There's More to Global Missions Than Sending Money

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
— Matthew 28:18-20a

LCMC and the NALC are challenging member churches to connect personally with global missions. This is not just a knee-jerk reaction to the past, but in fact is the Biblical mandate and model. We are being called back to taking an active role in the missionary task with which we have been entrusted by the Lord of the Church!

As I travel across the U.S. with East European Missions Network (EEMN) and Awakening Lutherans to WorldMissions (ALWM), I see joy and vitality as congregations rediscover the primary task of the church. But I also speak with others that have simply replaced the old method: “Send money to Higgins Road,” with a new one: “Send money directly to a mission agency, missionary or project.” Money is essential to carry out the work, but often far more than money is needed in order to have a lasting impact in “making disciples of all nations”! Paul celebrated the involvement of the Macedonian churches in their fledgling missionary work when he wrote, 

They did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.
— 2 Corinthians 8:5

A few of the practical and needed ways people can be involved include prayer for and support of missionaries and indigenous workers and their specific needs; personal relationships that bring encouragement; and well-planned short-term mission trips. 

One of the key means for churches to be strategically and effectively engaged in completing the Great Commission is through intentional partnership with a church in another part of the world. This is far more than having a “‘sister church” in another country—though well intentioned, this may be no more than a picture and a paragraph, a sort of spiritual pen pal marked by a pin on the map. Genuine collaborative partnership that has lasting impact on the world mission mandate given us by the Lord Jesus Christ must be about what the partner church needs at the time, not simply what we want to give. Here is an example:

In the former Soviet Union after the fall of Communism, church planting was an essential part of having a lasting impact. I first began traveling to Russia in 1992 while working part time with another ministry, Association of International Mission Services (AIMS). I was also serving a small Lutheran congregation in Minnesota. AIMS focus then was not solely on evangelism, but we knew we needed to plant churches. Two generations of communism had taken its toll. We found 400 cities with populations greater than 50,000 that had no evangelical church. We coordinated the work of various mission agencies that joined together to meet this need in cooperation with churches across the U.S., and in a few short years hundreds of churches were planted. My role was to find sponsor congregations that partnered with an agency, a city and young pastoral trainee. The partner congregations also would send a few representatives to the  evangelistic rallies we organized with our local coworkers to “jump start” the church plant, which often met in a movie theater or a local house of culture. It was exciting for me to be in Petrozavodsk, Russia, in 2012 when New Life Church there celebrated its 20th anniversary, knowing that this was one of those church plants. By the mid-1990’s, the Russian government stepped in to severely limit the planting of new churches.

Lutheran churches in Russia were the second largest group after the Orthodox church prior to the revolution in 1918. They were so decimated by the ruthlessness of Stalin, with every church closed by 1939 and most pastors murdered or jailed, that they were not actively engaged in this massive church-planting wave. By 1992, Lutheran Christians who persevered and survived were emerging from their dispersion across the country. This generation that was taking baby steps in their new-found freedom. They desired to reestablish their ancestorsʼ long-closed churches, and rebuilding these old congregations became one of the few legal options for reopening churches by 1997.

I joined EEMN as Director nearly 10 years ago. As a ministry we are focused on helping these churches to be renewed and reestablished, with the greatest challenges ahead in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. The impassioned plea of our coworkers in this region is for relationship that includes friendship, discipleship, mentoring and prayer support from real people who are examples of living the Christian life. Over 70 years of Communism left few places where our friends can actually see what living faith looks like in the family or in the church. EEMN is currently strengthening our focus on these intentional collaborative partnerships. What do you look for in a partnership with a church in another culture? Here are some of the hard questions to ask:

How Did You Hear About the Church? If it was from a “friend of a friend” or Aunt Ethel’s nephew in Africa, you will want to check further. Is it a real, reputable church? Is it part of a denomination or association? Does it have an accountability structure? It’s easy to make something sound good from 8,000 miles away. Pictures can be faked, and my experience is that people can say anything if they are dishonest and after your (or your church’s) money.

A group of churches from India approached LCMC in 2005, looking for partnership. LCMC leaders commissioned a visit by an experienced missionary—he discovered they were not  what they claimed to be. A Russian Lutheran pastor and his ministry appealed by mail and internet to many Lutheran churches several years ago. Asked by LCMC to look into his ministry, I found out that the pastor was not what he claimed to be, either.

What is the Spiritual Need in the Country Where the Church is Located? You can find the answer to that question in Operation World (a one-volume prayer guide for global missions), or on the internet from the Joshua Project or the U.S. Center for World Missions. Is the church looking for relationship with a U.S. church simply as a way to get your money? Are they looking for a way to get visas to visit or move here? Are they genuinely looking for Christians who can help them with evangelism and discipleship? Is your relationship with this partner church actually furthering the Great Commission?

Is There an Experienced Mission Agency Helping to Facilitate the Relationship? My experience is that most churches do not have the experience or resources to find a viable partner church or the ability to carry it out on their own. An agency that knows and visits the region can help bridge the cross-cultural barriers and assist with practicalities. This helps to ensure that what both sides want will actually happen: transformative ministry enabling the Gospel to be preached and disciples to be made. There is more to missions than sending money! There are many needs that willing churches of any size can help meet if you are willing to step out and learn. I urge you to consider PARTNERSHIP as one of the ways to get actively involved in obedience to Jesus’ command to take the Gospel to the nations.

For more information, contact Pastor Moberly at: pastorbill@alwm.org