Mission agencies send no one.

There is a great passage in the often-neglected letter of 3 John that gives us a glimpse into early missionary life. It also teaches us something about a missionary-sending church.

Apparently missionaries had come to visit Gaius (the letter’s addressee) and had been treated well by the receiving church. When John hears of this, he writes with commendation and instruction, telling Gaius to “send them” out (v. 6). This phrase occurs nine times in the New Testament, mainly in missionary contexts. John doesn’t just tell Gaius to send these missionaries out but to do so “in a manner worthy of God” (v. 6).

Send, Not Have

There is a big difference between a church that “has” missionaries (like a budget item) and a church that sends missionaries. Sending is purposeful and should be done with care. “Having” seems to indicate the missionaries owe you something for being part of your church.

A 1997 study by William Taylor revealed that of all missionaries leaving the field each year, 71 percent do so for preventable reasons. A key reason was a lack of training and equipping. Taylor concluded:

Theological institutions [and agencies] address primarily knowledge components, not character nor even skills needed to survive and thrive in cross-cultural missions. . . . Unquestionably, the best entity to authenticate the missionary call of a given person is . . . the church.

Three Recommendations 

So how might we in the 21st century send out our brothers and sisters in a manner worthy of God? Here are three suggestions:

1. Don’t romanticize Christians around the world.

The easiest way to set up missionaries for failure is to not provide a clear picture of what’s going on around the world. There is no excuse, with the access the internet affords, for not knowing what truly goes on. You’ll find that Christians in places all around the globe struggle with the same things folks do where you call home. It might play out differently, but not by much.

2. Recruit and equip.

Jesus commanded his church to “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matt. 9:38). Your recruiting starts with prayer, and God answers either through pricking a believer’s conscience or through a church taking initiative to send people out. If your church hasn’t sent out any missionaries, perhaps you haven’t prayed for them to arise. Once you’ve recruited people, you must equip them (Eph. 4:11). Thankfully, because the church is so interconnected, you can receive help from outside organizations such as Missionary Training Institute. Many mission organizations also offer in-house training, but in the end it’s the church’s responsibility to ensure the missionary is equipped to be sent out.

3. Commission and send.

When missionaries are ready to go, commissioning is a public declaration that you’re sending them with blessing and support. This usually means agreeing to provide at least two things:

  1. Money. John reminded Gaius that the missionaries didn’t take money from unbelievers (v. 7). One might read this as a soft appeal to give. Your church and some individuals need to commit to support your missionaries financially. Don’t “have” lots of missionaries that you give token amounts to each month; instead, send a few and cover a significant portion of their budget. The bottom line of a missionary’s account should never enter the negative because you’ve committed to sending them. I’ve heard enough horror stories of missionaries having their support dry up on the field. They are already under a lot of stress; take this stress off their plate. A critic might say people could easily go to other countries in a bivocational role. I agree, but it’s often a better option to be able to commit to full-time vocational ministry. Just ask Paul—he was a tentmaker, but only until others rose up to support his full-time work as an evangelist, church planter, and teacher.
  2. Spiritual Care. When missionaries get on a plane and leave their home culture, they are signing up for the hardest year of their life. The stress will be unbelievable. Will you care for them? Will you encourage them? Will you Skype with them? Will you provide a safe place for counseling? Will you send their best friend to visit? You could outsource care to their mission agency, but the buck stops with the home church. We don’t live in the first century, when saying goodbye to a missionary meant you couldn’t correspond without great difficulty. Things have changed and a different kind of care is required.

Wrapped Up in God’s Glory 

Third John 7–8 identifies the type of missionary we ought to support: one who has gone out “for the sake of the name.” Likewise, the apostle Paul wanted to bring about “obedience of faith among all nations for the sake of his name” (Rom. 1:5). The kind of person a church should want to send is one whose driving passion is the same as the Lord’s: his glory.

God is not most glorified in us when we go out to prove something, or win the approval of others, or to become satisfied with ourselves. He is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. And we become most satisfied in him when our passion lines up with his passion to be praised.

Send Them

Mission agencies send no one. Churches send missionaries. Don’t rob yourself of the responsibility of sending by handing off people to agencies and merely writing checks.

Recruit. Equip. Commission. And when they are ready, send them in a manner that honors God.