How to Do Mission Without Being Overwhelmed

How are we to engage the world of mission without being overwhelmed?

As a local church, we have supported mission workers in the Philippines from our own congregation, plus many more workers around the world through our denomination. We give money and volunteer hours to relief and development through a partner agency, donate to the local Food Bank, participate in a breakfast program at our local middle school for children that come to school hungry, partner with a Christian organization reaching out to local youth, adopt a family for gifts at Christmas. Church members give time to disaster relief efforts, raise funds for Christian education, engage in prison ministry. We receive many more requests to support addiction recovery programs, pro-life advocacy, supportive housing for women, and much more.

On a personal level, the needs keep coming there too–an invitation to a fundraising dinner, an update from a community youth worker we help to support, letters from our denomination and other Christian and community organizations engaging real people with real needs and asking us to join in their important work.

Faced with so many needs and requests for support, with so many worthwhile ministries doing good work, how are we to decide where, when, and how best to invest our prayers, time, energy, and finances?

As people called to mission, this is a critical question–for both churches and individuals, for pastors and others who work for the church, for missions committees and church members.

I’m happy to recommend a new resource that helps us address this question, Mapping Church Missions: A Compass for Ministry Strategy by Sharon Hoover, released by InterVarsity Press this week. The author has served for more than twenty years as director of missions at a local congregation, and now offers her experience to a wider audience. In her book, she shares stories from ministry, offers biblical reflections, and skillfully guides her readers through the complex and often confusing world of missions.

Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from this book is that my question about where, when, and how best to invest ourselves in mission is not just one question, but a cluster of seven related questions. And rather than giving “the” answer, Sharon Hoover engages readers in conversation around these seven questions to discover our own unique answers:

  1. How much are we drawn to share the good news or to do good deeds?
  2. Do we prioritize local mission or global concerns?
  3. Do we focus more on responding to crisis or on longer term sustainability?
  4. Do we invest time, talent, and other intangibles, or money and other physical resources?
  5. Is there a place for short-term mission efforts, or does short-term mission do harm?
  6. Is our attention directed more toward those who are sent to serve, or toward those on the receiving end?
  7. How much can we minimize risk, and what does it mean to embrace risk?

Each of these questions represents a continuum, says the author:

Worthwhile ministry takes place throughout each continuum. Differences in our gifts and abilities allow for a wide variety of responses. However, some choices are better than others in certain situations. In addition, some crossover between issues will emerge in the chapters. For example, for effective good works we need to consider the crisis response and sustainability aspect of ministry to prevent damaging consequences. As you ponder the topics, you will discover the best route to get to your missional destination. . . . You will turn a loosely connected assortment of commitments into a focused missions strategy.

I was privileged to read an advance copy of this book from the publisher, and found it immensely helpful. For more on Mapping Church Missions, please see the following free excerpts, then get a copy to read for yourself and share with your congregation.

Introduction: Charting Our Course and Chapter One: Good News and Good Deeds

Changing Perspectives Through Short-Term Missions

Thank you to InterVarsity Press for providing me with an advance copy. As always, the choice to review and my opinions are my own.

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Lead Pastor of a mid-size, multi-staff church and the author of Four Gifts, Christ is For Us, Sacred Pauses, and other books on spiritual growth and Christian living. Blogging on Writing and Other Acts of Faith (aprilyamasaki.com) and When You Work for the Church: the good, the bad, and the ugly, and how we can all do better (whenyouworkforthechurch.com).

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