By Jason Hunsucker
Let’s be honest, “how to be sent well” is a weird phrase. “How to send well” makes much more sense. If you are going to “send” someone, you have control over how you do that. To be sent, however, requires the action of other people to be the senders. If you are to be a missionary, then it might make more sense for us to be talking about “how to leave well.” To leave well is a responsibility you can and must accept.
With that in mind, we could say that the process of being sent well is for you to “leave well” and your church to “stay well.” If you leave well, and they stay well, then we can say that you were sent well.
Why is it Important to Be Sent Well?
Discipleship Before the Field
In some ways, being sent is your first objective as a missionary. You are by definition being set apart. And so the act of being sent is a tremendous opportunity to teach, or disciple other believers in ways specifically related to God’s mission.
Most of what you do overseas will not be seen by those you leave behind. Some of them will hear or read your stories and updates. Some may even come to visit or work alongside you. But the vast majority of people who will be a part of your ministry as a missionary will participate only in the process of your being sent—and most of them will participate only to the extent they get to experience.
So, just think about the opportunity that lies before you prior to being sent. It’s a time when many people in your current church and community are in relationship with you.
Because they care about you, they have some interest in what you’re going to be doing. They want to know where you are going. They want to know what makes a person want to do this. What a huge opportunity to show people what it means to be a disciple of Jesus!
Also, the way you leave may lay the groundwork, or set a precedent for those who will follow in your footsteps. In many cases your example is teaching others how to do this—for better or worse. Just think about the significance of this pioneering work, long before you pioneer the gospel among people who may have never heard it.
The temptation for you, however, will lie in being so focused on where you are going that you forget, undervalue, or ignore where you are. But being sent well requires you to do the opposite of this. It requires you to be passionate about God’s wider kingdom, so much that you want others to catch this passion and vision for being an obedient disciple.
The way you manage your time and relationships between now and when you go is an incredibly unique discipleship opportunity. It could impact individuals, groups, and even entire congregations, in ways that nothing else could, and for reasons that are tremendously precious to Christ, namely the advancement of his kingdom among the nations.
Care on the Field
You will need to be cared for while you’re gone. Are you aware that missionaries struggle with isolation? Depression? Feeling forgotten? If you don’t think or know someone on the field with these struggles, or you think you won’t be one of them, then I don’t know any other way to say this: you have more work to do.
Unfortunately, this is an attitude I have seen too many times as a pastor. I call it the “special forces for Jesus” mentality. It’s a semi-unconscious belief that you are somehow different, or have things figured out in a way that those who have gone before you did not. Maybe this is true, but by and large, those who thrive on the field are those who maintain an intentional relationship with their sending church. Why? Because it’s not about when everything is going right on the field. Just like stateside, the times when we are firing on all cylinders is when we tend to get comfortable and think we have it all figured out. But when things aren’t going so well, or they’re just plain terrible, that’s often when isolation rises and the need for community surfaces.
Of course, you need to build community and support structures where you are going. But knowing—not wondering or hoping—that there are believers back home who are invested in your ministry will be a salve for a lonely and broken heart, an encouragement to a confused and frustrated mind, and a source of accountability when your heart is straying.
Return From the Field
It is very likely that you will desire all that community can provide upon your return. That may include fellowship, rest, recovery, safety, counseling, discipleship, etc. While you’ll be excited to see family and friends, coming home to a church family who has been invested in your ministry through prayer, communication, and financial support, who has faced many ups and downs with you, will be a priceless benefit. And having those same people to help you manage your time while your home, set up visits, dinners, or provide some insulation in the event that you need some downtime will possibly be the difference between a productive, restful, encouraging stateside visit and stressful, frustrating and miserable one.
Being sent well is important to your ministry prior to leaving, while you’re on the field and when you return. The best time to begin your sending process is now. In part 2 of this series we will look at some specific actions you can take the ensure that you are sent well.
Jason has been a pastor at Antioch Church since it’s start in 2009. He is also a Financial Planner, a career that started nearly 20 years ago. Since 2005 he has been part of a small, private firm located in downtown Louisville. He also more recently Co-founded one of Upstream’s partner organizations Givapp: which allows you to give your spare change to the non-profit of your choice. Jason is married to Shannon and they have two children, Maggie and Garrett.