Ask-a-Missiologist: Nathan Garth on "What are the Dangers of #SendingChurch?"

THE FOLLOWING IS A GUEST POST FROM NATHAN GARTH. NATHAN SERVES AS THE PASTOR OF INTERNATIONAL MISSIONS AT SOJOURN COMMUNITY CHURCH.

I love the sending church. That’s why I’ve devoted my life to it. So why would I want to talk about the dangers of it?

First, because it is vital to stay ahead of the curve in missiology. Being “upstream” isn’t just about finding the cutting edge of missions. Healthy, biblical missiology requires church leaders to think ahead, to foresee the world’s constantly changing dynamics so that we can respond effectively with the gospel. That includes foreseeing potential threats in our current missiological emphases.

Second, because the idea of sending church is quickly growing in popularity, it’s wise to scrutinize it. Our tendency in the church and missions is to jump on the latest ministry model without fully thinking it through. It’s the classic pendulum shift. Considering the dangers of sending church helps avoid this.

Third, simply put, we need to think critically about things we deeply believe in. Not only do the Scriptures and good theology call us to critical thinking, so does church and missions history. If we fail to fully consider the dangers of sending church, the next few generations may be hindered in carrying forward the Great Commission.

Now that we’ve established the reasoning behind this article, what are some of those dangers? I have identified eight of them.

#SendingChurch might make missions more church-centric than God-centric.  This could happen as our goal subtly moves from God'€™s glory to the sending of people. Our measure of success becomes if we send people or how many people we send. This can be sinful and deadly. Our high ecclesiology can become too high, and gradually our “obedience” could be more about following a proven strategy than responding to the Holy Spirit.

#SendingChurch might undermine the Majority/Non-Western Church.  This is already an evident hole in the sending church conversation. We can easily focus on sending Westerners instead of empowering the global church to be on mission. In reality, the center of missions has already shifted from the West to the Majority world. It’s no longer “from the West to the rest” but “from everywhere to everywhere”. We need to admit and celebrate that the Western church has moved from the driver's seat to the passenger's seat, from taking the lead to taking a supporting role. The next wave of missions is not to be led by us—and that’s not a bad thing. However, it’s easy for us to naturally fight for our return to prominence. If we do that and focus solely on sending to the exclusion of partnership or empowering the non-Western church, no doubt we will hold back the expansion of the gospel.

#SendingChurch might overemphasize either local sending or global sending.  In our excitement and passion, we could easily overemphasize “here” over “there”—or “there” over “here”. They often seem in competition with one another anyways. Instead, we need to fight to be engaging both our neighbors and the nations. We really can’t do one well without the other. Neglecting either one is a failure on our part as leaders, and will stunt growth in both the church and the mission.

#SendingChurch might cause an attitude of arrogance surrounding the local church.  Pendulum shifting into a high ecclesiology might ignore or at least deemphasize God'€™s movement outside local church structures. The sending church emphasis biblically calls for churches to lead in fulfilling the Great Commission with para-church organizations alongside them. However, without sensitivity this could breed competition and conflict between churches and organizations. The local church must always stay in the place of a learner. Church leaders need to be asking, “How can we continually learn from others?”

#SendingChurch might lead to missions being done in isolation.  In their zeal, sending churches could move toward isolation in their ideas, strategy, and engagement. They might grow to feel like they are sufficient on their own and fail to partner well with others. Very few sending churches have the expertise and resources to fully oversee field strategy. Furthermore, the Scriptures seem to articulate a substantial level of autonomy among sent ones to follow the daily leadership of the Spirit. Rather than empowering and partnering, however, sending churches could seek to maintain too much control and exclusivity.

#SendingChurch might make smaller churches feel inferior or that they don'€™t have a place in sending.  It can seem like the ideas behind sending are only feasible among larger churches, churches with full-time staff members and lots of money. Can smaller churches with limited staff and funds really do these things? Absolutely! All churches have a role to play in being sending churches. Large churches may have more expertise and capacity, but what a small church lacks in one area, it may make up for in another. For example, a smaller church may not have a full-time missions pastor to assess and train missionaries, yet it likely does have a much deeper relationship with the missionary and more opportunity for one-on-one investment. Larger churches often lack the ability to do that well. Only touting larger churches as sending churches would truly bottleneck what God longs for from every local church, no matter the size.

#SendingChurch might become just the latest church fad.  ‘Sending’ has already become a buzz word. The more it grows, the more people will jump on the bandwagon of ‘sending’ without understanding what it actually means. The sending church is more than a fad. It is a biblically rooted idea that needs to be understood deeply and applied intentionally. The Father sent the Son into the world for its redemption, the Father and Son sent the Spirit into the world for the life and growth of the Church; the Trinity now sends the Church into the world as vessel as messengers of the gospel. Obviously, that is more than a fad, but #sendingchurch could be construed into the next #missional.

#SendingChurch might emphasize a one-dimensional church rather than well-rounded biblical church.  Sending, or simply missions engagement in general, can falsely represent the entire biblical mandate. Churches need to be more than simply great sending churches. They are called to seek maturity in every aspect of being a biblical church. That means teaching, theology, mercy, care, community, prayer, worship, discipleship, etc. The greatness of a church isn’t determined solely by its seating capacity nor its sending capacity. As we see in Revelation 2-3, churches are judged based on their obedience to Jesus as expressed in his full counsel of Scripture. If #sendingchurch becomes the lone standard, we’ve missed the mark.

What are other dangers you see? How can our churches be faithful to send, and yet still avoid such dangers?