Mission professor Dr. J. Christy Wilson often reflected that one of the key elements in the Student Volunteer Movement of the late 19th, early 20th century was the attitude that every person involved saw themselves as mobilizers. Whether God confirmed a cross-cultural calling, or He directed them to stay in their own culture, every person saw himself or herself as committed to the expansion of God’s kingdom. The main idea was “Come with us and let’s work together to take the Good News to all peoples.”
The idea of serving as a mobilizer resonates with my wife and me, because although we have repeatedly pursued cross-cultural ministry over our thirty years of marriage, God has consistently affirmed our calling as mobilizers – serving as catalysts in our own culture.
We’ve found our calling as stirring the church to prayer and participation in a Great Commission lifestyle.
So with that in mind, what have we learned? Consider if you will, three basic mobilizing attitudes, and then four basic tools to provoke greater effectiveness.
Attitudes in the Effective Mobilizer
1. Lead by Example.
Fervor for bringing the message of the Gospel to those who have never heard is caught more than it is taught. When we desire to mobilize others, the first question they usually ask is “If you’re so excited about this, how does it affect your life?” Our experiences have taught us that if we desire to mobilize others, we need first to be passionate ourselves – about Jesus, about His purposes, and about reaching out to lost people.
Perhaps the best way to communicate our zeal for God’s global purposes is to stay dedicated to living lives that communicate that the Great Commission is a priority. We lead by example when we:
• Demonstrate by our prayers our commitment to a specific unreached people group;
• Spend our money on short-term trips to other cultures to encourage Christian workers – rather than on luxury cruise vacations;
• Look for and reach out to the unreached in our own area – whether they’re a secular neighbor or a Uygur Muslim international student in our area;
• Maintain a simple lifestyle so that we can be more generous and available to serve. (Realistically, our lifestyle is not truly “simple.” It’s just simpler than our culture says is normal, because a simple lifestyle in the Boston area where we live might be staggering affluence to someone in southern Sudan!)
2. Live with a spirit of release.
When we meet people and learn about their skills and abilities, we often find ourselves wanting to play the Holy Spirit in their lives. We want to tell them where we think God wants them to go to be a message bearer. We’ve learned – sometimes the hard way – that God does the calling, not us. We can create the mobilizing environment (see below), but God alone directs people.
That’s not to say we shrink from challenging people. It’s only to remember that a person manipulated by guilt or pressure from us will seldom make an effective servant.
Gabe was a sophomore in university when he confirmed a sense of call to the Muslim world. I challenged him to think of himself as a mobilizer in his remaining college years. One spring break, I asked him how it was going. He replied, “Well, I challenge people with the vision of reaching the unreached, and if they don’t respond, I simply shake the dust off my feet and move on.”
I replied, “Are you still thinking of going to the Muslim world?”
“Yes, of course,” he replied.
“Well, it seems to me that your mobilizing today is preparing you for your evangelizing tomorrow. If you go to serve in the Muslim world with that ‘shake-the-dust-off-my-feet’ attitude, the only thing you’ll return with is clean feet.”
Mobilizing people takes time. Sometimes it might take three or four years of friendship to encourage people out of the American-dream lifestyle, and into the radical commitment of serving as a message bearer in the Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist world. Be patient. God is.
So – from the attitudinal foundation of exemplary living, release, and patience – what are the tools for ongoing effective mobilization?
We look at mobilization from an environmental perspective. We plant seeds of interest, challenge, and curiosity, and then we try to create an environment where these seeds can grow. We try to cultivate four specific environments.
1. Create an Informational Environment.
First, we try to CREATE AN INFORMATIONAL ENVIRONMENT, connecting peoples’ lives to the world. The vast majority of people we meet have little to no knowledge about the rest of the world. Perhaps they’ve traveled to Europe or the Caribbean. Maybe they’ve done short-term missions to Mexico. But generally, they know little about things like the “10-40 window” or unreached people groups. Many cannot name more than three or four of the 50+ countries in Africa. And few are aware of the thousands of new missionaries being sent out from countries like Brazil or the Philippines or Nigeria.
An informational environment endeavors to get people learning about the world. It might mean buying them an up-to-date map, exploring with them the new ethnicities moving into the local city, or going to a Thai restaurant as an introduction to Buddhism.
When people start gaining interest in learning, then we might encourage a mission book, a biography, or even a conference like URBANA. From there, the information starts to accumulate, and it might be off to Perspectives or a similar course.
God guides people through the things they know. Our goal as mobilizers is to be catalysts to expanding their knowledge.
2. Create an Intercessional Environment.
Second, we try to CREATE AN INTERCESSIONAL ENVIRONMENT by connecting people to the God of all nations. We know for sure that God guides people through their prayers, and we know that God wants us to pray for the nations. We try to stir people to start praying – choose a country, a news story, an unreached people group, a world leader – and start praying.
Prayer and information blends together when we use a very simple starting point. We encourage people to examine the label of their clothes to discover where their clothes were made. It’s amazing to discover how many of our clothes are made in places like Bangladesh (Muslim), Thailand or Cambodia (Buddhist), India (Hindu), or China (secular/communist). If we can get people to discover this, then we invite them to pray for the person who made that shirt or blouse or sweater.
Can you imagine it? A Muslim worker in Indonesia might be prayed for for the first time in Jesus’ name because my friend prayed for the guy who made his shirt! And God might start a work to call my friend to Indonesia through the same prayer!
3. Create an Involvement Environment.
Third, we look for ways to CREATE AN INVOLVEMENT ENVIRONMENT by connecting people with opportunities to serve. Short-term missions draws the world closer than ever before, providing an opportunity for hands-on involvement which God can use to call people into cross-cultural service.
But there’s so much more! When we have the world on our hearts, sometimes we overlook the world at our doorsteps. Getting people mobilized to discover God’s direction for them doesn’t always begin with overseas short-term mission trips. It might start by hosting an international student, taking a class on Islam so that we can talk to the Pakistani guy who runs the gas station, or getting involved in an ESL class in a nearby city.
Many observe that the Holy Spirit guides like a rudder – so the boat needs to be moving in order to be directed. Involvement gets people started towards greater participation in God’s global mission, and from that ESL class, someone might end up in China. From hosting international students, another might end up in the Middle East. And from a class on world religions, a third might move to England to reach out to the Pakistanis there.
4. Create an Investigational Environment.
Finally, we try to CREATE AN INVESTIGATIONAL ENVIRONMENT by inviting people to active listening for God’s call. God uses curiosity to direct people’s lives. An investigational environment seeks to encourage people to wonder.
We might get them wondering about subjects like human lostness – “Did you ever wonder what happens to someone who dies without ever hearing about Jesus? I mean, if they are going to heaven already, why did Jesus need to die?”
We might get them wondering about the imbalances in the world – “Isn’t it amazing how we think everything important in the world seems to be focused on the USA – when we represent only 5% of the world’s population?”
Or more often, we simply try to get people wondering about their own calling – “With your skills and training in computers, did you ever think of the dramatic impact you could have in Bible translation?”
Mobilization – it’s for all of us! And as we faithfully serve wherever God has placed us, we can create the environment where God can cause future message-bearers to grow.