Why We Don’t Send Missionaries
It’s common vernacular to call missions agencies like TEAM “sending agencies.” But really, this label is a misnomer.
While agencies help assess, prepare and place missionaries, they do not send them.
And this distinction isn’t just a matter of semantics. Knowing who sends missionaries is a critical distinction that shapes our understanding of the local church’s critical role in global missions.
At TEAM, we say that our purpose is to help churches send missionaries. That may sound simple, but those words are intended to convey an idea that is fundamental to everything we do.
We believe the church is the real missionary-sender, not the mission agency.
Why Missions Agencies Don’t Send Missionaries
The Bible talks about the church sending missionaries, not agencies. While we love TEAM and other organizations, we can search through the New and Old Testaments and never find a missions agency listed.
Instead, Jesus charges a community of believers — the church — with the Great Commission.
We see this in Scripture when God called Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. The Holy Spirit first prompted the church to commission them (Acts 13:1-3). And throughout his missionary journeys, Paul thanks his sending churches for their commitment to God’s work through his ministry (2 Corinthians 8:1-5, Philippians 1:3-5; 4:17).
Why Missionaries Need Their Local Church
Of course, a church’s role isn’t just about sending someone off and supporting their work financially. When missionary life becomes hard, missionaries need the church.
Some experts estimate the average missionary faces stress levels up to six times that of North Americans not serving cross-culturally and are at risk of developing stress-related illnesses.
So how can missionaries continue to serve under such stress?
One main difference between the missionaries that continue to labor and those that must return to their home country is the support they receive from their sending community.
Missionary success depends on having a safe place where missionaries can receive prayer, rest and encouragement from those who know them best.
When a local church sends out a missionary but leaves the work of encouraging and supporting that missionary to others, that church misses out on the rich blessings of seeing God move globally. They will miss out on the miracles God performs, the ways He provides and the joy of being a vital part of someone hearing about Christ for the first time.
If Churches Send, Agencies Support
So what does it mean for a church to be the sender?
Tangibly, this looks like the church being actively involved in identifying, preparing, caring for and praying for missionaries and their work.
Those may seem like big responsibilities, and they are certainly a commitment! But that is where agencies like TEAM can help you get the resources and tools you need to send your members on mission.
Missions agencies work alongside the church to share their experience navigating the complexities of global ministry.
For TEAM, this means we help churches in missionary assessment and preparation, connect potential missionaries with teams on the field, process donations, provide financial oversight along with insurance and benefits, facilitate a global member care network and much more. We also coach churches who are just beginning to engage in global missions.
The local church sending her members locally and globally is the backbone of living the Great Commission. It is our joy as a missions agency to serve the church as they send missionaries to make Christ known.
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5 CommentsLeave a comment
It’s true, but where christinans serve on different mission sent by the church God from a different local
Iam praying for a team to visit with my ministry sometime.
You’re right, we need to reflect on who really sends.
May I suggest that we could go further your reflections and make it clear that the real Sender comes from above? This too, could help us to shape our vision about mission.
Moreover, the fundamental biblical text of Acts 13 helps us to see things this way. Acts 13.3 doesn’t say that strongly that the Church “sent” them. In fact it uses the verbe “apoluô” which means sometimes “send” (15 times out of 66) but also “release, dismiss, go, depart, forgive, let, divorce”. It is translated 22 times by “release” (cf. Act 4.23). By contrast, the very following verse, v.4 (“being sent out by the Holy Spirit”), uses “ekpempô” which _always_ means “to send”.
This proximity between two different verbs of close meanings compels us to highlight the difference in our way of reading this passage and, then, in our way to envisioning God’s call to mission. In order to let the Holy Spirit “send” (v.4) them off, the Church had to “let them go” (v.3) (these legitimate translations are found in French and Spanish bibles).
This way of reading it has many complex implications I won’t discuss here. Of course, it doesn’t relieve the local church from its liability. Isn’t it astounding that missionaries are sent by the Spirit of God, and that the Church, then, has to “release” them, i.e. to give them the “liberty” to collaborate with the God in mission! Also, it says a lot about the birth of mission agencies in this passage.
Thank you for your article, and for the inspiring resources of Team in general.
(Pardon my English, as this is not my native tongue.)
Thank you for your comment, you brought up some great points! We wholeheartedly believe God calls each of us to live on mission, and missionaries to their special role in taking the Gospel to the nations. Maybe it would be better if we clarify the church as the tangible “hands and feet” on earth of God as the one who has called. I’ll be sure to keep this in mind as we write and speak about this topic in the future.
Thank you for your thoughts!
I do understand that the church has to play a very important part in releasing the Missionaries, however I would like to ask this question. What if the very church does not recognize the ones called for Missions? Seeing that the church has to be the backbone to the one being sent to the world, what does one do in such situations where even the church itself seems to be failing him?
Thanks for your comment. This is a great question–and a difficult one! I would spend some time prayerfully asking why your church is not recognizing those called to missions–is the church not engaged in God’s mission, or are they seeing some room for growth in those individuals called? If it is the first, there is opportunity for growth both in the church and as someone called to missions if you are committed to that body of believers. If it is the second, as hard as it is, it can be helpful to listen to their hesitations and grow in those areas.
I recommend checking out another TEAM Blog about deciding if you are ready for missions–https://team.org/blog/how-do-know-if-ready-for-missions/.
Thank you for reaching out!