Before leaving for the field you should demonstrate a healthy connection with and approval of the local church that’s willing to send you. Your church and missions agency will require it. Your likelihood of surviving and thriving on the field directly correlates to a healthy church that proactively helped you prepare for and get to the field. So, your very next step on the path to your mission field is to bring your local church into the picture.
Many young missionary candidates, with surging eagerness to hurry to the field, short circuit or neglect involving their home (sending) church early in the process. If you’re away from your home church during college years, this might be difficult. However, having a strong local sending church as the core of your support team is essential to your long-term effectiveness.
Get good counsel from mature Christian friends about your choice of a local church. This is an important decision to be made for sound biblical reasons rather than personal preferences or consumer-oriented reasons. Great churches feature sound teaching, a good shepherding atmosphere, gracious and loving fellowship, and a commitment to know, love and proclaim the Gospel. Check out Mark Dever’s Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (Crossway, 2004).
Here are some suggested standards that would indicate a good sending church:
- The sending church has developed clear expectations and a process or path for becoming a missionary sent from the church.
- The sending church understands and affirms the obligation of the church to guide and manage the development of their missionary in issues such as character, ministry competency (including language and cultural acquisition and adjustment), doctrinal integrity, and direction/allocation on the field.
- In addition to the elders’ general oversight, the sending church provides a mentor and/or “Barnabas Team” advocate person or team.
- The sending church confirms a mutually acceptable comprehensive support schedule and helps the missionary raise those funds through accountability, advocacy and active assistance.
- The sending church commits to appropriate communication and shepherding on the field.
- The sending church intelligently interacts with ministry decisions and strategy on the field.
- The sending church proactively and annually evaluates the health, ministry and working relationships of the field missionary (and family, if applicable).
No church is perfect, and it may be tempting to get to the field quicker by taking shortcuts around a substantial sending church relationship. As the African proverb says, “If you want to travel fast, travel alone; if you want to travel far, travel together.” This is applicable to a sending church relationship. Your impact on the field will be deeper and longer with a great sending church behind you. It may even mean helping your church become the sending church it needs to be.
It’s worth the hard work. With some patience and passion, you can be instrumental in helping your church become your most important long-term asset in reaching “your” unreached people group.
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