I have learned a lot in the last year about the importance of partnership with the Church when it comes to missions. When Christ gave the Great Commission, he gave it as a group command. We are all responsible for mission is some way. We are all witnesses.
I don’t believe we are all called to leave, but we are all called to participate. Partnership with my sending church is a very important principle to me. But what does a partnership with the church look like when it comes to missions? To answer that question, I want to look at a series of texts from scripture that gives a picture of what Paul’s partnership looked like in his mission to spread the Gospel. In this first article, I will begin with Paul’s first mission trip (Acts 13-14:28).
“Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of 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.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:1–3 ESV)
“And when they [Paul and Barnabas] had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia, and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they remained no little time with the disciples.” (Acts 14:25–28 ESV)
There are definitely principles we can learn about how to carry out missions itself from the whole of the text, but looking at these two excerpts I want to focus on several characteristics about the partnership between sending churches and missionaries.
“We are all responsible for mission is some way…I don’t believe we are all called to leave, but we are all called to participate.”
The first thing I want to point out is that Paul and Barnabas were already active in the church at Antioch. They, along with the leaders and other members of the church, were committed to meeting together in worship. I don’t mean to imply that churches can’t or should not support missionaries from outside their congregation. I am simply pointing out that in this case, the sending church and the missionaries they were to support were in community with one another. This kind of partnership will necessarily be different than a partnership with missionaries who are not part of the community and under the spiritual authority of the elders in your church.
The church at Antioch was dedicated to worship, prayer, and fasting. It is out of this context of seeking God that they come to hear the Holy Spirit’s call to set apart Paul and Barnabas for missions. Worship is a key aspect of missions because it is in drawing near to God that we are able to discern his will and are given the strength to do the tasks to which he calls us. Worship needs to be a primary focus because that is our purpose as the Body of Christ, but out of that purpose will come a desire to see others worship our great God. A church dedicated to worshiping God is a church dedicated to missions. As Pastor John Piper states in his book Let the Nations be Glad, “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate.”
“A church dedicated to worshiping God is a church dedicated to missions. … ‘Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate.’”
Paul and Barnabas were valuable members of the congregation. Barnabas (his real name was Joseph) was a great encouragement to the congregation (Acts 4:36) and he was well respected and had great credibility with the people (Acts 9:27). Paul was likewise a valuable member. It would have been tempting for the congregation to say, “We want to keep these guys here. We need them!” Yet this church affirmed God’s call on their brothers, covered them in prayer, and sent them out to do the work God had called them to do. Look at the great effect of the span of Paul’s ministry from this point forward. Because of this church’s willingness to send out Paul (and Barnabas) “all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” (Acts 19:10 ESV) What would have happened if this church had failed to sacrifice in order to do the work God had called them and their missionary to do?
“It would have been tempting for the congregation to say, “We want to keep these guys here. We need them!”…What would have happened if this church had failed to sacrifice in order to do the work God had called them and their missionary to do?”
This goes hand in hand with the sacrifices that Paul and Barnabas’ church had made. They were not losing valuable members of their congregation to insignificant matters. They “set apart …Barnabas and Saul for the work to which [God had] called them.” They had sought and heard from the Lord through his Holy Spirit, and they were committed to the mission to which they had been called. Paul and Barnabas were to go, the church was to support and send them. This act of obedience shows great faith because their commitment demonstrated that they believed God would work through their congregation.
It’s worth noting that Paul and Barnabas were sent under the authority of their elders and leaders. They did not abandon the congregation; the congregation sent them. Paul and Barnabas were also committed to the congregation. When they returned from their first mission trip they “spent no little time with the disciples” investing in and worshipping with their sending church. Missions takes committed partners, both senders and sent ones.
“Missions takes committed partners, both senders and sent ones.”
This was not Paul and Barnabas’ mission; it was the church’s mission. When the sent ones returned to their sending church they “gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them.” These people owned the mission. I don’t mean to say that they were the initiators. God spoke to the leaders of this congregation and had set Paul and Barnabas aside for the work of missions. But it was not just the leaders who were invested, it was the whole church. That’s why they came to hear. The whole church gathered. They had invested in this two sent ones and wanted to hear about the work of God and the fruit of their investment.
A Sending Church
There are other aspects of what a sending church looks like, but what we learn from these passages is that a sending church means engaging in a partnership. It is a partnership based on community and worship. It is a partnership characterized by sacrifice, commitment, and ownership. It is my hope that those of you who read this would be encouraged to embrace this kind of worship-based, mission-minded partnership when it comes to missions.