We loved this guest post written by Bradley Bell in 2022. It was first published here on The Upstream Collective blog.We are grateful to be able to reproduce it here with his permission.
Being part of The Upstream Collective means learning from sending churches around the world. Honestly, it means I do a lot less consulting and a lot more listening. Here are ten signs of healthy sending I have noted over the past few months from great churches, large and small.
1. You’re aiming for a sending culture more than just a sending ministry.
The goal of healthy sending isn’t just partnering with a few good missionaries and church planters; it’s reorienting the entire vision of the church around a “sent identity.” That doesn’t mean just finding the best missions pastor money can buy; it means seeing the aim of every leader and every ministry as making fruitful disciples—normal people who are sent out with a heavenly mission.
‘The goal of healthy sending isn’t just partnering with a few good missionaries and church planters; it’s reorienting the entire vision of the church around a “sent identity.”
2. You’re providing a very clear process for growing fruitful disciples.
If you were asked, “How does your church make disciples?” could you give a clear and simple answer? What about the members of your church—what would they say? Some of the best sending churches out there don’t just have a process for sending missionaries, but their leaders and members can sketch on a napkin the steps involved in a person moving from being a lost one all the way to becoming a Sent One.
3. You’re attracting people who desire to live on mission.
Churches that genuinely care about sending well are rare, so when one pops up, the word gets around. And though a sending emphasis might come across as repelling to other churches, to Christians who have some sense of personal calling to God’s mission, it’s compelling. Healthy sending churches are seeing this trend of mission-oriented people being drawn to them, and they are learning how to respond to it appropriately.
4. You’re telling people, “Not yet.”
Taking discipleship seriously by seeking to send every Christian on mission doesn’t mean saying yes to anybody who wants to go anywhere. It often requires being the “bad guy” who says, “Thanks be to God for your desire to go, but you’re not yet ready.” Healthy sending involves the resoluteness to honestly assess potential missionaries and church planters and core team members, and also to walk with them through months—perhaps years—of growth and development.
5. You’re telling people, “Don’t wait.”
Paradoxically, another favorite phrase when it comes to healthy sending is “Don’t wait.” Yes, this seems like speaking from both sides of your mouth. But it’s not the kind of “Don’t wait” that urges people to plant a church or move overseas before they’re ready. Instead, it’s something like, “Don’t wait until you go on a mission trip to live like a missionary right here, right now.
6. You’re making local, domestic, and global mission complementary instead of competitive.
One trend I’m fascinated by is bringing local outreach, domestic church planting, and global missions under the common identity of “sending.” Local and global missions can easily antagonize one another (e.g., “Why go over there when there’s so much work to be done right here?” or “Why should anyone hear the gospel twice before everyone has heard it once?”). The subcultures of global missions and domestic church planting sometimes seem like conjoined twins in denial. Uniting them under the same vision, leaders, and processes keeps sending churches from compartmentalizing God’s mission. And it creates greater synergy.
7. You’re seeing church members maintain relationships with missionaries and church planters.
The New Testament is rich with examples of churches who remained in relationship with those who had been sent to another place on mission. These were two-way relationships that mutually encouraged gospel formation and mission advance. In churches where they’re laboring to maintain such relationships today, “sentness” is becoming a Christian norm.
“Healthy sending means being proactive in seeking God’s guidance for a strategic vision.”
8. You’re leading from conviction instead of reaction.
In many churches, mission zeal regularly expresses itself as advocating for a pet project. Instead of adhering to a clear, unified vision for mission, church members call their leaders to advance their favorite outreach: mission trips to Mexico, backyard Bible clubs, passing out tracts, etc. It’s not that any of these things are bad in themselves but that this approach requires leaders to be reactionary. Healthy sending means being proactive in seeking God’s guidance for a strategic vision. It includes saying no to good things in order to say yes to the best things.
9. You’re normalizing missions.
Healthy sending churches intentionally communicate God’s mission in really normal ways. It’s not that they lower its standard or importance; rather, they raise its importance by raising its accessibility. For example, when sending becomes part of a church’s weekly liturgy, it eventually becomes part of that church’s language. Or maybe you present your church with mission-related stories that come from everyday members in everyday situations rather than just from famous missionaries. Or maybe you teach your church that prayer is a legitimate means of participating and making a difference in missions.
10. You’re in over your head.
Feeling overwhelmed in sending is a sign that—as strange as it sounds—you might be healthy. Trying to send well and being in over your head seem to go hand in hand. Things like assessing someone’s readiness to live overseas is a heavy burden to bear, that is, if you actually want to do it effectively. Do you care about sending? Odds are, you’re already being stretched.
And you’re probably already ahead of most churches’ approach to missions.
Bradley is a missiologist, pastor, and trainer. He has been at Upstream since 2014, producing blog and social media content, authoring The Sending Church Defined and Receiving Sent Ones During Reentry: The Challenges of Returning “Home” and How Churches Can Help, and serving as a board member. He is also the lead pastor at Antioch Church. As a former global Sent One, Bradley reflects on missions and formation at Broken Missiology.
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