Advance Magazine
Summer 2024

Missions Continuity

Unlike many congregations, Calvary Baptist Church of Mesa, Arizona, has few second- or third-generation members. In this area of the Southwest, people come and go for jobs or for seasonal getaways, making the congregation an ever-rotating body of believers. This transiency creates missions challenges for a church. After just a single term on the field, missionaries may return to their sending church to find many new people, including different missions committee members.

Calvary Baptist’s pastor, Dave Swope, faces these challenges head on through a churchwide missions-immersion strategy. In his Sunday morning messages, he emphasizes intercession for gospel work locally and internationally, praying weekly for at least one of Calvary’s supported missionaries. He believes a church’s lead teaching should clearly convey ecclesiastical missiology, that missions is a normal extension of the church’s ministries. And when missionaries report back to the church, it’s just a continuation of Acts 14:27 when the first missionaries reported to their sending church.

By weaving missiology into his messages, Pastor Dave is discipling his people for missions. His church is not only transient, but it also has plenty of new believers. He finds it a privilege to introduce them to missions doctrine and to sharpen older believers. The result is a congregation that pulses with missions enthusiasm. Even the kids get excited about it. Pastor Dave led the development of a kids’ curriculum to teach about the Great Commission, the church’s missions responsibility, and how everyone should be involved. His children’s teachers pack this kid-friendly ministry with Q&A times, missionary video clips, matching games, and more. Dave says, “It’s exciting when some of those missionaries show up and the kids run to them and say, ‘We know who you are!’” The church has a similar program for teens, who are encouraged to follow their missionaries on social media to begin connecting with them more personally.

Introducing new members to the church’s missionaries is like introducing them to friends. Pastor Dave tries to show them that missionaries are people just like them. The connection has been profound for four members of the church who are disabled. They cling to every report they hear about their missionaries John and Bev Leonard, who serve in Brazil despite John’s quadriplegia.

The church supports multiple missionaries and has sent out one couple: Mike and Jeannette Clark. To help the Clarks during furloughs, Pastor Dave endeavors to send a letter to every church where the Clarks will report. The letters thank the churches for supporting the Clarks and allowing them to report. It’s an extra touch that shows the church is standing behind its missionaries. Dave adds, “If we’re not caring for the missionaries, who will?”

Pastor Dave promotes the concept that churches should plan for their missionaries’ care no less than for on-site church members. By cultivating ongoing, intentional relationships, Calvary Baptist has the trust already established to minister to their missionaries whenever crises happen in their lives. Although the church is not large (around 100 people), they include a budget line item covering travel for Pastor Dave or their deacons to encourage and reconnect with their mission family. “It’s one thing to call or text them and say we’re praying for them, but it’s another to stand by their bedside and be with them. This costs money and takes effort, but it’s important,” says Pastor Dave.

Calvary Baptist is a church that sees its missionaries as family. That connection is especially important for a church with high turnover. Pastor Dave hopes that the culture he’s trying to foster—with the whole congregation being on board with missions—will help maintain critical continuity for their sent and supported missionaries. Pastor Dave has no intention of leaving the church, but if something should take him away, he says, “it wouldn’t affect the missionaries as much because the church members know the missionaries so well they could help both the new pastor and the missionaries transition to new leadership.”

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