The church embodies sentness by cultivating the involvement of every member in the sending vision and strategy through education, prayer, and onramps.
The Sending Church Elements are a framework for growing as a sending church. They point out the strengths and weaknesses of churches in missions. Involving the Entire Church is the difference between having a few passionate members and a whole church that lives to glorify God on mission. This series will address how a sent identity incorporates every believer on mission, how we practically live out sentness as body, and how the process of sending cross-culturally begins with the entire body.
In the first two parts of this series we said that before you can start doing well together on mission, you must first embody being on mission. We don’t send well until a sent identity has collectively permeated our minds and hearts. In part three we examined an actual church that keeps its staffing and programming low because they want to see regular members bearing the load of ministry to their neighbors. This week we will dig further into practical ways to involve the entire church in a sending vision.
Speak the Truth
Speaking of bearing the load of ministry, we already saw in Part One that every Christian’s sent identity includes the call to love their neighbors. We can expand on this idea now and say that every believer has been commissioned by Jesus himself to testify about him, to tell the truth about what he has done in their lives to their neighbors. In the Great Commission passage in Luke, Jesus puts it like this:
“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:46-48)
But there’s a problem: telling the truth is scary. So why make it harder than we need to? Mack Stiles in his little book Evangelism, makes this point and says we need to encourage one another and share the gospel together as whole churches. We do not need more crushing guilt to help us tell our neighbors good news; we need more encouragement from one another. Remember, we are the ones who have experienced grace!
Many of us are keen on the idea of personal evangelism without seeing this within the larger picture of our corporate witness. Jesus knew we would need help, so he sent us a promised Helper (Luke 24:49). He has also given us each other to spur one another on to good works and encourage one another, which is a large part of why we continually gather (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Next, what begins with the proclamation of the gospel is perfected in discipleship. Should the whole church begin this process only to hand the brunt of this work over to professional ministers? On the contrary, we see that just as we are to tell the truth to those outside the church, we are to continue to speak the truth in love to those who are inside the church. It is largely through this ministry that all the parts of body work together, so that the body builds itself up (Ephesians 4:15-16). Our pastors and teachers are God’s gift to equip all of us for the real work of serving one another (Ephesians 4:11-12).
Yet even if we understand all of what has been said above, why don’t we all immediately leap out of our chairs and get about the business of loving one another? We need help. We must constantly abide in Christ through the Spirit he has sent us, and we do this best when we are constantly agreeing with Christ and his promises in prayer.
Prayer is the fuel for ministry, so it's wise to continually support one another in this way. Intentionally developing a regular, corporate prayer gathering can even change our own hearts as we pray our people forward in ministry. Upstream Director, Larry McCrary, pointed out to me the wisdom of starting a larger gathering as the grounds for multiplying smaller prayer groups. He suggested, “Get more people to pray. Rather than creating immediate interest through smaller advocate teams, create a general, large prayer group to regularly pray that can be seeded to form these new advocate teams.” We want to support our cross-cultural sent ones we are sending overseas. This is easier to continue doing when we are already praying.
See What is Already There
We will do ourselves a favor to realize that mission is not a program but our very DNA as those commissioned by Christ. As we start thinking about onramps for creating a platform for mission in a local church, the first task is to explore and create natural connections. It takes creativity and insight to find the opportunities that already exist right where our members and work.
Larry gave me a couple examples from Sojourn Community Church East where he is also currently the Sending Pastor, overseeing both local and global sending. “I learned Sojourn Community East currently has five ESL teachers, who are collectively teaching about 150 international students. What would it look like if we found other Sojourn members, who were willing to adopt some of these refugees and immigrants as language partners and develop friendships? That’s too large of a number for five people to know well, but it’s an immediate way to start connecting our people to our neighbors.
“Also, we have some high caliber teachers like Dr. Rob Plummer and Dr. Gregg Allison. They often go to conferences or go somewhere to deliver a lecture. What would it look like to get some young people to tag along?”
The point is that a heavy footprint is not necessary – always creating new programs and services for our already overburdened pastors and staff to administrate. When we all view ourselves as sent ones and are working together to leverage the natural opportunities we already have, I think we will discover that there are plenty of opportunities for loving our neighbors to go around.