108. Five Transitions to Participate as Senders in God’s Global Mission

Move from where you are to where you want to be

Downloads: powerpoint, handout

In my role of coaching churches to do missions well, five transitions have proven effective for churches to make an impact as missionary sending churches.

From Missionary to Missions

  • Rather than supporting missionaries who have a mission, own the mission so that you can be partners with the missionary. Having a common passion is the best way to care for the missionary since it validates their calling.
  • What is the response of a church when a missionary retires? Is it, “What do we do with the money?” (missionary focus) or “How do we carry on the ministry?” (mission focus)
  • A missions orientation helps the church discover who and what to support. When someone comes up with a missions idea or a young person wants to be supported for a short term missions trip ask, “Is this your idea, or is it a mission vision of the church? Find 5 others who are also passionate about this and are willing to form a team for this initiative.”

From Information to Motivation

  • Traditionally mission committees focus on informing the church about missionaries. However, we live in an age of excess information. The only information absorbed is that which is immediately relevant.
  • A better emphasis is to motivate the church by involving them in a decision making process.
  • Rather than presenting one missions project for people to support, provide three. Then get people to vote on which one will make the greatest impact for God’s global mission and make that one your project.

From Passive receptor to Intentional mentor

  • People often doubt themselves and are unwilling to put themselves forward. Appoint respected believers in the church to identify those who may be called into missions and ask, “What is God’s call on your life?  Have you thought about it?  Do you think God may have a plan for you to work in missions?” That can change the direction of someone’s life.
  • One church I coached was a university church with high turnover of students. They came up with the idea of using the four years as a time to mentor people into discovering God’s call.  They did not wait for students to approach them, but initiated the conversation when students began attending.

From Cooperation to Identifying passion

  • Church leadership often thinks that their role is to decide what to do, cast a vision and then get people to cooperate with their plan.
  • Instead,
    • Pray that God would speak to people. 
    • Assume that God’s Spirit is working in people’s lives.
    • Identify and support the passion that God has given them. 
    • Ask: Where do people already have a passion for missions? Where are they already invested? 
    • Celebrate and support that passion. Such people are already motivated.
  • One church used their map of the world in a unique way. Sticky notes were provided for people to put on the map with their name to show either where they had been, or where they had a missions interest. Conversations began and common concerns were identified.

From Supporting to Investing

  • The traditional way of support raising is VERY intimidating. Nobody wants to do it and it can be an overwhelming burden. We are called to bear each other burdens.
  • If the church is already investing in the mission (transition #1), then partnering means taking on the whole burden with the goer, even to the point of raising funds for the goer. 
  • For example, ask the person going into missions to find 3 other people in the church to become a team for the mission. Together they meet, plan and act as if they were all going out on mission. With that perspective, working together with the missionary they can initiate prayer and financial support for the mission.  That is real investment.

93. Navigational tools for Church missions: A Decision Making Process

NOTE: Articles 90 – 93 on Navigational tools for Church Missions have been revised and incorporated into a single article through Catalyst Services.

The transitions and tools described in this series of articles are used as the framework for missions coaching among Fellowship churches in Canada.  If you are interested in exploring a coaching relationship for your church’s missions efforts, please contact Mark via the contact link below.

In the previous article, a second transition to move the missions team1 in the direction of “owning the task” was considered.  This article elaborates on the third transition for church missions teams introduced in Navigational tools for missions.

Transition 3: From communicating with to motivating the congregation
Navigational tool: Involve people in a decision making process
Biblical foundation: One body, many gifts

“I give up!” said Dave2, a missions chair.  He had faithfully and conscientiously kept the needs of the missionaries before the church. His discouragement was evident, “Every week I have information about our missionaries in the bulletin.  Then this last Sunday while talking to one of the elders I mention one of our missionaries and he asks me who they are!  He didn’t even know we supported them.  What a waste of time.”

I was on the phone recently to one of our churches and spoke to the pastor’s assistant.  I mentioned the name of a missionary who has been supported for years by the church, but she was unaware of who he was.  When faced with the reality that many people in the church lack knowledge about their church’s missionaries, a common response by missions teams is to increase communication.  The assumption seems to be that providing more information to the congregation will result in greater understanding about missions and an increase in commitment to the missions program.

people only retain information that is immediately perceived as relevant

Unfortunately, increased information does not necessarily result in greater involvement by the congregation or even alter people’s awareness of the missionaries’ work.  One reason for this reality is that, in general, people only retain information that is immediately perceived as relevant, the rest is dismissed. In our information saturated age, people have developed extremely efficient filters; any information that does seem relevant is dismissed and forgotten. Increasing communication is, therefore, a waste of time if there is no corresponding increase in personal relevance. Whether watching TV, surfing the internet or scanning the church bulletin, people connect with what interests them, and immediately discard that which does not relate to their lives. Buy-in and ownership are a priori requirements in order for information to be valued and accepted.  Providing more information without also ensuring perceived relevance for the intended hearer results in little or no impact.

This article advocates for a transition from a communication emphasis to a process of motivating the congregation.  Once people are motivated, communication is effective.

How does motivation work?

Motivation follows a distinct pattern:

1. Motivation is the natural orientation of people who have ownership

If your neighbor tells you that their car needs a tune-up, the chances are that you would not receive that information as a call to action.  Because you do not own the car, nor are responsible for it, you listen with only mild interest.  However, if it was your car, the natural response would be to take steps to correct the problem.

2. Ownership is the acceptance of ongoing responsibility initiated by an act of commitment.

When you sign the papers to purchase a house, perform your wedding vows, make a promise or merely hand over money to buy a litre of milk, you have committed yourself to a particular action or relationship.  There is an obligation or expectation that you will follow through on the implications of that commitment.  You will live in the house, care for your spouse, fulfill your promise and take the milk home.

3. Commitment is the end result of a decision making process

Why do people commit? There are a number of steps a person must go through to get to the point of commitment.  A series of decisions precede the act of binding oneself to a particular relationship, whether it is something as simple as purchasing milk, or as life-changing as getting married.  The decision making process leading up to the commitment may be incremental and develop slowly, or it may occur quickly with little hesitation, but it is a necessary prerequisite for a person to make a legitimate and sincere commitment.

A decision making process leads to commitment, which creates ownership, which causes motivation

Information makes sense when (and only when) there is perceived relevance.  Perceived relevance stems from a sense of ownership (buy-in) to a particular issue.  Ownership requires an act of commitment.  Commitment is developed through a process of involvement and decision making. If people are not responding well to communication about missions in the church, the likely cause is a lack of perceived relevance. In that case, the job of the missions team is not more or better communication. Rather the task becomes one of developing commitment by involving people in a decision making process. When people invest in how a project or ministry shaped, there will be perceived relevance.

Biblical foundation: One body, Many gifts (1 Cor 12)

There is an unfortunate tendency with some leaders to assume that their responsibility is to make the decisions, while it is the responsibility of others to cooperate.  That method is efficient and facilitates uncomplicated structural diagrams, but it does not resonate with the way human beings get involved in a common cause.  Making a plan and getting people to cooperate is like pushing a car uphill – those pushing are exhausted, while the passengers are bored.  However, developing a cooperative plan that reflects what is significant and important for all the participants, as expressed and developed by them, is like pushing a car downhill.  There is soon momentum far out of proportion to the initial thrust, and the direction and results are often unexpected. But very few are bored.

This method of engaging all participants so that they are driven by what is significant to and expressed by them is especially important for churches because of the particular dynamic laid out for us by Paul in 1 Cor 12.  Using the analogy of a human body, Paul informs us that all believers have a coordinated role to play in building each other up.  However, an important basis for the unity of the body is found in the individual connection of each person to the Holy Spirit (12:4).  It is God who puts the body together (12:24).  One implication of this teaching is that all believers can make a contribution to the mission and direction of the church based on what they have been given by the Spirit. The ministry task in which they become involved should be according to the concerns that God has placed in their hearts.  When believers work together to shape the vision of the church in a way that is significant for and revealed through each individual, the result is commitment and ownership of the task.

Navigational tool: Involve people in a decision making process

Rather than making decisions for people and asking them to come on board with our plans, good motivators involve the participants in a decision making process. What might this look like for a missions team that wants to involve the church more deeply in the missions efforts of the church?  The following three motivational examples provide gentle, medium and major impacts to the church.

Gentle Impact: The Bucket vote

Some churches have a yearly special project chosen by the missions committee which the congregation supports financially.  This praiseworthy practice can be adjusted so that it becomes a decision making process and draws people deeper into their commitment to missions.

Instead of presenting only one project, promote 5 suitable and worthwhile short term projects out of which the congregation can choose.  In a suitable place, arrange information about each of the projects together with separate donation boxes (the “buckets”).  Hand out, or place in the bulletin, $500 in play money in $100 notes and ask people to put the money towards the projects that they believe are the most impacting and worthwhile. They can spread the money around to as many as they like, or put the whole amount towards one project. The project that collects the most play money will be the one promoted that year.

This is not just a gimmick to draw people’s attention towards missions, but an application of motivational principles:

evaluate and prioritize … active participation … create buy-in

  1. It engages people in a decision making process by encouraging them to evaluate and prioritize.  They need to think through why one particular project may be more strategic and important than another.  This stimulates missiological questions: What values and principles should guide my choices when it comes to missions? Which project will provide the greatest impact for God’s kingdom?
  2. It promotes active participation.  By putting in the play money into a bucket, people act out their commitment to a particular missions project.  Making a decision to be involved in this exercise will likely translate into a level of commitment and ownership to the project itself.
  3. It creates buy-in.  This is not an empty exercise because people’s choices count. Because they have been involved in a decision making process that produces results they have participated in, they will recognize the project chosen as the one that they voted for and will have a sense of ownership (assuming that it was their project that won).  Thus, there is a development of emotional identification with something they have declared as significant and worthy of support.

Medium Impact: Find Advocates

A prayer meeting for missionaries was arranged.  Prayer is significant and believers affirm the need to pray for missionaries.  Yet, very few people participated. Can this be done differently, so that people are committed and involved?  One church thought so.

Using the navigational tool of engaging people to make decisions, the missions committee stopped planning for people and assuming cooperation, and instead moved to planning with people. Rather than providing an opportunity to pray, they created a decision making process through which the nature and arrangement of prayer for missions was accomplished.  First, missionaries were asked if they would be interested in having advocates in the church who would promote their ministry and interests. There was a 100% positive response. Then individuals in the congregation were approached and asked if they would consider becoming advocates for a missionary.  All those willing to consider the possibility were invited to a workshop in which they advised, discussed and individually decided what being an advocate would mean for them.

another motivational principle: manage agreements (not people)

Agreements were then drawn up that corresponded to each advocate’s desire to participate. This step takes advantage of another motivational principle critical for volunteer organizations: it is much more relaxing and effective to manage agreements3, rather than trying to encourage cooperation with a job determined by someone else.  These advocates now look for opportunities and create venues where the missionary’s task can be promoted for prayer according to the plan that they have established.

Major Impact: Follow the interests of the congregation

One pastor took advantage of this decision making dynamic by taking the time to discover where people in the congregation were already committed or interested in missions.  Rather than promoting a missionary supported by the church and assuming people would cooperate, he started by discovering where people’s interest in missions lay.  He took advantage of existing commitments and concerns and provided those people opportunity and encouragement to get others informed and involved.

In a similar vein, another church initiated a decision making process through which teams were assigned who developed their own purpose and direction for missions.  These teams grew out of individuals’ existing interest and involvement and took advantage of the momentum already in place. These teams were guided and challenged to “dream big.”  Impact is now being felt both within the church and around the world.  Two years ago the missions committee consisted of one dedicated man who corresponded with all the missionaries supported by the church.  Recently, he joyfully informed me that there were now 50 people involved in a variety of ways and people are coming up to him asking, “How can I take part?”  During one planning session, the senior pastor declared, “This is changing our church.”

For this level of transition and impact, coaching is recommended.

Getting people involved in a decision making process is not necessarily efficient, but use of this navigational tool can create dramatic changes.  It is important for missions teams to remember that they are not just working on behalf of the church, but are also working to engage the church.  Their role is to get the church involved in and excited about missions. Engaging the congregation in a decision making process whenever possible may be more complex and less controllable than decisions made during a committee meeting, but this process will pay dividends through increased commitment and a greater global impact.

Mark spends part of his time assisting churches in developing effective and impacting missions committees. If you are interested, please contact him via the Contact Me form. If you would like to leave a comment about this article, please use the “comment” link at the bottom of this article.


  • 1 The phrase “missions team” is used here to refer to the group of people within a church who have been assigned the task of overseeing the church’s missions responsibility.
  • 2 Not his real name.
  • 3 Chandler, S Richardson, S 1008. 100 Ways to Motivate Others: How Great Leaders can produce Insane Results without driving people crazy. Franklin Lakes: Career Press, 49-54.

92. Navigational tools for Church Missions: Own the Task

NOTE: Articles 90 – 93 on Navigational tools for Church Missions have been revised and incorporated into a single article through Catalyst Services.

The transitions and tools described in this series of articles are used as the framework for missions coaching among Fellowship churches in Canada.  If you are interested in exploring a coaching relationship for your church’s missions efforts, please contact Mark via the contact link below.

In the previous article, the first transition to align the missions team1 to God’s mission was explored.  This article elaborates on the second transition for church missions teams introduced in Navigational tools for missions.

Transition 2: From a missionary to a mission2 focus
Navigational tool: Own the task
Biblical foundation: Our role within God’s mission

Most missionary sending churches in the past couple of centuries have not traditionally owned the task of missions.  It has been the norm for the missionaries to have the mission, vision and task overseen by mission agencies.  The local church’s role has been primarily to provide support for the fulfillment of the missionaries’ calling.

In stating this I do not wish to devalue in any way the faithfulness of God’s people who have prayed and supported missionaries over the years.  Nor should this be construed as a criticism.  The opportunity for sending churches to be strategically involved in missions was limited in the past and the need to trust those being sent to define their own mission, vision and activities was imperative. Furthermore, this methodology has been validated by the worldwide growth of the church around the world, which is one of the great success stories of Christian history. However, in order to revitalize North American churches in their involvement in missions, this process needs to change.

The transition encouraged in this article moves the congregation in the direction of articulating their own mission and strategy focus.  This becomes the framework used by the church to partner as joint owners of a missions vision with both missionaries and mission agencies.

What is the difference between a missionary focused church and a mission focused church?

Assess your church using the following examples.  Ask if your church is missionary or mission focused.

When an oral report from a missionary is provided, and it is prefaced by
“The latest prayer letter from __________ has come and here is what they are doing…,”
your church is missionary

However, if the report is prefaced by
“The mission of our church has been to establish an orphanage.  Here is a report from ___________ about how our mission is being accomplished…,”
your church is mission focused.

When a missionary leaves their field of service and the missions team asks
“Where should we re-assign our money?”
your church is missionary

However, if the issue becomes
“How will our goals in that area of ministry be fulfilled now?”
your church is mission

When a missionary changes from evangelism among an unreached people group to working in a school for missionary children (a true scenario), and the response by the missions team is
“Let’s inform the congregation so they can pray for our missionaries in their new responsibilities,”
your church is missionary focused.

However, if the question is
“Wait a minute, we have made an investment in this people group. How will our mission be fulfilled now?”
your church is mission focused.

When a short term ministry team goes out from your church, and the primary concern is
“I hope that this will be a good experience for them,”
your church is missionary

However, if the primary concern is
“We need to make sure that what they do strategically advances our missions goals,”
your church is mission

When a missionary’s relationship to the church is described as
“We support _____________ who works for __________ missions agency,”
your church is missionary focused.

However, if the remark is
“We have sent out _____________ with the support of ____________ missions agency,”
your church is mission

Transitioning the church from missionary to mission focused moves the congregation from a passive orientation to becoming strategic as people value and prioritize those activities that they believe are significant for God’s kingdom.  The result is that the church discovers their own missions vision and sees it fulfilled with and through cross-cultural workers, rather than merely supporting a mission and vision that is owned solely by the missionaries.

When a missions team works with their missionaries to discover a common purpose, there is a deepening of the partnership

This concept of the missions team owning the task does not lead to the abandoning of missionaries (a fear expressed by some), but quite the opposite.  When a missions team works with their missionaries to discover a common purpose, there is a deepening of the partnership.  To use a sports metaphor, it is a shift from cheering on the sidelines, to being a part of the team by working together in the locker room and on the sidelines so that there is an effective and impacting game plan.

In order for the missions team to take ownership of the missions task, they first need to gain a perspective of their role in God’s mission, and then discover how that is to be expressed. The biblical basis for the unchanging reference point reveals our role within God’s mission. Owning the task is the navigational tool through which the missions team will discover their place within God’s mission.

Biblical foundation for the unchanging reference point: Our role within God’s mission

We are created, appointed and chosen as God’s people to take an active role within God’s mission.  Supporting and praying for others who are sent to serve is an essential part of this, but it is important that we also own the task, and not pass off that responsibility and level of participation to others.  We have unprecedented opportunity to play a more direct role in the impact of the gospel around the world.  God gives his people an invitation to be involved in his mission.  Owning the task is part of that invitation.

Created to be icons reflecting God’s glory (Gen 1). God did not start out as a missionary God.  He started out as an artist.  All that he created was a reflection of his character (cf. Psalm 19:1). At the end of every day God looked at what he made and said, “This is good.”  Why is it good?  Because it is a reflection of who God is.  But when he created human beings, he said, “This is very good.” The emphatic is important for it tells us that of all creation, we have the ability to reflect the nature of God the best.  We are made as little icons of God.  Our purpose is to reveal the beauty, the goodness, the purity and righteousness of God.  A local church made up of God’s people is, therefore, equipped to play a role in determining the priorities and emphasis for their missions participation.

Appointed as witnesses of God’s redemption. When Jesus went up to heaven he commanded his followers to wait for the Holy Spirit to come. Pentecost is an exclamation point to the reality that the mission to save the world is God’s mission, not ours (Acts 2).  But when the Holy Spirit came, it was the believers who were impacted so that through them the message of redemption within all the languages of the known world was heard.  It is the power of God that will break down the barriers, but it is through his people that God acts.  He appoints us to be the ones to go into all the world.  It is his mission, but we have a role as witnesses to his redemption.  It follows from this that even those of us appointed as “senders” can play a significant role in shaping the missions concerns of the church and those sent.

to be “chosen” of God is … being privileged for others

Chosen for others. In the Bible, to be “chosen” of God is not a matter of being privileged above others.  Rather, it is being privileged for others. The emphasis on being “chosen” is not so that we can be saved, but so that we can serve. Abraham was chosen to be a blessing to the whole world (Gen 12:3), Jesus was known as God’s chosen one (John 1:34) because he came to serve, not to be served (Matt 20:28).  Paul was forced to a stop on the road to Damascus because God had made Paul his “chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15 TNIV).  As God’s chosen ones, we have an obligation to take part in what God is doing in the world, and this includes ensuring effective and impacting participation in global missions.

Navigational tool: Own the task

How does the missions team move to a more active “own the task” stance towards the missions concerns of their church? The key is to involve the missions team in a decision making process.

One of the tools I use to help a church missions team own their task is a “Role and Task” exercise that within 2 hours can bring the team to a unified understanding of their role.  The key to this exercise is that by providing options to the team, they choose, discuss and shape their own reason for being a team.  Out of that articulation of the team’s purpose, a unified mission, vision and action plan can be developed that is shaped by a desire to participate in God’s mission.  Ownership of a common purpose only occurs when people are involved in a decision making process, and each of the steps in this exercise capitalizes on this dynamic and builds towards the goal of owning the task:3


  • Participants (missions team, church leadership, others interested) sit around tables in groups of 5-8
  • A list of possible role and task descriptions is provided for each participant
  • One set of 5×8 cards with each role and task printed out on individual cards
  • Small sticky notes – five per participant


  1. From the suggestions provided in the list, each participant individually chooses and ranks 5 descriptions that best describe the role and task of the church missions team as the participant believes it should be.
  2. Each participant is given 5 sticky notes, which they number sequentially 1 to 5.  In this exercise, “5” will indicate the most important and “1” the least important.
  3. One person then reads out the 5×8 cards (which are the same descriptions as the list from which the participants have chosen) one at a time.  As a description is given that corresponds to a participant’s choice, they put the corresponding sticky note on the card and the card is placed in the middle of the table.  Any card not chosen is set aside.
  4. Together the group discusses and ranks all the selected cards with a view to develop a consensus, choosing no more than 4 as key priorities.
  5. Once there is a consensus, rewrite them in two or three sentences that express the purpose of the team.
  6. If more than one group is involved, the participants at each table write out their sentences on a flip chart. These are discussed and critiqued by all in order to come to a unified consensus concerning the purpose of the team.

This exercise is, of course, only the beginning of a longer process through which the missions team, together with the congregation, will need to move in order to discover its specific passion for missions (eg. church planting, evangelism, humanitarian, a specific people group, etc.). By learning to follow a clear vision in concert with their missionaries, cross-cultural workers sent from the church will become key players in fulfilling the church’s obedience to the Great Commission.

In the next and final article of this series, we will consider the missions team mandate to involve the congregation in the missions program of the church.  This is often one of the most difficult responsibilities of a church missions team. Dedicated missions minded people often express their frustration towards the apparent apathy of other church members.  Although they are diligent in communicating missions concerns, people don’t seem interested.  The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.  In the next article we will discuss an important transition for the missions team from communication to motivation.

Mark spends part of his time assisting churches in developing effective and impacting missions committees. If you are interested, please contact him via the Contact Me form. If you would like to leave a comment about this article, please use the “comment” link at the bottom of this article.


  • 1 The phrase “missions team” is used here to refer to the group of people within a church who have been assigned the task of overseeing the church’s missions responsibility.
  • 2 In these articles “mission” (singular) refers to the expressed purpose or aim for which a group exists.  “Missions” (plural) refers to the fulfillment of the Great Commission within people groups beyond a local church’s immediate area of influence.
  • 3 A powerpoint presentation of this exercise is available for download.

90. Navigational tools for Church Missions

NOTE: Articles 90 – 93 on Navigational tools for Church Missions have been revised and incorporated into a single article through Catalyst Services.

The transitions and tools described in the following articles are used as the framework for coaching Fellowship churches in Canada.  If you are interested in exploring a coaching relationship for your church’s missions efforts, please contact Mark via the contact link below.

I was traveling in a public van from the Toronto airport to Guelph, Ontario on my way to a meeting.  The driver had to drop off a number of people and then it was my turn.  He checked the directions on his GPS, turned a couple of corners, chose the right road and we drove a couple of blocks.  But then the road ended!  His GPS showed the road going straight through, but reality revealed a massive ravine. Imagine if the driver had said, “This is impossible, the map can’t be wrong.  There is supposed to be a road through here.  Everybody close their eyes and I’ll just gun it!”  Fortunately, he didn’t. Instead, he phoned for new directions, turned around and found the destination.  When reality doesn’t match the map, discard the map, not reality.

In his article Navigating Missional Waters, Len Hjalmarson1 argues that the familiar landscape of our cultures and communities has shifted so dramatically that our default patterns of doing church – our “maps” for successful ministry – no longer work.  Due to globalization, the mosaic of nations visible in each major urban center, the explosion of technology and many other changes that come at us hard and fast, the comfortable organizational structures and patterns of the past no longer fit with the new reality. Following an Eddie Gibbs’ metaphor, Hjalmarson suggests that we need to discard the maps and develop navigational skills.

Map readers have the skill of matching corresponding points on a map with the environment. By following the indicated direction and occasionally referring to the map, a traveler can reach their destination.  On the other hand, navigators have a different set of skills.  In an environment where the terrain is constantly shifting, such as on an ocean, navigators rely on unchanging reference points outside of the world.  In a previous era they would rely on the north star; today, the signals from satellites provide the information.  In this scenario, maps are useless, even high density satellite photos from Google!

As I have been learning to coach churches2 for effective missions involvement, I have come to the conclusion that church missions teams3 need to step back from their familiar ways of approaching missions in church (the “maps”) and develop a different approach to missions (“navigational skills”) that will allow them to connect relevantly with God’s global mission and lead their church to significant involvement.  In this series of articles, I will discuss three key transitions that will enable missions teams to serve their churches well.  These include a transition

  • From a geographical to a strategic people group emphasis
  • From a missionary to a mission focus
  • From communicating to the congregation about missions to involving the congregation in missions

To make these transitions, the teams require corresponding navigational tools. These navigational tools are

  • Identify significant activities
  • Own the task
  • Motivate through empowering others

These three navigational tools are used by missions teams to respond to the new reality by aligning their priorities to the one unchanging reference point of God’s mission.  A brief overview of each transition is provided below. An explanation of how the navigational tools facilitate those transitions will be discussed in follow-up articles.

Transition 1: From a geographical to a strategic people group emphasis

As recent as 3 decades ago, the primary concern of many missions committees was support and prayer for missionaries who traveled to other countries to preach the gospel. This relatively simple formula emphasizing geographical distance has given way to a far more complex reality. With global immigration, instant communication and the recognition of the west as a legitimate mission field, missions is now “from everywhere to everywhere.”  Rather than empowering missions committees, the result has often been confusion and frustration.  Some committees have insisted on maintaining their traditional role of promoting and communicating with those who travel to foreign lands.  This has often led to stagnation and limited impact within the church. Others have become overwhelmed with new responsibilities and opportunities, many of which (e.g., camps, marketplace ministries, local outreach, etc.) do not fit the traditional understanding of missions.  A myriad of choices without any guidance to determine legitimate priorities often results in a decrease in missions impact.

a redemptive concern for all the nations

The purpose of this transition is to set parameters that establish a biblical understanding of missions while addressing the new reality.  The biblical narrative of God’s mission reveals a redemptive concern for all the nations (people groups).  To address this desire of God for the nations, missions teams are encouraged to limit their responsibilities to cross-cultural ministry initiatives that occur outside of the normal interactions and relationships of the church body.  Paradoxically, dealing with fewer choices actually empowers missions teams to consider what constitutes legitimate and strategic involvement.

As I walked one church through this transition, the face of one man visibly brightened. He had carried the burden of the missions team for a number of years.  “It is so helpful to know what we don’t have to worry about,” he exclaimed.  “Now we can focus on those ministries that we know constitute missions.”

The following article will describe the navigational tool (identify significant activities) that can be used to develop realistic and clear parameters for missions teams.

Transition 2: From a missionary to a mission4 focus

It has been common practice for churches to support missionaries with only a vague comprehension of the missionaries’ task.  The reason for this is that traditionally it is the missionary who has owned the mission and the vision.  The role of missions committees has been to pass on information from the missionary to the church and to promote prayer among the congregation.  Unfortunately, this process actually deadens missions interest in the church.  As long as it is the missionary who has the mission, vision and task, the congregation will not be motivated to make an emotional investment in either the missionary or the ministry. This lack of interest has been a source of frustration for missions committees.

the missionary becomes a partner with the church

The transition to a mission focus helps to resolve this difficulty through the development of a purpose that is owned by the church.  The missions teams develop a vision of involvement in God’s mission that excites them and provides significant ways for the congregation to participate.  In this scenario, the missionary becomes a partner with the church so that both are working towards a common goal.  A clear understanding of a task that contributes to God’s global purposes provides the church with a greater level of input and responsibility in directing the efforts of their missionaries.  This opens the door to the emotional investment that is necessary for people to develop a deep commitment to missions.

How can you determine if your church is missionary focused or mission focused? One indication is how the work of supported missionaries is reported.  If the description reads, “Missionary couple X working among the Y people recently saw three people come to Christ…, etc.,” then your church is missionary focused.  On the other hand, if the report reads, “One of the goals of our congregation is to see a church planted among the Y people.  We are working towards that goal together with missionary couple X.  This week they reported that God is blessing our efforts.  Three people have come to Christ…,” your church is mission focused.

A further article will explain the navigational tool (own the task) that will move the church to make a significant investment towards “owning” their part in God’s mission.

Transition 3: From communicating to the congregation about missions to involving the congregation in missions

One of the greatest frustrations commonly expressed by missions committees is that, despite their best efforts at communication, people remain unaware of the work that their missionaries are doing.  The answer is not better communication methods.  In this age of an overwhelming flow of information from all directions, people have developed keen filters to identify the small percentage of news that immediately relates to them, while instantly dismissing the rest.  If they do not have a personal investment in a missionary, any incoming information will be filtered out. As a result, mission teams’ need to shift their effort from communication to motivation.  Once a person has invested in an aspect of missions, they will seek out information and welcome it, rather than filtering it out.

motivation is generated through participation in a decision making process

However, motivating others is a skill that needs to be learned.  The bottom-line principle is that motivation is generated through participation in a decision making process.  When the missions team discovers how to empower others to invest in and shape the direction of missions in the church, then the excitement begins to grow. Because God’s heart is for the nations, his Spirit is moving among his people for that purpose. Missions teams who learn how to tap into that reality will see a transformation in how their church responds to missions.  The navigational tool (involve people in a decision making process) to accomplish this will be described in detail in a later article.

Mark spends part of his time assisting churches in developing effective and impacting missions committees. If you are interested, please contact him via the Contact Me form. If you would like to leave a comment about this article, please use the “comment” link at the bottom of this article.


    • 1 Hjalmarson, L. Navigating Missional Waters in Missional Voice, Issue 13, Forge Canada, May 2010.  Gibbs’ metaphor is taken from Leadership Next, p. 66.
    • 2 In order not to overstate my coaching experience, I would like to disclose that at the time of writing I have led 5 one-day workshops on missions for 21 churches (Best Practices for CHURCH MISSIONS) and have coached 2 churches for missions effectiveness.
    • 3 The phrase “missions team” is used here to refer to the group of people within a church who have been assigned the task of overseeing the church’s missions responsibility.
    • 4 In this and the following articles “missions” (plural) refers to the task of the church as it participates in God’s mission.  “Mission” (singular) refers to a declared purpose or task, e.g., “our mission is to mobilize the church for missions.”  For further explanation of missions terminology and a consideration of priorities in missions, see the Cross-Cultural Impact article, If every activity is “missions,” how do we set priorities? http://impact.nbseminary.com/archives/324

    77. The Pastor as Spiritual Coach (Part II)

    see also The Pastor as Spiritual Coach (Part I)

    From Programs to Contextualization

    Who is to blame: the Congregation or the Leadership?

    spiritual-maturity1In my responsibility of providing outreach and missions resources to churches, I have come across a curious phenomenon. My experience is that there are a number of people in church leadership who do not have a positive view of the spiritual maturity and commitment of their congregation.  Comments such as “a mile wide and an inch deep,” “20% do 80% of the work,” “half an hour after the sermon is over they don’t remember it, let alone apply it,”  “they don’t take advantage of opportunities to go deeper,” and “they don’t know their Bibles” have been expressed in my hearing.  Why this is curious is that my experience with the people of God in our churches has given me quite the opposite opinion.  I have been constantly impressed, motivated and encouraged by the level of spiritual maturity and commitment to Christ in the people I meet.

    leadership-developed-visionI have an uncomfortable suspicion that a significant part of this negative view of congregations stems from an inadequate approach to ministry by the leadership.  The average church organization, whether labeled traditional, seeker sensitive or missional, has a leadership-driven program which members of the church are encouraged to support.  The response by the congregation tends to be less than expected, especially if support has been indicated by a congregational vote.1 Priorities of attendance, giving and evangelistic participation are not at the level the leadership considers appropriate, and so the congregation is judged to be lacking in spiritual maturity. However, involvement in church organized activities is unlikely to prove to be a good measurement of spiritual maturity.

    An alternate approach to ministry

    member-developed-visions2A couple of months ago, Karen and I proposed to our church an approach to ministry that focuses on the visions and desires of the individuals in the congregation.  Rather than developing a church wide vision and unified program in which all are expected to participate, the pastor acts as spiritual coach to empower believers in their desire to become intentional and authentic followers of Christ within their day-to-day lives.  Instead of encouraging people to “get involved in the church program,” the focus becomes “how can I be a support to you as you serve Jesus in your daily life?” The role of the spiritual coach is to help believers develop spiritually synergistic relationships with people both inside and outside of the church, as opposed to a posture of attending church events or participating in church programs. Instead of approaching people with the call to “join our team,” the pastor asks, “How can I be a part of your ministry?” I believe that such a change in focus would alter the perspective of pastors as they witness people’s concerns, prayers and struggles in their God given role of being salt and light.

    Organic Community

    help them become more intentional Christians within their current life setting

    There are a number of writers who view the church in a similar way.  In his excellent book, Organic Community,2 Joseph Myers encourages leaders to make “the shift from programmer (master planner) to environmentalist (one who follows the principles of organic order to create and shape environments)” (34).  Rather than adopting “models and programs that force prescriptive patterns onto our congregations, … [o]rganic order suggests there are many patterns we can use to connect to God and others.” (40-41).  People are already living according to patterns and rhythms that make sense to them.  Instead of calling them out of a context that defines their life so that they can serve in an organization driven program, it would be more satisfying and impacting to help them become more intentional Christians within their current life setting and relationships.  Myers says, “[A] master plan tries to manufacture life, whereas organic order is an invitation to live.” (28) There is wisdom in encouraging church leadership to start where individual people live, and discover the ways that God is working in and through them. Synergy is created when people are encouraged and guided in the tasks they have initiated themselves, whereas pulling people into a centralized structure can result in frustration.  In this organic dynamic, the scorecard is not attendance at events, but people’s stories.  “Story is the measurement tool of community” (80).  It is the narratives of those who have been impacted through their relationship with people in the church that measures the life of the community.

    Another complaint I have come across from church leadership is that a major weakness of the congregation is that people are self-centered.  The claim is that they come to church events with a clientele mentality looking to have their needs met.   However, from my experience, I would agree with Myers that this perspective is a  “misunderstanding that people generally operate from a position of ‘What’s in it for me?’”  He further states that he does not find the presumption to be true, “Most people are not primarily selfish or self-serving.” When people are asked to participate in a project,

    organic-communityI do not see that people are asking, “What’s in it for me?” Instead, they want to know, “Why me?” This is not a self-serving question. It is a self-identifying, individual question.

    People participate as individuals. They are interested in why they – specifically – are being asked.  They want to know that you have chosen them first and foremost because of who they are, not to fulfill a strategic master plan.

    ‘Why me?’ comes from a deep desire to live beyond one’s self. A person wants to contribute in concrete ways, possibly in ways that only he or she could.” (62)

    I believe that the reason many believers do not participate in the programs of their church is not that they are ignoring their responsibility, but because they are not convinced that those ministries are God’s calling for them. Imagine a ministry mentality that begins and ends with the dreams and visions of the individual members.  Rather than searching for gifted people in the congregation to fulfill the needs of an overall church program, the focus is to create connections and provide support that guides believers to discover the calling of God in their lives.

    Missional Renaissance

    The reluctance of believers to serve church programs is not an indication that they are spiritual immature

    Reggie McNeal has one helpful chapter in his book, Missional Renaissance,3 that deals with this congregation-focused orientation.  He begins with a personal anecdote during his days as the leader of a programmatic church.  One day he asked himself, “Are people better off for being a part of this church, or are they just tireder (sic) and poorer?” He realized that he did not know. He “could tell how busy people were with church but not how their lives were going” (89).  In a major shift from this pattern of ministry, he calls leadership to recognize and conform their ministry to the fact that people do not want to fit their lives into the program of the church (96).  The reluctance of believers to serve church programs is not an indication that they are spiritually immature or selfish.  Instead, he claims that “God has created a cultural milieu where people are clamoring to grow…. [So] get out of the church business and into the people business.” (111).  In praising one pastor who has changed from a program director to someone who empowers and releases the people in the congregation, McNeal says,

    miss-ren-mcnealHe plays the essential part of empowering leaders to pursue their callings and passions. He strengthens others’ obedience by creating a culture where they can say yes to the Spirit…. [All] the ministries he told me about happened away from the church. This same pastor went on to say, “I wouldn’t have a clue how to do what they do.” The very thought that clergy could preside over these kingdom expressions is ludicrous. Yet many congregational leaders do not trust people to minister out of their sight. (140)

    Spiritual Coaching Description

    Steve Ogne and Tim Roehl provide a good definition for the spiritual coaching of leaders that pastors can use to create the kind of environment that Myers and McNeal are promoting, “Coaches help people develop their God-given potential so that they grow personally and make a valuable contribution to the kingdom of God.” Ogne goes on to underscore the essential principles (with alterations to emphasize the application to the pastor as spiritual coach),

    1. transformissional_coaching_book“Coaches help people.” Coaching is a relationship…, not a program. It is focused on the [believer], not the program. You coach a [believer], not his or her ministry….
    2. “[D]evelop their God-given potential.” The potential comes from God, not the coach. A coach helps draw out the vision, values, gifts, calling, and passion God has already placed in the [believer].
    3. “[S]o that they grow personally.” Like mentoring, coaching is concerned with the personal (including … family), spiritual, and professional growth….
    4. “[M]ake a valuable contribution” Coaches help [believers] accomplish something for God. Coaches help [believers] identify and fulfill their specific calling and contribution.
    5. “[T]he kingdom of God. ” The kingdom of God is far greater than any one congregation…. [A pastor as spiritual coach will] ultimately equip individuals within their faith communities to engage and transform the culture as representatives of the kingdom of God.4

    Spiritual Coaching as a means of Contextualization

    The kind of thinking that promotes spiritual coaching resonates with missiological principles.  The temptation of leaders is to take control of the ministry and make decisions that bring immediate results. Programs are implemented that exhibit characteristics the church leadership wants to promote in the church.  The longer and more difficult road, which treats the people and environment being ministered to with respect, is to listen, discover and respond to the rhythms and networks that already exist as a natural part of people’s lives.  This is an important application of the principle of contextualization, an essential methodology for the cross-cultural minister. A problem arises in the North American church sub-culture when this principle is ignored.  Rather than altering the well-known traditional patterns of doing church to fit the ever changing rhythms of life of the community, the response of leadership can be to blame those who refuse to break their rhythms for the sake of a programmatic approach to ministry.  But many believers are not being lazy or spiritually immature.  Instead, they are seeking ways to bring Christ into their lives, rather than sacrificing activities that are fulfilling for the sake of a master plan that does not satisfy their spiritual hunger.

    Mark spends part of his time coaching churches for evangelism and missions.  If you would like to contact him please use the Contact Me form.  If you would like to leave a comment, please use the “comment” link at the bottom of this article.


    • 1 For a description of the 4 meanings of a “yes” vote see The Pastor as Spiritual Coach (part I).
    • 2 Myers, J. 2007. Organic Community: creating a place where people naturally connect. Grand Rapids: Baker.
    • 3 McNeal, R. 2009. Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church. San Francisco: Jossey-Boss
    • 4 Ogne, S. & Roehl, T. 2008. Transformissional Coaching: Empowering Leaders in a Changing Ministry World. Nashville: B&H Pub., pp. 26-27.