The Sending of Mission Workers

by Ian Burness

  

One of the most important tasks a local church may be asked to perform, is to release and commend one of their members to God's service. This may be done well, with adequate time given for prayer, assessment and waiting on the guidance of the Holy Spirit for confirmation. When the process is done poorly, without sufficient consideration, it can result in serious consequences for all involved, and potential damage to the work on the field.

 

WHO IS THE SENDER?

Ultimately all mission and sending originates with God. He is the prime cause as He reaches out in grace to the world He has made.(1) Yet He chooses to use Christians, who respond to His call, as the secondary instruments to help accomplish His plan.

 

This theme is all through Scripture and reaches the summit when the Father sends the Son. John especially emphasises that Jesus is the 'sent One', who completed the work given Him by His Father.(2) The process of sending then continues, for our Lord tells His disciples that after His departure, the Holy Spirit would be sent, to be with them forever,(3) and He, the Spirit, would provide power for their witness and work.(4)Before He left them to return to His Father, Jesus announced that they were being sent by Him to continue the work that He had begun. All sending originates with God, so that the church is not the sending agency - it is the sent agency, called to engage in the mission of God who is the sender.(5)

 

WHAT ABOUT CALLING?

The question then arises: who does God send? Is there such a thing as a special calling to service? Scripture makes clear that all of God's people have been called.(6)We have been calledby Christ,to Christ and to livefor Christ. That calling applies to every believer. But there is also strong evidence in Scripture, and through Christian history, of those who have received a specific call to particular service for God. Those whom God calls, equip and prepare themselves in order to carry out their calling, and wisely seek the approval and affirmation of their local church and other Christians.

 

WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH IN SENDING?

In the New Testament, local churches had a key role in the sending process. More recent mission practice has often marginalised the role of the local church, which is seen simply as a source of people and money, recruited by specialised agencies that do the work of mission. More recent reflection  has re-emphasised the key role of the local church in the process of sending.

 

So how does the church identify those whom God has called to His service? It begins with prayer as the local church, concerned about mission, prays that God will call some to His service, and is willing to release any who are called.

 

THE CHURCH RECOGNISED THOSE WHOM GOD HAS CALLED

The church at Antioch was told to 'set apart' Barnabas and Saul for the work, which means 'marking off from the rest, separating and identifying as distinct.'(7) As they had actively waited on God for guidance, they were willing to obey when God revealed His will.

 

THE CHURCH RELEASED GOD'S CHOSEN SERVANTS

The church at Antioch demonstrated their association with God's choice by releasing Paul and Barnabas to service. Luke records three things:

 

1.         They fasted and prayed, focusing on those whom God had set apart.

2.         They placed their hands on them, not to impart any specific gifts, but to identify them to the church as God's chosen servants, and to associate the church at Antioch with their mission.

3.         They sent them away. God's claim on their service had priority, so they let them go. This was an active response by the church, identified with this task.

 

THEY REPORT BACK TO THE CHURCH

After they completed their mission, Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch to meet with the church. We read that, 'On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles'(Acts 14:27).They now recount to the church at Antioch what God had done through them, demonstrating a sense of accountability to the church which sent them.

 

THE SENDER MUST ALSO BE SUPPORTED

Other references in the New Testament, to sending by the local church, emphasise the responsibility to provide support and provision for those who are sent by the churches.(8) Paul writes to the Romans that he hoped 'to have you assist me on my journey there'(Rom. 15:24), and that the Corinthians would do the same, 'so you can help me on my journey'(1 Cor. 16:6). He urged Titus, 'Do everything you can to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way and see they have everything they need'(Tit. 3:13). John writes, 'You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God'(3 John 1:6). The Christians visited and ministered to, also had an obligation to help them, by providing for their material needs.

 

Each church will face the responsibility of supporting God's servants, whether they work locally, or are sent elsewhere. If we send, then we need to support those whom God has called.

 

THE PRACTICALITIES OF SENDING

How do we assess potential workers for God's service, whatever type of service that may be? Two particular areas require careful assessment.

 

1. Knowledge of the person being sent

 - Character - this involves an assessment of the maturity, spirituality and stability of the person. If significant questions arise, then it is better not to proceed, or at least to wait for a time.

 - Commitment - this should be obvious and seen in service for God, and involvement in the activities of the church. A minimum period of two to three years spent in the church fellowship is recommended.

 - Gifts and abilities - is the person suited to the work? Have they adequate training or is further training required? Is there capacity to learn another language, adapt to new cultures and relate to people from different cultures?

 - Physical fitness - are they fit or do they have any medical problems? A thorough medical examination is part of the process.

 - If married, is the marriage and home stable?

 - Other circumstances - what is their work record? How long have they spent in the workplace? Can they budget and manage money?

Validating the call - evidence should be prayerfully considered. Hard questions need to be asked, time spent waiting on God. The will of God must be clear. Never be in a rush.

 

2. Knowledge of the work they are going to do

Information can be gathered from those who know the proposed area of service - other workers, service groups, etc. Areas that need to be researched:

 - What role will be filled? What are the conditions like? How will language be learned?

 - Are there specific dangers? Any health problems?

 - Has the situation been well researched by the potential worker?

 - If the worker is single, is the situation suitable for him/her?

 - Is the work already established there? Who is doing this work?

 - Will they receive a welcome? Are they needed or wanted?

 - Are they compatible, culturally and doctrinally?

 - If there is a local Church, will the people welcome them?

 

The sending of mission workers needs to be approached with careful consideration, so that those who are sent are truly called and prepared for the work for God.

 

1.Rom. 11:33-36

2.John 6:29 

3.John 15:26

4.Acts 1:8

5. Matt. 28:18

6. Rom. 1:6; 1 Pet. 1:15

7.Dictionary of New Testament Words(1940 edition), W.E. Vine; p210

8.Let the Nations Be Glad(1993), John Piper; p225

 

 

 

 

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