How does a church get its people invested in the Great Commission? It’s a question any missions leader or pastor should ask. We are called to take the gospel to the nations, yet sometimes it is challenging to get church members motivated about evangelistic work in places far away.
The common assumption seems to be that less-than-ideally invested churches need more excitement about the spiritual results of missions. They need to see how thrilling it is when men and women step out of the darkness of a culture in which Christianity is totally alien, and into the kingdom of light. Nothing thrills a believer’s heart more than seeing the Spirit bringing a stranger home into the family of God. So why not use whatever means possible to excite churches with those images?
Spiritual Get-Rich-Quick Schemes
We often parade story after story of dramatic conversions and mass movements in front of our people with little celebration of slow, hard slogging that has yet to see fruit. We create spiritual versions of get-rich-quick testimonials, showing how through only a little extra giving and prayer, you too can see an entire unreached people group saved in your lifetime. My fear is that in our efforts to quickly mobilize churches for missions, we are unintentionally undermining the church’s ability to patiently invest for the long-term.
In other words, we undermine the church’s discipline because we refuse to defer spiritual gratification.
I fear we are training churches to think about missions in such a way that William Carey or Adoniram Judson would’ve been brought home due to their evangelistic inefficiency in their first seven or eight years. The result is not just spiritual immaturity in our churches; we're also making it harder for the unreached and least-reached peoples of the world to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.
Jesus made it abundantly clear that the effectiveness of sowing the word cannot be accurately measured right away. The parable of the soils shows us that it takes time to see if a conversion is substantial or ephemeral (Matthew 13:1–9, 18–23). Sometimes, “the seed lie under the clods till we lie there, and then spring up.”
We must train ourselves and our congregations to celebrate and prize faithful endurance in ministry. Seeing the fruits of our labor is a gift from the Lord—one that even the apostle Paul didn’t always receive. We must grow in our confidence that, even if we don’t get to see it in this lifetime, the Word of the Lord will not return empty, but it will accomplish the purpose He sent it for (Isaiah 55:11).
Mutual Investment Fund
One of the best ways for a church to grow in this sort of mentality in missions abroad is to be devoted to this sort of mentality in its life and ministry at home. Nothing has given me more confidence in the long-term effectiveness of the Word than seeing it work in the lives of people in my own church. Men who were once chasing after sin who are now pastors and shepherds, marriages that seemed broken but have now healed, angry people who have grown in mercy, selfish people who now love to serve—none of these things happened quickly.
As with the financial market, the most rewarding spiritual investments often take much longer to mature.
The life of the church trains us how to invest for heaven. It teaches churches to be patient, even as they long to hear reports of conversions in outer Mongolia or Iraq or the Amazonian interior. It teaches future missionaries that the work of a missionary takes discipline and patience.
So as your missionaries return home and give reports on the work in the field, encourage them. Let them know they don’t need to have an incredible conversion story in the last year in order to prove they are worth your church’s support. But let them know that they must show determination to labor as a worker worthy of his wages, and a willingness to trust the Lord with their labors. They may plant, or water, but only God can give the growth (1 Corinthians 3:7).
Caleb Greggsen is involved in local church ministry in the Middle East.
 Charles Bridge, The Christianity Ministry, 75.