For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?
And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” Romans 10:13-15
Too many cross-cultural gospel witnesses are not sent by their local church. Yet Paul, in Romans 10, is emphatic; “How are they to preach unless they are sent?” Sent-ness is an essential part of going. Why does this matter so much?
First off, to be sent is to be authorised. There is no authority without authorisation. Rife individualism, “God told me to do this and so I don’t care what anyone thinks” is poison to the global Church. Receiving nations often speak of the havoc wrought by individualistic, unaccountable Western missionaries. Sadly, Mission agencies have sometimes been willing vehicles to facilitate disgruntled pioneer types who are determined to fulfil their “calling.” Yet the local church misses out on the privilege of being part of the journey, the individual misses out on love and support, and the ensuing disciples miss out on future international family connection.
Christ clearly taught that in order to exercise authority, one must be under authority. Authority, in the Kingdom of God, is never without family, never without accountability. To have one’s local church, together with one’s apostolic network lovingly send one is to benefit from their prayers, from a spiritual flow of anointing and authorisation, as anointing and calling in the New Testament are corporate, communal, relational.
Secondly, to be sent is to be known, loved, held. Churches are families who care for one another, and where you are going you will need that care, that interest, that love. So many of the challenges which lie ahead, be they disappointment, loneliness, grief, loss, illness, betrayal, burnout are personal, emotional challenges. You will need to work these through with long-haul friends, with trusted shepherds, not just with strategists and overseers. You are going to need friends who are with you for the long journey, in success and failure, in going out and returning, through your various phases of life and ministry. Especially if you are single.
To be sent relationally by church family means that they will back you no matter what. If it doesn’t work out, they will love you unconditionally. If you fall into sin, they will lovingly and gently restore you. Such security should free you from shame, should mean you are able to talk openly about your hopes and struggles. They are not overly interested in your superstar evangelistic success. They want to be involved in your wedding, even in your funeral. They want to be with you throughout your life.
Finally, to be sent means that your mission is joined up with the mission of your church family. The church(es) that you plant will be part of the same family. How wonderful to expect such relational connections to develop; non-coercive, non-controlling, horizontal, mutual, love-drenched relationships. We found we had two families who knew and loved us, our sending church in London and the friends we led to Christ in Istanbul. And what an incredible thing to introduce those two families to each other!
I know it doesn’t always work out like this. I know sending churches are not perfect, and all relationships are not forever, and all love is not always as pure and unconditional as I am describing. But I know plenty of churches where it has been like this, and plenty of people who have known the joy of a stream of authority, love and connectivity from their local church for decades. A lifetime. To be sent is certainly the New Testament ideal. Not to be sent can create all sorts of problems, and, in the sovereign arrangement of God, it behoves us to believe that he has placed us within a certain church family according to his foreknowledge and wisdom. As far as possible, make it your aim to love, serve and trust your local church.
For sending churches:
Is your interest in your overseas members unconditional upon their “success” in ministry? How are you communicating your loving family care, not just strategic or tactical or financial support?
How is the partnership working our between you and the apostolic team responsible for your sent ones? Is there anything that needs re-evaluating?