Making decisions in isolation is unhealthy. God’s mission is too big to be accomplished alone. He designed the local church community as the sending base for his mission. Note Acts 13:1-3:
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.
The Holy Spirit identified the first missionaries when the local church gathered. Just as biblical missions begets churches, the church is ordained to beget missionaries.
So how can we be sure the church is sending us, and we aren’t flying solo in our decision-making?
Talk to Your Pastor
“In an abundance of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14). We must seek counsel from trusted influences—spouse, family, mentors, and friends. But most of all, since we see in Acts 13 that the church is to commission those who go, any decision about missions should begin with a conversation with your local pastors and elders.
Unfortunately, the shepherds of God’s people are too often the last person to know when someone in their care is exploring missions. Since Scripture doesn’t give us the option of “sending” ourselves, talking to your pastor is critical. Consider these eight questions worth asking.
1. “May I share with you the burden the Lord has put on my heart recently?” Explain your current burden and circumstances. If you don’t have a deep relationship with your pastors and elders, start one.
2. “Can you pray for me?” Ask them to join you in a meaningful, systematic process of prayer. In Acts 13, the Holy Spirit worked through the prayer of church leaders. Much has changed since Acts was penned, but this element of body life hasn’t.
3. “Be honest—how am I doing?” Invite honest feedback on your life and ministry, and brace yourself for the truth. If your marriage is a wreck, your kids are in rebellion, or your ministry is seriously deficient, you may need a spiritual leader watching your life to say you’re not ready. There’s no shame in staying put where you are if your pastor determines you need to focus on your own discipleship, household, or local ministry obligations.
4. “What is the church’s philosophy of missions?” Don’t impose your view of missions on your pastor, but allow him to also shape yours. Your church may have a strategic focus on one part of the world or type of ministry. Hold your desires open-handedly and seek to submit to the godly direction set by your leaders. Don’t just talk; listen.
5. “What agencies or organizations do you most recommend?” Respect the systems and structures that exist in your church. Your pastors may have certain agencies they prefer or a pipeline for those contemplating cross-cultural ministry. You won’t have the relational equity to suggest changes to the process if you don’t first demonstrate a willingness to submit to it.
6. “Can we schedule another conversation?” Schedule multiple follow-up conversations. Your first conversation may plant a seed in your pastor’s mind about sending. Continue the conversation over time and see how God directs.
7. “Is there a way for me to share with the church?” Build a prayer team to guide you in your decision process. Seek opportunities to share your heart in public or in private with your church’s staff, elders, or missions committee. Don’t limit your conversations to your go-to friend at the church; have the right conversations with the right people or groups. Seek the voices most relevant and authoritative—not just those whom you know will rubber-stamp your ideas.
8. “Can you hold me accountable?” Be open to redirection. Your pastor may ask you to wait or consider other ministries in the church. Whether you agree with your pastor’s response or not, Scripture commands us both to use discernment and submit to our church’s leaders (Hebrews 13:17). Believe that God is directing you through your spiritual authorities.
As you consider these questions, perhaps you’re now thinking, “Well, this all assumes I’m a member of a church and know my pastors.”
Exactly. I’ll explore the importance of church membership to the missions decision process in the next installment.