A sending church is the local church where you have served, grown and shared your calling to ministry. It is the group of people who stand with you as you prepare to go. They listen and pray as you face challenges in a new culture, and they surround you with care as you return home.
As they prepare to go, some missionaries-to-be find their church ecstatic to see what God will do through their cross-cultural ministry. Other churches might be sad to see an active member go or wonder what it really means to be a sending church.
And then there’s the response no missionary is ready to hear: We aren’t ready to send you.
To potential missionaries, this can be devastating. What do you do if your church says they won’t send you? Here is what we’ve learned as we’ve walked alongside potential missionaries over the years.
Listen, listen and listen some more.
Hearing your church isn’t ready to send you is difficult, whether you are just starting your missions journey or you have been on the field for years. Our number one piece of advice? Don’t let the conversation stop there. Ask your church leaders why they don’t feel ready for this step.
Your church may see some areas where you need to grow before you head overseas. If this is the case, ask your missions leaders or pastoral staff to work with you on a personal development plan. Ask, and be ready to humbly hear, how you can grow in your spiritual, emotional and physical health.
Problems don’t disappear when you go overseas. Oftentimes the stress of such a big change can emphasize weaknesses. Hear your church’s concerns and develop a plan for how you can grow.
Have an honest conversation about expectations.
Many pastors and leaders are inundated with requests for financial support and may see the title of “sending church” as a financial one. While most sending churches do give financially, the sending church is more than a financial partner. The church is a spiritual authority and partner in care for the missionary — and that can be intimidating.
If your church is hesitant to send and you sense this is the reason, work with your missions coach and your church to develop a plan of what it could look like to send you overseas. Every church and missionary is unique; therefore, the sending church relationship will look unique as well.
Model respect and humility.
These are difficult conversations you are having with your church. It is vitally important to show respect for the body of Christ and the leaders the Lord has put in place. As you share with others about your missions journey, be sure to honor your church, even if you disagree with their decision about sending.
It is easy to second guess motives or priorities when you feel your personal calling is being misunderstood or undervalued. For your spiritual health and the health of the church, believe the best in your brothers and sisters in Christ. Work to respect their leadership in this time.
Pray and fast.
Sometimes, churches may have a different philosophy of missions than the individual wanting to go overseas. Honestly, this is a difficult obstacle to overcome. If this is your situation, listen to your leaders, and pray for what God might be telling you through them. Is God refining your calling through your church’s focus? If so, how can you honor that in your missions journey?
Other people may find a fundamental difference in beliefs when it comes to missions. In this case, pray for wisdom on how to walk forward with your church. Is this the community God is calling for you to serve and learn with during this time? Ask a small group of trusted advisors to join you in this prayer as you make hard decisions.
Remember a church is made of people.
And because of that, no local church will be perfect and without challenges on this side of heaven. Pastors are overwhelmed with hundreds of requests a week. Sometimes it may feel like it’s difficult to find time to connect with your pastor directly.
In these cases, some churches have formed care teams to be the point people for sending missionaries. Care teams are small groups of people who will advocate for missionaries. They offer care, support and connection between the missionary and the rest of the congregation. If your pastor is not able to personally commit to communicate with you as often as they’d like, ask them if they would be open to you forming a care team from your church to engage more people in the congregation without putting the burden on his or her shoulders.
No matter where your church falls in this conversation, you don’t have to go through this journey alone. Gather a small group of trusted friends and mentors to walk alongside you in this journey, even if you are just starting to apply! At TEAM, you also get to work closely with your missions coach, who has worked with dozens of applicants and their churches to facilitate a healthy partnership.
Missionaries, what advice would you give to potential missionaries when it comes to developing their sending church relationship? Potential missionaries, how are you connecting with your church as you discern where God is sending you?
For more guidance and tips on becoming a missionary, talk with a missions coach! Your missions coach can answer your missionary questions and give you guidance on how to talk with your church and family!