Sending Well: It Takes a Community

Written by Bradley Bell, Director of Content Development

One of the biggest reasons church leaders hesitate when it comes to proactively sending their members on mission is the intimidating demands of assessment and development. I know, I’m a lead pastor, and many weeks I’m just happy to put together a decent sermon on time! How am I supposed to fit in the hours of assessing and coaching it will take to form a missionary or church planting candidate? And if I don’t do that, how am I supposed to affirm those candidates as fit for the task?

Sheesh, just send them to someone who will do it for me!

Ok, I’ll admit there are plenty of tasks that we church leaders can and should delegate to others. However, the assessment and development of sent ones doesn’t necessarily have to be among them. Here’s how you can pull it off—and  still get your sermon done on time.

The Wider Community Around Sending Candidates

Moving church members through a sending pipeline takes a community. If you’re the only one investing in candidates, then best-case-scenario they’ll turn out looking like you. Even if you are a carbon copy of the Apostle Paul himself, there’s a good chance your disciples would be missing a few things—because maturity in Christ takes a community (Ephesians 4:15-16).

Of course, your church has the most critical community for the growth of sending candidates. But here’s a way of thinking that involves an even wider community in the assessment and development process.

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Head: Knowledge Cultivated by the University or Seminary

Although we can certainly overdo knowledge requirements in the West, some qualification matters. For the candidate going into the marketplace, sufficient education is probably required. For the candidate going a traditional route, theological education is definitely required. Thus, educators should be considered part of the assessment and development process, whether or not they are part of your church. What do they think of your candidate’s competency, teachability, and diligence? Their opinion matters.  

Heart: Character Cultivated by the Church

No doubt about it, this is the most important category. If candidates do not reflect the character of Christ in a “blameless” way (1 Timothy 3:2), it’s right to have hesitations in sending them as representatives of Christ and the church. If their knowledge or skills surpass their character, by all means do not endanger them, others, or the name of Christ by publicly sending them. If they are truly committed church members, then your church should know them better than people where they study and work. This sacred knowledge, combined with being God’s power tool for Christian maturity, makes the church “the ideal testing ground for potential missionaries” (Pirolo).

Hands: Skills Cultivated by the Employer or Organization

Another part of the wider community around sending candidates is their employer or missions organization. For candidates going into the marketplace (or, more ideally, already in the marketplace), their employer is also rigorously trying to determine their readiness for an overseas task. And if they see potential, they’re probably providing preparation and training. For candidates going the traditional missions route, the mission organizations with whom they partner have their own vetting and training processes. Wise church leaders don’t just recreate their own versions of what the employers and organizations already require of candidates. Instead, they work as closely as possible with the candidates’ “bosses”. Have they observed the necessary skills for your candidates to thrive in their job or assignment? It’s an important perspective to have.

What a large community surrounding your church members who want to be sent! You can probably think of even more people with insight (parents, mentors, counselors, neighbors, etc.). I'll admit, the categories aren’t meant to be fully representative of how a candidate grows (for example, the church can contribute to all three categories: knowledge, character, and skills). Nevertheless, I hope this way of thinking can at least remove some of the very real fear in taking on the weighty task of sending well.