I’m a dad of teenagers, which means there are some massive moments just around the corner. One day soon, my wife and I will send our firstborn off to college, trade school, or wherever else the Lord may send him. And soon after that, we may find ourselves giving a daughter away in marriage. Not to mention the first time they drive away in the car alone or move back to the States. I can’t even think about when we have an empty (albeit quiet) nest! I should stop now before my emotions catch up with me.
As Christian parents, we prepare our children for transitions. We do so through countless hours in Sunday worship services (even if sometimes it was by force!). We spend hundreds of family meals together where we laugh, talk, and read the Bible. We (hopefully) model the gospel of Christ through repentance and faith, trusting that even in our failures the gospel is on display. We cry out to God on their behalf. We plead for wisdom and knowledge. We would be fools not to prepare our kids to launch from our life at home to life in college, marriage, and beyond.
It would be equally foolish to remain distant or uninterested once our children make a massive transition.
“Son, I’m sorry you failed your first semester of college, but you are on your own now. You’ll get by!”
“Sweet Pea, it hurts us to hear that you and your new husband are struggling in the first year of your marriage, but remember, you have to ‘leave and cleave.’”
This is more than ridiculous; it’s irresponsible. Parents are senders, and our children will be forever anchored to us no matter the storms that rage. Sure, our responsibilities shift with time, but the burden of care is never removed.
Just as parents must equip and send their children, so must sending churches prepare and look after their missionaries—yes, even after they’re gone.
The First Sender
The church of Antioch formed when persecuted Christians fled Jerusalem (Acts 8:1). It’s the first sending church we see in the Bible. They were glad to identify as followers of Jesus (Acts 11:25–26), faithfully receiving and expounding the word of God, but they were also a church familiar with sacrifice.
Before Sending: Model Faithfulness and Sacrifice
Antioch was diverse in both leadership and membership (Acts 11:20–21; 13:1). Before Barnabas and Paul ever showed up, they modeled faithfulness. Despite their differences in culture and life experience (Acts 13:1), they preached the gospel, worshipped, and fasted corporately with unity and joy (Acts 11:20; 13:2). Antioch eventually showed their faithfulness by sending their primary teachers to the mission field in faithful obedience to the Spirit’s direction.
Sending churches, model present-day faithfulness to your future missionaries. Preach the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Be known as convictional, Bible-believing Christians who are marked by love and grace.
Before churches send missionaries, they should gladly sacrifice their time to train them, challenge them, and listen to them. Equip your sent ones with the theology and practical skills they will need for sustainable ministry. Challenge your sent ones when you notice naïve idealism, a prideful posture, or a fearful lack of faith. And please, without fail, listen with empathy and prayerfulness to their fears, joys, and challenges.
Sending churches sometimes do lose their most faithful congregants to a church plant across the world. These sacrifices should be normalized and celebrated.
After Sending: Model Faithfulness and Sacrifice
In the months, years, and hopefully decades that follow, missionaries still need their sending churches. So sending churches, keep preaching the gospel to your missionaries. The mission field is a spiritually dangerous place, and your missionaries need constant reminders of the deep love of Jesus. Find creative ways to show them that the body of Christ cares for them. Pray for them by name regularly. Be sure the congregation knows who they are, where they serve, and when they’re visiting.
Churches must also be willing to sacrifice to sustain their sent ones. So give as generously as you can to support the needs of those you send. Spend time and money to send a care team. Few experiences offer as much comfort and joy than a face-to-face visit with long-lost family. So visit them. Share a meal, visit with local believers, and pray face-to-face for personal needs.
Finally, sending churches must sacrifice their unhealthy expectations. What should you expect of your missionaries? First, you should expect that God will work for His glory. Second, you should expect your missionaries will be committed to faithful, patient work. Sending churches, your sent ones aren’t super-Christians. They cannot produce results, change hearts, or disciple believers apart from the work of the Spirit. At times, they may be sad, lonely, or weary, and they do not need constant criticism. They need encouragement to press on.
Sending and supporting churches must take their roles seriously with deep conviction. The church can be a lighthouse of grace for their sent ones, or it can be a jagged reef of judgment and unrealistic expectations. Missionaries leave the field for many reasons. I pray it’s never for a lack of care from the very ones who sent them out.
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