By the grace of God, I have stumbled into just about every good thing that has happened to me as a minister.
Growing up in the SBC, I went on exactly one mission trip as a teenager. So, coming into the pastorate I had very little experience about what mission for students should look like. I didn’t know how to motivate students to serve God’s kingdom not just locally but afar.
The Lord has been good to me in my ignorance. For the past 5-1/2 years, I’ve been a full-time student pastor at Fairhaven. We have been able to take students across North America and the world to expand the kingdom of God. But how did we get here?
I’ll tell you what has worked for us so that maybe it’ll be a help to you as you plan mission work for your student ministry.
This should be obvious, but often we forget to pray for the Lord to lead us. We don’t ask Him to show us the mission field he has for us. When we started sustainable mission work in North America, we asked people in the congregation where we should go. We asked them to partner with us in prayer for that.
It was a pretty easy answer we received. The youth pastor who was here prior to me had left to plant a church in Denver. So we gathered up a group and headed to Denver to serve alongside him and his family. This was just six months after I came to Fairhaven.
We have continued to partner with him and the church his family planted, which we have gotten to see grow from seeds cast in the Denver area to a church with more than 30 people attending weekly worship services and missional community meetings. And it all began with prayer.
Consistency in Missions
We operate on a three-year rotation for our North American church partners and are close to doing so with our international church partners.
Here’s something I have discovered: It is frustrating for both my students and adults as well as the people we partner with to do a one-time mission trip to a place with no intention of ever going back there.
Therefore, we build relationships with church planters so that our people know them well and they know us well.
Since our people know that next year we’ll be going back to Denver, and the year after New York, they get excited to see friends from those churches and make plans for those trips.
Church Focused Missions
This may sound weird that I’m saying “church focused” instead of “Christ-focused”. What I mean is that the mission work should connect those who come to believe to a local church body.
One of the church planters we have worked with is Nathan Creitz in New York City. He once said to our team, “You guys are here to go wide so that we in NYC can go deep with those who come to faith through what you do this week.”
Our job, whether we are in Denver, NYC, the West Bank, Peru or Romania is to connect people with local churches. We do this so that they can continue to evangelize and disciple them after we’ve gone home.
This is why we are committed to working one-on-one with churches and church planters throughout the world. We have no interest in working with a ministry that is not going to follow up with those we have shared the Gospel with after we’re gone.
We want to help others make disciples of Christ, not converts, and there is a distinct difference.
Be unafraid of where the Lord tells you to go. I remember after I came back from a tour of Israel that I presented to our Missions’ Committee the possibility of partnering with a church in the West Bank for future mission work.
We asked if this is where the Lord wanted us to go and together talked and thought about it. Then we realized we had been praying for an opportunity in the Holy Land and this was an answered prayer.
We took a group in January 2018 and will be taking a much larger group next May to work alongside a local congregation.
When the Lord opens these doors for you, take them. Sometimes we get caught up in asking God whether or not what we’re planning to do is the right thing when what He is doing is answering our prayers.
While this isn’t an exhaustive list of how we’ve cultivated a culture of missions among our students, these are things we’ve done and seen great fruit from them.
The students who haven’t yet been on trips are excited. They know that the next time the NYC trip comes around they’ll be going. I have a student right now saving money to go back to the West Bank and Israel next year.
Our church is excited to take part in what God is doing throughout the world and how they can fit into his mission.
As a bonus, it has been great as a pastor to be able to disciple my students on these trips. We are all able to grow together in sanctification as we try things we’ve never done before and overcome difficulties (and frustrations!).
I’ve also been able to develop great friendships with the pastors we work with. I now count many of them as close friends.
So be adventurous for the King of kings, because he has great work for you, your church, and your students!
Tyler Gresham is the Administrative Pastor to Students at Fairhaven Baptist Church in Demopolis, AL.
For a list of service and missions opportunities click here.
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