SBC Life Articles

A Farm System for Future Missionaries

There really aren’t any “overnight successes” in ministry.

No matter how prodigious they are, effective missionaries—like basketball stars—do not achieve significant results without going through periods of development and mentorship.

For example, during the 2011-2012 NBA season, New York Knicks fourth-string point guard Jeremy Lin appeared as an “overnight” sensation. The Knicks had suffered a dismal season, and in a moment of desperation Coach Mike D’Antoni let Lin take the court.

What happened next was sheer basketball magic.

Lin turned the game around and led a six-game winning streak, averaging twenty points per game. He was named to the “Rising Stars” team during the All Star break and went on to sign a multi-million dollar contract with the Houston Rockets.

But here’s the reality.

The only magic that happened to Jeremy Lin that night was that he saw the payoff for years of hard work and perseverance. In fact, Lin was anything but an “overnight” sensation.

Though a demonstrated leader both on and off the high school court, no major college recruited Lin. He became a walk-on at Harvard, then spent time playing in the “D-league” and in China. He was picked up and then waived by a couple of NBA teams before finally getting a shot with the Knicks and a chance to shine.

Here’s the point.

While, in ministry, we don’t want to risk relegating an All Star to bench warming, we also don’t want to put anyone in the game before their time. Either can be discouraging or disastrous.

Church planters who maximize their potential on the mission field are able to do so because they are prepared. They spend time learning as much as they can from mentors who’ve traveled similar paths.

The ambitious task we have ahead of us as Southern Baptists to reach our nation with the Gospel cannot be accomplished without an intentional process for building up future missionaries and church planters.

Our goal with the North American Mission Board’s Send North America strategy is to “penetrate lostness” wherever it exists in North America by planting thousands of Gospel-announcing churches. Our hope is that by the end of 2022, Southern Baptists will have planted 15,000 churches in the United States and Canada.

If this dream were realized, it would mean we’d be planting churches at a rate faster than the population is growing.

In order for this to happen we will need a movement of multiplying churches who are intentionally raising up the next generation of leaders for the church. We can’t sit idly by and hope that future missionaries are going to just fall out of the sky. It isn’t going to happen that way.

We must recapture Jesus’ mandate to make disciples and then send those disciples to places where the Gospel is needed most.

Think about the ministry of Jesus. What did He do during His three years of earthly ministry? He discovered people, He developed people, and He deployed people. In the same vein, NAMB has built its strategy around helping churches discover, develop, and deploy their people for Gospel impact in North America.

Who are we trying to discover for missionary service? Well, Jesus recruited fishermen, tax collectors, scholars, and even a persecutor of the church (Luke 5; Acts 9). None of these guys was probably on anyone’s “most likely to succeed in ministry” list. They were a rag tag group of people whom Jesus would transform to change the world. There was no special prerequisite or pedigree required—just a willingness to drop what they were doing and follow Him with reckless abandon.

I’m convinced there are thousands of potential missionaries in our churches who have not been considered because they do not fit the typical profile. Church planters, just like Jesus’ disciples, come in all shapes, colors, backgrounds, and professions, and it is our biblical mandate to help them see what opportunities God has for them.

Through the Send North America Farm System we want to help churches discover and guide potential missionaries and church planters into four levels of commitment: student missionaries, interns, apprentices, and missionaries and church planters.

• A student missionary is someone who is “kicking the tires of ministry.” This is a person who has displayed some potential and interest in serving the church through fulltime ministry, but is undeveloped, still seeking clarity about his or her ministry direction.

• The church-planting intern is “kicking the tires of church planting.” Often a previous ministry experience has led these individuals toward church planting, but they are not yet convinced of or equipped for that calling. They need an opportunity to work in a support role in a church-planting-friendly environment as they develop necessary skills and experience.

• The church planting apprentice has experienced a clear call to church planting, but needs a year in a church-planting ministry context learning from an established church planter.

Church planters and missionaries understand the demands of starting a new Gospel ministry in a particular context. They are ready for a long-term, sustained effort where, often, no Gospel presence has been established.

Missionaries don’t just appear; they are developed. Each level of the farm system requires and provides different levels of development. Needs will vary with age, stage in life, and ministry goals. The only way truly to discern the type of development a person needs is through the community and discipleship of the local church.

One West Coast pastor says it this way: “Disciples are made and developed on mission where they learn how to proclaim the Gospel and make more disciples.” When the church is developing missionary leaders, its focus is to develop them to make disciples who in turn will make other disciples who will make yet other disciples. There really is no rocket science involved, just a lot of time pouring into people who eventually will spend their lives pouring into others.

Developing missionaries is primarily the role of the local church. NAMB’s desire is to help facilitate this process through opportunities and resources. To learn more about how NAMB can assist you and your church, visit www.sendnetwork.net.

While discovering and developing disciples who are ready to make disciples in unreached places is the initial goal, the long-term goal is to deploy these prepared missionaries. And, given our limited human and financial resources, this means we have to deploy them strategically.

Places like the US Northeast Corridor and the region around Salt Lake City are only about 2 percent evangelical Christian. Places like New Jersey have one evangelical church for every 7,500 residents, as compared to one for 750 in some southern states. We need to be willing to challenge our missionaries to go to the hard places and we must sacrifice financially in order to send them there.

Also, we must help our missionaries deploy appropriately.

Just because there are great needs in certain places does not mean that everyone is called to go to those places. As local churches invest themselves into future missionaries, they must help them think through where they can thrive and be fruitful. We all know of too many instances where hope-filled missionaries crashed and burned because they failed to think through adequately their ability to adapt to a particular missionary context.

The task before us is a huge one, but the good news is that Jesus has already promised us the victory. He has promised to build His Church. The gates of hell, no matter how rigidly fortified by evil, cannot prevail against the powerful juggernaut of the Gospel.

Our task is to be faithful to the role we have been given—to discover laborers, develop laborers, and deploy laborers into His fields.

In Luke 10:2 Jesus told His disciples that the fields were ripe, but the laborers were
few. These two thousand years later, the situation has not changed. As we pray together to the Lord of the Harvest, I also pray we faithfully respond as He answers our prayers by calling out laborers to go into the harvest fields. I believe the time is ripe for a massive movement of laborers for the North American mission

God has placed us in a pivotal place with greater resources than anyone ever dreamed. It just may be that this is the final generation before He comes again to establish His Kingdom on earth. He is calling your name, and mine; your church, and mine.

We can do no less than join Him in His harvest.

Aaron Coe is vice president for church planting and mobilization for the North American Mission Board and is a member of Blueprint Church in Atlanta, Georgia.

For more information on how your church can be involved in Send North America, go to www.namb.net and click on Mobilize Me.

NAMB has launched a prayer emphasis for the calling out of laborers built around Luke 10:2. We are encouraging all Southern Baptists to set an alarm for 10:02 (a.m. or p.m.) each day so they can be reminded to pray for the Lord of the Harvest to send out laborers.

    About the Author

  • Aaron Coe