As a pastor of a small church, I feel pulled in a million directions. I have to disciple new believers, counsel couples, steward resources, build partnerships, prepare sermons, invest in families and do evangelism. If you’re a pastor, you can probably think of some things I left off the list. We all feel the pressure to excel at “just one more thing,” and we usually wonder if we have what it takes. And so, when someone says the church needs to focus on a new topic, like missions, we sigh (at least internally), because of the new demands upon our time.
Yet, I believe that mission is why the church exists. We are in the world, and yet we are “for the world,” meaning (at a minimum) that we share the gospel, both locally and globally. Jesus told his church to be about the mission of disciple-making (Matt. 28:19-20). He predicted that his followers would bear faithful witness of the Risen Lord, even in the face of deep suffering (Acts 1:8).
Prioritizing the mission
Most pastors, if not all, would agree that our mission is central to our identity. We exist to glorify God by making disciples. That’s not controversial. But how can your average small-church pastor prioritize the mission of God? We’re strapped for time and resources. We don’t have a paid staff and we feel as if the weight of the world is on our shoulders. I’d like to propose a solution that I believe is both biblical and practical. I propose that we focus on mentoring for mission.
Just over 6 years ago, my wife and I moved to New York City to plant a Southern Baptist Church. Our goal was to plant a multicultural church in a racially divided neighborhood. We had no idea about the challenges that were before us, but we enthusiastically jumped into this mission, because we knew that God had called us. It’s not always been easy. Some people have been saved; some have been baptized. Disciples have been made. People have come, and people have gone.
Through it all, God’s greatest blessing upon our church has been in the leaders that have been mentored for mission. We’re a church just under 50 people, and yet we’ve multiplied by sending out leaders. By God’s grace, we’ve sent out a Taiwanese pastor to Chinatown. We’ve sent a Korean leader to plant in Queens. We’ve sent an immigrant couple to study at seminary, so that they can one day go overseas as missionaries. Last Sunday, we sent out a Haitian leader to South Brooklyn. Right now, we’re training a Malaysian leader and preparing him for pastoral ministry.
Why adopt this approach?
Why do we do this? After all, as a small church, it’s tempting to try and hold on to the best leaders that God has sent our way. But there are two reasons why we have adopted this approach: one is biographical, and one is biblical.
The first reason is rooted in my biography. I was raised in a pastor’s home and surrendered to God’s call upon my life when I was 12. When I was 14, my Dad began to allow me to preach in the church. Honestly, my first sermons were awful (many of you can remember your first sermon)! But that little church was willing to put up with a lot. Why? They believed that they were making an investment that would make an eternal difference. I didn’t grow up to become a pastor of that congregation; I went somewhere else, following God’s call. But in eternity, those members of that church who invested in me will reap rewards in unexpected ways.
The second reason is rooted in the Bible. In Acts 13, the Holy Spirit told the fledgling church at Antioch to send out Barnabas and Paul. If I had been the lead pastor, I would have tried to hold on to the Apostle Paul. After all, he was such a gifted teacher and leader. Who wouldn’t want Paul on staff? And yet, the Spirit said, “send your best.” And so, that’s what this emerging church did. Instead of holding on, they released for mission.
Because of my story, and because of this biblical story, we’ve adopted an approach that could be termed mentoring for mission. We’re small, but that doesn’t mean we can’t multiply. It doesn’t mean we can’t engage the nations. In fact, we can, and we must.
I do this primarily by focusing upon leaders. As I mentioned earlier, there are many tasks that make demands on my time. But I choose to prioritize spending time with emerging leaders. I spend time with them, as friends. I give them ministry assignments (including regular preaching opportunities) and then debrief with them so they can learn and grow. I take them through a reading plan centered on the themes of gospel, church and mission.
At first, we were making it up as we went along. The early stages of a church plant are quite chaotic! As we went along, the process became a little more formal. I’m always tweaking it, trying to adapt it to new people in new situations. But our church knows this is central to our identity as a church. When I introduce a new mentee, I explain that we’ll send him out in a couple of years and then begin again.
Participating in the mission
I believe this is the way of the early church in the book of Acts. And I believe that this is a way that any pastor, of any-sized church can engage in the mission of God. We can strategically mentor emerging leaders and then send them out to participate in God’s mission. This is how the church grows and this is how we push back lostness.
Pastor, I get it. You’re busy and nearly burned out. But consider how you can invite someone to join you in all your other ministry tasks. This will help you. If done right, it will equip them. This is a win-win for every pastor and every church, as we join God in his mission.