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I was reared in the church of the South. I recall one of the areas upon which our church focused heavily was missions. Like many churches from forty-plus years ago, we had missionaries visit to update us on their work, usually presenting in the Sunday School Hour as well as the main service. Occasionally those missionaries would also share during children’s church. I was mesmerized. 

Often those same missionaries and our pastor would use the occasion of their visit to emphasize the need for more missionaries and the need for the gospel to go forth to all the nations. After all, as Jesus tells His disciples at the interaction with the woman at the well, “lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest,” (John 4:35) as the crowds from Samaria come to see Who it is she has met.  

The call that those missionaries and or pastors were making was to anyone in the local assembly, but it certainly seemed like their appeal was especially to young people. Perhaps some would have the desire and God would raise them up amid the congregation to go make disciples of the nations. In what follows, I would like to consider what it means for a church to see missionaries raised and sent out and beyond that how they might also care for missionaries who are already under their care. 

Raising and Sending 

The New Testament is filled with gospel preaching, and the imminent call to Jesus’ disciples and their heirs is to go and make disciples of the nations, baptizing them and teaching them (Matt 28:19-20). Inherent in what has been called the Great Commission is the planting of churches in the areas where missionaries are sent. The local church is the central fixture of Christian life and worship. We see evidence of ones being sent by the church and from the church in Acts (Acts13). Though we are not the church in Acts, the biblical precedent does warrant our attention for the sending of missionaries today.  

Who does the sending and who is sent? 

 The modern missionary movement has spawned many agencies, yet those organizations that desire to remain biblical must adhere to the primacy of the local church. Mission boards can facilitate sending missionaries, but in all reality, the church is the true “sending agency.” How then does the church determine who is sent? 

If we hold that the main purpose of missions is the making of disciples and we concur that the church is the central feature of disciple-making, then it seems the planting of churches is the ultimate task of missions. Of course, this includes proclaiming the gospel and discipling, but with an eye toward establishing local assemblies. Therefore, while we don’t exclude women from the task of missions, we are looking for qualified men who can lead churches with women and other men aiding in the disciple-making task.  

The requirements for elders are plain in the Scripture (1 Tim 3; Titus 1), and I believe that those requirements speak to the higher accountability of the elder, but I also think that the case can be made that any Christian ought to aspire to those same standards. Therefore, as we assess those who are sensing a call to missions, we ought to evaluate based on the ministry standards of Scripture. 

And yet, even though we are looking for those who have character, we ought to be training our children and students with an eye toward disciple-making always having the caveat that the task needs to have a global perspective as well. In other words, the disciple-making task to which Jesus calls us is one in which we are preparing believers for life in the world, regardless of vocation, but in which we also recognize that God may be raising commissioned workers for the task of going and making disciples elsewhere.  

As the church observes spiritual ministry and desire happening in the lives of other believers we are to cultivate and affirm those as they are befitting commissioned workers. The church should be praying that God would raise some up in our midst and make apparent through the means mentioned above who those may be. 

Caring for Missionaries Well 

When it comes to caring well for missionaries, some churches have spread their net too wide. What I mean is that a church does not have a concentrated philosophy of missions. In concert with considering how to encourage and send missionaries, a church must have an outlook that frames the kinds of missionaries they will send and support. As I stated previously, the main goal of missions ought to be church planting, and obviously planting needs support roles as well. 

When a church spreads itself too thin, not only is the monetary support thinner but so too is the relationship with the missionaries. As I have been involved in church missions for nearly 27 years one thing that I have come to believe is that churches need to support fewer missionaries at a higher rate of support and thus (hopefully) relationship.  

What this concept allows is that more people in the church can get involved in the lives of missionaries even from afar. This kind of care can be facilitated through families, small groups, Sunday school classes, and a variety of other avenues through the local church.  

When I was an associate pastor, one of my responsibilities was over missions. One of the things I used to say was, “I want our church to be our missionaries’ favorite! I meant that our missionaries should sense the care both financially and relationally enough that even if we were not their sending church, we would be a close second in their minds. Certainly, if we were the sending church, we needed to take special care of those missionaries particularly. This kind of care takes specific effort from the elders and members of the local church.  

When our missionaries come for visits, we should celebrate their presence and rather than just giving a few minutes to an update, give them a whole worship service (Acts 14:27). We should plan lunches and meetings, not to wear them out, but to give them rest. We should give them the opportunity for vacations while they are on home assignments. If you have the means, put them up in hotels rather than homes so they don’t have to feel like they’ve always got to be “on.” In short, think of ways that you can serve them since they represent and serve Christ’s church for you. 

Let us then go forth as the church who has been called to make disciples, praying and encouraging those who may be called, training and affirming those who have sensed the call, and supporting and caring well for those who have accepted the call! 

(PhD, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the Teaching Pastor of Fellowship Bible Church in Peoria, IL. He is an Adjunct Professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His book Raised in Splendor on the hope of glorification is forthcoming from B&H Publications. He and his wife Amber have three grown children who are all happily married and one grandson.

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