or hard isn't the issue. The issue is whether we want to be sent out under the authority that God has ordained, even when that authority disagrees with what we think. There are, regretfully, those rare times when church leaders aren't faithful to scriptural priorities. Church leaders who hold convictions unfavorable to biblical mission have sometimes restrained would-be missionaries. If we find ourselves in this situation, we still need to seek out several senior advisers who understand the biblical teaching on mission and follow their counsel.

Recruit prayer.

Invite your pastor, missions committee, church small group, and other church family members to regularly pray for you in person, through emails, letters or whatever means you want. But be sure to do it. Prayer has power.

Involve people financially.

Prayer support, letters, and a sense of teamwork all benefit when many people are involved financially. Communicate clearly what the needs are and invite people to partner with you through prayer and through their finances. The books Friend-Raising by Betty Barnett and The Support-Raising Handbook by Brian Rust and Barry McLeish can be a great help.

Ask your church for a commissioning.

The prayer witness of the Holy Spirit in Acts 13 helped give Paul and Barnabas the spiritual energy they needed to go out as missionaries. You need the same. A church service or special church gathering can provide you the opportunity to get commissioned for our assignment by your church. Inviting your church to pray for you also provides a strong sense of spiritual identification between our sending churches and us.

Report Back Often.

We cannot afford to wait until we return to stay in touch with the church that sends us. It takes careful planning, but correspondence and communication with our church will bond us with our senders. People want to know how their prayers are being answered, and it's our responsibility to tell them. They also want to know how they can continue to pray for us, and we can relay our needs by regular email updates, blog posts,  or phone calls.

We have a great privilege and responsibility to partner with our home churches. It will help us better understand God's strategy for missions and help our churches fulfill their God-given purposes as senders.

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These blogs are the words of the writers and do not represent InterVarsity or Urbana. The same is true of any comments which may be posted about any blog entries. Submitted comments may or may not be posted within the blog, at the blogger's discretion.