by Wally Phillips
Any church can have a worldwide ministry. This happens when one or more from that church are prepared and sent out to do in another culture what the church is doing locally. And the impact on the sending church is positive and healthy.
Any church can have a worldwide ministry. This happens when one or more from that church are prepared and sent out to do in another culture what the church is doing locally. And the impact on the sending church is positive and healthy. In fact, it’s almost addictive. You just can’t stop with one, but as interest is generated in the church for missions, it’s amazing how many begin to hear God’s call on their lives for mission service.
This is our experience at Grace Church (Edina, Minn.), where scores have gone overseas to disciple the nations. We minister today in India, Brazil, Japan, Uganda, the Philippines, and 26 other countries with a supported staff of more than 150 missionaries and nationals. And we are committed to training.
Potential candidates are assigned to a candidate counselor who helps guide him or her through the maze of educational choices, ministry experience, and personal growth until they are ready to go overseas. Missions classes are offered regularly, and books are assigned for study. Advanced candidates who are appointed by an agency may enter a nine-month missions internship where ministry skills are honed and advanced study is required.
A steady stream of missionaries, grown right at home in the local congregation, march out the doors of Grace Church to overseas and domestic ministries. We are stimulated and encouraged to know we have a worldwide ministry, and we are committed to equipping and sending disciplemakers to the unreached.
Other churches have begun similar programs, and the local church is beginning to take its rightful place as the trainer and sender of missionaries. Any church can provide the right kind of help a cross-cultural worker needs before he or she gets on the plane.
What are the components in a program of candidate preparation? What is required of a church that takes up the task of growing and sending missionaries?
1. Recruit. Jesus called the disciples he wanted to follow him, and Paul selected Timothy to assist in his missionary work. The initiative was clearly on the recruiter in selecting new workers in the book of Acts, rather than on a subjective sense of call that many wait for today.
When the Holy spirit called Saul and Barnabas in Acts 13, he spoke loudly enough for the other church leaders to hear. That made it easy to confirm the call and send the first missionaries off to Cyprus.
Is it not possible that the Holy Spirit might call missionaries through church leaders today? Can we not prayerfully consider whom God might send out of our church, and take the initiative in suggesting the idea of missions to some of our own people?
Many will continue to receive their calling directly from the Holy Spirit, but it’s also biblical for us to recruit workers for the task and challenge them with discipling the nations.
We pray for harvesters and allow the Spirit to point out specific people who can be tapped on the shoulder for service. They’re right there in our churches-gifted and committed people who would respond to loving direction and affirmation if it is given.
Our missionary force needs to double in the next decade and a half. These people must increasingly come from local churches that recruit gifted men and women for the most important task on earth.
2. Disciple. Any church can and should provide for the basic spiritual growth of its members. The potential candidate needs someone who will work him or her through the elementary principles of the Christian walk. He must learn how to pray, study the Word, share Christ effectively, overcome sin, walk by faith, live by the Spirit, fellowship with others, and grow in grace. Many of these areas can be covered in a programmed study course such as those published by NavPress or Churches Alive. Time must be invested in the candidate by a concerned person in the church who can encourage, challenge, instruct, and affirm him or her as they build these foundational blocks into a lifetime of ministry.
The church should also help the candidate to discover and use his or her spiritual gifts, and can provide many situations for working beside others in ministry. This will help them to appreciate people with differing gifts and to work successfully toward common goals. They will need to know this now or harmonious teamwork later on the field.
Woe to the church that sends out candidates who are not discipled and practicing the basics. A missionary who is not able to feed himself or herself spiritually and who does not know how to intercede in prayer is a likely candidate for failure. Unless they are well-taught and have put into practice the truths of Scripture, they will not succeed at teaching others on the field. The victorious, crucified life is the one that copes with the difficulties in a new culture and is able to pass it on to others.
Never assume your candidates have the basics. Be sure they are well-discipled and healthy spiritually before you send them overseas. Their maturity in Christ should be evident to all.
3. Educate. The local church is an educational unit that specializes in teaching God’s truth. The missionary candidate who is taking full advantage will grow and learn much from sermons, Bible lessons, special seminars, and study groups. Basic Bible information is offered by a healthy local church, and the candidate will learn much of what he needs before ever leaving his home town.
To supplement the regular program, some churches have reading lists for missions-carefully selected books the potential missionary will need to digest during training. Study courses in missions are also very helpful. Some churches offer their own, while others team up with neighboring congregations to pool their candidates into one class. The Institute for International Studies from the U.S. Center for World Mission has extension classes in many locations besides Pasadena now, and thousands are taking this excellent course.
Smart churches know they can’t do it all, and they send their candidates to Urbana, to missions conferences and seminars at other churches and colleges, and to mission agency orientation courses. Formal Bible education is essential, and the church can assist the candidate in selecting the right Bible college and/or seminary to provide the specialized training the church can’t. In-depth Bible study, anthropology, missiology, and linguistics are out of range for the local church, but colleges handle these necessary subjects well.
During formal education, the church will do well to maintain close contact with candidates, and make sure they are growing in Christian maturity and ministry skills, while expanding with knowledge.
4. Counsel. In 1 Peter 5, church leaders are encouraged to be overseers of the flock, and young people to be submissive to those who are older. Ideally, the church leaders want to care for candidates and advise them. The submissive candidates are willing and eager to accept the counsel.
In our experience, a healthy church produces people who listen to their elders and are responsive to direction. "-And in the matter of training for missions, advice is really needed.
Most potential missionaries don’t know quite how to proceed. When the knowledgeable church leader lovingly provides a road map, the candidate is usually eager to follow it. Each person is different and every road map is unique, but milestones can be set up for several years ahead. Of course, there are many changes and flexibility is the key, but a good candidate counselor will plan with his disciple the steps he should take to get where he wants to go.
The relationship, however, is not one where the elder makes all the choices for the younger, and dictates a course of action. Together, options are explored for education, ministry, and personal growth, and the candidate often has good ideas to add. They agree together on a course of action, and the church leader becomes the candidate’s encourager and touchstone for accountability.
We’ve seen this work very well over several years, and have yet to find the candidate who bristles at the idea of someone getting involved in helping him or her to make good decisions for getting ready for the field. A serious candidate welcomes counsel.
5. Assign. Education and discipleship are two important areas for the candidate, but ministry skills is the third main concern on which the local church must focus. Faithful ministry at home is essential to faithful ministry on the mission field. We have discovered that those who can’t or won’t do effective ministry here will not improve by exchanging cultures.
The local church needs to assign the candidate ministry appropriate to his stage of development. This starts small, such as choir and physical work, and advances to teaching, administrative assignments, discipling, and public preaching. Accountability and oversight must be built into each ministry experience so that growth and correction can occur.
When candidates are well along in their education, when their lives demonstrates spiritual maturity, and when ministry skills are coming along well, the church might carve out an internship to fine-tune these three areas. We provide a nine-month, full-time internship at Grace complete with cross-cultural ministry, extensive study, and personal counseling. Those we receive are ones who are just about ready to go to the field, but who could benefit from an in-depth internship with the church who will send them out. Using the excellent resources of Missionary Internship in Farmington, Michigan, a church can create a good internship in the home church while sending the candidate to MI for three two-week training segments.
Short-term missionary service is a good way to confirm God’s call to cross-cultural ministry, and is best assigned for one to two years. This can be arranged through a responsible agency, or with an experienced missionary on the field.
6. Evaluate. At every stage of development, the local church can offer prayerful consideration and evaluation. Is the candidate consistently in the Word? Does he or she share their faith? Are they gifted to do the job? Has their ministry been faithful and effective? Do they act responsibly and maturely in difficult situations? Is their family life sound?
When the church sends them out, it is saying they are equipped, called, and ready. It is better to check the readiness of the candidate at every stage than to assume too much and be sorry.
Careful checking and positive reporting should be done and given for each ministry the candidate undertakes. At home, the church can see how they perform. When away at college, the church can stay in contact with the candidate’s advisor and ministry director. Field experiences should be accompanied by evaluative reports from those responsible for the candidate.
We must send only those prepared to go, and not be afraid to slow down those not ready for the next step. In some cases, we have to prayerfully and lovingly suggest alternate vocations for those who should not go to the mission field at all.
7. Send. When all the steps are completed, and the church’s level of confidence is sufficient, the time has arrived to send the candidate out. It is the Holy Spirit who calls the candidate and the church who confirms the call. To confirm the call requires a careful preparation program along with prayerful listening to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s job is to let the church leaders know when the candidate is ready, and to release the church to send him or her out. Of course, the Spirit will whisper to us all along the path of preparation, and it will be no surprise to anyone when the final release is given.
Sending implies several responsibilities which we glean from Acts 13 and 14. There is laying on of hands to commission the missionary to service. Included are prayer, fasting, and support for the venture. Financial backing is implied when it is needed. At term’s end, reporting back to the church completes the biblical pattern. The candidate remains a loved member of the local body, and continues to receive the nurture and encouragement on the field and while home on furlough.
What a joyous and rich experience it is to prepare people for mission service. The tears come easily at those frequent commissioning services in our church when one of our own is thrust forth to the mission field. They are not just tears of sorrow at the parting, but tears of joy at the knowledge that we had a part in preparing him or her for ministry. They may not be quite "fully equipped for every good work," but they are pretty far along and we can send them out with confidence.
Woody Phillips is missions pastor of Grace Church in metropolitan Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn. He supervises the church’s $1 million missions budget, trains new missionaries, and promotes missions education and interest. Over 50 young people are in training for missions. Previously he was a missionary in Chile.
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