Why We Must Labor for Laborers: The Shortage of African-American Missionaries

Not too long ago I heard a startling statistic. According to some recent reports there are roughly 300 African Americans engaged in long term international missions. And most feel that number is being generous. The Southern Baptist convention reports that only 27 of their 4,900 missionaries are black. Leroy Barber, president of Mission Year says that 1% of domestic and foreign missionaries are black. Perhaps those statistics don’t startle you. But they should. These numbers reveal a blind spot for African American Christians in particular and African American Churches in general.

There have been a number of articles written and conversations had, seeking to understand the reasons for the lack of African Americans on the mission fields. Some attribute the small numbers to a lack of money. Others say that the problems are cultural. Those are all valid points to consider, but by no means are they strong enough points to hinder us from acting.

Yes, the statistics don’t lie. There are a small number of African Americans on the mission field, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We as the church today, through the power of God, have an opportunity to change the tied.

To that end, here are some ways I believe those of us who minister in predominantly African American churches can address this problem.

Pray – In Mathew chapter 9, Jesus tells his disciples that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. But he then follows that jarring statement with the remedy for the problem. He tells the disciples to pray that the Lord of the harvest would send out workers. If we want to see more African Americans on the mission field, our first task is to pray. The issue is not the harvest. We need to pray that God would raise up the laborers to go.

Show – God has graciously raised up some African American men and women (check here and here) who have answered the call to go. There are not many, but there are a few. Invite them to come and share their kingdom efforts with your church. But not just African Americans, invite missionaries from all ethnicities to come and share.  Your goal is to expand your congregation’s vision for the nations. Most people tend to only think about their own lives and communities, and haven’t even thought about how their gifts might be used on foreign soil. Bringing in other missionaries will help to reorient their perspective.

Go – There have been a number of articles written and chapters devoted to books in recent years, decrying the practice of short term mission trips. The premise is that short term mission trips do more harm than good. While I agree, short term mission trips when done improperly can cause a great deal of harm; I also don’t feel it warrants throwing the baby out with the bathwater, especially for African Americans. Short term mission trips are where God often stirs the hearts of individual’s to stay long term. They are also opportunities for our passions to be enflamed for missions in general.  Most, if not all missionaries I have met, caught a vision for the nations while serving for a week or two in another country. See what a short term mission trip did for my man Isaac. If you serve in a predominately African American context, I want to challenge and encourage you to partner with an organization and do a short term mission trip. Perhaps commit to going once a year and maybe to the same place, praying that God would stir the heart of one of the trip goers to stay and give his or her life to the mission.

Send – This is the prayer we pray God would be willing to answer. The prayer that someone in the congregation would be so gripped by the gospel that they desire to take it wherever God would lead them. It is at this point that we have an opportunity to partner with them in prayer and support them financially. It is not hard to be a sending church. The hard part is having people to send. So when we have the former, we need to give priority to the latter. Those who go need to know that they have the support of their local fellowship. And what a glorious opportunity it is to join in the work of sending labors into the harvest.

There is no doubt that there are a limited number of African American missionaries but there is no shortage of African American Christians. And because that is the case, by God’s grace we can change the tide. See one church’s desire to make a difference. May we all follow their lead.

Want to see another conversation on The Front Porch about missions? Check out Thabiti’s article.

Philip Duncanson
Philip Duncanson serves as an elder at East Point Church in Atlanta. Holler at him on Twitter: @PBDuncs

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