Setting Apart Specific People for the Work of Missions: The Role of the Local Church in Choosing and Sending Missionaries

How does your church choose and send missionaries? How does one go about becoming a missionary? Are there principles to guide this process? In most cases, an individual realizes that God is calling him to missions. He approaches a mission agency, which agrees to send him. Afterwards, he tells his church leaders (or the missions board) that God has called him to missions. Then the church accepts him as called, and prepares to send him to the mission field after he fulfills whatever requirements they have in place.

This is not necessarily a bad approach, but it does raise questions about the role of the local church in choosing and sending missionaries. It seems obvious that the local church needs to be intimately involved in the process, both in recognizing those who are gifted in the work of missions, and in seeking God for how they could be set apart for that work. Missions ought to be a major part of the life of the church.

There are two texts that are helpful in knowing how a church should choose and send out missionaries.

Matthew 9:37-38

Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

Acts 13:2-3

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.’ Then after fasting and praying, they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

The following points and questions are based on the two passages above, and are meant to help you think specifically about the role of your own church in choosing and sending missionaries.

  1. The church should recognize the serious need for laborers. Jesus made it clear to his disciples that the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. That remains true today. Do you see the need and are you moved by the lack of workers in the field? How so? Can you think of specific ways that show you see the need and are concerned?
  2. The church’s response to the need is earnest prayer. Jesus asked his disciples to respond in prayer to the Lord of the harvest by praying earnestly for him to send out laborers. Are you a church that is earnest in prayer to God to send out laborers? What are specific ways in which you are doing this, and what are some ways you think you could do it better? Who are you asking God to send out?
  3. The church should be ready to obey the leading of the Holy Spirit. When the church recognizes the need for laborers and prays earnestly, the Spirit will speak. That is what happened in the church in Antioch (Acts 13:2). Is the vision for missions in your church such that it is evident in your worship services regularly? Or is it something that is only evident once a year? In your worship of God, and your fasting and praying, do you listen to the Holy Spirit? If so, what is he saying to you concerning missions and the sending of missionaries?
  4. The church should be obedient to the instructions of the Spirit no matter how hard they may seem. The church in Antioch responded in obedience when they were asked to set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work of missions (Acts 13:3). How can this be applied in your own church? In your fasting and praying, what has the Spirit said and how have you responded? Who are specific people in your congregation that the Spirit has called to missions? Have you affirmed that call? Are you willing to respond in obedience if the Spirit instructs you to set apart the best in your congregation for the work of missions? Barnabas and Saul were prominent people in Antioch, but when the church fasted and prayed and knew it was the will of God, they responded in obedience. How can you follow this example in your own church?

In sum, the role of the local church in the choosing and sending of missionaries is very important. The decision to send a missionary should be one that is made and affirmed by the whole church. When the church recognizes that many in the world are perishing without the gospel, and that laborers are few, her response is to turn to God and pray for him to send out laborers. We do so knowing that the Holy Spirit will ask us to set apart people from within our own congregations for the work of the gospel. The role of the church is therefore to worship, fast, pray, and set apart as the Spirit leads and to commission those thus set apart. This makes the choosing and sending of a missionary more than an individual decision: it is corporate.

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