The mission partner lifecycle: Commission

Jamie Read

In Acts 13:1-3, the church in Antioch commission Saul and Barnabas for cross-cultural, gospel-centred ministry. Two things stand out about the church.

First, they serve. 

The word is commonly translated ‘worshipping’ (NIV, v2) but might more helpfully be understood as ‘serving’. The church’s primary service would have been the preaching and teaching of God’s word to the wider congregation - and their response in prayer and fasting. That is the context in which the Spirit confirms Barnabas and Saul’s appointment for service. 

Second, they send. 

More literally, the church let go of Saul and Barnabas. They release them. These two are eager to get on with the work and so the church do everything possible to aid their departure. The Holy Spirit graciously confirms what the church had sensed all along.

Picture a sending church this way: during a Sunday service the children go out to their teaching groups. First there is teaching followed by some instructions from the front. This is followed by a prayer for the children. Finally they are sent out to their groups elsewhere. In the case of the more eager ones, they are literally released!

Similarly a church centred around God’s word, responding in prayer and devotion, should also be a sending church, releasing people for the work of the gospel, far and near. 

What can sending churches do as they prepare to send out workers? 

1.    Start praying

  • Start praying for new workers. The mission belongs to God but he invites us to play our part in this great work. The Lord’s Prayer features in our regular gatherings, but so should the other Lord’s prayer: 'The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.' (Luke 10:2)
  • Start praying for specific mission partners, as they become known to you. Find out about their family and long term ministry plans and pray for them. Prayer connects what space and time divides. Start as you plan to go on, in prayer.
  • Start praying for specific needs. The weeks and months leading up to a mission partners’ departure are fraught with challenges. It’s one thing to move house, it’s another thing to move continents. It’s one thing to renew your passport, it’s another thing to apply for a visa!

2.    Keep teaching 

  • That the gospel is for all nations. Keeping a world vision in the local church means keeping half an eye on the story of God’s outgoing, nation-reaching mission from Genesis to Revelation, Sunday by Sunday, not just on world mission day and not just from passages like the Great Commission. 
  • That the gospel keeps giving. It can be a daunting prospect to commit to a mission partner when resources are tight. Without a firm grasp of the grace of giving seen in the Lord Jesus Christ, any good intentions will not be turned into action, as the Corinthians were warned. The Lord Jesus Christ always gives what he expects of his church, whether people, resources, or finances.
  • That the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. It is easy for Christians to look around them and draw the conclusion that the workers are plentiful and the harvest is small. The reality is that people will rarely volunteer for this mission. Jesus teaches that his disciples must be dispatched, thrust out! 
  • That mission engagement is rooted in discipleship. We see this in Antioch in Acts 13, but also in Luke’s Gospel. A crowd of 72 are sent out hot on the heels of three individuals who failed to grasp the cost of discipleship (9:57-10:3). It is no surprise that these events are placed together by Luke.

3.    Get organised 

  • Talk to the relevant mission organisation as soon as possible. Sending mission partners well requires organisation over months, if not years. The church, prospective mission partner and mission organisation need to talk – Who does what? When does it need to be done? What are our blind spots?
  • Take stock of what a mission partner needs to do prior to departure. There are few ‘to do lists’ as long as those belonging to overseas mission partners: health checks, budgets, raising funds, orientation, church visits, booking flights, applying for visas, arranging shipping, arranging short-term accommodation, organising farewell gatherings. The list goes on. What could you do for those planning to serve overseas? How can you organise those in your church to help with some of these things?
  • Put support structures in place and stick to them. A nominated ‘link person’ is essential but make sure the pastor isn’t too distant from the mission partner. These relationships can prove invaluable beyond the early stages during time of transition or difficulty. Be realistic about when you plan to write or speak and what you plan to write or speak about. What questions are pertinent to a single person as opposed to a married person? How will you show support for young children or teenagers? Remember that a send-off is over in a flash for a church, but is a series of events over months for the mission partner.
  • Make financial commitments and (as far as possible) stick with them. Paul urged the Corinthians to excel in their giving by honouring their pledges (2 Corinthians 8:6-15). The longer a mission partner is in the field, the harder it is to build new support during leaner times. Whether a church or individual giver, plan to give for the duration of the mission partner placement, not just for the first few years. 
  • Don’t underestimate the value of practical help. Whether babysitting, cleaning or hosting farewell gatherings. The emotional upheaval will ripple out to family members left behind too. Pray for those who will say goodbye, but not feature in the publicity or church interviews. 

Find out how you can support your mission partner whilst they're out in the field here or read this list of top tips. This blog post is part of a series about the mission partner lifecycle. Read also about the mission and recommission stages.