“I’m sensing God might be leading me to the mission field. What should I do next?”
This is a question I’m often asked as I work with college students and young professionals in the university town where I live.
The question though, for those considering cross-cultural ministry, shouldn’t first be “what’s next?”, but “what am I doing now?”. If the glory of God is the aim of missions, and the local church is the engine of the Great Commission (see Eph. 3:10), then are you invested as a meaningful member of your local church?
As one considering taking the gospel across ethnic, linguistic and geographic boundaries, what should you be doing now? And how do we, as the local church, need to be assessing and equipping our church members in preparation for global gospel work? These are important questions, and I hope these points below will help guide you in answering this question for yourself and others.
If you aren’t a faithful and fruitful church member now, how do you expect to model that for those you are evangelizing and discipling in another context? Be faithful – gather with the Body regularly and weekly in the main gathering of the church (Hebrews 10:25).
As a part of that membership, practice hospitality with those in covenant membership alongside you. This hospitality should look multi-generational and even cross-cultural. Don’t just hang out with those who are like you, but get to know those in other demographics. Invite non-believers into your home as you have fellowship with other believers, and in turn, corporately display and declare the gospel message to non-believing neighbors, co-workers and friends.
As you individually and corporately seek to share the gospel, pray for those opportunities and then capitalize on them as they come. Be regularly sharing the gospel. As is often noted, if you aren’t sharing the gospel now, you won’t automatically begin sharing there.
Gather with the body, practice hospitality, proclaim the gospel, but also look for teaching opportunities. This can come in both small group and large group settings, as well as in one-on-one discipling relationships. Be a disciple who is a disciple-maker. Make sure others are pouring into you with the Word and you, in turn, are pouring the Word into others.
As you consider these markers, how would you measure your membership barometer? Do you, as leaders within the church, recognize others in your church whose lives are marked by these qualities and characteristics?
I am a huge advocate for mission organizations like the IMB who provide exceptional training for those going to the field. There is great opportunity and need for the church to send our members alongside these para-church ministries.
Yet even while we should utilize and encourage such involvement and partnership, the local church should be the first step in training and equipping future missionaries. Does your church have any training ground, even at a basic level, to begin laying foundational truths about theology, ecclesiology and missiology?
One place to begin is with a Missions Reading Group. I have seen this work effectively at other churches and decided to begin one where I serve a few years ago. A number of us gather regularly on a bi-weekly basis for reading and discussion. During these times of guided conversation and equipping, we have walked through various readings on key doctrines that are necessary to define and defend when engaging with those of various worldviews. We have discussed the primary and core elements of what is necessary to establish a church in a cross-cultural context. We have considered issues of missionary calling, contextualization and creative access, just to name a few.
If you aren’t involved (as one considering going), or haven’t implemented such a training opportunity (for those called to send), let me challenge you to start small but start somewhere. As the church, we should feel the burden to help equip those we are called to send (Acts 13:2, Romans 10:14-15).
International Experiences and Local Engagement
Such training should lead to experience and engagement. I encourage all those who come to my office asking about long-term service to first go short-term. I’ve joyfully seen members of our church decide to serve long-term after going on a short-term trip. Indeed, short-term missions can be a helpful pipeline to long-term service.
As a church, find healthy partners and establish healthy partnerships, and then look for opportunities to send members to support long-term workers in that gospel labor.
With that said, such engagement should not only be ‘there’, but also ‘here’. At the university just blocks from where our church gathers, we have 1500 international students from 120 different countries, many of those being closed countries with limited access to the gospel. We have an opportunity now to share the gospel with them. As God is faithful to save some of these students, it’s very possible that they could then be sent back as disciples of Christ to evangelize and disciple those in their own country’s context. Whether on a college campus or in your work cubicle, open your eyes to the nations that are on our doorstep.
Evaluating where you are now
So to the one considering crossing cultures─ does your membership matter, are you immersing yourself as a learner to be well-equipped and are you engaging now, in preparation for what’s next?
And church, are you ordering yourselves in such a way that you can offer these opportunities and in turn, observe those who are faithful and fruitful in doing spiritual good in their own lives’ and in the lives of others?
The next time you or someone you know desiring to be a missionary asks “What’s next?”, seek to answer that question through the lens of a faithful representation of what you are doing now. While the context and culture may change, faithfulness in the church here and now will produce faithful churches and church members there and then.