Send Them Well
A few weeks ago my wife and I were officially appointed as missionaries for a sending agency based out of Orlando Florida. For many, being accepted by a mission agency represents an important milestone on the path to the mission field. In our case, this moment was exciting but it was not the most significant event on the path to the mission field. That designation belongs to my home church in Parker Colorado, where I was officially commissioned (pardon any personal pronoun use when I refer to the commissioning, as my wife and I had just started dating at the very end of the process). While my church didn’t do it perfectly, there are so many things that they did well that I feel compelled to share them.
All I want to do here is provide some simple ways in which churches can “own” their missionaries before sending them out. The theological premise for churches needing to send their missionaries out well should be fairly plain from Acts 13:1-3 and also from other broader theological convictions about the nature of the church. It is my hope that this article will provide useful suggestions so that when a missionary is sent out form his or her home church, it goes beyond calling the future missionary to the front of the auditorium on their final Sunday, praying for them and wishing them the best as they go on their way. With that said, here are some broader principles that can be adhered to as each church crafts its own commissioning process:
- Involve your congregation in the missionaries commissioning. It is important that the entire church body be aware of what is going on. This is important because it reminds us that it is the whole body sending a part of itself to a new place in order to begin a new gospel work. As a close friend of mine put it during my commissioning service (the culmination of the commissioning), “We are severing off a part of ourselves and sending him out.” His comment touches on what we hear from Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:12-26. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:26). Involving the congregation does not mean everyone needs to play a vital role in the commissioning process but everyone should be aware. Those who have a more hands off role, which will be the majority, can casually inquire with the candidate about how the process is going as they have opportunity.
- The church should know its candidate. This integrally relates to the first point in that a church should feel a genuine sense of loss when the potential missionary candidate is sent out. Does the missionary candidate actively serve in the body? And not just in church programs on various nights of the week. But does the candidate(s) have people in the church that will vouch for them as genuine friends who ministered the gospel to them? I know this point isn’t part of some official process. But if this sense of loss is not there, perhaps said person should not be commissioned at all.
- The church should know its candidate, part two. Assuming the church does feel the aforementioned affections about their missionary candidate, then there should also be a more deliberate process for getting to know the candidate. At my church in Colorado, I met with three men (including one elder) over the span of 10 months. These men got to know me on a personal level. Over the course of that time I wrote out a thorough but not too laborious (or at least I hope) doctrinal statement, a philosophy of ministry, a call to ministry and a personal testimony. This process insures that a candidate is prepared in terms of character, skill and knowledge for the work of missionary service. I am certainly no fan of requiring massive amounts of training before someone can do ministry. However, when sending people into a cross cultural environment, especially to places where there are no churches, it is imperative that the church be sure the candidate is ready to face the challenges that come with such ministry.
- View your missionary candidates commissioning as a way to start a movement in your church. In short, make it a big deal! When you make commissioning someone a big deal, it allows the Holy Spirit to work on the lives of those who get to watch. Perhaps there are second career missionaries in the crowd. Or think of the hundreds of young listening ears that God may one day call to missionary service by using the commissioning service as a catalyst. Making commissioning a big deal enables the church to cultivate a culture of missions in which many more missionaries can be raised up and sent out. The easiest way to carry out this principle is to turn a Sunday morning into the official commissioning service. Not just the end of the service, the whole service. Preach on missions, have various testimonies and sing about God reaching the nations.
Perhaps your church is already doing something similar to what I have suggested above. If so, that is great! Praise God! If you are still figuring the process out that is ok too. Your church may not be able to handle such a large change all at once. So do some small things. If you church is used to just calling someone up on their final Sunday and praying for them, consider making the whole service about missions and then calling up your missionaries. It’s not about getting there as fast as you can. It’s about creating a missions culture by gently shepherding people toward owning their missionaries!