Your weeks are crazy. There’s the worship-team meeting, weekly small group, counseling that couple in crisis—oh, and a sermon to write. Add to that your worship space was unexpectedly pulled out from under you, and your children’s ministry director just stepped down.
I can relate. My husband and I have served as church planters in both the United States and also abroad for nearly two decades. We know how easily the tyranny of the urgent rules a church planter’s days. Often it’s a great joy. Sometimes it’s a painful slog. But always, we fall into bed exhausted. Church planting is hard work.
And so, it’s as unintended as it is certain—urgent, daily needs in ministry are strong gravity, pulling us farther and farther away from where we meant to go with our church plants.
Inevitable Inward Drift
Church planters are by definition missional. We’re passionate about making disciples; otherwise we wouldn’t be out here.
But the great care required by our local churches leaves us with little energy for the going to the nations part of the Great Commission. Our local needs cause us to drift inward, inevitably pushing out our good intentions for global kingdom work.
Additionally, there’s confusion and intimidation. To avoid making a global mess, we’d rather stick to what we know in our own neighborhoods. Or we wait for the elusive day when we have the budget, staff, or size that we think is needed for a global partnership.
Insofar as our churches join in the discipleship of other nations, our church members will also be discipled.
As a result, we ensure the growth of our churches, but forsake the global mission. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Growing an international church-planting partnership is not as hard as it seems, and—surprisingly—it may just be the best way to disciple our own communities along the way.
Global Growth Begets Local Growth
Counter to culture, our flesh, and church-growth programs, real discipleship takes place not when we cater to ourselves, but when we sacrifice ourselves on behalf of others. The abundant life (John 10:10) is found when we lay ourselves down for others, for the sake of Jesus’s name (Matt. 16:25).
Insofar as our churches join in the discipleship of other nations, our church members will also be discipled. Jesus poured himself out that we might go and do likewise. This—this!—is the joy-filled, upside-down, counterintuitive way to pursue Christlikeness. It will take time. Years are needed to cross geographic, linguistic, cultural, and traditional barriers. Those who’ve experienced success say it takes at least three years of intentionality to see real fruit in both church bodies. But it’s worth it.
God will be exalted among the nations (Ps. 46:10), and though it requires some temporary effort, it’s for our eternal joy. God is already building his church overseas. He doesn’t need us. But he does invite us.
A cross-cultural partnership gives two different people groups exposure to the diverse expressions of their one shared faith. It is rich and stretching for all involved. A mutually beneficial relationship blossoms through communication, time spent together, praying for one another, and bearing one another’s financial burdens.
When possible, church leaders and teams should visit one another. Each visitor is an ambassador, carrying stories, photos, and needs back and forth. Eventually, the well-worn path between the two communities will grow cross-cultural friendships not unlike the early church, where “all who believed were together and had all things in common” (Acts 2:44).
We Western Christians are accustomed to taking short-term mission trips, feeling a sense of awe and accomplishment, and then returning home. Our partners overseas tell us this is unhelpful and usually harmful. Yet they insist that short-term trips can be effective—when the long-term health of the receiving community is in view.
It’s vital that the relationship not be paternalistic, but rooted in brotherhood.
With every visit and team we send, we must ask our hosts, “How can we increase the strength of your local body? How can we enhance what you’re already doing?” In humility, we must set aside preconceived notions, listen, and adjust.
There is much we can learn from our partners who experience different obstacles than we do. For example, in Europe there are far fewer Christians, or in some Asian nations less freedom, or in some African countries fewer material resources. To visit is to learn, observe, encourage, and offer help that is specific and requested.
Between visits churches can post one another’s photos, send out updates and prayer needs, or plan ahead for holidays with cards. Each context will dictate what’s appropriate, and each church should be open about what is beneficial, but they should view one another as extended family.
Last, and most anxiety-inducing, finances play a role. Globally wealthy churches should give sacrificially, but with the careful direction of the receiving church. It’s vital that the relationship not be paternalistic, but rooted in brotherhood. This can be achieved through transparency, humility, and the assistance of other churches who have done this well before.
The Holy Spirit promises to empower us as we bear witness to Jesus in our Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Our God will be faithful as we seek to correct our churches’ inward drift.
Let’s not forsake the eternal and global for the urgent and local.
Visit Acts29.com (or your church-planting network’s website) to see where churches are being planted. Contact area leaders for help and to ask questions. See who might be interested in starting a partnership.
At home, we must pray with our ministry leaders and congregations about shifting from an inward focus to an outward passion for God’s global renown. May the Holy Spirit ignite a fire among us for giving, praying, and going to the nations.
We know that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue confess (Phil. 2:10–11). Let’s not forsake the eternal and global, then, for the urgent and local. As we seek to glorify God around the world, let’s watch him grow our local churches too.