Joe first traveled outside the United States with Encompass' Executive Director Dave Guiles and Grace Church Pastor Jeff Bogue on a trip to Africa. They were investigating how Grace Church of Akron could partner with local churches there. The trip widened Joe’s global perspective and made him excited to add Global Outreach to the church's ministry.
Initially, Joe believed his role would be focused on short-term mission trips and global partnerships, but it grew into something more. He began seeing the need for the church to mobilize its own people. United with fellow church leaders, Joe had a vision for Grace Church to become a more effective sending church.
Today, Joe and his team are making this dream a reality.
After an increase of people showing interest in global missions within the church community, Joe began to think about how to best meet their needs. Some were at the most basic level of curiosity about missions, wanting to learn more. Others were ready to commit to long-term international ministry. The wide variety of stages posed a challenge in helping everyone.
In order to best shepherd those with global interest, Joe looked to the common denominator among all of them. Each person desperately needed fellowship with others who shared their passion for the Nations. Joe answered this need by creating a small-group format in which people could grow in their missional journey alongside others on a similar path.
Another key element in pastoring these people through this process was discipleship.
Partnering with Encompass World Partners, Joe began to regularly send names of interested people to Encompass mobilizers so that connections could be made. This was a helpful starting-point, but Joe wondered if there was a more efficient way of bringing people along. He asked himself, “As a sending church, what can we do to best prepare our people to be as ready as possible for the mission field before they even take those steps with Encompass?”
At the most basic level, people needed to know what global mission was all about, and at the highest level, they required some cultural training. Building on these needs, Joe and his team developed four levels of discipleship at Grace Church for those with interest in missions.
Exploring: In this stage, people begin to learn about global missions, chat with global workers with whom Grace Church partners, and continue to connect with their missional small group.
Exposure: In this stage, Joe presents short-term mission trip opportunities and opportunities to lead these groups.
Engaging: In this stage, people participate in Engage 5, Encompass' 5-week training course designed to help better prepare them for cross-cultural ministry.
Embarking: In this stage, the church does all they can to help the people complete their checklists before sending them to their destination.
Through this discipleship model, Joe and his team have been able to nurture their people well.
So far, Grace Church has brought 16 people through this missional discipleship process and hope more will follow. Joe admits the process is not perfect, but they continue to work on making it more and more valuable for the church community. One thing they've added this year is utilizing Encompass’ new resource The Path series.
Becoming a globally-minded sending church did not happen overnight for Grace Church. It's been a long transition marked by patience, intentionality, and a great deal of prayer. Though their global missions equipping program is continually being perfected, the heart behind it is what will bring about the promise of Matthew 24:14: This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all Nations. And then the end will come.