The mission partner lifecycle: Mission

Jamie Read

When your mission partner has arrived at their destination, they’ll begin adapting to a new climate, language and culture. Two years later, they are all but established. 

How can you let the gospel set the agenda as you build the relationship with your mission partners? 

Three themes stand out from Paul’s first missionary journey in Acts 13-14. The key is in 14:27 where Paul and Barnabas report on how God ‘opened a door of faith to the Gentiles’. 

Mission is gospel-centred.

The word ‘gospel’ is mentioned four times in Luke’s account of Paul’s travels (13:32; 14:7, 15, 21). Whether in the Jewish context of Pisidian Antioch or the poly-theistic surroundings of Lystra and Derbe, the proclamation of the Lord Jesus Christ is the means by which the door of faith is opened by God. This is reinforced for the church in Antioch, especially because the frontiers of the frontiers are being stretched beyond anything they had seen before.

Be interested in the open doors for faith in the particular context your mission partner serves. 

  • Ask your mission partners for stories and news of people coming to faith, growing in faith and sharing faith.
  • Make connections with aspects of culture. Plan a shared church lunch with food relevant to where you mission partners are.
  • Keep praying for open doors for the gospel for your mission partner. But remember that what you might enthusiastically see as an ‘open door’ can often mean upheaval and transition for your mission partner. 

Mission is contextual. 

The gospel is translated within the culture and customs in which Paul operated. It is hardly surprising that Paul re-tells the history of God’s people Israel whilst inside a synagogue. He quotes five times from the Old Testament in Pisidian Antioch, before seeking a response from his audience (13:38). By contrast there are no references to the OT in Lystra. Here the people are immersed in a Greek supernatural world view. Paul still brings ‘good news’ (14:15, 21), but frames the message in categories familiar to the Lystrans: namely, that the creator God is not distant from his creation and that true to expectation the One True God has decisively broken in to time and space. What’s more, this Creator God requires a response. 

The good news of Jesus Christ is above but at home in cultures different from our own.

Be creative in how you encourage a growing gospel partnership.

  • Appreciate differences. The way the gospel is ‘packaged’ and ‘delivered’ varies significantly from country to country. Using ‘Two Ways to Live’ in post-communist Europe requires careful thought. How would a hearer understand the description of God as ‘loving ruler’? 
  • Consider visiting your mission partner. There is no substitute for tasting cross-cultural mission first hand: Stumble over your words whilst enthusiastically meeting local Christians. Listen to a sermon in Italian or a local dialect. Attend a prayer meeting whilst melting in the humidity. But plan these visits well. Many mission partners struggle to say ‘no’ to the goodwill suggestions of keen supporters!
  • Use mission partners wisely on ‘home visits’. Make sure there is a balance between conversational encouragement (stories, presentations, meals) and ministry encouragement (sermons).

Mission is costly.

Paul impressed this truth on the churches he later visited (14:22). Translating the message of the Lord Jesus Christ goes hand-in-glove with living it out. In response to his preaching in Lystra, the Jews stir up the crowd, stone Paul, drag him outside the city and leave him for dead. When Paul is found, Luke says that he ‘got up’ (or ‘rose up’ v20). It is a picture of Christ-centred ministry. Cross-cultural gospel mission will feel like death at times but, through Christ, will bear the marks of new life beyond the grave.

Be real about the costs on your mission partner. 

There is always a risk of focussing on results, numbers, or progress to the point where a mission partner will struggle to share the costs of ministry, for fear of looking like a failure. Paul certainly didn’t shy away from the cost of mission (Acts 14:22). In communications with your mission partner, remember that cross-cultural work is slow work. Understanding language and what makes people tick can take years of trial and error. It is also exhausting. It’s one thing to teach the importance of context when leading a bible study. Imagine doing this in a country where there is no single word that translates as ‘context’. Or take privacy. Interruptions are more common in cultures that prize relationships above deadlines or tasks. The familiar ‘task’ of marking papers or writing sermons can quickly become curtailed. Now try doing all the above in 32c with 90% humidity!

This blog post is part of a series about the mission partner lifecycle. Read also about commission and recommission.