We would never say that out loud, but it takes little effort to let missions work fall by the wayside in our churches. Out of sight, out of mind. Moreover, missions can feel as though it is shoehorned into a church’s “real” ministry work. “After all,” we reason, “if Timbuktu were meant to be our priority, God wouldn’t have called us to plant a church in Cleveland.”
Luke recounts the story of a church that discovered the solution to this problem in Acts 13:1-4:
“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 13:1-4)
This passage has several important things to say to churches today.
God sometimes gifts a church in order to send.
Think of the most gifted people in your church. Teachers. Leaders. Pillars of your community. Reliable volunteers. Consistent tithers.
“There were in the church … prophets and teachers.” These individuals were highly gifted in expositing God’s truth and instructing the church in that truth.
Imagine a famous Bible teacher. Who is your favorite? Perhaps you heard them on the radio when you were young, or you read one of their books when you first became a Christian. Now, imagine they became a member of your church. How excited would you be? They could teach Sunday School. Endless pulpit supply. You could have long spiritual conversations over coffee.
Now, imagine that God called them from your church to the other side of the world.
It would be hard to give up, wouldn’t it?
That’s what God called this church to do—to send out their most gifted, honed, skilled teachers to preach Christ to the nations, trusting that God would raise up more leaders in their church.
Sending isn’t losing. It’s growing.
The church at Antioch didn’t argue with the Holy Spirit. They sent. Willingly.
Why? Because they understood that sending a missionary isn’t losing that missionary— rather, it is growing God’s work through their church.
There is also a reason why, after God spoke to them, they didn’t immediately stop their church service and send Paul and Barnabas off in a hurry. They were already “worshiping the Lord and fasting.” Then, after God spoke to them, they continued “fasting and praying.”
It was as though they said to themselves, “Gathering together in worship is important—so important that God has called us to send you to do what we are doing right now with completely new people.”
Every missionary should have a home church, and every home church should have a missionary.
Note also that the church didn’t just “send” a missionary; they laid their hands on them and sent them off. This is important.
They gathered around those they were sending. They showed support. They showed the kind of solidarity that missionaries need when they are sent.
Every missionary should have a local church that supports them, not only financially, but in prayer, solidarity, and encouragement. And every church should have a missionary that is taking what God is doing in the life of the local church and extending it out into new places.
Will you follow in Antioch’s footsteps? Pray about sending one such missionary from your own church to some of the world’s least-reached who have never heard the gospel. Offer God your willingness to send your best and brightest to a new place on behalf of the King. This is a prayer he is sure to honor.
Editor’s Note: This article is the first installment in seven-part SendOne devotional series.
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