I think many of us church planters and pastors have been rightly impacted by the necessity for us to see our town as a mission field just as significant as anywhere else. We are grateful to pastors and thinkers like Ed Stetzer, Tim Keller and others for this mindset. These faithful leaders have caused our eyes to see that mission isn’t just something that happens “over there,” it also happens “right here.”
But helping the folks in our church to see the difference can be a challenge.
I spoke recently with a pastor of a very traditional Baptist church who said he has spent over eight years trying to convince the people in his church who are extremely generous to overseas missions to see their small town as a place that is worthy of their compassion and intentionality too. In many ways, we leaders are the ones to blame for this false dichotomy. I grew up with the map in the hallway at our church building that showed me where mission was happening; and it was all “over there.”
So what do we do? How do we help the folks in our churches get as excited about reaching their town as we are?
First We Must Anticipate Some Pushback
Leadership is hard. Leading people into being missionaries is no different. As you lovingly encourage people who have been used to just sending money overseas as their fulfillment of The Great Commission, you will probably encounter one of the following or a combination of them all.
“I don’t have time.”
“That’s your job… no, seriously, that’s what we pay you for.”
“I’m no good at it and would probably only help people go to hell faster!”
There are probably things you might hear in addition to the above, but those are the basics of what I typically encounter. So, how do we help them through this?
Teach Them That Every Believer Is A Missionary
“Every Christians is either a missionary or an imposter.” – Spurgeon
When Jesus saves us, we are drafted into the ministry. The Great Commission is not something for pastors only, although it definitely applies to us too. All Christians have been given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:16-21). That means that none of us can opt-out of this. This isn’t just for evangelists and extroverts!
Teach Them What Not To Do
It may be that they’ve only ever seen what they don’t want to do or say and don’t really know what to do instead. What are some ways that this has gone wrong?
Mistake #1: Answering everyone with the “Four Spiritual Laws”
My experience is that people can tell when they are in a scripted conversation. This communicates, unintentionally, that we don’t really care about them or believe what we are saying. It makes us sound like we are working at a telemarketing call center, not like fellow beggars who have found bread. Also, all people want to be loved and this way of communicating can come across as impersonal and unloving.
Mistake #2: Trying to make sure everyone knows everything about Jesus in the very first conversation
You know who knew everything about Jesus? Jesus. You know who knew we needed to know everything about Jesus? Jesus. You know who never told anyone everything about Jesus in one sitting? Jesus. Jesus showed a profound amount of patience and restraint. We don’t have to tell people everything in the first conversation.
Mistake #3: Thinking words aren’t necessary
St. Francis of Assisi did NOT say, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” The fact is that words are necessary. They are always necessary. Help people understand that they will have to do more than be nice to everyone hoping that people will be saved via osmosis. At some point you have to actually open your mouth and speak about the good news of Jesus that trumps all the good advice of this world.
Mistake #4: Making evangelism about how much people annoy you
No one thinks this is what they are doing, but it happens. It happens when you are really telling people about Jesus to get them to stop a habit of theirs that annoys you. We aren’t trying to fix people. We come across as self-righteous jerks when we speak like this. And it may be that it’s because we are self-righteous jerks. Help people see that Jesus doesn’t just want to change the parts of our lives that drive us and others crazy, as if Christianity was just another form of AA; he wants to change even parts of us that we are okay with because he isn’t. Share how Jesus has changed you as an example.
There are other things that I could say, but I think you get the point. What should we do instead? This isn’t exhaustive, but I think it is a great place to start.
Teach Them How To Be A Missionary In Everyday Life
People who don’t feel they have time to add this need biblical conviction, but then they need practical instruction. Here is my best advice on how to be a missionary in your everyday life.
Look around you and fight to guard against distraction when you’re with people. It’s hard to reach people around you when you’re staring at your phone or are so consumed with an agenda that you can’t see people. It seems to me that this is what went down with the Good Samaritan. The Priest and the Levite had somewhere else to be and that caused them to not see the brokenness right in front of them.
Hang out with people. Be where they love to be and be present with them. Don’t just rush home and run inside. My friend Scott Slayton says, “Others cannot see our good works and give glory to our Father if we pull up in the driveway, close the garage, and stay in front of the TV.”
Also, a big part of being present is just being you. Help folks in your church to see how easy it is to subconsciously begin to pretend to be someone you’re not. It’s easy to speak in “King James” when God comes up, but it’s not helpful. It may even be that they are trying to be you, their pastor or leader, and this isn’t helpful either.
What we want people to see is that we can bring the real us to a real God who really wants to save us! So, be the real you as you tell them about the real God.
This is my immediate response to, “I don’t have time.” I help people see that it can start with them just using the time they already have with Gospel-intentionality. Pick a few places that you’ll go to again and again for each rhythm of your life. A few restaurants, a couple of gas stations, a grocery store, etc… and be present while you are there. Get to the place where it’s like the show “Cheers” and everyone knows your name.
Some of the folks I am trying to reach have taken years. I don’t know how long it will take, but God knows how long and I know that it’s worth it. Sometimes people need to see that you care about them for the long haul before they are willing to open up.
This is the idea of being ready “in season and out of season.” (2 Timothy 4:2) It’s some of what Peter meant by, “…always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness & respect,” – 1 Peter 3:15 (ESV)
I was in a small restaurant with one table in a village in Puerto Rico when a couple sitting at the table leaned over to me and my wife and said, “We have been wanting to check out your church!”
The fact is that you and I don’t know when and where the conversation may happen, so we should always be ready.
We see this vividly with Jesus in John 4 when he, tired from ministry, ends up speaking truth to a broken woman which leads to an entire town believing in him. Meanwhile, the disciples had gone into that town and had only managed to score some groceries! The lesson is, you can go to the grocery store like Jesus or like the disciples. Jesus, even when he was tired, went with his eyes open and ready to tell people about the hope that could only be found in him.
Recently we took a group of visitors from out of town 26 miles offshore to fish. We didn’t catch anything and got pretty beat up in big waves. They asked me, “Do you often go fishing and come home with nothing?” The answer is, “Yes.” They looked surprised. But we don’t sell our boats and fishing gear just because we come home empty handed. We say, “That’s why they call it fishin’ not catchin’!”
I know I won’t always come home with tons of fish every time I go. But I also know I won’t catch anything sitting on the couch at home watching YouTube videos of other people fishing or reading a book about fishing. I actually have to go fishing.
In the same way, the sad truth is that every time you go to the local diner, revival won’t break out. But if you don’t reach out and love people and talk to them about Jesus, nothing will ever happen. At some point, you have to risk rejection and actually say something.
It’s sad that this has to be mentioned, but we come by our prayerlessness honestly. The original disciples slept when they should have prayed, too. But what this shows is that we think we can do what needs to be done in our own strength. That is a recipe for failure.
We think we can do this, but we can’t. If God doesn’t show up, all that sowing and watering just makes a bunch of mud. I’ve been so convicted by this. I can’t just practice at being present, persistent, patient and prepared and think something will happen. I need God!
We must remember and teach others that prayer is vital. Pray before you do anything. Pray after you do it. Pray and remind yourself that we are totally dependent on God changing people’s hearts and lives.
“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” – Psalm 127:1-2 (ESV)