Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series that has been adapted from a Free Download entitled, “Helping Missionaries Have Sent Identity.” You can find all three parts combined by downloading the resource, or find all three articles here.
In Parts 1 and 2 of this series, I discussed the importance of a sending church and what sending churches do that makes them effective at sending, supporting, and receiving their sent ones. Today, I want to focus on some practical application that will help your church embrace the sent identity.
Below is a list that can help your church start the journey in becoming a healthy sending church.
“As you proactively take these steps, intentionally invest in ongoing, reciprocal relationships with your missionary candidates, missionaries, and returning missionaries.”
Begin by writing out your church’s missions convictions.
What does your church believe about God’s mission? These convictions help you know for certain how your church should be uniquely involved in missions. It is the “why” behind all that you do. Missions convictions help you clarify your vision and set a strategy for sending. Teach them to your church, and especially your missionary candidates. It will help them know not just what it means to be sent, but to be sent from your church.
Mobilize your entire congregation to be involved.
Once you know your strategy and vision you can start mobilizing your church to be on mission. You can lead them to pray for the nations. You can enlist people to pray for your missionaries and partnerships. Develop and train members to serve in missionary development and discipleship. Mobilize people to serve in missionary care. Work with your field partners in sending out short-term teams to strategically help missionaries in their work. Find necessary financial resources to implement your strategies with ongoing missions giving and special missions offerings. All this shows your missionary candidates and missionaries that, truly, your church is the sender.
Disciple your congregation with the nations in mind.
Work with your church leadership to be sure discipleship includes making global disciples. Encourage your members to engage not just their neighborhood and city, but the world. Help your members learn and develop key missionary skills that are available to all believers. This will allow your missionary candidates to develop missionary identity while at your church, long before they arrive at the pre-field training of a missions organization.
Invest in and nurture those who are responding to a call to missions.
When the church invests their time and resources as it develops missionary candidates, it makes a significant difference in their sent identity. The candidates experience firsthand the role of the local church in sending. Then on the field, the missionaries remember how the church nurtured them during the process of calling, assessment, development, and commissioning. This forms a deep union between the church and the missionary, helping them to identify with each other long-term.
Send your missionaries off well.
When you commission your missionaries, plan a worship celebration that includes the leaders, the missionaries being sent out, and the congregation. Make it a moment to remember for everyone. I have seen some churches give a nice gift to each family member to help them remember their sending church—the body who sent them and who will receive them back someday.
Provide ongoing care for missionaries as they proclaim the gospel to the nations.
The church is in a unique position to care for their missionaries. They are covenant members of your church. To be pastored well from a distance is possible, but not without a lot of intentionality from both the senders and the sent ones. While they will be involved in a local church overseas, it will most likely look radically different from their home church. They will need prayer and care from their sending church.
When you provide this care you are enriching their time and experience overseas, while also giving much-needed spiritual accountability and shepherding. At some point in the future they will most likely return home and to your church. While their contract or agreement with their missions organization will end, they will remain members of the church. They will still be connected with your congregation. As you prepare them for service and care for them on the field, you are setting the stage for when they do return. You can help them re-enter the life and ministry of the church, the very church from which they were sent.
As you proactively take these steps, intentionally investing in ongoing, reciprocal relationships with your missionary candidates, missionaries, and returning missionaries, you will soon see the difference. Just as I began to notice a few years ago, you too will be delighted to ask the question, “Who sent you?” That’s because more and more often you will hear that sweet, biblical answer, “My church sent me.”
Larry is the co-founder and Executive Director of The Upstream Collective. He and his family have lived in Europe for nearly 20 years, where he has served in a variety of strategy and leadership roles. Prior to moving to Europe he was a church planter and pastor in the US. He is a co-author of Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission, The First 30 Daze: Practical Encouragement for Living Abroad Intentionally, and The MarketSpace: Essential Relationships Between the Sending Church, Marketplace Worker, and Missionary Team.