This April, 15 pastors and church planters from the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Send Network traveled to Frankfurt, Germany, to learn from and collaborate with International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries and local partners.
These trips are part of a newly formed partnership between the IMB and Send Network, the church-planting arm of NAMB. The partnership, which began this year, also includes collaboration and training on diaspora engagement strategies for leaders in the U.S., as well as an IMB missionary leader presence at the regional Send Network gatherings.
Chris Derry, the IMB’s director of church and campus engagement, said the desire for the partnership is to instill a missional DNA early in the life of a church plant.
“We have an opportunity to work together with NAMB to shape the paradigm for how our U.S. cities are reached with the gospel as these young leaders learn from their tenured peers overseas. At the same time, these new relationships birth global partnerships today which advance the work among the world’s 7,200 unreached people groups,” Derry said.
Three of the trips this year will be to South Asian cities and two to Europe — Frankfurt and Bulgaria. The goal is to send 50 church planters this year. For the next two years, 100 North American church planters will travel on 10 trips.
Church-planting pastors in the first three years of their ministry were invited.
“We’re putting them into places where they’re spending time with experienced missionary city leaders, national partners and global missionary partners. The trips expose the church planters to numerous strategies being used to reach communities with the gospel, see how healthy churches are forming among those communities and get a vision for the interconnectivity of the global network of co-laborers,” Derry said.
Mike Laughrun is the pastor of Tri-Cities Baptist Church in Gray, Tennessee, and is the director of global engagement for Send Network. He led the team to Frankfurt, Germany, the earlier trip to South Asia and will lead future teams as well.
Laughrun said the long-term goal is for every Send Network church to be engaged among the nations, get connected to an IMB missionary and be involved through praying, giving and sending their church members to the nations.
“Who really, biblically, is given the responsibility of reaching the nations? It’s the church,” he said. “The IMB is only as healthy as local churches. The IMB doesn’t grow missionaries, local churches do.”
Laughrun continued, “The hope is that true partnership is understood again as the IMB is an entity that exists for the local church. Local churches have a hands-on responsibility to their nation, to their neighbors and the nations.”
An “ah-ha” moment for Laughrun and other pastors was discovering what it really means to partner, not just theoretically understand. They heard missionaries explain, “Here’s what we do. Here’s how the church can help. Here’s how it could be a win for us. Here’s how it could be a win for your church.”
In the mornings, pastors received training from IMB missionaries and multiple partnering organizations. They learned about the missionary task, culture, religion and the complexities and contextualization of mission work. In the afternoons, pastors engaged in hands-on ministry. They also worshiped in local churches.
IMB missionaries in Frankfurt helped launch MainProjekt, named after the river that runs through the city. Kelly Seely, the IMB team leader in Frankfurt, said they focus on helping individuals to live on mission, and their church-planting strategy stems from this ministry initiative.
Derry traveled with the pastors and said they were exposed to the world’s greatest problem — lostness. The light bulb came on when they saw the vast lostness in Frankfurt. From the red-light districts to the government offices that have taken over historic churches to thousands of displaced Afghan refugees, pastors saw what little Christian witness exists in Frankfurt.
Tey Mitchell, the pastor of Gospelife Church in Carol Stream, Illinois, said one of the highlights was learning about the entry step of the missionary task.
In the U.S., people are often invited to church, and relationships are built over time, he said, and in time, the church grows. Overseas, building relationships comes first.
Mitchell also enjoyed seeing how missionaries contextualized the gospel and collaborated across organizational lines through MainProjekt, whose vision is one central hub where leaders are equipped to grow and engage missional disciples.
A highlight for many of Send Network’s pastors was listening to the testimony of Afghan refugees who shared about their harrowing journey and the pain of separation from their families. IMB missionaries in Frankfurt are ministering among these men.
Mitchell serves in Chicago, so seeing the lostness of Frankfurt, another large city, resonated.
“The Lord’s work is not done yet in the cities. He is faithful to raise up generations, people, the remnant. If my generation doesn’t see it, maybe my son and my daughter’s will, maybe their kids will,” Mitchell said. “Every person has a missional mandate to engage their city, their family, their friends for the gospel.”
The trip inspired him to spur his church toward deeper involvement internationally. Gospelife is very involved locally in ministry, and he wants to see their prayer involvement for international missions grow, feature missionaries during services and send teams to serve with the IMB.
A highlight for Michael Goforth, the pastor of the church plant Mercy Hill Church in Port Austin, Michigan, was meeting Kelly and his wife, Janice. Goforth said both Port Austin and his church are small, but he saw how they can be involved in the Seelys’ ministry through giving to the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon offering.
“Our little church had a hand in what God was doing there,” he said. Goforth said it was evident that through their partnership of churches, Mercy Hill Church is providing the funds necessary for the Seelys to give their lives to the missionary task.”
On his first Sunday back, he gave a presentation on the missionary task, introduced the Seelys and shared how each church member’s offerings make a difference. The church recently voted to increase its giving to the Cooperative Program. Goforth also plans to use the IMB Pray App with his church.
“All of us can pray, all of us can give, and a lot of us can go. And so, I think that’s just a great pipeline to be thinking through. How can I get involved for the glory of God, to see the nations worship him because he is worthy,” Goforth said.
Laughrun and Derry remain engaged with the pastors and plan to meet quarterly to assist with next steps and mobilization strategies. Derry said it’s a great honor to be a part of the partnership.
“The effort is bringing even stronger partnership between the entities as we serve one another to see the Kingdom advance,” Derry said. “It’s an exciting time for cooperation.”
Published June 5, 2023