What is a “Sending Church”?
What constitutes a sending church? Is a sending church the body of Christians who commit to support and care for a misionary? Or would it be the core of Christians from one location that work to train, select and build into the potential missionary all the skills and experience necessary to serve in a foriegn context? Is it the church that takes the largest portion of the missionary’s financial support?
Maybe I’m far off with those first choices. How about these? Is a sending church the church the people who select and cooperate with a mission agency? Is a sending church the group of people where the missionary cut her eye teeth in ministry? Oh, and what of the spiritual qualifications that must be visible and proven: who critiques that? On a different notet, you may think of the clarity of God’s call in the person’s life. And equally high on the list, there’s the testimony and the quality of the missionary.
As you can see, the spectrum is broad when considering the question of what or who is a sending church. Those are favorite topics of college missions professors and college students alike. If I were to try to trim down that spectrum, I would have to put as a top priority the following:
- Sending churches know the genuine cost of being a missionary. There’s no room for romanticism her. What will he or she face on the mission field?
- Sending churches are not a “rubber stamp” for the work of selecting, preparing, screening and testing the missionary call. The sending church is the singlemost important factor in whether or not a person or a family is ready to serve as a career missionary.
- Sending churches have looked long and hard at the personal qualifications of the person or family to send out. Let’s call this the “in your face” aspect of ascertaining gifts and skills, both ministerial, personal and cross-cultural.
- Sending churches have completed their home work of checking for growth and maturity in the person’s life, especially their determined purpose for wanting to go into career service.
- Finally a sending church in all honesty can say that the person they want to send into missionary ministry is of the same caliber and fruitfulness that the church would expect of one of it’s pastors. No short cuts on this point!
All of the above issues grow out of the steps that come before a missionary leaves for the field or for active ministry (in the homeland or outside of it). So, in some senses, a sending church ought to be recognizable well in advance of a missionary being leaving for the ministry.
But, the story doesn’t stop there. A sending church, or to use another concept, a missionary-minded church, incontrast to a church that gives and prays for missionaries, is one that knows the value of welcoming back a missionary after his or her term of service. The sending church is ready and concerned about what happens when its missionaries return home for their “R & R”, because a missionary’s return is just as much a real matter as his/her departure.
What it boils down to is that those churches that have the joy of sending a missionary out to serve, will also prepare themselves, the church family and the church leadership, to know how to receive and re-integrate the missionary’s family back into life and ministry in their homeland.
A good example of this was the time when our sending church’s pastoral staff made it possible for my wife and I to attend a pastoral enrichment seminar along with the pastors and their wives. We spend three days in a wonderful conference, stayed in a pleasant hotel and interacted on a personal level with the pastoral team and their wives. That set the tone for a spirit of cooperation in our home ministry for the year we were in the USA. During that time, our home church plugged us into a few ministries, as we were able, and on the flip side, received the benefit of an additional pastor on staff while we were there.
Sending churches rightly spend many months and weeks thinking about how to enable a missionary to arrive on the mission field. But don’t stop there! A truly mission-minded, sending or home church will work to be ready to receive their missionaries back from their field of ministry. In many ways this is a litmus test of a true sending church.
David L. Rogers, M.A. Min.