Relocating Mission – The Upstream Collective

Shipping jobs overseas is the bane of many an employees’ existence. Outsourcing saves money, or so conventional wisdom goes. It also creates an unhealthy separation. When I buy a computer from an American company in America and must wait on the slow boat to get it, that just does not make much sense to me. What’s more, when I have a question about my purchased product and I get a call center in India for an American company I scratch my head. But, that is why I am not part of a multi-national company. But wait, maybe I am.

Growing up attending Falls Creek Baptist Assembly – back in the day – I recall sitting in an old wooden pavilion twice a morning. That’s right some of you newbies who think camp must come with air conditioning. Don’t get me started on the steep hills we had to climb, and now you sit and worship in an enclosed, climate controlled mega-theater. I digress.

During one of these early morning sessions we listened to a professional missionary; often on furlough from his/her country of assignment. Many times these talks came complete with visual aids. Not a bad idea for we adolescents with short attention spans, long before we knew anything about ADD or any other acronym for that matter. It was hard to visualize their work. Despite the props we just did not get the idea as we had not been to a country without freedom and a church on every corner. But, we sensed these folks were doing something amazing – and they were. So, we gave money. Southern Baptists promote missions via special offerings and the Cooperative Program. Churches send along a percentage of their gifts and a percentat of those gives end up funding work around the world – Gospel work done by these professionals.

Over time these professionals get little attention and support from our churches other than sending our dollars. Occasionally one would read of a church reading “missionary birthdays” which led us to pray for them on that day. A number of years ago Missionary Moments was develpped to help get the story out about real people behind the giving percentages and offerings like Lottie and Annie. But, in the end, we were outsourcing the Great Commission to professionals. They will do the work for us. Beyond that our organization that helped prepare those to “go” took on the feature of a parachurch organization; not a church but an entity to come alongside churches to do something they do not/cannot do.

Sometimes we would know these missionaries from prior relationships. One of my youth ministers from my youth days has been serving overseas for some years.

Our current church has sought to connect the work of missions with someone we know. Music ministers have accompanied touring groups to sing and share the gospel, young people have take short term trips, young couples went along with a cursade ministry, and young people spend years serving in central America all with our support. Helping our children to make these connections was important. When we could put a face with an offering, a face they knew, it seems “more real.”

In February I was invited to go to Barcelona and meet with missionaries, professionals, from our mission sending entity. I met some of the greatest people ever! We share conversations and meals. We prayed for the discouraged, celebrated the commitment of all and worshipped the Triune God singing as if we had never before. A couple of those missionaries let me know of a move to help churches re-connect with the Great Commission and the world. Under the banner of The Upstream Collective, these missionaries desperately want to help churches connect with people everywhere. They hope to help re-locate “mission” in the local church. They do not intend to bypass our mission sending agency. But, that agency is just that, an agency. Too many tasks to also take on the “care and feeding” of our missionaries.

What’s more we are discovering a new “breed” of missional missionaires. Those who understand following Jesus is not a profession. Rather than feel led to a place, figuring out what to do, get trained and then go, these young people believe God wants them to live elsewhere. Not just live, but settle and live out their lives among people who need to be connected with God. Rather than as professional missionaries, they are professionals who get what missional living is all about. They take up resident in another place. Live out their lives. Share hospitality in the name of Jesus and demonstrate what Andrew Jones refers to as Jesus’ model of “throwing parties and telling stories.”

I can get behind that idea. In fact, we have contacted one of these young couples and hope God will connect us in helpful, hopeful ways. If not them, then someone else. The relationship will be mutually beneifical. We will hear the call to connect people with God while we are working the assembly line, the cafeteria line and the checkout line. We will be reminded that rather than separate our lives from our faith, we will become friends, real friends. Not friends with projects in mind, but friends with sharing life in mind, the life of Jesus. It will take natural courses like what Joe Thorn describes.

If you hear of The Upstream Collective coming to a town near you. Go. Check out their website. Encourage your church to connect with these folks. A whole new world will open up for you. You will envision a world where former boundaries are shattered and the things you love to do will be the things God redeems the world with.

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.

4 comments on “Relocating Mission – The Upstream Collective

  1. Caleb says:

    Thanks for posting your thoughts regarding the Upstream Collective and our “About Europe” meetings. We really enjoyed our time together, and we were encouraged to spend time with like-minded brothers.

    The democratization of missions is great for the work on the field and for the ministry of churches back home. We’re excited to see churches taking on a more central role in missions.

    We’re really excited about the idea of connecting churches with missional professionals living abroad. You’d be surprised how many of the there are, and how few of them have the kind of spiritual/emotional support that they need.

    For anyone who’s interested Tim Patterson, who attended the About Europe meeting in Nashville, has posted his notes from the meeting on his blog. There’s a rumor that there may be an audio recording of the meeting floating around out there, too. Hopefully, we can make that available for anyone who might be interested.

    Thanks again for hosting our time in Oklahoma City. We look forward to walking with your church through the process finding where God might use you in Europe and around the world.


  2. Todd Littleton says:


    Thanks for commenting and pointing to Tim’s notes. I am working on some of the audio we taped while you were here and hope to post some clips that would be helpful.

    We look forward to your journey with us.

  3. Camel Rider says:

    Thanks for publishing this article. We’re not currently serving in WE but we share they’re passion for living life out missionally. We’re currently serving with the IMB in another region and find ourselves swimming upstream because we don’t consider ourselves professional Christians.

    There is a significant difference in our lives. The pro’s only have relationships around projects and ideas. There are guys that have lived for nearly 10 years with no real relationships. We’re decided to approach life here like we did in the US. We allow relationships to form around natural draws….children, work, hobbies. I have no hidden agenda…no bait and switch…just living life with people I care about. There are some of us out here….keep looking….
    Camel Rider

  4. Todd Littleton says:

    Camel Rider,

    I suspected by your “handle” you would view yourself as you have described. I am always encouraged to hear from any missionary – especially those who “get” life lived with others as a “natural” way the Spirit of God not only redeems but demonstrates more of his character than what comes in a project.

    We pray for you.

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