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 last week’s article, “Involving the Entire Church, Part Two,” we introduced the importance of building missions culture slowly, allowing it to permeate the entire church. This week we are excited to provide a real-life example. A few years ago we came across Antioch Church in Louisville, Kentucky, a church that placed God’s mission at the heart of their identity from the very beginning. We were able to interview their lead pastor at the time, Todd Robertson, who described how they did it, how it works, and how it’s hard. As it turns out, I (Zach) am now the lead pastor at Antioch, so needless to say, this hits close to home.
How It Happened
I knew Antioch Church was young, small, and globally-minded, but I had no idea just how much sending was in their DNA until I sat down with their founding pastor, Todd Robertson. “We originally wanted to be a ‘multiplying’ church, and what we thought that meant was church planting,” he reminisced. “The sending of individuals was unexpected.”
Apparently, Antioch’s original declaration to “pursue intentional gospel relationships to display Christ’s glory among the nations” drew in many with passion for global missions. Key to this seems to have been their intentional location in the most multi-ethnic part of town, as well as their aggressive pursuit of ministry alongside internationals. That led to the first services being translated from English to Swahili to Arabic just to accommodate guests!
Compelled by the excitement and chaos of such a cross-cultural atmosphere, several former missionaries also joined the church. “Many were already on the trajectory of returning overseas—we just poured in jet fuel,” said Robertson. “We waded into the difficulty of their transition. Many of them were hurt over being sent and then left. We realized that sending and care go hand in hand. We have to hold the rope.”
As the church grew, international congregants left to begin churches of their own. Though finding themselves suddenly less multi-ethnic, their laser focus propelled more and more people into the neighborhood and on to the nations.
How It Works
Part of keeping their focus was simple: it mattered to their leaders. God’s heart for all peoples made its way not only into sermons and prayer, but also into programing and staff—or the lack thereof. “Too many programs and staff will drown the sending,” I was told by a senior couple, themselves former missionaries. “It keeps the responsibility on the entire congregation.”
What’s that look like? For one, Antioch utilizes former missionaries in their midst to train the entire church in skills such as prayerwalking and storying the gospel. They also cultivate a deep sense of presence and call their people to move into the neighborhood. “You can only be as multi-ethnic as your community allows,” says Robertson.
And as for the constant flow of people being sent, the benefits are mutual both at home and abroad. It’s expected that every missionary candidate will “own Antioch” before they go, leaving a stamp that can continue to influence the body. Thus each missionary leaves with an advocate and family group devoted to their ongoing care, people with whom they shared life deeply. They keep the needs of missionaries before the entire church, allowing them to be honest about both good and bad.
What’s the effect of such candidacy? The church is encouraged and challenged to be faithful in the local mission. Advocates and groups are overseen by the Missionary Care Team, who also pushes Antioch toward the goal of every missionary receiving a pastoral visit once per year. Robertson told me pointedly, “The missions agency is not their pastors. We are. Visiting them in person is powerful. Seeing with our own eyes is caring for them in a much better way.”
How It's Hard
My friends at Antioch were also honest about the unique challenges they’re facing. Thanks to so much sending in such a short time, it’s easy to feel as though they’re losing more than gaining. “It’s been glorious, but really painful at times. There was joy, but, man, it felt like a gut punch,” Robertson said, referring to the sending of faithful members and close friends. It creates a transient feel and the temptation to avoid hurts by being relationally shallow. “We just pour in like they’re going to be here forever, even though we know they’re not going to be here,” he continued.
There’s also a financial hardship that comes with sending so many. Most of the missionaries raise some level of support, which is more than a small congregation can sustain, even a generous one. “It’s financially challenging, but it’s the right thing to do,” Robertson reassured me. And God has faithfully provided new members and even a new facility.
He has not provided, however, a staff member devoted specifically to overseeing their sending. “Missions is not a department; everyone should be active in it and asking if they’re supposed to go. But by not having a missions pastor it’s easy to over-promise and under-deliver,” he points out. Having someone dedicated to that role would allow them to be more strategic and administratively supportive. Regardless, Antioch will continue to lead their people to own the mission.
This is great food for thought among young church planters and members, who have the opportunity to build sending into the very fabric of their church rather than waiting for certain stabilities. Antioch very much sounds like a ‘multiplying’ church after all. May their short story be formative to yours!
This article is by Zach Bradley, Upstream’s Director of Content Strategy