At the church I pastor, summer is my favorite time of the year because during the summer we send short-term mission teams all over the world. We just had a team return from a week of serving alongside a church plant in Boston, and the next several months, our church will send teams to New Orleans, Russia, and Asia. We place a huge emphasis on sending people to various parts of our country and our world for the sake of the Gospel. Over the years, I have had many people ask me why I, as a pastor, place so much emphasis on sending teams to places outside of our local community when there are so many people in our own community that need to hear the Gospel. Let me give you a few reasons why it is so important to be a sending church:
It’s a command; not an option.
Are there plenty of people to reach in the Low Country? Absolutely. In fact, I am becoming more and more convicted of my own shortcomings in being a Gospel witness in my own city. God has been working on my heart and making me more aware of the needs around me. I’m praying that God will help me and our church make more of a Gospel impact in the greater Charleston area. God has placed our churches in this area for a specific purpose, and I do not want to miss the purpose that God has for us.
However, while our church certainly needs to focus on sharing the Gospel in the Charleston area, that doesn’t exempt us from looking beyond Charleston. Jesus said in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Jesus told His disciples that His mission would take them far beyond their hometown. And today, God’s mission continues to take us far beyond our hometown. It’s not that a local church gets to choose whether we do international or local missions. Rather, if the local church is a healthy church it will focus on local and international missions. It’s both/and; not either/or.
Our missionaries need our support and help.
I’m thankful that I pastor a church that is part of the Southern Baptist Convention. As a church participating in the SBC, we partner with thousands of other churches to make Christ known around the world through our support of the Cooperative Program which funds missionaries who serve through the International Mission Board. The International Mission Board is the largest missionary agency in the world. Over 3,000 missionaries and their families are able to serve vocationally on the mission field because of the generous giving of our Southern Baptist churches.
However, the missionaries that we financially support need more than our money. They need our prayers, and they need us to serve alongside of them. In Asia, God is doing a remarkable work. Thousands of people are coming to faith in Christ, and in the region my church serves in, well over 500 new churches have been planted. With so many new believers, discipleship can be a huge problem. The reality is that local pastors in that area do not have the theological education needed to be able to help these new converts understand and live out God’s Word. Our missionaries have been able to help local churches in this part of the world by providing theological training for local pastors. However, if people from our churches who are theologically sound do not go and provide theological education, then our missionaries simply cannot provide the training. Our missionaries need more than our money and prayers. They need our help.
Our brothers and sisters in Christ need our encouragement and help.
Next month, my church will send a team to Russia. I have been sending teams to Russia for about ten years now. While religious freedom exists in Russia, it is still a difficult place to be a believer. In fact, many Russians confuse Russian Baptists with a cult. The believers we minister alongside of are often ostracized by their communities, and in many of the communities we visit, only a handful of believers exist. There simply isn’t a church on every corner. We have been in towns of around 30,000 people where there may be only a handful of believers. Our brothers and sisters in Russia need our encouragement.
When we visit with them and minister alongside of them in their communities, a couple of things happen. First, our brothers and sisters are reassured by our presence that they are not alone. They are reminded, and so are we, that they are a part of the worldwide family of God. Second, our ministry alongside of our brothers and sisters in Russia gives their work credibility. If a group of Americans shows up and helps local believers build a playground for the community or some other type of ministry project, the residents of that town begin to look at those Russian believers a bit differently.
I need to be reminded of the lostness that pervades the world.
The majority of the people in this world will spend eternity in hell. The reality is that at this moment 1.6 billion people in the world have no access to the Gospel, and unless the church goes to these hard to reach places, these 1.6 billion people will die having never heard the good news of the Gospel. Every time I am in Asia or Russia I am reminded of how lost this world is. If you’ve been on a short-term mission trip, you know that for that time you are the field you are more focused on lostness than you are at home. It’s unfortunate, but it’s just the reality. When I return from a short-term mission trip, I always return with more acute spiritual eyesight. I am able to see lostness more clearly in my city after I’ve spent time in another context.
I need to be encouraged by brothers and sisters in Christ around the world.
Every trip I go on I meet people who amaze me. I meet believers who live passionately for their Lord in spite of difficult circumstances and persecution, and every person I meet encourages me in my walk with the Lord. On every trip I am reminded that I am blessed to live in a country where I can still openly practice my faith, and every trip reminds of how much I take my blessed life for granted. Many of the people I have met overseas I continue to have contact with, and I continue to be encouraged by their amazing faith.
It’s amazing what God has done in my life through short-term international mission trips. Years ago, international missions was not on my radar. However, now I look forward to serving internationally whenever God gives me the opportunity. Maybe international missions is not on your radar. Why not pray that God would open your heart to His mission?
I pray that you will consider how God might use you to spread the Gospel beyond your local community.