Local churches need to talk about global terrorism. Not every sermon has to feel like John Piper’s “Doing Mission When Dying Is Gain” or David Platt’s “Divine Sovereignty: The Fuel of Death-Defying Missions,” but some of these horrific events should be intentionally acknowledged.
Songs and prayers that lament the brokenness of our world instruct the body of Christ, give it ways to express grief and longing, and allow it to join God as he uses even tragedy for his glory.
Church leaders shouldn’t hesitate to connect the dots between global terrorism and global missions for their people: going is “not all romance and radical adventure.” Leaning hard into Jesus’s teaching that people will kill you thinking they are serving God (John 16:2) is not only relevant, it’s also compelling. That is, it compels people who, according 2 Corinthians 5:11–15, are so captured by the love of Christ that they want to persuade others.
How is it that the church is actually emboldened in the face of threat? A shaken church in Acts 4:23–31 seems to show us how it’s supposed to be. Sweep danger and risk under the rug, and people will hide there. Talk about it openly and people will be strangely eager to go—like Ronnie Smith, whose “confidence grew that Christ was worth every risk he would face,” even as he became increasingly aware of Libya’s dangers. A war draws warriors, and we are at war for the souls of men.
Here are four things your church can do.
1. Lead members to count the cost.
Though global mission has never been a safe venture, those who pay attention to current trends understand that no place is beyond the reach of danger.
The attack on Westgate Mall in Nairobi especially awakened me to this reality, since it’s one of the places I frequented on vacation while working in east Africa. One image that continues to haunt me is a blood-splattered café where I used to relax with a big bowl of ice cream and not a care in the world.
People need to wrestle with the reality that they may be caught in the crossfire—not even because of their witness, but simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Ultimately, it’s more likely missionaries’ hearts and minds will be guarded by Christ with understanding-surpassing peace (Phil. 4:7) if they’ve considered the risk rather than ignored it. This is only possible if church leaders themselves have felt the weight of sending their little flock out among wolves (Luke 10:3).
2. Partner with like-minded missions agencies.
Most who work for or with missions agencies understand this threat. They’ve been around long enough to see some caskets come home. That’s why they often provide training for how to respond in hostile situations.
But more than training, many have a network on the field and plans for evacuation, emergency medical care, hostage calls, or any number of things you don’t want to be fully responsible for when you get a frantic international phone call at 2:00 a.m.
Partnering with a missions agency doesn’t exempt the sending church from being actively involved and even owning major parts of emergency situations. It simply empowers them to care more holistically for their people through the expertise of agencies.
3. Care for those you’ve sent.
The realities and possibilities of global terrorism are all the more reason for churches to remain deeply connected to their sent ones. Is it likely one of your sent ones will be killed by terrorists? No. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be crushed (Rom. 8:36).
Churches need to draw near, ask good questions, help them process, and encourage their resolve to trust and obey Jesus. Give them outlets for sharing how the situation is affecting people so the church can pray with insight.
In today’s world, your sent ones may feel a constant low-grade threat, even when they’re on vacation. That’s heavy. They need you.
4. Have a plan for how to respond to tragedy.
If something does happen, what would you do?
It’s a question none of us want to think about. But it was one The Austin Stone was forced to face when their own Ronnie Smith was killed. There’s much we could learn from their example, including the way his wife, Anita, responded and how the church addressed it.
Perhaps considering this question is part of the church’s task of counting the cost. Realizing and acknowledging the nature of sending—the kind the Bible describes—will lead churches to prepare for the best and the worst. May they do so with inexpressible and glorious joy because death—even its threat—does not have the final word.
Editors’ note: A version of this article appeared at the International Mission Board (IMB) website.