Few things in pastoral ministry will instill a deeper joy in you than the sheer thrill of sending missionaries out from your congregation.
As pastors, we live for moments like these, when we have the privilege of laying hands on qualified, called, set-apart gospel workers, praying for them fervently, celebrating them before the whole church, and giving sacrificially to support them on the journey.
These moments, however, are not sudden or spontaneous. Under the surface of these beautiful mountaintop moments where we commission new laborers for the harvest lies a foundation built by years—even decades—of discipleship, investment, prayer, and training.
Sending missionaries is a task that requires careful planning, unwavering support, and a deep understanding of God’s Word. Let’s explore six essential steps every pastor should take before commissioning new workers for the field to ensure they are well-prepared for the challenges of cross-cultural ministry.
1. Get To Know Your Missionary
Relationships start with knowing the other. While this may seem obvious, personal knowledge is the only basis for accountability.
Investing time in getting to know your potential missionaries, including their strengths, weaknesses, and anticipated struggles, is crucial. Only by knowing them well will we provide appropriate support and care.
We must look deeper than a person’s application or resume. Just as God chose King David because of his heart and not his external characteristics (1 Samuel 16:7), we should seek to discern the heart and gifting of those we send. This knowledge enables us to prepare missionaries to utilize their strengths best while developing strategies to address their weaknesses (which God can use—2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Accountability flows from knowledge, and as shepherds of the flock, we must deeply, personally know and understand our missionaries.
2. Love Your Missionary Well
When missionaries step into a cross-cultural environment, they leave behind their familiar support systems, comforts of home, and even routine. Our churches must extend genuine love and care through tangible acts of sacrificial service and send them on their way in a manner worthy of God (3 John 6).
We can demonstrate this love through simple gestures like sending cards, texts, and emails, but it should also involve more significant acts, such as visiting them or spending time together in prayer. We and our congregations must show hospitality to our sent workers without grumbling (1 Peter 4:9). By embodying Christ’s love, we provide the emotional and spiritual support our missionaries need to thrive amidst their challenges.
3. Equip Your Missionary Generously
Preparing missionaries for cross-cultural ministry necessitates equipping them with the necessary tools and skills. We must invest in their biblical and theological training to ensure they are grounded in God’s Word, which is sufficient and authoritative for the minister’s work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Additionally, supporting missionaries’ language acquisition and cultural understanding is vital for effective communication and contextualization. Language learning and cultural assimilation are long-term, multi-year endeavors that require patience and perseverance. We must build into our up-and-coming missionaries the resilience needed for becoming “all things” to those whom they are reaching for Christ (1 Corinthians 9:22). By investing generously in their spiritual formation, we ensure they are well-prepared for the demanding aspects of ministry, with the Word of Christ dwelling deeply in them (Colossians 3:16).
4. Test and Develop Your Missionary’s Character
In sending missionaries, we must heed the wise counsel, “Don’t let your competency take you where your character can’t keep you” (source unknown). While someone may possess exceptional preaching skills, it is essential to help them develop the character required for effective leadership (Titus 1:5-9).
It’s worth noting that the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 has entirely to do with one’s character and little to do with one’s ministry accomplishments on paper. Character development ensures missionaries have the integrity, humility, and resilience needed to withstand the trials of ministry. By cultivating strong character, we enable our missionaries to serve with authenticity and impact.
5. Give Your Missionary a Clear Understanding of the Church’s True Mission
Before addressing a missionary’s calling, it is crucial to provide them with a clear understanding of the collective calling of the church. In contemporary Christian culture, we often emphasize personal callings, leading people to seek a subjective sense of personal guidance or a mystical experience to confirm their specific mission. However, as pastors, we are responsible for guiding missionaries toward a biblical understanding of calling.
Scripture reveals that God has sent the church on a mission. Jesus, in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), entrusted the task of making disciples to the entire body of believers. The mission is not solely the responsibility of a few select individuals but rather a collective calling for all followers of Christ. This objective, external calling is rooted in God’s written Word and extends to every believer.
The Apostle Paul’s calling in Acts 13:1-3 is an excellent example of this objective calling. As the church in Antioch worshipped and fasted, the Holy Spirit spoke and set apart Paul and Barnabas for the work to which he had called them. This external calling came through the confirmation of the church community, recognizing and affirming the giftings and calling of these individuals. They did not base their calling on their personal aspirations or subjective feelings but on God’s clear leadership through the church. By focusing on the corporate calling of the church, we promote unity within the body of Christ, encourage collaboration among missionaries, and facilitate a shared vision for reaching the lost. This collective perspective reminds missionaries that their work is not isolated or self-centered but part of a broader movement of God’s people advancing his kingdom.
6. Create a Support Community to Care for Your Missionary’s Physical Needs
As we send missionaries, it is essential to establish a support community within our church or missions committee. This team ensures that the practical needs of our missionaries are met. Just as the Philippians provided for Paul’s needs (Philippians 4:18), our churches should be prepared and equipped to support our missionaries physically.
Every local church can benefit from mobilizing a missionary care team, composed of laypersons and leaders alike, that embraces the need to provide for sent workers. Those who give to sent workers will receive the same reward as that worker (Matthew 10:42)—indeed, this is a beautiful ministry!
We must recognize the significance of addressing their practical requirements before they embark on their mission. Doing so demonstrates our commitment to their well-being and enables them to focus on their ministry confidently.
Sending missionaries is a sacred endeavor that requires intentional preparation and support from pastors and churches. By following these six essential steps—getting to know the missionaries, loving them sacrificially, equipping them, building their character, emphasizing the mission of the church, and establishing a support community—we can ensure that our missionaries are well-equipped and cared for as they embark on their cross-cultural journeys.
May we faithfully send forth laborers, reflecting Christ’s love and obeying the Great Commission. Let’s pray for more laborers from our churches (Matthew 9:37-38)!
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Focus on the Family on June 14, 2023. Used with permission.