Missions for Infants: 6 Steps Toward Building a Healthy Missions Culture as a Young Church
If you came here to find the silver bullet, let me disappoint you early—I don’t have it. Let me help you further: no one else does either. Building a missional culture is hard work.
My hope for this article is twofold. First, I want to exhort you to try, even with everything else you have on your plate as a young church, to do the hard work of building a missions culture. Second, with a fresh desire in your heart, I’ll give you a few small pointers on how to build that culture both for now and the future.
Think about Acts 13 for a moment. The young but thriving church in Antioch had five leaders and, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, sent two men out on a church planting expedition to Cyprus and Asia Minor. As church planters, many of us are comfortable thinking of ourselves like Paul and Barnabas, sent out from our healthy churches to start a new work where it’s needed. We may even have been blessed enough to be sent with a John Mark, a young leader in whom we can pour into to aid the work.
But here’s the reality: the moment your church covenanted together, it was time for you to think of yourself less of a Paul and Barnabas and more like the three who stayed behind. Simeon, Lucius, and Manaen continued the work in Antioch after Paul and Barnabas left. They continued to preach, teach, and correct. They continued to help the church understand the value of sending out Paul and Barnabas. They continued to raise support, and to raise the next ones who would go out.
This is the work of the church that has already been planted. I know that sounds elementary—and it is—but young churches can easily overlook this. It’s so easy in the early years to be laser-focused on the Great Commission in our context that we lose sight of the Great Commission in every other context of the world. I could give you five reasons why that’s understandable. Instead, I’ll just warn you that the culture of your church is being formed from day one, and it will be much harder to convince people of Scripture’s mandate on your church if you’ve spent the first 5 or 10 minimizing it.
So here are six things young churches can be doing from day one.
Here’s the very first question to ask: “Am I praying enough for the Lord’s work around the world? Am I asking Him to use me, my family, and our church to make his name known around the world?”
If the answer is no, start there. You’ll be amazed at how the Lord begins to work in your church as he works in you.
As you pray privately, lead your church in prayer corporately. At Grace Covenant, our pastoral prayer each Lord’s Day focuses on different prayer points for our church, city, and world. Here are a few examples of how we pray,
When we pray for our church, we pray:
- For boldness to share the gospel in our city.
- For the Lord to send us to the nations.
- For the Lord to tear down our self-centered view of the church.
When we pray for our city, we pray:
- For other gospel-preaching churches in our city.
- For people to be saved out of their cultural view of Christianity.
- For the Lord to use us to raise up church planters and missionaries from other churches in the city.
When we pray for our world, we pray:
- For specific language groups around the world.
- For our partners around the world and the specific needs they’ve mentioned.
- For major events that happen in other countries to be used for God’s glory.
These prayer points change weekly and are printed in our worship guide. We encourage our people to take them home and put them to work. We ask them to pray privately and as a family so that we can be praying for these things as a church throughout each week.
I’m going to assume you are already preaching expositional, Christ-centered sermons. But how are you helping your people apply these texts?
Do your sermons call them to apply the Word in a global context? To be clear, I don’t mean you’re preaching Matthew 28, Acts 1, or Acts 13 on a cycle, but that you’re regularly pointing people to seek God’s glory among the nations through all of Scripture.
Do you use missionaries, both famous and less so, as illustrations of faithfulness so that people become more comfortable with the idea of going and sending?
I’ll use one brief example from last week. Our passage in 1 Peter brought us to three marks of holy living: a holy mind, holy desires, and holy actions. In giving examples of holy actions, I pointed our people to a couple from our body in their late 20s who have recently moved overseas with two young kids. This is a holy action, and we should hold it up as such. We honor the faithfulness of friends, but also call upon others to consider taking the same step of faith.
Your pulpit will drive the mission and values of your church. If your aim is to build a sending, planting, and supporting culture in your church, your people need to see that call throughout the whole of Scripture.
Simply put, even this early, it’s time to find partners with existing work that you trust.
Find international partners.
Find national partners.
Find organizational partners.
Find local partners.
Can you build relationships with organizations in such a way that you know faces of people on the ground? Can you find a family or a team in a few strategic places that your church can get involved in and invest heavily? As a young church, obviously you can’t do it all. Don’t try. But you can build significant partnerships in a few key places that will serve partners well and bless your church. So give to them sacrificially. Take short-term trips to visit and serve them. Take teams who can move their work forward, not trips that serve as quasi-vacations for your people where the worker serves as a travel agent. Invest in their family, in their church, and in their work.
Partnerships that are nothing more than a check to a faceless organization have their place and are sometimes needed to move the work forward. But they do a poor job of helping your people see the work they’re investing in. Speaking of investment . . .
You’re never too small to have an impact. Lead your church to sacrifice in order to be a part of work around the country and around the world. Don’t tell them that the Lord will overfill your storehouses if they do (you can’t promise that). Instead, tell them that the global church is bigger than your local church and you want to be a part of God’s work around the world.
So what should you do?
Give to church plants that are newer than you, and pray for them as you remember where you once were.
Give to faithful missionaries sent out from other churches in your city.
Give with other churches to invest in something that your church cannot do alone.
It’s really easy for young churches who aren’t yet self-sufficient to absolve themselves from the responsibility of helping others. “We’ll give when we get stable.” “We’ll partner with others once we’ve got some permanence in the community.” These instincts are understandable. But don’t feed them. Partner now! Give now! Lead your church to see the value of faithful partnerships now! I know your soundboard is secondhand. But pray for it to hold on a little longer so that you can send more money out.
Prepare your people
Building a long-term culture of sending and supporting means that someone gets to go first. So you need to prepare your people to ask if they’ll be the first to go.
- Tell them that you’re not too young to start. So be bold in asking people to consider it.
- Place various opportunities in front of promising people. Send them on short-term and mid-term trips to see what life would be like.
- When they ask you what you think, be ready for the conversation. Don’t be afraid to tell them that leaving will hurt. It’s hard saying goodbye. But it helps to know that the Lord will use those you send.
Some of your best might leave. Praise God. Help them prepare their replacements, joyfully send them on, and then hold them up as examples. In whatever you do, trust the Lord with the results.
I know that your plate is full, and I just added one more thing. But this work is important, and it will take a lifetime. So don’t wait five years to start—and don’t slow down in two years if you haven’t seen the results you’ve prayed for.
Faithfulness to the Great Commission requires this of us. So remind yourself that someone developed and sent you. Trust that God is doing this work and praise Him that you get to be a part.