“As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you”—these were the parting instructions Jesus left his followers. A common myth in Christianity is that living on mission and being sent is just for a select few—that it takes a special calling to share Jesus and make disciples of those living in other parts of the world. The truth is that every Christian is called and empowered to make Jesus known at home and abroad. In You Are Sent: Finding Your Place in Global Mission, Nathan Sloan helps every Christian see their vital role in being a part of expanding God’s great kingdom.
In this interview, we talk to Nathan about his book and how every Christian is sent into the world with the gospel.
Q: Let’s start by getting to know you a little bit better. When did your heart for missions begin? How did you know missions was a calling on your life?
Soon after I came to faith as a middle schooler, I heard a missionary share about his work overseas. As a new believer, it was the first time I heard of people crossing oceans and cultures to make Jesus known. In that moment, I couldn’t think of a more wonderful thing to give my life to.
God continued to used mentors, life experiences, times in the Word, and so many other things to confirm and strengthen my call to global missions. Even as an agency leader, my passion for the mission of God globally has not decreased; if anything it has increased.
Q: What was the motivation for you to write You Are Sent?
I was leading global missions in a local church, spending most of my time investing in and sending out our members to serve long-term as missionaries. I was also spending time helping every member see their place in God’s expanding global kingdom.
There were good resources out there to help train and mobilize people, but none of them were really suited for our church. Most of the resources I found were either too simplistic and didn’t provide the depth we needed, or they were too academic and expensive for the everyday church member. As I heard from other missions pastors, I found they shared the same frustration. So, in 2018, I set out to write a global missions discipleship course, one that was written by a local church, for local churches. I surveyed numerous other sending churches around the country, wrote and taught it in our church, and then asked other friends to test it in their churches. After three years of development, we had a missions course I felt served local churches well.
Q: Who is the main audience for You Are Sent? How did you write the book to be used?
Simple—it’s the local church. You Are Sent is written to be used in local churches to develop people’s heart and passion for the nations and their own neighbors. The book can be used by anyone, but it works best when done in community. My own church uses it in a classroom setting, but I know others who use it with their small groups or in one-on-one discipleship.
Q: At its core, what does it mean to be “sent”? Does it require going far from home?
This is the primary concept of the book, the theme that is woven throughout its pages. Every follower of Jesus is sent with the gospel. If we are found in Jesus, if we are followers of him, we have been given a new identity, both as a child of God and as a witness of his saving love to the world.
Our “sent-ness” is rooted in the person of God. Before the creation of the world, our Triune God had a plan to redeem the world from sin and death. The Father, in union with the Son and the Spirit, sent the Son into the world to redeem it. The Father and Son then sent the Spirit to bring conviction of sin and provide life to the church. Finally, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (the Triune God) sent the church—you and me—out on mission to the world. We can’t truly experience the joy available to us in this life until we give our faith way to others.
So, wherever God has placed us—be it rural America or a global city in Asia—we are called to make the love of Jesus known to others.
Q: What are some of the responsibilities of the local church when it comes to engaging its members in global missions? How should the church be supportive of those who are sent?
Every local church has a responsibility to equip its people to live on mission, to share Jesus, and to make disciples. I’ll take it a step further. Every local church has a responsibility to be engage in global missions and provide avenues for its members to do the same.
No matter the size or budget, every church can give their people a vision for the nations, train them theologically and missiologically, give them the tools needed to share their faith and make disciples, and provide avenues for global missions engagement. I personally believe that local churches have more ability and capacity to train and send missionaries cross-culturally than they often give themselves credit for. And, when a church needs help in this area, there are quite a few of organizations willing and able to empower the church in sending.
Q: Are all Christians called to be involved in global mission work?
Yes. That doesn’t mean every Christian is called to sell their home and belongings to move overseas, although more should! It does mean that every Christian should play an active role in the Great Commission as a whole, even the part about reaching every nation.
There are so many ways a Christian can do this well. Commit to learning about the world and other cultures such as listening to podcasts, reading books, and making friends with people from other cultures. Commit to praying regularly for specific countries, cities, people groups, missionaries, and global needs. Give sacrificially to things that are expanding the kingdom of God globally.
Don’t buy into the lie that missions is only for those with a special call. At times we use that kind of language as a way to excuse our unwillingness to follow God into his kingdom economy. Global missions is the business of every Christian.
Q: Why is it important to delve into the history of missions? Can you share a little bit of the history you include in the book?
You may regret asking me this question. I love missions history and can talk about it for a long time, but I won’t!
Missions history reminds us of God’s goodness in the past and gives us courage to press on to the promises of tomorrow. History is full of the stories of God using ordinary people like you and me to make his name known to people shrouded in spiritual darkness.
George Liele is a prime example. Did you know that some of the first cross-cultural missionaries from America were African Americans who were former slaves? It’s true. In fact, George Liele was the first missionary from America, twenty years before the Judsons.
Liele was a slave born in Virginia and was freed to pursue his call to ministry. He helped plant the first African American church in America (in Savannah) and had a fruitful ministry. However, Liele feared being re-enslaved by the heirs of his former enslaver, so he sold himself to be an indentured servant in Jamaica. Both during and after working off his debt in Jamaica, God used Liele to impact people with the gospel. As a preacher and missionary, Liele shared the gospel with thousands, baptizing hundreds of new Christians. In 1819, there were eight thousand Baptists in Jamaica, but by 1832 there were more than twenty thousand. George Lisle had a significant part in that growth.
Q: You write that any cross-cultural missionary who has been on the field for a while will tell you that the most important aspect of living on mission is abiding with God. What exactly does it mean to abide with God?
Simply put, we are called to serve others from the overflow of our life with God. This concept has been so crucial for my own life. For too long I tried to do ministry FOR God, when he never called me to that kind of labor. He has called me to serve WITH him, alongside him. As you and I commune with God, as we abide in him constantly, and seek to serve out of the overflow of that abundant life, ministry is not only doable, it’s full of joy.
I’ve seen this play out in the life of missionaries. Those who make abiding in Jesus their primary goal, and serve out of that life, are the ones who most often thrive cross-culturally.
Q: For a season, you lived out a calling as a cross-cultural missionary, but you say that became too much of your identity. How so? What are some of the lessons you learned in coming back home from Nepal?
I took something good and beautiful, being a missionary, and made it an idol. I so valued being a cross-cultural missionary that I began to wear it as a badge of honor, even more than my identity as child of God. So, when I was unable to return to the field, I was crushed. If I wasn’t a missionary, then who was I? It turns out that I needed to experience the loss of being a missionary so that I could more fully experience the depth of my identity in Jesus.
I’ve learned that although God wants to use me, and he will use me, he does not need me. In fact, he does not need any of us. But in his grace, he uses us for his kingdom purposes. But, when we make missions the goal, or ministry the goal, or anything else the goal; we miss the point. The point is Jesus. I’ve learned that God’s mission in this world is both out there and in here (our own lives). He wants to refine and sanctify us as he uses us to bring the gospel to others.
Q: How can we be more intentional about living on mission in our daily lives as students, stay-at-home parents, coworkers, etc.?
Let’s stop making evangelism a program and instead make it a way of life. Litter your language, your actions, and your everyday rhythms of life with gospel intentionality. If we’ll stop making evangelism some weird conversation we are trying to have with lost people and make Jesus something we talk about all the time, wherever we are, with whoever is in front of us, we’ll start to move away from it being an activity and begin living out our identity as sent ones.
Don’t make living on mission harder that it has to be. Place yourself in spaces with non-Christians, open your home and life to people who need Jesus, talk about what Jesus has done and is doing in your life, and then invite people to experience Jesus for themselves.
Q: Is a call to missions always a call to suffer? Does that apply to mission work at home as well as abroad?
Yes, a call to missions is a call to suffering. More than that, however, a call to follow Jesus is a call to embrace a life that will include suffering. When we align our life with the one who suffered for us, we step into the way of suffering. I know it’s not a popular idea, but for 2000 years suffering has been a common reality of the church.
If we want to be used to help expand God’s kingdom, we better develop a robust theology of suffering and be ready for the warfare and pain that is sure to come. But remember, suffering is always an invitation to depend upon Jesus in deeper ways.
Q: What tools are provided in the leaders guide portion of the book?
The book is broken into two sections—a student section and a leader section. The student section is what participants go through, including a weekly article, group questions, reflection questions, and more. The leader guide includes all the content of the actual teaching time. I’ve provided full scripts for each lesson. You can teach through these word-for-word or you can adapt them to your setting, based on the needs of your church or your own experience. The leader guide also provides direction on how to best prepare and run the course within a local church.
Q: Tell us more about Upstream Sending, the missions organization that you direct.
Upstream Sending is a church-centric global missions organization committed to putting the church in the driver’s seat of sending and missions engagement. We partner with local churches to help send their people to gospel-needy people and places around the world. We do this through an interdependent relationship with local churches and work with a host of teams, global leaders, and international organizations.
you are Sent: Finding Your Place in God’s Global Mission
Our life-changing relationship with Christ comes with a new, life-changing “sent” identity. Learn how the Spirit that sends us fills us with God’s heart to share the gospel with those near and far. In this nine-week study, discover God’s passion for local and global missions and be empowered to make Jesus known everywhere you go.