Missions, Church Planting, and Writing: Three Sides of the Same Coin
Thus far in my adult life I have been a missionary overseas, a church planter in my home state, and a writer behind my computer. And I have to say, I think these three roles are three sides of the same coin.
I know, I know, coins only have two sides. What I mean is, they are three outworkings, or three vocations, of the same calling. They are the three different ways God has allowed me to personally respond to his universal call to follow him. In fact, the coin has more than three sides. I’ve only experienced three of them, but they are as numerous as our vocations are.
Below I share how lately, when discussing the craft of writing, I keep hearing myself say to other writers, “It’s just like going to the mission field. It’s just like church planting. And here’s why.” While I share from my personal experience in three vocations, I think these truths might be applied to any vocation practiced by any Christian for the sake of Jesus.
All Require Risk
The risk is obvious if you sense God asking you to go to a dangerous location for overseas missions. Your safety and health and your family’s well being are all on the line. Similarly, church planting in the US can be risky: you have to go all in with your time, your heart, your finances, your reputation, your whole self, your whole family. And writing also requires risk. It’s vulnerable work. You put yourself out there for all the world to read and review. You risk self-aggrandizing and self-loathing. You risk saying the wrong thing or being heard in the wrong tone. You risk making a theological error, causing others to stumble, defaming the Lord.
Yes, these three vocations require risk, but we still must go. As Christ followers we go where he leads. We do what he asks. Even if it’s dangerous. Even if our family faces opposition. Even if we lose our reputation, our retirement savings, our relatability. Many writers are afraid to write publicly because of the many pitfalls. But as in missions and ministry, writer friends, we write because God asks us to, not because it’s safe.
We Must Be Faithful, But God Will Have to Be Fruitful
It is by faith alone that we preach Christ through missions, church planting, and writing. While you and I can share the gospel, proclaim the excellencies of Jesus, and call on our various audiences to repent, it’s “only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:7). We may employ the latest strategies, proven methods, and breathtaking eloquence, but it is the Lord himself who must change hearts, draw people to himself, and give the growth.
We answer his call by faith. The results are not our concern, not under our control. Your job and mine—on the mission field, in the church plant, and in the words we write—is to abide. The rest is up to our good and able God.
Success Isn’t Determined by Numbers
Whether it be converts, church attendees, or readers we cannot determine our success by numbers. Precisely because of the above—only God gives the growth—a large audience does not necessarily mean we’re doing a good job, nor does a small audience mean we have failed. Numbers, while sometimes interesting and useful in a limited way, do not convey God’s pleasure with our ministry or whether or not we have really obeyed him. Countless missionaries, pastors, and writers across time and space have served the Lord well and have small numbers to show for it. We do not know the Lord’s purposes in using us in various ways.
Sometimes we never see the fruit. And sometimes we see false fruit. If we have loved God and loved neighbor, if we have honored the Lord and served our community, then we have been successful. Faithfulness, not numbers, is success.
It Can Feel Like Self-Promotion
Any missionary who has raised support, any church planter who has invited others to his church, and any writer who has shared her blog, has felt like a smarmy self-promoter. It feels weird to ask other people to give you money, to tithe to the pot that will pay you, or to click on your links or buy your books. It’s just awkward. But here’s what the servant of God in each of these scenarios must settle in his or her heart from the get-go: you are not promoting yourself, your work, or your efforts—you are inviting others to join in God’s Kingdom work, through the vocation that he has given you.
Every missionary I know has had a crisis of faith when he or she first set out to raise support. But missionaries must get to a point of being able to say, “Here is what God is doing and I am going to physically join in. Will you join me through financial and prayer support?” This is not a request to pay the missionary personally, but to provide for the advance of the kingdom. And the same is true with church planting.
And we writers must get to the point of saying, “Here is something God has shown me, or a message I believe he’s given me to steward. I believe in it. I believe it’s a needed word. And I want to share it.” A writer on mission doesn’t ask for personal approval or validation, but rather sets out to share something that honors the Lord and serves the reader.
Overseas missions, church planting, and Christian writing seeks to exalt Christ not the minister at work.
All Are Worth It
Because of the risk, the need to walk by faith and not by sight, the temptation to validate oneself with numbers, and the seeming self-promotion, many potential ministers of the gospel stay on the sidelines. Many missionaries don’t go. Many pastors never plant. And many writers never write. They stay safe, stay home, stay quiet.
May it not be so. Brothers and sisters, may you and I resolve in our hearts that gospel proclamation is worth it. That loving God and loving neighbors is worth it. That putting ourselves out there for the sake of Jesus is worth it.
Yes, there is risk, and there are pitfalls, and and so many things are on the line. But there is also a gospel vacuum. There are yet unreached people, yet untouched communities, hearts yet open to the wooing of the Spirit through your words. The effort, the loss, the emotional turmoil is all worth it.
May we go, may we plant, and may we write by faith for the glory of God and the good of his people.
As I said at the outset to this article, these truths can be applied to every vocation for every Christian. For the teacher, for the host or hostess, for the businessman or businesswoman, for the military member, for the coach, for the mom and the dad, the friend, the colleague, the neighbor. We enter these vocations by faith. We do our work unto the Lord. We face risks, we lose ourselves, we lift up his name, we trust him for the growth. All things—all works done by the Christ follower for the name of Christ himself—all things were created through him and for him (Colossians 1:16).