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Reflections on Missionary Sending

In my last post I outlined the missionary-sending initiatives of the Antioch Church and observed the extensive involvement in the missionary enterprise by this “sending church.” Today I would like to share some pastoral observations regarding missions based on the narrative of Paul’s first missionary journey and his relationship with the Antioch Church.

First –  God frequently raises up missionaries from those who are already in effective ministry in the local church.

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. (Act 11:25-26 NIV)

Effective missionaries take gifts and experiences that have already been learned and developed in active ministry in the local church to the field with them. It may seem unwise to send the most gifted members of a church because of the perceived loss of available people who are able to carry on effective ministry. But for the sake of the mission, God sends the best. He will always replace those he calls out of a church and into missionary ministry.

Second – The missionary enterprise of a sending church originates as a response to the direction and leading of the Holy Spirit.

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (Act 13:2 NIV)

How often do we embark on an outreach project without first worshipping God and praying about the project? It was Henry Blackaby who reminded us that it is always best to join God where he is already at work. God always goes before us and then calls us to join him.

Third  – The missionary enterprise involves the body of Christ as a whole, not just the “Missions Committee.”

So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. (Act 13:3 NIV)

So the men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter. The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message. (Act 15:30-31 NIV)

This is a principle that deserves careful consideration. It is a fortunate local church that has a Missions Committee that intentionally includes the entire body in the missions program.

Fourth – Missionaries are accountable to the sending church.

From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. (Act 14:26-27)

It seems so harsh to hold missionaries accountable for their ministry, but let’s consider the truth. Life a thousand miles away from the home church gives a missionary the opportunity for a lifestyle that is less than honoring to the Lord and less than honoring to the sending church. Regular reports with specific expectations should be standard operating procedure for Missions Committees, with the very real possibility of discontinuing support if not complied with, in favor of another missionary who is able to demonstrate faithfulness to his call and effectiveness in producing fruit.

Fifth – The sending church has a responsibility to support their missionaries even to the point of being their advocate in the event of controversy.

So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent them on their way, (Act 15:2-3 NIV)

Notice that the Antioch Church did not let Paul and Barnabas fight their battle with the legalizers alone. They joined in and acted as a body!! The stakes were so high that the future of their church and the Church as a whole demanded that they join Paul and Barnabas. How often do we simply send a card to our missionaries, who are facing serious issues, with the body as a whole left out of the process. I don’t how this looks in every situation, but if we consider that the missionaries are an extension of the sending church, it will be impossible to allow them to struggle alone.

Sixth – Missionaries remain involved in the ministry of the local church, even if they are not on an active missionary journey.

But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord. (Act 15:35 NIV)

I know that there needs to be certain time allotted to missionaries on home assignment for support-raising and refreshment. But ministry is a calling and God’s choicest servants are a resource that must not be wasted. Let’s get our missionaries involved in the ministry while they are home.

So, in my opinion, a sending church does more than say a prayer as a missionary leaves for the field. I challenge you to consider how you and your Missions Committee might learn from the example of the Antioch Church in the continuation of the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

Acts, Part 4

A search for books on how to “do church” will reveal many titles – Simple Church, Dangerous Church, Vintage Church, Deep Church, just to name a few. On my last post I recounted how the church at Antioch was a church that was formed because of the testimony to the Gospel by believers who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen. This was a dynamic community of believers, full of the Spirit and committed to the Word of God taught by gifted teachers and leaders. If I were to write a book about how this group “did church” I would give it the title, “Sending Church.”

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus.  (Act 13:1-4 NIV)

Thus, the first of three missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul and his team was inaugurated. They went first to Cyprus because that was the home town of Barnabas. From there they went to the mainland of what is now Turkey, where they visited Perga in Pamphylia, Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lustra and Derbe. Paul’s pattern was to  begin preaching in the synagogue, if there was one, because of his deep concern for his fellow Jews and also because they were recipients of the covenant from God and, as such, they has a right to hear the fully-revealed Gospel first. Yet this practice allowed him to fulfill his commission, which was to take the Gospel to Gentiles (Acts 9:15), as one of the common characteristics of synagogues was the presence of Gentile God-fearers–non-Jews who had an interest in Judaism. These Gentiles were very receptive to the Gospel and often responded enthusiastically, as did many Jews, when the offer of salvation through faith in Jesus was given.

But the non-responsive Jews regarded Paul’s message as a threat, indeed an affront to the Jewish heritage of following the Law of Moses, so they resisted, often with violence against Paul and his team. Consequently, Paul simply moved to another location where Gentiles were free to attend his teaching. Eventually, he moved on to the next town and conducted his ministry in the same pattern: preach in the synagogue, success among the Gentile God-fearers and some Jews, Jewish hostility, withdrawal from the synagogue, more success among the Gentiles, more resistance and persecution, flight from one city and journey to another.

Most of the persecution came from unbelieving Jews, not Roman sources during this period because the Roman government regarded Christianity a sect of Judaism, which was a legal religion. It was only later, when it became apparent that Christianity was distinct from Judaism, that Christianity was banned by Rome. However, among the early church was a segment of Jewish leaders who accepted Jesus as Messiah, but who also insisted that converts must not only put their faith in Jesus but also abide by the Law of Moses. We might call these teachers ‘legalizers” (the theological term is Judaizers, signifying that their legalism revolved around the Law of Moses). Their view was that faith in Jesus was not enough for salvation. Adherence to the Law, specifically the rite of circumcision, was also necessary. They gave Paul no little amount of trouble as the infant Church was spreading. The problem grew so strong that following their first journey, when Paul and his team reported to the Antioch Church (their sending church), a fundamental dispute arose that needed official Apostolic resolution. Therefore, the church initiated a plan to support Paul and his team by sending them to Jerusalem to meet with the leaders of the “mother church”. Acts 15 records the first Council that convened to settle church disputes:

Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. (Act 15:1-2 NIV)

The deliberation of this council resulted in the affirmation of Paul’s ministry among the Gentiles and of the essential message of the Gospel of Grace, that faith in Jesus alone is sufficient for salvation.

After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” (Act 15:7-11 NIV)

This conclusion seemed good to everyone present, so they drafted a letter that outlined their decision and sent it back to Antioch (Acts 15:30-31). Upon receiving the letter and hearing the report from Paul and his team, the church rejoiced and was strengthened in its resolve to spread the Gospel of Grace.

It is a wonderful experience for a local church to send members of their fellowship on missionary ventures. Our own local church has had that privilege, both in sending career missionaries to vocational ministry as well as several short-term teams on missionary projects. I would like to think that we might be considered a sending church. But the story of Paul’s first missionary journey and of the consequential attention required by his sending church, brings up a very important point that I would like to discuss in my next post. As “romantic” as it is to be a sending church, there is also great responsibility and great accountability not only by the missionary(s) but also by the church. Being a sending church involves more than sending.

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