The Church Planter and International Missions
Our church has had the privilege of serving alongside missionaries and churches in Ghana, West Africa for seven years. I recently returned from my sixth trip to this area of the world, and wanted to share with you some challenges associated with this, and why I continue to go.
With respect to challenges, finding pulpit supply and delegating all of my responsibilities to others, are just the tip of the iceberg. Being a small church or church plant only makes this more difficult, because there is not a full staff of employees to step up and fill your shoes. Not to mention that when a pastor goes on a mission trip, it is not a vacation. More than likely you will have twice as many preaching and teaching opportunities, so the time spent preparing for a trip like this can be overwhelming on top of everything else. Add to this the inevitable mountain of emails and phone calls that are sure to await you when you return, and one might ask, "why do it?"
I've boiled down my reasons to four:
- It develops the heart of the church to be missions-minded - We all want our churches to be missions-minded. That's why we had an international mission trip our first year as a church. Still, it wasn't until I took my first solo trip that I realized the impact that my leaving can have on our own church. It's not just about the work I can accomplish while I'm on the mission field with our partners, it's also the statement it makes to our own church. What gets communicated when the pastor is gone is that missions is a priority here. When a church is willing to endure the sacrifices associated with the pastor leaving for two weeks, it demonstrates that the mission of taking the gospel to the nations is something that gets more than lip service around here. I believe there is nothing you will do that does more to create missions-mindedness in your church than to set the example of its importance by periodically leaving your pulpit and personally going to the mission field.
- It develops leaders - When you leave, you create an opportunity or others to step up and lead. If you never leave, some in your church who need to develop as leaders will never have an opportunity to do so. Do your best to raise up leaders, equip them, and delegate responsibilities to them, and then just leave. Sometimes we think the church revolves around us, and that it needs us so much that if we left the church for 30 minutes the church would fall apart. Clearly this is an unhealthy and prideful perspective. Jesus says that "He will build [his] church" (Matt 16:18), and sometimes we just need to get over ourselves and trust him to do just that.
- It develops our personal passion for ministry - Outside of periodic family vacations, perhaps nothing else in my life has reignited the fires of ministry more than my time serving the Lord in a different cultural context. When I see the Lord moving among the church in Africa or regenerating lost sinners in India, my personal passion for the King of Glory is revived and my desire to faithfully serve Him is renewed. Pastoral ministry has a way of allowing those fires to dwindle, and if that has been your experience, I encourage you to consider making plans to encounter the Lord in a context away from your normal experience.
- It generates Great Commission advancement - My time spent in Africa over the last seven years is more than just the sum total of the benefits received by myself and our church. Pastors have been trained, leaders have been equipped, churches have been encouraged, missionaries have been ministered to, and lost people have heard and responded to the Gospel. In the end, international missions engagement is a matter of advancing the Great Commission. Will you and your church benefit from the experience? Absolutely. But if you choose your international missions partnership wisely, you will positively impact churches and pastors, you will be an incredible source of encouragement to saints who serve in hard places, and you will bring glory to God by obeying his command to take the gospel to the nations.
If you have any questions about my experience, or want to learn more about international missions partnerships through the NACPF, please feel free to contact mee directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.