Who’s Most Qualified to Identify and Prepare Missionaries? Your Local Church.

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One of the great privileges we have at Reaching & Teaching is partnering with faithful churches who desire to send people overseas to make mature disciples, establish healthy churches, and train local leaders. Frankly, we wouldn’t send missionaries who weren’t first sent by a local church. 

No agency should interfere with a church’s role in this because local churches are uniquely qualified to identify and prepare missionaries. That’s what I want to talk about in this article—three ways your local church is uniquely qualified to identify and prepare missionaries.

It doesn’t matter how many members you have, or how big your missions budget is. Your local church—yes, even yours—is more qualified to do this work than any missions agency, including those with the biggest budgets and brightest minds.

1. Your church is uniquely qualified to observe a prospective missionary’s character.

I love that my elders in Louisville ask our congregation to be on the lookout for future elders. I love that they field recommendations from the church. A healthy church is led by faithful shepherds who are always looking for others to join their ranks. They desperately want to unwrap more of the gifts the Holy Spirit has given them (Eph. 4:11ff).

Does a man that you’re thinking about sending have the character to be an elder in your local church? If not, why contemplate sending him? If you’re not even sure how to answer these questions, check out these two recent books: The Leadership Formula by Juan Sanchez, and Character Matters by Aaron Menikoff. 

I’d ask the same questions about a woman you’re thinking about sending. Have you observed her character? Is she well thought of by your local church? How is she thought of by the older women in your congregation? 

An agency simply cannot observe character from afar. Sure, emails and interviews and training visits tell us something, but that something is nothing compared to what a church knows. So we must rely on the church’s input when it comes to character. A lack of love for the local church will be magnified overseas. The same goes for joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. 

This isn’t complicated. A prospective missionary might be known as immature and hot-headed among his friends and church members. Now imagine what a few thousand miles and a new culture would do. Thankfully, integrity is transcultural. That’s not to say relocation won’t cause some stresses and cracks. But godly and mature men and women will display the power of the gospel, even when they’re pressed in from all sides. Character does, in fact, matter.

I worry sometimes that our urgency to take the gospel to the ends of the earth sometimes leads to our overlooking character. Zeal is good, but so is wisdom. We need both.

One fruit of the Spirit is perhaps especially needed overseas: patience. There’s a great need for patient missionaries. As pastors and donors back home and agency leaders and local missionaries on the field place various expectations on missionaries, new missionaries will be tempted to “feel the need for speed.” They’ll be tempted to cut corners in order to send back glowing reports. The best way to avoid all this is simply to send patient missionaries. Our pressing urgency doesn’t require pragmatic recklessness. Instead, it requires patient carefulness.

2. Your church is uniquely qualified to discern and affirm a prospective missionary’s gifting.

Here’s what Luke records in Acts 13: 

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 13:1–3)

I have but one question: Who sent Barnabas and Saul (Paul)? The church at Antioch! They were uniquely qualified to do so because they’d already discerned that Paul and Barnabas were gifted because Paul and Barnabas were already exercising those gifts in the church at Antioch.

Local churches shouldn’t send missionaries to do something overseas that they’ve never seen them doing back home. Put positively, when your church sends a missionary, they should feel the loss locally.

Almost two years ago, my church sent a couple to serve in Central Asia. I don’t know if I’ve ever met a more evangelistic duo. New believers often mentioned their names as they shared their testimony before getting baptized. So it made sense to our members and elders to send them off to do similar work in Central Asia. But oh my—we certainly felt the loss. We certainly missed their example.

Your local church is uniquely qualified to discern and affirm your members’ gifts. If you’re a pastor, you ought to be paying attention to this, especially to those who have expressed a desire to go overseas. But don’t just look for the flashy, noticeable gifts like preaching and teaching. Look for quiet, behind-the-scenes gifts like administration and hospitality. They’re all needed overseas. 

Every two years, I teach Entrepreneurial Finance at Boyce College. I tell my students that few investors invest substantial capital into a product without a “proof of concept.” That’s because investors aren’t stupid with their money. So pastors, why would you send a missionary overseas without “proof of concept”? Why would you invest time and money without due diligence?

3. Your church is uniquely qualified to sharpen a prospective missionary’s skills.

I’m often asked what local churches can do to best prepare missionaries for the field. When it’s a male missionary, I encourage the elders to watch him teach and give him constructive feedback. But that’s obvious. I also encourage the elders to invite the prospective missionaries to elders’ meetings so that he can observe their important work. Male missionaries—regardless of their particular gifting—need to learn from faithful shepherds as they pray for church members, discuss difficult counseling cases, perform theological triages, and set future priorities for the church. Why? Because these are precisely the tasks missionaries must give themselves to when they get overseas. So why not give him the opportunity to grow this way while he’s still home?

What about if a woman in your church wants to head overseas to disciple other women? My counsel doesn’t change too much. Give her opportunities to disciple women in your congregation so that she can sharpen those skills before she heads overseas. Elders’ wives can play an important role in this, but so can any mature sister. They ought to invite these women into their life. They ought to bring them along so that they can work together on difficult counseling cases. The opportunities for this kind of sharpening are endless.

Conclusion

Local churches are uniquely qualified to identify and prepare prospective missionaries. In fact, agencies like Reaching & Teaching simply can’t do our work well without you. If your church wants to more wisely identify and prepare missionaries, we’d love to help. Feel free to fill out this form to connect with one of our mobilizers.

Ryan Robertson

Ryan Robertson serves as President of Reaching & Teaching. He is currently enrolled in the Doctor of Missiology program at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Ryan and his wife Erin have three children and are members of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, KY.

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