A missionary can be likened to a sailing vessel, the missionary’s journey to a great sea voyage. The sweat of many brows and many calloused hands make the vessel seaworthy. Then, the sails are hoisted, farewells are given, and the vessel debarks, often crossing vast spaces and reaching lands far different from home. Sails which are full and rounded with the wind drive the ship onward towards its destination.
The importance of the local church in missions:
Without a solid launching port, the missionary vessel often founders or is lost at sea. One’s local sending church is such a port, a harbor from which to launch the missionary vessel in zealous obedience to the biblical mandate. Much peril was faced by trading companies reaching precious spices in days of old; how much greater is our charter, how much more regal our sending King, and how much more vital the goal of our journey.
While plenty of legitimate helps exist to aid us, the task is still ours!
Local churches may rightly delegate authority, utilize outside agencies, or band together to help her complete her task. However, such delegation is not abdication and local churches, especially sending churches, must stay involved.
While we remain thankful for seminaries, tract and bible societies, and missionary organizations, these are mere servants who walk beside local churches, not substitutes who take the lead. These helps are complementary in nature and are not competitors, having the common goal of seeing Christ glorified and His Church multiplied.
Kennedy Space Center takes successful space launches seriously. Their Launch Complex 39, just north of Cape Canaveral, is a mammoth construction. To get a rocket into space, the average depth of the concrete on just the pathway heading to the launch pad is seven feet deep. Local churches must be similar to this launching pad if we are to launch the Gospel to the world, with deep foundations grounded firmly in the truth.
Highlights from Acts 13:
The book of Acts illustrates deep local church involvement in evangelizing the world:
Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus. And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John to their minister.
First, a church’s missionary vigor is usually derived from the leadership: Churches that are missionary-minded are usually led by missionary-minded leaders who set the tone. In Acts 13 we witness five key spiritual leaders seeking the Lord’s will in unity. Church leaders are divinely appointed shepherds who must cast the vision, spread the passion, and create a climate for missionary-sending.
Those sent were already recognized leaders in the church, actively exercising their gifts: In the midst of local service these first missionaries were called out for global work. These men were already serving when the Lord called them into greater acts of service. The reward of Christian service is often opportunity for greater acts of service (Luke 19:11-27), thus we pray not for lighter tasks but for the Lord to give us stronger shoulders to carry even more.
“Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people…”
These men were not inert at home while hoping to suddenly become active overseas. Crossing oceans does not make someone more effective in evangelism; it makes them far less effective due to the stresses and barriers involved.
The local church is a hot-house and nursery for the task of planting in the rest of the world: Small tender plants are often raised in a greenhouse, and small trees are often matured first in a nursery. There, tender shoots are strengthened and readied for the world. The church functions in just such a way. Believers are matured and readied for service out in the world. Greenhouse buds are not prepped merely for more long-term residence living in the greenhouse; likewise, our goal in church attendance is not merely to attend more church, but to become well-nourished and prepared as one of God’s roses to make the world more beautiful and sweet. Whether standing tall or crushed underfoot we are to be a sweet savor to the world.
These in Acts 13 were intentionally fasting, praying, and seeking the Lord’s will: We need intentionality. We should be begging God (Luke 10:2) to give us missionaries to send, all the while identifying those persons of high potential, praying with them about possibly going, training and nurturing their gifts, and then sending and supporting them!
Regarding new missionaries perhaps we have not because we ask not. The Lord himself commands us to pray the Lord of the Harvest to send forth laborers, and it appears that God will be pleased to answer prayers that are commanded such as this – if His People actually do pray for such things. Our Father does, indeed, seem pleased to answer the prayers of his people (Matthew 7:7-11;18:19; 21:22; Luke 11:9; John 14:13; 15:7,16; 16:23-24; Philippians 4:6; Philippians 4:19; James 1:5; 4:2;1 John 3:22;5:14), how much more ready will He be to answer prayers resulting from an explicit request of His Son.
These did not leave the task to others - they were themselves deeply involved: Strive to be as involved as possible in missions!
If you can support missionaries by prayer, don’t be content to merely read missionary newsletters. If you can support missionaries financially, don’t be content merely to support missionaries by prayer. If you can support missionaries sent out by your own church, don’t be content merely to support those sent out by other churches. If you yourself can go out, don‘t be content merely to support others whom your church sends. Be as involved as possible! As the Church charges the battlements of the enemy, press as far forward into the front lines as possible!
In Acts 13, there were five prophets and teachers named; two of these five were sent. Also, in Matthew 9, those who were told to pray for laborers were themselves sent out in the very next chapter. Having a heart ready to pray for more laborers often leads to a heart ready to go labor.
Released for service - not bound by the cords of control: In Acts 13 the Holy Spirit set apart these men and the local church recognized this call and released them for service. The Holy Spirit commanded the church to separate (aphorisate, to severe, to place apart) Paul and Barnabas to the work that the Spirit had called them (proskeklemai, a call to a special task) and the church released these from their present church obligations and sent them off or sent them away. The term used here is apoluo, used elsewhere to denote the pardon of prisoners and even divorce, Matthew 27:15; Acts 3:13; Matthew 1:9; Luke 16:18.
Thus, we see that a call to missions is a divine call (they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed…), a call which the Church is duty-bound to recognize, and a call which may cause separation and sending away (after all, if we are commanded to reach all nations, we must first go to all nations).
Let us train well, but let us also “release well.” One church I know never released a qualified young man who longed to go into missions, because, “We need him here at home still.” And I suspect they always will.
We must train our missionaries adequately. We must put pre-field training requirements into place to prevent premature sending. We must maintain close fellowship such that we weep at the thought of losing them. Yet, we must be ready to release.
They were commissioned: Next, we see a commissioning service in Acts 13, a laying on of hands. This wasn’t ordination, but a formal recognition and separation for the task.
The Apostle Paul was already a missionary, but now the Antioch church gives him formal recognition and authority unto this new task. Acts 13 wasn‘t Paul‘s ordination service, but a formal declaration that he was to be sent forth with a mission. Such an act confirms the local church‘s commendation of the missionary. It is their seal of approval, a transfer of authority, granting the missionary the right to act in the name of the church for the sake of the Glory of Jesus. When a church lays on hands this is a testimony that they recognize the fittedness and the preparedness of the missionary to serve in that cross-cultural capacity for which they were commissioned.
It is an affirmation of suitability and, therefore, not a light or casual event. As eager as local churches are to send one of their own to the field, such a serious step should give pause to churches lest they risk turning their ugly ducklings into swans and confirm one who should not be sent. Many commissioning services include a charge both to the missionary and also to the sending church body, reminding them of their mutual obligations.
Such a laying on of hands is an evidence that the missionary is not merely one who runs forward on his own, but is one who is sent. He is not laying hands on himself, but the larger body of Christ is testifying that the missionary is truly, indeed, a “sent-out one.”
They were sent out with a purpose: At the end of Acts chapter 14 those sent out returned to Antioch, “for the work that they fulfilled.” There was a designated work to be done and they fulfilled it. Mission accomplished. They reunited and celebrated together.
Support personnel are needed: John also went to minister to them, possibly as an assistant, “and they had also John to their minister.” Paul, elsewhere, lists many fellow-workers in his epistles, both male and female. We are to conclude that not all of these were elder-qualified preachers, nor did they all exercise ecclesiastical control nor administer the Gospel ordinances of baptism and the Lord‘s supper. Yet these are said to share the work with Paul, indicating that we may freely send many to the field. A person contemplating missions does not need to be an ordained theologian, but must, indeed, be and think theologically correct. So, if you want to come and push the Gospel plow, there are ample opportunities for a multitude of persons with a variety of gifts to offer.
The Pauline missionary band was field-led, they didn’t clear every decision through Antioch: In the chapters following Acts 13, we see the manner in which Paul labored once he was on the field. Paul and his band made field-based semi-autonomous decisions. In other words, Paul was not micro-managed by a missionary council sitting 1,000 miles away. Paul even recruited others without first asking Antioch for permission regarding every Timothy and Titus raised up. Paul appears to have made determinations of location, strategy and partners while on the field.
On several occasions I (Trevor) have needed advice regarding issues encountered on the field, and I have called Bible Baptist for help. What impressed me was the manner of Brother Tom Henry, always thoughtful in his responses and yet frequently reminding me, “We sent you out, we trust you. You know the situation on the ground.” He was always non-intrusive in his guidance and non-oppressive in his oversight, yet always deeply involved and helpful, elucidating practical biblical principles applicable to every situation. Oversight and accountability are to be maintained, yet many churches with good intentions can become overbearing; but if you don’t trust someone enough for them to make field decisions without your constant supervision, don’t send them out.
Paul went back to his home church and stayed there for a while: In Acts 14:26-28 we read the following;
…And thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled. And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles. And there they abode long time with the disciples.
Paul returned home to Antioch and resumed a close relationship with his home church, cheering their hearts and encouraging them by reports of the work. His ministry did not cease once he arrived back home. The missionary ought not to seek merely to bless his target people “over there.” He should seek to bless the “home folks” as well.
Some literature speaks of Paul returning to Antioch in order to “report back” to his authority, but I think this misses the point. Paul wasn’t merely dutifully reporting to his boss; instead, he was celebrating with family! He rejoiced with the church, stayed with them for quite some time, resumed his old teaching and leadership duties, and even engaged in deep theological controversy with the Judaizers in the very next chapter. Paul wanted to celebrate with his Antiochan family because the missionary task is not a “one man show.” This was their mutual work.
Likewise, we (Trevor and Paul) are deeply aware that missions is not about the Johnsons and the Snider’s, but about all of us. Together, we actively obey the command to “make disciples” by you saying to us, “We want you to go, because we want them to be saved.” Missions is a state of total war; not all go far away to fight, but all labor on behalf of the war effort.
Let Paul’s attitude in Romans 10:1 be ours, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.” Furthermore, let Paul’s reminder several verses later stir us to new action, “…And how can they preach, except they be sent.” What a pleasure when beautiful feet which bring glad tidings of good things have their origin in your local churches and are shod by the loving care of your own people!
Finally, they recognized that success was due to God’s power:
“…They rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.”
Paul was a very active worker, and yet Acts 14 speaks of all that God was doing. The entire world is the stage, yet God is the main actor in missions; we merely fill bit parts (and we usually stutter our lines). God is the bringer of results. God plants the Church.
“We are firmly persuaded that Paul might plant and Apollos water, in vain, in any part of the world, did not God give the increase. We are sure that only those ordained to eternal life will believe, and that God alone can add to the church such as shall be saved. Nevertheless we cannot but observe with admiration that Paul, the great champion for the glorious doctrine of free and sovereign grace, was the most conspicuous for his personal zeal in the word of persuading men to be reconciled to God. In this respect he is a noble example for our imitation. Our Lord intimated to those of His apostles who were fishermen, that he would make them fishers of men, intimating that in all weathers, and amidst every disappointment they were to aim at drawing men to the shores of eternal life. Solomon says: “He that winneth souls is wise,” implying, no doubt, that the work of gaining over men to the side of God, was to be done by winning methods, and that it required the greatest wisdom to do it with success.”
Bible Baptist Church of Maplewood, Missouri and their example:
Bible Baptist Church launched me well and I (Trevor) would like to thank them publicly here.
First, Bible Baptist Church (hereafter called BBC) was instrumental in identifying any missionary potential that I possessed. Brother Moore gifted me with the missionary book, Through Gates of Splendour upon college graduation. The spark of missionary desire was there, and he fanned the flame. He did not merely wait for me to take initiative, for I didn’t even know where to begin.
Second, BBC groomed me and gave me opportunities to serve. Pastor Moore, again taking the initiative, requested that I bring a devotion to the youth shortly after my graduation. It was just a small informal meeting, but it was a start. Then on Wednesday nights and then later on Sunday nights I began to periodically preach. I suppose I was started out on Wednesday nights where I could do the least damage. My gifts were tested and developed locally and Pastor Moore gave much helpful advice and even critique in an encouraging way without crushing my spirits.
Third, BBC actively participated in my missions planning. BBC even hosted a representative from World Team who flew out from Pennsylvania to attend our services and talk to our leadership afterwards.
Fourth, BBC endorsed me and gave me their seal of approval at the appropriate time. Pastors Moore and Henry wrote letters and called other churches on my behalf. My ordination, my missionary commissioning service, and the formal start of my missionary support raising occurred simultaneously. Several churches supported me “right out of the chute” even before visiting them, giving me confidence and a certain “momentum” towards the field.
Fifth, BBC continued to manage communications and to campaign on my behalf even after I was overseas. I have received new support from strangers because Brother Tom Henry talked to them; “Yes, your church told me all about you and they think a lot of your work. Therefore, we now support you.”
Sixth, BBC has cleared up misunderstandings on my behalf, acting as my advocate. When I carelessly mentioned “women evangelists” in one prayer letter, Bible Baptist clarified that I was not, in fact, talking about women pastors, but rather referring to female Christians evangelizing women and children in segregated Muslim contexts. Bible Baptist acted as my champion and defender of my cause, even defending me from myself and from my own careless phraseology.
Seventh, BBC takes care of a lot of logistics. They are like mission control. They have duplicated or mailed thousands of letters, special articles, and videos of my ministry. The church (especially Jeannie Henry) has managed the Quilt Project, selling Indonesian-made quilts to support indigenous believers, in such a smooth, low-maintenance manner that I often forget about it totally.
Eighth, BBC offers emotional support. They have always been there to take our calls, to follow up, even to find and send small comfort items that we cannot find here.
Rosemont Baptist’s intentional spiritual development for the Great Commission:
Below is Paul Snider’s testimony of how their home church at that time, Rosemont Baptist Church of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, helped prepare them to launch.
Through God’s sovereign design, Trish and I (Paul) received a call after our conversion from Pastor Mark Reed to come and worship with them. Little did I know God’s blessings in store for us through this local body. Pastor Reed was intentional in discipleship right from the start. He invested his time to see me grow in my faith and modeled selfless and intentional discipleship for me to see.
This was not an overnight process, but a deep, committed effort of mentoring, grooming, and teaching. At every meeting Pastor Mark encouraged me in evangelism, bible study, and teaching, even helping me in my prayer life and as a husband and father. Growing through discipleship is never over, but “teaching others to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2), making disciples who can then make disciples, is achievable in even small local assemblies. When this happens, new generations of zealous and engaged disciples will take up the Cross and follow Christ to the nations.
As if it were yesterday, I still vividly remember Pastor Reed approaching and asking me to preach at the Saturday night nursing home service. Without delay I enthusiastically agreed, although I could feel my stomach churn with nervousness. This first Saturday message was 15 minutes. Pastor Reed was always there to give feedback and instruction, mentoring me both in preparation and delivery. This process was continual. Seeing my love for teaching, he continued sharpening my tools by having me lead the teenage Sunday school class and speaking at the church services occasionally. He was always intentional, purposely fanning the flames of my growing desire for greater future ministry where my gifts could be used for the glory of God.
Throughout my time at Rosemont Baptist I never lacked accountability, intentional discipleship, nor encouragement. Where would I be if God had not placed such a church with such a shepherd in my path! I consider Rosemont Baptist Church our second sending church. There we were groomed from young believers to missionaries ready for launch. Now as we prepare to leave, our sending church Bethany Bible Church, where my father pastors, has taken up the baton. Praise God for such churches. Praise God for such leaders.
Best Practices for Missions Engagement
Below are some tips for churches trying to increase missions engagement:
Do you have plan? Is it action-oriented? One of the biggest challenges for many would-be missionaries is translating theoretical missionary aspirations into actionable plans.
Is your church living up to its claims? Every church I know claims to be missions-minded, but the proof is in the pudding. What missions are you financing? How often do you mention the missionary plans of the church from the pulpit or newsletter or elsewhere? Can your church membership name your missionaries and their locations (has missions knowledge disseminated to every person)? What is your commitment beyond money?
Is your missions vision led from the top and supported at all levels?
Is there a route for the implementation of missionary plans? I often read about “why” we should do missions, but less frequently about “how” we should do missions or prepare for missions. What steps of training should missionaries take? Do you have a list of good training centers or schools that are recommendable to interested parties? Can you point the aspiring missionary to helpful courses of study and to missionary organizations that would be acceptable and approved by your church? Can your church leadership meet regularly with the aspiring missionary and will their schedule accommodate such a feat and see it as a priority?
Is missions visible in your church? Advertise missions. Hold a missions conference, create a missions bulletin board, have a “missions moment’ every week from the pulpit, have a missions focus month, devote one sermon in 10 to a missionary theme. Email your missionaries! Ask specifics as to what to pray for.
Does regular prayer and financial support help “fill the sails” of your missionaries?
Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,
‘Twas sad as sad could be ;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea !
…Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion ;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean…
Doldrums were the fear of sailing men of ages past, being stuck on a still and painted ocean until provisions ran out and the crew slowly succumbed to slow weakening and death.
The book Too Valuable to Lose analyzes data drawn from thousands of cases of “negative missionary attrition,” i.e., premature and preventable departure from the mission field. Loneliness and emotional factors rank highest, as well as inadequate support. A third reason, an inadequate sense of call, will be dealt with shortly below.
Don’t let your missionary get caught in the doldrums! Fill their sails with contact, loving affirmation, and enough material support to keep them on their voyage.
Own not only your missionary but your missionary’s burden: We must become more missions-focused rather than merely missionary-focused. To be missionary-focused is merely to care for your own personal missionary. A good thing, yes. To become missions-focused is to expand that care beyond just your individually-supported missionary and to embrace the people and the country your missionary serves. If a church is missions-focused rather than merely being missionary-focused, that church has a greater tendency to raise up future teams of multiple people to the same region. Love not only your missionaries, but also love the people they serve.
Re-affirm the missionary call: I have known missionaries who have undergone stress almost to the breaking point. These stressed-out missionaries have then gotten well-intentioned emails from church folks back home suggesting that the missionary come home if things got too bad. Please be careful in this area.
You can love your missionary best by encouraging them to do their best. Love pushes people through the hard times and doesn’t allow people to quit. Be like a supportive but firm coach, “Get back in there, you are doing great. Yes, your opponent is tough, but hang in there.” Affirm your missionary’s sense of call to keep him on the field. Remind him, “We affirmed your call when we commissioned you; we trust that these trials will pass and you will stick by your post and that God will reward your faithfulness.” A church’s firm affirmation through ordination and/or missionary commissioning grounds a missionary with a more firm confidence when all of his own confidence has drained. A solid sense of the missionary call is an anchor in rough seas and comes, in large part, from one’s home church.
Be active, not passive: There is nothing wrong with pastors approaching church members of high potential and asking them to fast and pray specifically about whether the Lord would call them into missions. God works through His Body and one way in which the missionary call may become manifest in a church member is through a pastor or fellow church-member burdening them to pray and seek whether missions might be for them.
Sending your own doesn’t mean denying help from others: Utilize the larger body of Christ for training. Take the Perspectives Course (www.perspectives.org), utilize missionary prayer letter services, work with a missionary agency to help launch your missionary. The independency of the local church does not mean isolation; we are all interdependent in Christ and can utilize outside resources and band together for the sake of large enterprises such as fulfilling the Great Commission, training future leaders, or publishing Gospel materials.
Be encouraged. It is not our seating capacity but our sending and praying capacity that counts: Some hesitate to act because they fear that they cannot make a difference. However, the majority of the support that we receive comes from small churches, and a great number of missionaries are sent out from small churches. Small churches are disproportionately impacting the world!
We count it all joy to serve Christ in a needy land and pray that God would raise up a wave of new workers that will break upon pagan shores and sweep away their idolatry.
Join us in the work! Connect with us. Use us as missionary resources. Give us the privilege to help you fan the flame for missions in your own local church.
Trevor Johnson - sovereigngracemissionary at gmail dot com
Paul Snider - smile0979 at aol dot com