Missions and the Rural Church

I was invited to a missions meeting put on by my state denomination.  A two hour or so meeting. And by invited I mean I recieved a mass email. But having just returned from Brazil I was interested in learning from other churches about engaging my church on mission.

The meeting consisted mainly of missions pastors from larger churches getting up and discussing how and where they do trips.  It was great to hear from them, and from the few large church pastors who lead their churches to engage around the world.  The church we met in had flags all around the foyer of places their church had been in the last 20 or so years.  Probably 40-50 countries around the world. As a child of God, a christian, it was exhilarating to hear the talk and see the results of people on mission.  But as a small church pastor I felt discouraged.

I can't lead my church into many different countries, on multiple trips a year.  One church, a great church with a great pastor by the way, has over 15 trips for 2014.  I can't have trips for singles, for youth, for retirees.  I could come up with many excuses, but I still have the mandate of Christ for my church to go and make disciples.  But is the way a small rural church different from the way a large urban church does missions?

I traveled to Brazil as part of an Upstream Collective trip, and one of the things they are passionate about is the "sending church."  They define it this way:

A Sending Church is a local community of Christ-followers who have made a covenant together to be prayerful, deliberate, and proactive in developing, commissioning, and sending their own members both locally and globally, often in partnership with other churches or agencies, and continuing to encourage, support, and advocate for them while making disciples cross-culturally.

I love this definition, as it does mention budgets, or number of peoples, or size of communities.  It is simple and clear, and is suitable for big and small, rural and urban. 

But still, how do I lead my church to do that?  In a small church, or large, missions is far more assumed than taught.  And that is where it starts.  It starts in the life and heart of the leaders, and with clear deliberate teaching on the heart of God for the nations.  It then moves to the local community of Christ-followers who covenant together to be purposeful.  The call must be clear, and we must be clear to people that the call to missions is to the people of the church, not just the pastor.  

A small church pastor has obstacles in that he might have many people who have never traveled abroad.  Not even across the country!  It's not unusual to find people who are "homebodies" from a small town and not been outside it much.  So the first challenge is one of semantics.

When we hear the word "Sending", we automatically assume it means overseas.  Overseas means costs, and fears, and planning, and more.  But Upstreams definition is helpful as it is clear we send locally and globally.  We have to to help our people understand that "Sent" does not always equal overseas, but instead means "wherever you are".  The call must be clear, and we must be clear to people that the call to missions is to the people of the church, not just the pastor.  

The next challenge for the small church must happen internally as well.  It's no secret that we live in a world that is increasing indifferent to Christianity, if not outright hostile.  In a small town a church might have a little bit of respect left, but not much.  We have to realize that the church does not share the same values of the culture anymore. We live in a post-Christian culture.  It may not have made it all the way to your town yet, but it will.  There is no Mayberry anymore, no matter what the local chamber of commerce says. The church will have little or no meaning to many, if not all in the community, and so the first place we are sent is out into our own neighborhoods.  I am constantly amazed at how little use people have for this place that has consumed all of my adult life, and childhood for that matter.  They are not angry at church, they just don't care.  So after understanding what "send" means, is going out into the streets where we are.  This is where local mission projects, prayer walking, talking to people up and down main street and being present will begin to take effect.

Missions never happen on accident.  It always takes planning and purpose, and much prayer to accomplish the will of God for a church to be a sending church.  When a person gets a heart for the nations, the first impulse might be to jump on plane for overseas.  But Jesus advised us to "count the cost" and to plan our building before it is done.  A sending church, small or large, must have the right foundation to make it last. Not to see exotic places, or a desire for notoriety, but a burning desire to see Christ lifted up in places and by people where He is not.  

A small church leader has to be active in engaging with people with skills and resources that he doesn't have. It's my experience that larger churches will not seek out partnerships, mostly because they don't really need to.  But they will always welcome them.  It could be a big church in the next town or in the state capital, but a small church pastor must quickly get over his ego, his envy, and his arrogance to go ask for help.    Most churches will gladly welcome the chance to partner with you, if you will only ask them. 

A small church might only send one team a year, and it might only be a few people.  DO NOT hang your head in shame over that.  Celebrate the work that God has done, and is doing in and through your people.    You will see a greater hunger for the things of God, and the vision spread through your church and your town as well.  

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