From Neighborhoods to the Nations

How Churches Can Mobilize Missionaries

Article by

Pastor, Flower Mound, Texas

Jesus didn’t die for men and women who might be saved. He died for men and women who will be saved. Right now, as you are reading these words, there are men and women — from your neighborhood to the nations — who have been purchased by the blood of Jesus. They may be hostile to the gospel, believe in a false god, or be spiritually seeking, but in the years to come, God will send beautiful feet to herald the good news of the gospel to them. They will be transferred “from the domain of darkness . . . to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13).

God will do this, and he is inviting you and your church to participate in his plan. It’s like a cosmic take-your-kid-to-work day. Right now, at this very moment, there are persons and people groups who have no idea of the majesty of King Jesus but who, by the grace of God, will come to know and love him and spend eternity with us because of our obedience to “go into all the world” (Mark 16:15).

But how can pastors faithfully motivate our congregations to obey the call to go?

God’s Big Story

A thread runs through the Scriptures that you can’t unsee once you see it. To pull that thread in your preaching, teaching, and discipleship grows an awe for God, a love for the lost, and a zeal for the nations.

The thread starts at the beginning. God commands Adam and Eve to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). The whole earth would be his, and we would be his viceroys. We would bring light and order to the world. But then Satan tries to cut the thread and steal the whole world for himself (Genesis 3). As sin enters the cosmos, it fractures everything; the universe is thrown into decay and subjected to futility. But God won’t finally relinquish a square inch of his creation to the enemy, so he sets into motion his plan to fill the earth with his glory. That plan includes all nations and peoples (Genesis 12:3).

God’s plan was always multiethnic, transcultural, and multilingual. He makes that purpose clear in the Abrahamic covenant, and we see it woven through the entirety of Scripture, culminating in the beautiful picture of men and women from every tribe, tongue, and nation worshiping before the throne in a remade heaven and earth (Revelation 5:9–10; 21:24–26).

Throughout the Old Testament, we repeatedly see God’s heart for the nations. When Israel went up out of Egypt, “a mixed multitude also went up with them” (Exodus 12:38). Rahab, a Canaanite woman, became part of the people of Israel (Joshua 6:25). Ruth, a Moabitess, became Boaz’s husband, making King David the descendent of a foreign woman (Ruth 4:18–22). Examples abound of non-Israelites joining the people of God. Salvation would come through Israel, but it was never meant to terminate with Israel.

Jesus, God incarnate, reveals this plan more fully. He ministered to non-Israelites like the centurion (Matthew 8:5) and the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:26–30). He explained that he had “other sheep” not of the fold of Israel that he would save (John 10:16). And before he returned to heaven, he sent his disciples to be his “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

The storyline of God’s salvation is woven together with the nations. The command to go into all the world is God simply continuing his mission to gather his sons and daughters from afar.

Mobilizing Witnesses

So, what is it that mobilizes people to join God in his mission? I’ve been the lead pastor of our church now for 21 years. We have sent a lot of people to the nations. I’ve discovered that building a sending church starts with faithfully preaching and teaching God’s story of redemption.

Tell the story.

In our preaching and teaching, we emphasize God’s big story as often as possible. When preaching through a book of the Bible, we try to help people understand its place and role in the Story.

“God’s plan was always multiethnic, transcultural, and multilingual.”

We do the same in our discipleship. We have three core classes at our church: Christian Belief, Christian Story, and Christian Practice. Although Christian Story is the class that emphasizes the whole story, each one has the whole Bible as its framework, which roots hearers in a story bigger than themselves. This emphasis has come up repeatedly as we’ve talked to men and women from our church who have moved toward the nations.

Train toward the nations.

When mobilizing a church toward the nations, nomenclature matters. “Neighborhoods to nations” has become the phrase that helps our church understand what our hope is. Men and women who don’t know how to evangelize (or won’t evangelize) in their own neighborhoods will never consider the costly price of heading to a different place and culture. Those who have experienced the extravagant grace of God in being the conduit through which the gospel flows tend to be those who move toward the greatest need. We have made it a repeated priority to invite men and women to experience that grace through outreach training.

In outreach training, we don’t just train; we go out and do. Men and women learn tools and tactics. Then they head out to popular hangout places to pray with people, invite them to study the Bible, share the gospel, and build relationships. One recent outreach led to 134 people engaged spiritually, 87 who received prayer, 18 who heard the gospel, and one who said yes to Jesus. Each year, the people who engage in this training grow in courage, zeal, and belief that the arm of the Lord is not too short to save. Their zeal in worship, hatred for sin, and belief in the mission of God exponentially grow.

Aim young.

If you don’t know where to begin, I want to encourage you to aim young. This practice has produced some of the most fruit for us over the years. We want to educate, inform, and inspire the next generation and young families toward the opportunities that are ripe among the underreached and unreached. Our Vacation Bible School has almost always had a world focus. Each year, kids hear from missionaries, raise money for global projects, and pray for the work among our 100 Unreached People Group (UPG) cooperative (see more below).

We highlight this emphasis throughout the year in our children and youth programs as well. It is not uncommon for our missionaries to teach, explain, tell stories, and answer questions in our elementary program. As kids move into our middle-school and high-school departments, they can participate in short-term trips that grow in intensity and distance. This past year, a large group of high schoolers went to a closed country with a key partner and put on a sports camp among the predominantly Muslim population. They laughed with, played with, prayed with, and ministered among one of the world’s most unreached peoples. The energy and excitement it created among those students continue to encourage and embolden both them and their families.

We also send whole families on short-term trips. They get to go and see together how God can use their whole family as a means of grace to those who are far from him. Over the past two decades, we have discovered that young families with kids often have far more success meeting people and connecting with other cultures. No matter where you are in the world, everyone speaks the language of kids. I’m not taking away from the stunning global work singles and older saints do. But most of the cultures in the 10/40 window are high hospitality cultures, and kids get you in the door more quickly.

Build together.

About a decade ago, we shifted our mindset from being a church with missionaries to being a sending church. We still utilize key partners, but as a sending church we want to own a clear process that moves people from the neighborhood to the nations. After some significant prayer and consideration, we wanted to focus on the underreached and unreached in the world. Together with ten other churches and organizations, we started the 100 UPG cooperative. We are hoping, praying, resourcing, and believing that over the next couple of decades, God might use us to see one hundred unreached people groups have a gospel presence established.

That goal is way too big for one local church, but by prayerfully joining with other churches, we believe we have a real shot. Each church has established local pathways (neighborhoods) that begin that training at home. From there, they move to one of three hub locations around the world and join a team already at work before moving to the desired final location.

Pray and Preach

None of this happens without prayer. As we teach God’s big story, train in evangelism, aim young, form key partnerships, and dream big, we are praying for specific places, people, and opportunities to get the right people to the right place with the right training.

It doesn’t start overnight, either. If you want to build a sending church that aims to reach the nations, start by consistently preaching on the nations and the unreached. There is no substitute for the preacher who has the nations in his bones. Fan into flame your belief that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24:1).