In the church I grew up in and I guess in many churches still, the missionary was someone whose picture was stuck on a world map with a thread to the country in question. Now this isn’t totally useless, I lived and worked for a year in Burundi and no one had ever heard of the country or knew where it was so a pin and some thread between the country and a picture solved that problem nicely.
However there were and are other problems with the concept of missionary that I had back then that stands in stark contrast to what we’ve just personally experienced. The missionary, at least as it seemed to me, would leave the local church and go and work for the mission agency. The vision for the mission comes from the mission agency and is caught by the missionary who asks the church to support it both in prayer and finance.
I’ve witnessed from friends of mine working for mission agencies that over time (and not always a long time either) there is a real sense that the vision that caught them and has taken them to another country and that they’ve made significant sacrifices for in the cause of the Gospel is not fully shared by their church. In other words their vision and mission was not seen or owned as the vision of the local church. As a result prayer for the departed, so to speak, becomes peripheral and perhaps over time funding dries up.
By contrast what we’ve experienced so far has been quite different, although time and distance could prove me wrong. What we’ve experienced is a church putting forward significant sums of money, helping us, loving us and seeking God with us because our vision and mission to see churches planted all across the world is the vision of the church we left. It’s not someone else’s vision, it’s theirs, it’s ours. So we’ve not been sent by a church to a mission agency; we’ve been sent by a church to a church for the church.
Here are some of the many excellent things Hope Church did in the way that they sent us. Firstly, they quickly grasped that this is what we were called to both as a church and us as a couple. This is the mission we are on together. Secondly, as a result of that, they sacrificially gave to enable that to happen. They really put up big numbers for us, giving us around 50% of our goal for the first 18 months all on their own. They grasped that God’s mission is an opportunity for God’s people to be generous in their giving. They owned the mission by the way they gave.
Thirdly, they loved us well as we left. We had cards, several leaving parties (all great fun) and we had practical help when we needed it. Lastly and perhaps most importantly of all, they sought God for us. They were told on which Sunday we would be prayed for and they were asked to come ready to pray, ready to being something from God for us and they did. We were overwhelmed by the depth, quality and faith stirring prayers and prophecies that were brought. We freshly and powerfully sensed again God’s hand on us in this move. It made me think this is a little bit what Acts 13:1-5 must have felt like. The Holy Spirit moving the church into wider mission.