by Mike Fritscher
Twenty five years ago my wife and I moved three miles east of Dublin, Texas to pastor a Southern Baptist church called Cottonwood. In the late 1800s the site serviced a Baptist congregation one week and a Presbyterian one the next. Chartered in 1908, I became her 30th pastor in January of 1985, with an expected stint of 18 months. In the days before and after our arrival, the church serviced about 35 people and on any given Sunday would see about 15 in Sunday School and 20-25 in worship. It was a small, far away, country church with a group of people who loved the Lord and their neighbors.
I must confess, driving up to the place on that first Sunday to “supply”, (my thought was), “What could God do in a place like this?”
Today, not much has changed in the surrounding area of Cottonwood. It is still a far away, country church with a group of people who love the Lord and who desire to love their neighbors. Through the years we have come to define more clearly what that love looks like and who our neighbors are. Our neighbors today indeed are those that live in the surrounding area of the church. But the reach of “neighborly love” has extended to unreached peoples in South East Asia, Eastern Africa, Northern Mexico, the Navajo of Arizona and the Mexican community in our area.
What began as an “adoption” of an un-reached people group, partnering with a sending agency, has grown into a mission that now sees the church as setting apart, training, sending and supporting our own people in the various areas of the world God has called us. In recent years the term “church based sending” has gained interest as churches no longer default to sending organizations to train, fund and send their people to the unreached of the world. In recent centuries, the church has abdicated her role, responsibility and privilege to equip and send to organizations that “specialize” in the Great Commission.
Cottonwood, like many churches has had three “default” buttons of mission sending. By using the first, the church defaults to an organization by simply sending money to do missions. This was a very convenient way for Cottonwood to “do missions.” And make no mistake about it-there is a belief in many circles that “This is the way you do missions! Send us your money and we will do the rest!” Some churches will not only send their money to a specific denomination, but will also send money on behalf of “missionaries” who come through churches to raise support for their livelihood on the field. Of course there is nothing wrong with this. Matter of fact, we still send money to the denomination, as well as other organizations on behalf of missionaries. Two of our families ministering abroad are serving with a large mission agency. It’s just no longer our default button!
Eleven years ago, we adopted an unreached people group in South East Asia. This animistic “nation” was 1.4 million strong with no access to the gospel. Not long after “the adoption” we defaulted to sending three families to target this people group through a large mission sending agency. What we found in those years was a bit disheartening. We lost intimacy and community with our people. There was really no accountability to or from the local church. Don’t get me wrong. We sent hundreds of our people on short term trips where we ministered in ESL camps, prayer walks, medical services and Christmas parties. We saw and were a part of the wonderful things God was doing in this part of the world. We just found certain disconnects with our people that we felt were unnecessary and grievous.
Did not God call the Church – the local body of believers – to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the world? Does He not place people with distinct gifts and callings to see the church reach “their slice of the world?” What is a sending church supposed to look like?
We grappled with questions like these and in the midst of these questions we developed a new “default” button- Church Based Sending.
There was a family in our church that had come to love our neighbors in SE Asia and who felt that God was calling them to this distant land and people. In the process of moving them toward this place of mission, they asked that Cottonwood send them. This new model was a bit frightening for me as a pastor. Even with all the disappointments in the agency model, it seemed to me that the easiest thing was to let the sending agency do all the work and spend all their money. But our friend had moved to the conviction that his church needed to send his family. God led us to agree. So we began the year and half long process of training, raising funds, taking care of logistics, putting together a strategy and plan to be a part of continuing to reach our “slice of the world”.
Today, they, along with a family on the east coast of Africa, are finishing their first terms of service, having been sent by Cottonwood. We have been allowed to be a part of seeing our neighbors in SE Asia come to Christ in large numbers, gathering in a few hundred churches. Our family in Africa has seen two church starts in their work in recent months. There are now two other couples who are beginning their training piece as they are being prepared to be sent to SE Asia and to South Asia, a new area of the world Cottonwood will find herself in!
Has it been easy? No! It’s been difficult in many ways. But as our Mission Pastor, Dave Bollenbacher says, “God doesn’t call us to the easy; He calls us to that which is worthy.”
Last month at our last GCPN board meeting, I made a statement to the board members that Cottonwood no longer defaults to a mission agency to do missions. They, knowing full well the story of our church, asked what we default to. My reply was that I would hope that we neither default to a sending organization or to a “church based sending” model. My hope is that we would always default to only default button – the Spirit of God and His leadership – where I believe the heart of Nations and sending is at Cottonwood! And that is another topic for another article in a not too distant Communiqué!