Mobilizing Your Members
Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama is one of the strongest mission-sending churches in the United States.
Over the years, somewhere between three and four hundred of its members have gone into full time ministry of one sort or another. The church supports 242 overseas families plus 164 other families in the US.; it supports the general fund of 35 organizations, and in 1985 it also gave $30,000 toward African food relief.
In 1983, 20 Briarwood college students west sent to two countries for short term ministry during the summer; in 1984, 34 students were sent to three countries; in 1985, 59' students were sent to five countries; and the goal for 1986 is 100 students in seven countries.
The number of candidates from Brianvood going into long term ministries is no less impressive than the figures just quoted. In 1983, seven members of the congregation got involved in overseas mission and four in U.S. ministry; 1984 saw 10 going overseas arid 9 into U.S. ministries. Twelve went overseas and 10 entered U.S. ininisuies in 1985, and cuffently, 56 Briar wood members are in some stage of movement toward overseas ministry. Twelve of these should be on the field by June of 1986.
How does a local church like Briarwood Presbyterian go about recruiting and supporting such a dynamic missionary program? Dr. Frank Barker, pastor of Briarwood, was asked to address this question at the 1985 IFMA (interdenominational Foreign Mission Association) Conference.
A central theme of Barkers' address was that the relationship between the local church and the agencies should be one of close cooperation. The church should not be viewed as a mere pool from which the agencies fish for recruits, nor should the church expect to know all the technical aspects of moving people into the field.He said he believes the ideal situation would be where the local church leadership "does the recruiting, is conscious of the opportunities, assesses and even trains those who are going to be missionaries, trains them in matters of the local church such as the structure, the way you do things gives them leadership opportunities in one way or another, and trains them in evangelism and discipleship.
"At the same time, I think that the technical end of things can doubtless be done better at the schools and in other ways. Let the church say who is trained
and when they are ready to go, and let the agency work closely to encourage the church to do that,"
Specifically, how cars the local church help to maximize its efforts in developing a solid and effective mission program? Barker mentioned a number of factors he feels are important.
- "The church needs to know the opportunities, and so it needs to write to the different mission boards with which it has a working relationship, asking for updated personnel lists and keeping the lists on file so that they can share specific needs when someone is interested in overseas vocation."
- During our world mission conferences, we should have times when we put a strong emphasis on being sensitive to God's call and to the will of God. We should also conduct an inquirers class, gather those who are moving toward mission, and then have a fellowship of these that will be an ongoing thing throughout the year."
- "We should have missionaries sharing constantly with us in the church throughout the year. Every aspect of the church's life we should try to penetrate with missions and pray regularly for the missionaries and for the Lord of the harvest to thrust forth laborers."
- "We have started sponsoring a collegiate conference at the end of our mission conference to which we invite collegians from all the campuses in our state . . . . Our target is to put a fulltime staff team on each of these fouryear campuses, and we've just about reached that goal. When you move onto a campus like that, you're the biggest thing on the campus."
- "The local church needs to use the short term experience to challenge, to motivate and to give vision. The more I have experienced the effects of that in our congregation, the more I'm sold on it."
- "We have begun a missionary training track in the life of our church so that guidance can be given to candidates that has to do with missionary skill development, training them in evangelism, discipleship, Biblical studies, personal life organization (are their debts paid?), interpersonal skills, emotional maturity, an overseas world 'determination,'. . . and we try to guide them in board selection, types of service available, fields of opportunity, and so on.
- "Of course when we talk about recruiting in the local church, prayer is essential. We announce goals every Sunday morning and pray from the pulpit and ask God to thrust forth one a month into full time ministry."
- "One of the best things we've done is to have a full time missions pastor although he wouldn't have to be a pastor, he could be a layman."
- "Ii you have a pastor that you want to expose to a missions conference, send his name to us or to other churches like us that run concurrent conferences and we'll invite him. We'll do everything we can to encourage him to come or you come and bring him with you."
"To me, missions is a tremendous thing to be involved in." said Barker. "To me its the heartbeat of our local church."
Barker concluded his address with a challenge filled with exciting potential.
"I believe there are hundreds and thousands of young men who have never even considered missions, never been exposed to it at all, and many of them on these secular campuses who will respond, will respond when challenged in the right way. I believe we're neglecting a very broad spectrum of our available resources, and when those new people are challenged, they bring their own resources with them."