We have always got to be careful with generalisations, yet it’s probably fair to say that when it comes to identifying new gospel workers, many churches are pretty passive.
Sure, if someone comes forward asking to be sent, most will do all they can to help. But if no one approaches them, should church leaders conclude there are simply no new mission workers in their church?
Not necessarily! God’s word shows us that there is every reason for our churches to be active when it comes to identifying and encouraging potential workers for cross-cultural mission service.
God calls and sends out workers for the harvest fields
Matthew 9:38 reminds us that if we long to see more mission workers, then before we come up with any grand plan, glossy leaflet or moving video, we need to get on our knees. As a team at UFM we try to pray this prayer every day: “Father, would you send out workers for the harvest field.” Could you make that a regular prayer in your church?
God sends out workers through the church
We see this reality right across the New Testament, perhaps most famously in Acts 13:3, “the first piece of planned ‘overseas mission’ carried out by representatives of a particular church.”* It is a basic principle, but easily lost in the pragmatism and action of mission.
One of the things that most surprised us when we served in SE Asia was how many missionaries seemed to have a low view of the church. Some weren’t even clear about who had sent them. Others weren’t committed to being part of the local church where they were. Again, this seems to fly in the face of the New Testament pattern – God sends out workers through the church, and workers are supported by local churches**. It is the local church primarily that has this responsibility and privilege, and so mission workers aren’t to send themselves and equally as important, they aren’t sent by mission agencies.
“…mission workers aren’t to send themselves, and equally as important, they aren’t sent by mission agencies.”
Someone recently asked if we could be their sending agency. The short answer was “no.” We’re not trying to be pedantic about language, but rather, careful. The church sends. UFM supports the church as they send.
This means that church leaders need to grasp this privilege and responsibility, not hand it to others.
Church leaders are best placed to identify those with cross cultural gifting
In 1 Corinthians 12, we have that great image of the church as a body, made up of many parts. And it is within the body that people’s gifting is recognised, valued and honoured, as each part of the body interacts. In Ephesians 4:12, we see that one of the responsibilities for those who lead God’s church is to equip God’s people for works of service.
Put those two things together and what do we see? Gifting for mission is best recognised, encouraged, tested and developed in the local church, and by its leaders.
When going for a kebab, who is it in your church family that chats to the guy behind the counter rather than scrolling on their phone? When the international student walks quietly into church, who is it that naturally welcomes and opens their home to them? When the refugee crisis erupts on TV, who is at the prayer meeting that night, crying out to the Lord?
As church leaders, let’s pray for God to raise up workers for mission and be on the lookout for those with a mission heart and gifting. And let’s take the initiative. Let’s encourage them to grow in their gifts and point them to good training opportunities, short-term mission openings and older mission workers that they can learn from.
Michael Prest is Director at UFM Worldwide and an elder at Emmanuel Church Marlborough
* I. Howard Marshall, The Acts of the Apostles, Tyndale Commentary, p214.
** See, for example, Acts 13, Romans 15:23-33, Philippians 4:10-20, 3 John:5-8.