My name is Ian Ashby, lead pastor at New Frontiers Church in Portsmouth, New
Hampshire, and regional leader for Confluence churches in Northeastern USA.
My wife Emma and I moved here with our 4 children from the UK in 2002.
Fairly early on, our church was involved in sending people overseas and I think over the
years, we have gained some experience of what it means to be a sending church, both
positive and negative.
We currently have:
– One family in Turkey. Been there 10 yrs. Church planting. Leading a church and raising
up indigenous leaders. We are still very much involved with them, providing pastoral
oversight, financial support when it’s been needed, and partnering with the apostolic
sphere they are working with.
– A couple in Oman. Been there 2 yrs. Learning the language, getting enculturated. Both
have jobs and building relationships with local Omani’s. Have even started doing some
story-telling with them.
– Sending short term teams to places like Nepal to train people in Biblical Storying
Sent several people to go and live in Brooklyn, New York City to plant a church there.
While that’s not overseas, it’s a melting-pot of cultures and a massive urban center, which
makes it about as cross-cultural as you can get.
For all the people we have sent out, we have taken the primary responsibility for their
pastoral care, for their financial support where it’s been necessary, and in some of cases,
we are also apostolically involved.
We are not experts. Still learning, but as I said, I think we have grown in this and gained
some experience over the years that hopefully will be helpful to any church that is
considering sending people cross-culturally.
I’ll share 3 key things that we are learning to do well and which would be important for any
sending church. And then 2 mistakes we’ve made that we would do differently now.
3 KEY THINGS:
1) Envisioning the church.
It needs the whole church to be involved. It’s got to be the vision of the whole church. The
people we send are an extension of us, they are a part of us. It’s not that they go on a
mission and the rest of us stay home. It’s not something they just do on their own. The
whole church are involved in the mission – praying, giving, caring. We are in this together.
A quote from our couple in Turkey, “When we look back at what we have done with the
local church, as opposed to a missions organization, it works so much better. We feel
accountable to people that we know and love. The church is not an investor to be pumped
for money, but fellow partners in everything we do.”
We are in partnership together, but the sending church needs to be constantly envisioned
about that. It’s something we have had to work hard at, so that new people who join us,
who may not personally know those we have sent out, feel personally invested and
connected to them.
So for us, it’s meant:
Teaching the church about why this is important.
Regular times of praying together as a church, praying for specific needs to get people
caught up in the mission.
Opportunities to give to the mission. We have a big missions offering once a year, where
people are able to invest in what we are doing together.
Times of communication – showing the church video updates, or FaceTime an overseas
couple to interview them live on a Sunday morning.
2) Training the people we send.
We are committed to training people cross-culturally, to do whatever we can to prepare
them for the mission. We use training that’s been developed in Newfrontiers called ‘From
the Nations to the Nations’. It’s been taught by Dave Devenish, Andy Martin and Sam Poe.
We are blessed to have Sam Poe on staff at our own church, but we have also brought in
Dave Devenish and Andy Martin to teach this at regional conferences that we’ve hosted at
our church. It’s an investment that we’ve made, but we believe it’s an important one. Not
only is it vital for preparing people to go, but also in helping to identify others who may feel
called to work cross-culturally, as well as having the added bonus of keeping our own
church engaged and envisioned about the nations.
We have also in the past, partnered with organizations with specialist ministries such as
reaching the Islamic world. We’ve sent candidates for a two week immersive boot camp
where they are assessed and we get a report and maybe some action points, things they
need to work on.
And then of course there would be our own counseling and conversations we would be
having with people we are preparing to send. Asking questions about relationships,
finances, potential weaknesses. Making sure that they’re in an emotionally and spiritually
One thing we have learnt, is that you cannot over prepare. If we are sending people out to
what is essentially the frontline of a battle zone, then you can be sure the enemy will
exploit whatever weaknesses they have. Having said that, I don’t think you can ever fully
prepare. You can’t foresee every situation. There is still a certain amount that has to be
worked out and resolved on the ground, in dependence on God and with the support of the
3) Supporting the people we send, over the long haul if necessary. 3 main things:
a) Prayer. I’ve mentioned prayer as a means of envisioning the church and helping them
to be involved, but it is also like a lifeline for those we send out. We can’t just send people
into the battle zone without providing air cover. We’ve seen how essential regular and
specific prayer is to those we send. Ask anyone who has been sent overseas, and they’ll
tell you how much they value that.
For a number of years we’ve had a monthly prayer group, just to pray for those we have
sent out. But also when we gather the whole church to pray or we have Sunday mornings
where we get updates from overseas, we always make sure we pray for the specific needs
and requests we have been given.
b) Communication. In the early days we didn’t do so well at this. It’s so easy to get busy
in church life and before you know it, weeks or months can go by without any
communication, until there’s a crisis, and that’s not good. What we realized is that we
needed a specific plan for communication, and there needed to be someone who was
responsible for actioning it. So we now have different people responsible for those we’ve
sent out, who have a regular, scheduled time to talk and who will report back to our
pastoral team and make us aware of any needs and prayer requests.
E.G. For our couple in Turkey, one of the lead couples in our church, Skypes with them
every two weeks on a Monday afternoon, and have also been out to visit them in Turkey
so that they can know first hand what it’s like for them to live there.
They will ask them questions about their marriage and family life, about the things they feel
stressed by, about their ministry, about their finances and so on. Also, if there is someone
else involved with them apostolically, as there is in Turkey, then we will be in
communication with them as well. That’s how we found out that this particular couple was
in dire need of a break. They were getting burned out and so their apostolic leader asked
us whether we could help. So we let the church know and took up a special offering to pay
for a vacation. It’s why regular communication is so important. Occasional pastoral visits
c) Finances. We do believe it’s the responsibility of our church, to work with the people we
send, to come up with a financial plan and budget. We don’t want them to have to be
fundraising, like so many missionaries do. We feel the sending church, possibly in
partnership with others, should take on that responsibility, so that they don’t have that
pressure. Most of those we have sent, have skills that have enabled them to get jobs and
support themselves. But there have been times and seasons when we have needed to
support them financially part-time of full-time, either to go to school to learn the language,
or to be released to do a specific work. There are also additional things like paying for
travel so they can get home and see family from time to time.
Another thing that has to be talked through and budgeted for, is an exit strategy, if they are
in danger or have to leave the country in an emergency.
There needs to be a regular review of budgets and needs. It’s an important way that the
church can support and partner with those they send out.
WHAT ABOUT OUR MISTAKES?
Let me just be clear, we’ve made mistakes on everything I’ve mentioned so far. It’s been a
learning process, something we’ve had to keep working at, and we’re still learning as we
go along. But two specific things we would do differently.
1) Common values. It is important that the people we are working with share the same
core values. We are a values driven movement. One of the reasons why we can do so
much more together than we can apart is because we share the same values. The first
team we sent out from our church to the Arabian Peninsula, did not all share the same
values. The team leader had not been in our church very long, he and his wife had come
from a para-church organization. But he was a very gifted guy with a clear call to the
Middle East, spoke Arabic, great evangelist, great guy. But once the team were on the
ground in the Middle East, things started going badly. There was conflict and tension, it
became toxic and it was hard to resolve from afar. But it came from not sharing the same
values, like not having the same understanding of grace, or working in team or how
apostolic ministry works. So after about 18 months, it ended with some of the team having
to come home and us parting company with the leader there.
It made me realize not only the importance of shared values, but also how important it is
for there to be one main voice, speaking with authority into a situation. That people who
are being sent, are clear about who they are working with, apostolically, and if that’s not
the sending church, if the sending church has more of a pastoral and support role, then
there needs to be good communication and relationship between the parties involved. The
different roles need to be defined and the expectations made clear.
2) Re-entry. When people come home after an extended time in another culture, we have
found it is a mistake to underestimate the effect it can have on them, or on a marriage,
when they’ve been immersed in a different culture, on the front-line of spiritual warfare.
Giving people leadership responsibility, or putting them into another front-line situation
before they are ready, before they have really processed their past experience with some
good pastoral counseling, and follow-up can be disasterous. I think I would take much
more time and care to do that in the future.
One thing to conclude with. Don’t underestimate the importance of prayer. All the other
practical things I’ve mentioned are helpful and needed, but they won’t accomplish much
apart from prayer. A sending church needs to be a praying church, because after all, it’s
God we are really partnering with, it’s his mission, not ours. And as Hudson Taylor
famously said, ‘God’s work, done in God’s way, will never lack God’s supplies.’
If you want to discuss anything I’ve shared here, then please do get in touch with me at