Hi friends. Welcome to the first of a series of posts on “Sending Well.”
I recently got a chance to interview Silas and Catherine (not their real names), interested in their perspective as leaders in a sending church. I had a list of questions prepared – how their church got involved in sending people around the world, what practical steps they take to look after those they’ve sent, etc. – but their passion for this topic was so evident I hardly had to say a thing!
Since they travel overseas within the Muslim world it wasn’t helpful to publish identifying information or the audio from the interview. Instead I’ll leave it to you to imagine lots of boisterous laughter along the way, and the intensity on Silas’ face as he leaned forward, right hand gesturing, caught up in the passion for local churches reaching the world.
This first installment focuses on how their church first got involved in sending people, and how they’ve worked to incorporate a vision for the nations right across the life of the church. (You can CLICK HERE to read Part 2.)
Grace: Hi Silas and Catherine, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed on the topic of sending churches. I know we have lots to learn from you and your church. Can you start off by introducing yourselves?
Silas: Sure. My name is Silas, and this is my wife Catherine. We’re from a significant city in the UK, where I’m the lead pastor in a church. I’m involved in helping believers go to Muslim-majority nations and in traveling to those nations to help people on the ground get established. We’ve had people go from our church, from another church we planted, and some people who have simply passed through our church on their way, as well as people looking for final confirmation from God, and have had various levels of involvement with each of them.
So how did this all come about, first for you as a couple, and then for the church? Have you always been interested in other countries, or was it something that came about unexpectedly?
Silas: For me, it all began at university. I’d become a Christian 2 years before, and found myself in my first year at university being evangelized by the Islamic Society. I went along to a mosque and to a few events of theirs, began to really engage with them – and realized I didn’t know anything! They were quite skilled in asking questions and in apologetics, and I began to feel a desire to be able to answer their questions. As a consequence I began to use my long summer vacations to explore that, took some trips with different organizations to travel and find out about the Muslim-majority world.
That was about the same time I began to get a bigger understanding of the church, and have a sense of the church as a sending organization. It seemed that it was the Church, and then this mission organization, and this society or whatever, and I began to ache for all this to somehow come together. I grappled with how all these things could fit together under one roof – because that’s what I saw in the Bible! Churches were planted as a way to reach into new places. I also met a Lebanese guy and heard his stories of being caught up in the civil war and that put something in my heart that germinated for a long time.
Catherine, when did this all start for you? And how did these ideas make the leap from Silas’ head to the church? [laughing] Can you tell us about that process of becoming a sending church?
Catherine: Well I became a christian at 19, and there was something in me early on that whenever I heard about missions or read about the nations in the Bible, the Spirit of God came on me and I had this yearning – a passion. It was never for any specific nation, but nations, plural.
For the church, it all began when one couple in our church turned to us for support when they were getting ready to go to the Middle East. They turned to us for help them pastorally along the journey, which re-ignited what was already there.
Silas: Yes, we’d been in a situation where people from lots of different nations were coming through the church up until then, so we were aware of where God was leading us and our family of churches. But it was really when a couple came along and said “Can you help us” that it awoke something that I think we’d not been taking enough responsibility for. We wanted to care for them well.
Who owns the vision for sending people? Would you say that this idea is something that’s owned by the whole church, or that you’re the one leading that area of church life?
I definitely own it as part of what I feel I’m called to personally, as well as the larger vision for the kind of church I’m trying to build. I’m trying to build right into the DNA of the church the concept that we’re here for Jesus, for our city, and ultimately for the nations. So that includes having projects right within our city that reach refugees, and also sowing the vision repeatedly that we send people – and then care for them as they go.
We want to make sure as many people as possible in our church are exposed to apostolic gift that talks about the unreached and barely-reached nations. It’s important to keep the church exposed to something beyond itself because it’s so easy to get pulled into your needs, or even the needs you see in the city around us.
So I own the vision for sending people, the eldership team owns it. And we’re aware it’s a foundational value that needs to be refreshed regularly, otherwise you just drift from it.
How has that come about, the church “owning” this first couple and others? What practical things did you do to foster that atmosphere?
Silas: Practically, it’s been about exposure. So we’ve had them on church weekends and had them do lots of presentations. We’ve tried to have people that are really interested in what they’re doing connect with them personally, so not just relationships that are through us, but building strong friendships that are outside of leadership.
In addition to that, we visit regularly, feedback to the church and get them praying, send around prayer points… there’s no one way to do it. I think you’ve got to do lots of different things to birth something, and then sustain it. So whenever they come back to the UK we try to have them through the church.
But I also try to include this nations focus when it’s not expected. So I’ll do a sermon illustration on something like marriage. “If you lived in the UK, you might do things this way,” I’ll say, “But my friends in the Middle East might do it this other way.” Suddenly you’re putting something into the church that helps people think about the world beyond them.
Or I’ll say we’re taking a moment to pray for “our friends in these nations” and stick up a map of the world. Those that are guests can get engaged, and those that know who we’re talking about know enough not to blow any kind of security guidelines we’ve set in place. We’ve done other things like bringing a young couple out with us, for example, so they can meet people and see the vision for themselves.
That’s so key, because as much as it’s important for those who have gone to return and feedback to the church, there’s something powerful about people from the sending church seeing what’s happening with their own eyes.
Silas: It’s true! And when you go out there, you realize how many people have been sent and never visited.
Catherine: We’ve become people who visit some others outside of the ones we’ve sent. It’s lovely, because we now visit a much larger group.
Silas: We saw that there were others who weren’t getting as much input as our friends – and that’s a key word, friends! – so we took that on a bit. Something we do every year is budget for a pastoral visit. Even if I wasn’t apostolically engaged with them, I’d be going once a year simply for a pastoral visit – Catherine and I, so it’s not simply “the guy” going. That’s important. I think it’s also important that it’s someone senior in the church. That it’s not delegated so far away from the eldership that they’re no longer engaged.
And to be honest, putting money into it does engage people. Even if you’re a small church and can’t invest hugely into the nations, I think every church can find ways to be part of sending people.
It’s so helpful to go visit, because suddenly you understand what they’re up against. When people come up to you in church and say “How come they haven’t cracked this yet?” you start to explain the obstacles. Well, it takes 5 times as long to get the weekly shop done. You don’t understand any of the labels on the food, and then you’ve got to haggle…
Catherine: People say “How come they haven’t learned the language yet?” and we say it takes time! they’ve got little children! it’s a hard language! [laughing] We need to be able to give them more money so they can do it!
Silas: Visiting brings reality to the challenge. It also helps with unrealistic expectations. We tend to equate church planting overseas with church planting in our own culture. We add on a bit because we know they’re working cross-culturally, but we don’t factor in that it can take much longer. What takes 3 years in the UK can take a decade cross-culturally. You’re in a closed country learning language, learning culture… you’ve got to watch everything you say.
Of course when God moves, it happens like that! [snapping fingers] But you’ve got to plan for the steady, while praying and planning for the unexpected. The next person you work with could be the key! You’re looking to God for a breakthrough moment, but since you don’t know when that will come, you live with the steady.
One of the other things you can do is make sure you keep educating the church. So I always make sure – whether it’s in the church bookstore or wherever – that you’re providing information people can access about the nations, particularly places you feel drawn to. No church can own the whole world – well, mine can’t at least.
We want to keep putting this vision in front of the church: There’s a whole world to win, and at the moment the baton is in the hands of our generation.
Thanks friends! We look forward to hearing more from you soon. Readers, which of these practical ideas does your church incorporate to help you keep the nations in view? Any of Silas and Catherine’s ideas you’d like to apply? (Click here to read on in Part 2 of this interview.)