COVID-19 has underlined a reality that has likely long been true: the church is too dependent on short-term mission trips as its main mobilization strategy. What would you do to mobilize your church or students if there were no trips to take, no cross-cultural moments to experience, no crickets to eat, no souvenirs to bring home?
Is that the only arrow in our quiver to strike the heart of God’s people with his urgent global task? Surely not. We need to dig a little deeper into what mobilizes people to God’s mission in the first place.
Asking Hard Questions
I once asked a mission agency about taking a vision trip to Central Asia, to help me consider whether to pursue long-term work with Muslims there. I assumed a trip would be an important factor, but then the conversation turned to my reasons for going.
“Well, to learn more about the city and the people,” I said.
“Why couldn’t you just read one of the many great books about that city and the work God is doing there?” said the agency mobilizer.
My next reason, “Well, we want to pray over the city.”
“Again, there are great resources like Operation World, Joshua Project, and specific places online you can learn what to pray for that city. The resources will tell you way more than you could discern being there in person for a short time,” she said.
My third reason never came out of my mouth. As I was thinking about the chance to meet and interact with “real Central-Asian Muslims,” God graciously reminded me of the hundreds of “real” Muslim international students who were studying in my city.
Sometimes the Holy Spirit whispers; sometimes he uses a sledgehammer. I was so locked into going, I couldn’t see the opportunities close to home.
“You know, I guess you’re right,” I admitted. “The vast majority of what I want to learn and understand could be done right now.” I was just being lazy. And a trip sounded more exciting.
Great Commission Work for Everyone
Of course, we still need to go. My work with The Traveling Team is all about getting people among the nations, and we are big believers in short-term missions trips. There’s something unique about going that God uses to grab the hearts of his people.
But what do we do when going is limited or not possible? I’ve met many committed Christians who have real barriers that are not related to sin, fear, or disobedience. Sometimes we’re limited for a season, and sometimes it’s a lifetime. I’ve had a chance to wrestle through this question and have discovered that God has valuable Great Commission work for all believers. It may not involve a cross-cultural move, but it will always involve cross-carrying sacrifice.
God has valuable Great Commission work for all believers. It may not involve a cross-cultural move, but it will always involve cross-carrying sacrifice.
The bottleneck is not with God, government, or restrictions. The problem might be squarely on us for failing to think outside the box. Thinking outside the box should lead us back to the Bible. And there we find at least four other means God has given the church to mobilize apart from traveling.
So, don’t throw up your hands and quit. You might just discover the most strategic new missions ministry has been right under your nose the whole time.
Four Ways to Support Missions
As advancement in travel becomes more accessible, the advancement of globalization has perhaps made travel less necessary. Paul needed to travel to many places for an initial visit to know how to pray, give, or minister, but that’s not true for us. We can now learn about unreached peoples from dozens of reliable mission organizations that have compiled decades of data on hidden peoples and cultures in every corner of the world—and then we can pray. Prayer is powerful. In Luke 10:2, Jesus commands us to pray: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.”
Even when we can’t go, we can pray.
God has planted strategic cross-cultural workers in many areas of the world who are positioned to do ministry in unique ways that we can’t. They only need the resources. With only .001 percent of Christian income going to the unreached, this is an area worthy of greater focus. Goers can’t go if senders don’t send. Giving sacrificially is crucial to seeing the world reached. If people are going to pack up their lives and move across the world, the church needs to take ownership of getting them there.
Even when we can’t go, we can give sacrificially.
God is bringing the most strategic individuals in the world, like the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26–40, within miles of our churches. America is the most diverse nation in the world where we can find Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists in almost every city and suburb.
Such opportunities represent a strategic crossroads. There are over 1 million international students in the United States, most of whom will return to their home country. Their time here may be their only opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus. What if, like the Ethiopian eunuch, these students returned as Christians primed to spread the gospel in their home countries?
Even when we can’t go, we can reach the nations living among us.
God is bringing the most strategic individuals in the world, like the Ethiopian eunuch, within miles of our churches.
The church always needs a prophetic voice to call us back to God’s global mission. A mobilizer is someone who has a passion for the world and a passion to pass it on. Mobilization is coming alongside the work of God in someone’s life to transform their heart toward the things of God.
If we desire to finish the Great Commission and see Jesus worshiped among every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, then mobilization must happen. None of this requires travel. We have enormous opportunity to plant seeds for a new harvest of global workers. Even if we can’t go, we can mobilize the church here and now.
These four ways are only the start. There is so much good work to be done that does not require a plane ticket. My colleagues at The Traveling Team and I have developed a resource offering 101 ways to shape the world and mobilize in obedience to the Great Commission. May it be an encouragement to all of us, regardless of circumstance, to step into God’s great mission in this world.