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.