If you’ve been a missions leader for very long, you’ve likely had this experience: A married couple in your church emails you with the news that they are going overseas and want you to support them financially. They’re kind of involved in your church, but you don’t know them super well. You’ve met them in the church foyer, but your relationship hasn’t gone much beyond some casual handshakes and “how ya doin’s.” Instead of going to one of your locations and partners that you’ve painstakingly labored to make a focus of the church, they are going with an agency you don’t know, to a partner you don’t know, in a place you’re not focused on, and they’ll be doing a job you’re not sure they are good at.
If you’ve had this experience, you’re likely a little frustrated. Maybe you’re angry at them or at the missions agency that recruited them. It’s possible you’re even a little disappointed in yourself.
If you’ve been following Upstream for long, you know the value we place on being proactive in sending, and hopefully you’ve worked toward being more proactive in your church. You’ve dreamed of replicating the miraculous experience the church at Antioch had with sending Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13:1–3, that historic moment when the Holy Spirit told them to take the proactive step of sending two of the five best leaders in their church to do missions. You’ve worked hard to make it known that your church is a sending church, that you have a sending pipeline, and that you have particular, strategic partnerships that you want to connect your Sent Ones with. And now someone is coming to you with a fully baked missions plan that doesn’t include your church in the sending process.
How we react to this situation and what we learn from it moving forward is critical to becoming a healthy sending church.
Welcome to the club. All veteran missions leaders have had this experience. What do we do in this moment? Do we get frustrated with the person, angry with the missions agency, and disappointed in ourselves? I can’t imagine any of us want to respond in those ways, but it’s likely many of us have felt those emotions. How we react to this situation and what we learn from it moving forward is critical to becoming a healthy sending church. In this article, I want to give a few tips and resources for how to deal with this scenario in your church.
Give the Benefit of the Doubt and Look Inward
The concept of Sending Church, while not new, hasn’t been championed often in modern missions. I think we are seeing a revitalization of this concept within the universal church, but because it has not been a key part of the modern missions movement, many within American Christianity are unaware of the biblical basis for this idea. Therefore, we need to ask ourselves a few questions before we get frustrated with people who leave the church out of the sending process:
Have we clearly taught our people the biblical basis for being sent by their local church? If not, then we need to act generously towards those who have not involved their church in their sending. They may not have seen this as necessary if we have not clearly explained the concept to them.
Have we made our sending process, principles, and philosophies available to our people? Do they know how they would have been involved in the sending church process in the first place?
Even if your church has adopted the sending church model, chances are there is room for improvement in how you communicate it and implement it, so be generous to those who haven’t embraced this approach.
Communicate the Biblical Basis of Sending Church and Your Sending Pipeline
At this point, if you feel that you have not communicated well the biblical basis of global missions along with your sending pipeline principles, then you need to do so with these people. If your church does not already have these elements in place, then consider using these resources to get you started (both will be free for the month of April):
If these principles are already established, then help your aspiring missionaries understand these concepts. Consider if there are any particular areas of the sending church process that you would like them to be a part of.
*Our Foundations and Advanced Cohorts are a great place to start if you want to develop your sending pipeline. Checkout more at www.theupstreamcollective.org/cohorts.
What If They Aren’t Receptive?
Now that you’ve defined for them what a sending church is and what your vision for the church is, it is up to them whether or not they want to follow your church’s missions pathway. Do they want you to be their sending church, or do they simply want you to be a supporting church? Being their sending church would require that this couple be:
Open to considering locations or partners that your church is focusing on.
Willing to submit to some of your church’s processes of assessment and affirmation.
This may slow down their timeline and process a bit, but the opportunity for them to have a true sending church will pay dividends throughout their ministry. If they still are not receptive to the idea of being sent by their church, then it’s important to do a DTR (Define the Relationship).
The opportunity for them to have a true sending church will pay dividends throughout their ministry.
At my church, those who have been receptive to our sending process are going to receive more focus and funding. Conversely, those we have had to be reactive to and who are not interested in going through our sending process are going to receive less focus and funding. We place Sent Ones in tiers based on their alignment with our missions vision and strategy, as well as their receptivity to our input regarding their calling and ministry focus. (See our Focus & Funding Development document for more on this concept of tiered partnerships.) By organizing our partners according to their alignment with our vision and process, our church is able to be more focused and intentional in our missions efforts than we would be if we treated every partnership the same.
Instances like the one I’ve described are going to happen. If you’re in a church of significant size, then this is likely to happen often. You’ll never bat 1000 in how you respond in these situations, and there will always be room for improvement. To help you in this effort, we have listed a few Upstream resources below that are particularly helpful for navigating reactive sending and that also speak to developing a proactive sending culture. These resources are available for free to all Upstream Members and can be purchased individually by non-Members:
A Healthy Posture Towards the Local Church - A great resource to give to those who are interested in global missions or may become interested in global missions. It is written to potential Sent Ones to help them know how they should relate to their sending church. I like to give this article to anyone who shows remote interest in long-term missions through our church to help set expectations from the beginning.
Training Sent Ones to Relate to Their Sending Church - Focused on helping churches think of ways to cultivate a healthy posture in their Sent Ones.
Helping Missionaries Have Sent Identity - Walks sending churches through the process of helping their Sent Ones feel truly sent by their church.
Your job as a missions leader is to continue walking with your people in grace and truth.
Wherever your church is in this endeavor of becoming a church that proactively sends, your job as a missions leader is to continue walking with your people in grace and truth. Challenge them to understand the Biblical basis of a sending church, and be humble and honest about your shortcomings as your church seeks to grow in this process.
May God help us become mature churches that send well!
LET’S HEAR FROM YOU!
What experiences have you had reacting to members interested in going long-term?
What questions do you have about being a proactive sending church?
What other advice would you give to sending churches?
Mike Ironside is Missions Pastor at Cornerstone Church in Ames, Iowa. He has served on staff with Cornerstone since 2006 in varying roles–from college ministry to pastoral staff to being an overseas missionary sent from Cornerstone for two years. Mike is the Director of Cohorts and Content for the Upstream Collective. He also serves as Chairman of the Board for Campus to Campus, a missions organization dedicated to getting US college students connected to church-planting movements among college students worldwide.