Every church and follower of Jesus has one and the same mission in life—makes disciples of Jesus locally and globally. That is, every believer through his or her local church is called to both grow as a disciple of Jesus and help make disciples for Jesus. Each church must think carefully about how best to make disciples of their own members as well as how to make disciples elsewhere.
Discipling believers in each local church is no easy task. However, even more difficult is being part of disciple-making beyond one’s own location and church. After all, how can you make disciples where you have no on-going presence? Yet, let’s not forget that the call of the Great Commission is one of disciple-making “of all nations” and throughout “Jerusalem, and all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Matt 28:19 and Acts 1:8).
For local churches to make disciples beyond their own locale, there must be intentional effort. Disciple-making requires time and relationship. Churches seeking to follow Jesus’s call to make disciples “of all nations” will do well to partner with trusted missionaries and churches to accomplish that end.
But what should such a partnership entail? As Southern Baptists and Kentucky Baptists, we call ourselves a Great Commission people, a people who cooperate in the mission. While our partnership in the mission certainly involves our dollars as we give through Cooperative Program, it must be more than that as well.
As a denomination with thousands of missionaries in our states, nation, and world, linking arm and arm with them is vital for Great Commission impact. Let me suggest five practical ways for churches to partner with our missionaries in the mission of making disciples locally and globally:
1. Develop long-term partnerships (3-5 years minimum). Relationships take time to build. We want to invest in peoples and places for ongoing gospel work. The greatest impact comes over time. These partnerships involve such things as: prayer, encouragement, finances, short-term teams, resources, etc.
2. Let the missionary determine the strategy. Those who live in certain locations among certain peoples know best the needs and how to engage them with the gospel. Working alongside of our missionaries to help with their strategy rather than against their strategy is crucial for long-term impact.
3. Multiple teams per year (if needed). As partnership is about relationship, relationships occur over time and through interaction. Rather than sending a team of 10, perhaps a church can send two teams of 5 at different times in the year. Smaller teams allow for easier logistics. More teams allow for deepening of relationships more than once a year. However, as with suggestion #2, let the missionary ultimately determine the size and frequency of teams.
4. Be gospel-centered. This may seem like a no-brainer. However, we have all heard of short-term teams that paint, clean, build, play, and the like. While all these elements and more can be valuable to short-term missions, we do all that we do for gospel advancement. At the end of the day, the number one issue is whether we clearly explained the gospel and called people to follow Jesus. Even our gospel-centeredness must be sensitive to the strategy of our host missionaries. We know that the gospel is offensive to some (2 Cor 2:14-17), but we ourselves in our mannerisms and tactics don’t want to be. Be gospel-centered as we rely on the guidance of our host missionaries and their strategy.
5. Be a servant. Just as Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45), short-term mission teams partner well by going to serve and not be served. Seeing new places and experiencing new cultures is thrilling but doing so to the detriment of the mission is costly. This is not to say we should never see new sights or experience new cultures. Rather, set aside time to do just that, but give priority to serving both the missionaries you partner with and those who need the gospel.
We all have the same mission—make disciples of Jesus locally and globally. To do so well requires intentionality both here and there. As we partner for the sake of the gospel “over there,” let these five guiding principles direct you to partner well in the mission.