Without a doubt, one of the greatest privileges and one of the most awesome responsibilities that God can entrust to a local congregation is to be the sending church for a missionary called to the mission field by the Holy Spirit. Biblically speaking, it is a more intimate fulfillment of the Great Commission. It is one thing to give your mission dollars; it is more difficult to give your children. Nevertheless, that ought to be the goal of every New Testament Baptist Church.
Of course, we know that Paul and Barnabas were the very first missionaries and that the church of Antioch was the first sending church. Therefore, Acts 13:1-4 narrates for us the beginning of what we now consider the “modern missionary movement.” Let’s notice several principles that are found in this passage.
The Holy Spirit Calls
As one studies Acts 13, it is evident that the principal character in this passage is the Person of the Holy Spirit. Someone has aptly called Him the “Commander and Chief of Missions.” As the church at Antioch maintained a spirit of prayer, the Holy Ghost began a work of missions in the heart of that congregation that has become the foundation of our modern missionary movement. Let us remember first of all that in Acts 13 it was with the Holy Spirit that missions originated. It was not an Antiochan or Pauline concept. The idea to reach the world with the Gospel began in the heart of God and was passed on to man by the conviction and direction of the Holy Spirit. We must never take credit for something that He is doing.
Secondly and equally important is the fact that the Holy Spirit continues to call men to the mission field. Many times, as seen here in Acts 13, He calls the best and brightest. Honestly, it can be difficult for a church to “lose” their most faithful members to the mission field, but just as a sovereign God was able to fill the spiritual gap on the foreign field, He is able to raise up additional laborers to take their places. Thank God for the fact that the calling and directing ministry of the Holy Spirit did not cease with the passing of the apostles.
The Local Church
Though the Holy Spirit is the Commander and Chief of missions, we must never minimize the importance and the place of the local church. Apart from the Holy Spirit, no other person or organization ought to have as much influence over the direction and decisions of the missionary as his local sending church. We here at Baptist International Missions, Inc., believe in the importance of the sending church.
Frequently, Dr. Don Sisk makes this statement: “Every missionary with BIMI has a sending church. The mission is not the sending agency. We help the missionary and the church with many logistical needs; however, the sending church has a great opportunity and a great responsibility.”
Biblically, the sending church has several responsibilities that are outlined in Acts 13. The first responsibility has to do with recognition. In Acts 13:2 the Holy Spirit commanded the church to separate Barnabas and Saul. The idea conveyed is that the church leaders must be in tune with the Holy Spirit in order to recognize when God’s hand has been placed upon a certain individual to perform a certain task. How is that done? By prayer and fasting! I wonder what would have happened had not the church at Antioch been seeking God’s power and direction through prayer and fasting? Would they have recognized the fact that God had a special ministry for Paul and Barnabas? Would God have had to look elsewhere for His first missionaries? How many missionaries today are not being sent to the field because their local church through prayer and fasting has not recognized the hand of God that has been placed upon their lives?
Let us take seriously the command of Matthew 9:38 and pray that God would raise up missionaries for the whitened harvest fields from our own congregation.
The second principle demonstrated in Acts 13 is one of identification. Verse 3 mentions that the leaders of the church “laid their hands on them.” Throughout Scripture the idea of the laying on of hands has symbolized identification.
• Numbers 8:10 - The nation of Israel identified with the priestly ministry of the Levites.
• Deuteronomy 34:9 - Moses and Israel identified with Joshua as the future leader of the nation.
• Acts 6:6 - The apostles identified with the ministry of the new deacons.
• I Tim 4:14 - The church leadership identified themselves with Timothy’s call to the ministry.
In each of these cases those that laid their hands upon God’s servant recognized, identified and supported the mission and the ministry to which God had called him.
This is what we find taking place in Acts 13. After having recognized the fact that God had a very special task for Paul and Barnabas to perform, the Antioch Church identified themselves with their ministry. From henceforth, they would be bonded and united together in the task of sending the Gospel to the regions beyond.
The third principle mentioned in Acts 13 is that of releasing. Verse 3 mentions that after the church at Antioch recognized God’s call upon their lives and identified themselves with their ministry, that they sent them away or released them from local church responsibilities. Tragically, many a deputation missionary has struggled because of having to continue his ministries within the local church while trying to raise the necessary support. The Antioch church allowed Paul and Barnabas to completely dedicate themselves to the ministry to which God had called them.
As believers and members of New Testament Baptist churches we have a tremendous responsibility to reach our generation with the message of redemption. I do not believe that the Great Commission is an impossibility! God has given us all of the personnel and the resources needed. Let us as pastors and leaders pray fervently that laborers will be sent out from our midst to reach the whitened harvest field of the world, and let us unite together with them so that they will be successful in their missionary endeavor!
Often, we here at Baptist International Missions, Inc., are asked, “What are the responsibilities of the sending church?” Of course, we know that every church should pray for and, in every way possible, take care of their missionaries. But, practically, how can that be done?
Let me list some valuable things that some sending churches are doing that other churches could do for their missionaries:
1. Provide the funds needed to take a survey trip to the field of their calling.
2. Provide for the expenses of candidate school.
3. Provide for the equipment needed to begin deputation:
• Prayer cards
• Letterhead and stationary
• Display board
• Slide projector and presentation
4. Provide housing while they are on deputation.
5. Provide phone services. This is one of the most expensive areas of the missionary’s deputation. If the sending church would allow their missionary to use the church phone, it would save the missionary literally hundreds of dollars.
6. Provide an office at the church. This would build more of a sense of accountability in the missionary to the sending church.
7. Support their own missionaries substantially more than they would missionaries from outside their church.
8. Allow the missionaries to be covered by their church staff insurance while on deputation.
9. Provide a vehicle or an automobile maintenance program.
10. Contact other pastors and urge them to allow the missionaries to come to their churches for the purpose of deputation.
11. Maintain regular contact with the missionary on deputation.
These are just a few suggestions. But, let us remember that statistically, the missionaries that have the greatest success in their deputation ministry and ultimately on the field are the ones that have the support and help of their sending church. Perhaps no church could do all of these, but if a sending church would pray and do as much for the missionary as it possibly can, it would certainly speed deputation.