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.
Sent Identity + Practice = Discipleship
Involving the entire church depends on something we’ve hit on before. Practice flows from how we collectively understand and lean into our sent identity. If we rewind a bit, we see that our sent identity begins with our sending God. God has already sent the sending church into the world.
The discussion of sent identity begins with the nature of God himself, eternally existing in three persons in perfect communion, yet in the overflow of God’s fullness, God creates everything in a display of his goodness. In his book The Sending Church Defined, Zach Bradley describes our creator God like this:
“He emanates. He initiates. In a sense, he sends. He sends his Spirit to hover over the waters, ready for a word to bring it all to life through the Son. Like so many things in Genesis 1-2, this sets a pattern for how God will keep his story rolling” (10).
So when we get to the New Testament and find that the church is a sent church with a mission, there is a beautiful chain of sending that stretches back to the beginning. Zach puts it like this:
“The Sender sends the Sent One who sends the Spirit (Acts 13:4) who sends the apostles (note the Greek, apostolos, meaning “sent-one”) who start a chain reaction of sent-ones” (11).
What does this identity of “sentness” mean for our practice? It means that every member in our churches ought to be participating in mission. As believers we are all included in the Great Commission, and Christians are not meant to sit on the sidelines and cheer as they watch the professionals perform impressive feats. Rather, we are one body called to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2, ESV), and each person is also to test their own work, “for each will have his own load to bear” (Galatians 6:5, ESV).
What Does Practicing Sentness Look Like?
Our sentness is worked out in all of its particulars as we live according to the Spirit to fulfill the law of Christ. The law of Christ is summed up in the Great Commandment and Golden Rule—love God and love your neighbor, for “on these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:40, ESV). As we give priority to loving God, we also experience an overflow of God’s fullness, which splashes out toward others in love.
Therefore, part of the way we are called to live in our sentness is in sacrifice toward God. We see this lesson taught in the story of the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-30). In this story, the rich man was able to follow many rules and have an appearance of righteousness, yet he was ultimately living for himself and could not sacrificially follow Jesus. If we get our first priority right, then we will fully buy into Christ’s mission.
Secondly, when we all view ourselves as sent ones, it transforms the way we view who our neighbor is. In the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), after giving the command to love your neighbor, Jesus is asked, “And who is my neighbor?” (verse 29). Without giving all the details, the story goes that the one who went out of his way to show mercy “proved to be a neighbor” (verse 36). In other words, being a neighbor is less about a prior obligation and more about going out of your way to love others. This posture works itself out in innumerable ways in the lives of individual believers. And though I cannot argue it from this parable, the greatest mercy of all is to bring your neighbor to the foot of the cross by the power of speaking the gospel, so that they might be transformed from a sinner to a lover of God as well.
The Entire Church Embraces Its Sentness
How then does a sending church live out its sentness corporately? Just as Jesus told the apostles to first testify about him in Jerusalem (Acts 1:8), sending globally begins locally. Just as loving our neighbor as individuals has innumerable expressions, so there are many formal and informal ways we can encourage one another as a body to love our neighbors.
Local ministry is not in competition with cross-cultural ministry, as though it could be put in a separate box. Rather, healthy local ministry breeds cross-cultural ministry. Cross-cultural ministry continues to feed into and encourage local ministry. It should not be a surprise to us that our churches become half-hearted about sending their own across oceans, if they are not willing to live out their sentness to reach those across the street.
A key indicator that a church has adopted a healthy posture of sentness is that they practice regular corporate prayer together, both for their local community and for the nations. Why is prayer so important? Without even considering the tangible results of prayer, prayer indicates that our desire to see our ministry bear fruit turns back on God himself. It shows that we have aligned our priorities right. We are depending on God for the power to love our neighbor and transform lives. And it indicates that we understand we don’t just need a little bit of help from God, but we must abide in Jesus through and through to see any spiritual result from our work (John 15:5, 9-10, 16).
Entering the Sending Church Pipeline
We can envision the process of sending cross-culturally as a selective pipeline, where sent ones are identified, assessed, and developed until they’re ready to go. So there must be a pool from which potential sent ones can be identified. If we are involving the entire church in mission, the pool to potentially send from extends to the entire membership of the church. In other words, when we involve the entire church, the entire church is already in the sending church pipeline. The question for us as individuals is no longer whether we are sent to make disciples but only a matter of clarifying how.