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 and keep up with 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 the sending church is quickly growing in popularity, it’s wise to scrutinize it. Our tendency in the church and missions is to jump into the latest ministry model without fully thinking it through. It’s the classic pendulum shift. Considering the dangers of sending church helps us 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, but 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.
1 | Sending Church might make missions more church-centric than God-centric.
This could happen if our goal moves from God’s glory to the sending of people. Our success begins to be measured by whether or not we send or how many people we send. This shift in focus can be sinful and deadly. Our ecclesiology can become too high, and gradually our “obedience” could be more about following a proven strategy than responding to the Holy Spirit.
2| Sending Church 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 seat, from taking the lead to taking a supporting role. The next wave of missions will not be led by us—and that’s not a bad thing. It will be easy for us to fall into the trap of fighting 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, we will no doubt hold back the expansion of the gospel.
3| Sending Church might overemphasize either local sending or global sending.
In our excitement and passion for sending, we could easily overemphasize “here” over “there”—or “there” over “here.” These areas of focus often seem to be in competition with one another, so we need to fight to continue 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.
4| Sending Church might produce an attitude of arrogance surrounding the local church.
Pendulum swinging into a high ecclesiology might ignore, or at least deemphasize, God’s movement outside local church structures. The Sending Church paradigm calls for churches to lead in fulfilling the Great Commission with para-church organizations working alongside them. If either group is not sensitive toward the other, it could result in competition and conflict between churches and organizations. The local church must always assume the posture of a learner. Church leaders need to be asking, “How can we continually learn from others?”
5| Sending Church might lead to missions being done in isolation.
In their missional zeal, sending churches could move toward isolation as they carry out 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. Rather than empowering and partnering, sending churches that seek to maintain too much control and exclusivity could undermine the fruitfulness of their sent ones.
6| Sending Church might make smaller churches feel inferior or that they don’t have a place in sending.
It can seem like faithful sending is only feasible within larger churches that have 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 sending. Large churches may have more expertise and resources, but what a small church lacks in certain areas, it may make up for in others. For example, a smaller church may not have a full-time missions pastor to assess and train missionaries, but it likely does have a much deeper relationship with the missionary and a greater capacity for one-on-one investment. Larger churches often lack the ability to do that well. Communicating (either implicitly or explicitly) that only larger churches are capable of being sending churches would truly bottleneck what God desires from every local church, no matter the size.
7| Sending Church might become just the latest church fad.
"Sending" has already become a buzzword. The more it grows, the more people will jump on the bandwagon of "sending" without understanding what it actually means. Sending Church is more than a fad; it is a biblically rooted idea that needs to be deeply understood and intentionally applied. 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 the vessels and messengers of the gospel. Obviously, that is more than a fad, but #sendingchurch could be construed as the next #missional.
8| Sending Church might emphasize a one-dimensional church rather than a well-rounded biblical church.
Sending, or missions engagement in general, can falsely represent the entire biblical mandate. Churches need to be more than simply great sending organizations. They are called to seek maturity in every aspect of biblical faithfulness. That means teaching, theology, mercy, care, community, prayer, worship, discipleship, etc. The greatness of a church isn’t determined solely by its seating capacity or its sending capacity. As we see in Revelation 2-3, churches are judged based on their obedience to the commands of Jesus as expressed in his full counsel of Scripture. If #sendingchurch becomes the lone standard of faithfulness to Christ, then we’ve missed the mark.