Building a Church’s Missionary Sending Skills

by Ellen Livingood

No one model will fit all. However, there are practical steps which build sending capacity.

The church is God’s instrument for sending missionaries!” has become a popular declaration. And a growing number of congregations, especially larger ones, are seriously wrestling with what sending should look like. Yet in reality, most missionaries are still being fielded in a way that looks very much like it has for the past century—with the agency and missionary doing most, if not all, of the heavy lifting. The lack of robust church sending involvement cripples the process in multiple ways.

For churches and agencies that want to maximize the strengths each bring to the task, what does a practical balance of sending responsibilities look like? No one model will fit all, not just because of the size of the church, but also because of varying philosophies, strategies, and personnel strengths. However, there are practical steps which build sending capacity.

Agencies are naturally poised to take the initiative to help churches develop their sending skills because they begin with a better understanding of what the job entails. Yet with limited staff, many agencies wonder how they can develop sending functions in hundreds of churches. The key is to start somewhere.

First, the task is not rocket science. The majority of churches have done little active sending because they have no idea what it involves or how to go about it. Given some basic tools and assistance, churches can step up to the plate and take on many sending functions. The best news? These sending tasks naturally tap into the passions and skills of dozens of lay people who populate our congregations.

Second, the natural place to introduce a new church-sending paradigm is with appointees. When considering a candidate, the essential question from agency to church has been, “Do you recommend this person?” Now it will have to broaden to include, “Are you willing to take on the responsibilities of the sending church? Can we work together to clarify what is involved?” Agencies will need to be prepared to follow up that dialog with some practical helps.

Third, agencies will need to amend missionaries’ priorities to include the mobilization of their churches to be effective senders. This requires a shift in perspective for both agency and workers. And it will require dedicating the time to give missionaries the needed tools and training, then serving as facilitator at critical junctures.

Churches, for their part, will need to accept that their role as senders carries serious responsibility. Leaders will need to invest time, set up systems, recruit the right people into strategic roles, and recognize that the task continues throughout the worker’s service. If a church is not willing to put feet to its sending, then church, agency, and prospective worker should soberly assess whether that church should be the sender. To provide some practical “starters,” here is a short list of sending skills, and for each, a single action step (of many that could be noted) for church and agency. For further input on this topic, participate in The Mission Exchange webinar on August 26, 2010, and utilize the Catalyst resources (see page 354).

Identifying Prospective Missionaries
The church has a front-row seat to recognize those God has gifted for cross-cultural service. It is sad that most churches don’t know the markers, much less have a system for recognizing them.

Sending Skill for Church: Build into every cross-cultural trip or local ministry a one-on-one debriefing on two questions: “How did God touch your heart with his passion for the nations?” and “What is your next step in fulfilling his goal to reach them?” The key is being prepared to evaluate and facilitate those next steps.

Agency Facilitation: Share with churches some markers of cross-cultural gifting and calling. Assist churches to identify practical next steps for individuals, especially in local cross-cultural opportunities and overseas mission service. Provide them with the career counseling tools your recruiters use.

Church-based Missionary Preparation
The local church is uniquely situated to mentor future cross-cultural workers in character development and ministry experience, as well as nurture them throughout the missionary preparation process.

Sending Skill for Church: Tap into the younger generation’s desire to grow in a community setting and via life-on-life mentoring. Develop a community of people willing to explore and journey together. Introduce this group to a wide variety of people from the mission world and encourage them to pursue relationships that click. Some of that community can be virtual.

Agency Facilitation: Study how successful churches are developing real community among prospective missionaries, then tell their stories. Connect church leaders to the new movement of city-wide networks designed to bring together future workers for mutual encouragement. Challenge your missionaries to ask every church: “Who might God be tapping for missions from this congregation? Can I spend some time hanging out with them?

Church/Missionary/Agency Partnership
If both church and agency are highly involved in fielding a worker, this “sending triangle” becomes crucial. Not only do the prospective worker and agency commit to each other, but the sending church and agency need to as well.

Sending Skill for Church: When your prospective missionary is choosing an agency, invest the time and money to make sure the organization is also a good fit for your church. Visit the headquarters and talk to multiple staff. Send one or two of your leaders to the agency and ask lots of questions about how they interface with churches. Describe hypothetical scenarios and ask the agency how they would involve the sending church in such a situation. Make sure you mean the same thing with the terms you use.

Agency Assistance: Invest time and resources to develop relationships with churches at this critical juncture of appointing a new worker. Meet face to face with church leaders to make sure expectations are clear. Invite them to send one or more leaders to join their candidate for a portion of your orientation program, sessions you specifically design to help develop a strong three-way partnership.

Building an Advocate Team
“What is everyone’s job is no one’s job” certainly applies to the task of sustaining an in-depth, two-way flow of information and service between missionary and sending church. An advocate team comprised of six to ten people can keep the missionary in the congregation’s focus and can serve as the church’s listening ear to the missionary, responding appropriately to needs they uncover.

Sending Skill for Church: Don’t let an advocate team be a good idea that never launches. Define what the team will do, make its development an early priority for every new worker, and establish a direct link from the mission leadership team to the advocate team. Missionaries may be responsible to recruit and develop their advocate teams, but the church must make sure they function well.

Agency Facilitation: Provide a description of advocate team responsibilities and structure, and share stories of how they function effectively in other churches. If your appointee coach can connect and work hand-in-hand with the advocate team, the service of both improves.

Overcome the Support-raising Barrier
It’s time to admit that the support-raising requirement has become a show stopper for too many prospective missionaries and sending churches. We must keep expanding alternate ways to fund workers while recognizing that the support-raising approach will not disappear any time soon, and we must make it work better.

Sending Skill for Church: At least one mission agency lays the responsibility for support raising on the advocate team rather than the missionary. While the workers present their ministry, the weight of the fundraising burden is carried by the team, and the discomfort with “begging for money” is dissipated as these third parties do the asking. Even if the responsibility is not completely assumed by the church or advocate team, some shared accountability is an organic part of the church’s sending process. Do you have lay people gifted and trained in marketing and sales? Get them involved.

Agency Facilitation: Many churches do not really understand missionary financial needs or systems; a growing number are questioning the bottom line. You will need to spend more time clarifying, be more flexible, and work with sending churches to explore financing alternatives. At the same time, you sit in a position to challenge and train the church to take an active role in support raising.

Owning the Work, Not Just the Worker
While it is healthy for a sending church to love and be committed to its workers, results can exponentially increase if the church also embraces the people and the task to which their missionary is committed.

Sending Skill for Church: Build a partnership with your missionary for achieving the goal you are sending them to accomplish. New workers usually need some field experience before they know the particulars of how they can utilize their church partner. From the beginning, educate the congregation that you have adopted the task together with your workers. Establish a flow of two-way communication that focuses on achieving your shared goals.

Agency Facilitation: Train and resource missionaries to mobilize their sending church to own the task with them. Many workers do not know how to structure a partnership for a win/win scenario or how to frame a conversation with church leaders to challenge them to consider real collaboration. Mentor in communication vehicles that expand passion for the goal.

Providing Quality Care
Missionaries sent by a church remain a part of that body, and under its spiritual and pastoral care. The sending church is also the natural source of a broad range of holding-the-ropes support that extends to workers’ children (even as adults) and parents.

Sending Skill for Church: Enlist your church counselor to provide “preventive” care for your missionaries. Increase the effectiveness of their counsel by connecting them to conferences and resources designed to help them understand the unique needs of those living and working in other cultures. Regularly send quality caregivers, including your pastor and spouse, to care for your missionaries and their families on site.

Agency Assistance: Educate church leaders to prioritize (and fund, as needed) various aspects of missionary care and care training such as: (a) missionary preparation and renewal programs offered by organizations such as Alongside, Center for Intercultural Training, LinkCare, Mission Training International, Breathe, etc., (b) counselor and pastoral care training offered by the Pastor to Missionaries Conference and others, and (c) regular vacation time (more frequent for those serving in high-stress situations).

New Sending Models
The church’s role in sending is being expanded and reshaped by new ministry models for the sender, the sent, and the global context. New churches and non-traditional congregations are engaging missions from fresh perspectives, and that includes their approach to sending. House churches and ethnic and multi-ethnic churches approach sending with different styles. How can agencies share their hard-earned expertise, yet still remain open to new paradigms coming from sending churches?

The mission community is only beginning to figure out the church’s role in sending business people and other professionals who don’t fall under the traditional “missionary” label. So who exactly qualifies as a “sent one”? What does it look like to send a non-resident missionary? How does effective sending facilitate the increasing number of transitions from short-term to mid-term, to long-term, to secondment, to return, to redeployment, etc.? How can agencies and churches recognize and reject deadly us/them attitudes in the sending process? How do both entities maintain consistency in care despite the inevitable disengagement (for whatever reason) of some who have been key links and caregivers?
The challenge of fielding missionaries in the twenty-first century puts church and agency in a steep learning curve. If we join forces more effectively, who knows what can happen?


Ellen Livingood is director of Catalyst Services, providing consulting, training, project development, and resources to help mission agencies better collaborate with local churches. Her background includes church partnership development with an agency and a church staff position as director of global outreach.  

EMQ, Vol. 46, No. 3, pp. 350-354. Copyright  © 2010 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.



The Mission Exchange provides a series of learning initiatives for church and mission leaders. If you have the ability to talk on the phone and access the Internet at the same time, you have all the technology you need to join a webinar! 2010 upcoming webinars include:

August 26: Building Churches’ Missionary Sending Skills, Ellen Livingood, director, Catalyst Services   

September 2: The State of the Gospel—2010, Jason Mandryk, Operation World

September 9: Church Missions Coaching: Unleashing the Missions Power and Potential of Local Churches, Matthew Ellison, chief ministry officer, 1615 

September 16: Communication, Technology, and Dispersed Teams, Pete Holzmann, founder, International Christian Technologists Association   

October 7: Raising the Bar in Short-term Missions: Applying the Standards of Excellence, Jenny Collins, assistant professor of intercultural studies, Taylor University  

Register for the webinars at: For those unable to participate, webinars are also recorded.


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