In our current season of ministry, it would be tempting to remove our focus from the core missionary task of sending laborers into the harvest. It should go without saying, during a time of social distancing the means through which we fulfill the Great Commission and the proclamation of the gospel with those yet to accept it must look different. However, we cannot stop the crucial work of examining those within our own congregations to one day be launched out as church planters, replanters, and missionaries.
I’m a sucker for alliteration. It’s one of the ways you can tell I’m Baptist. There’s just something that warms a preacher’s heart when he can cram his points into terms that all begin with the same letter without doing too much damage to their meaning.
Today, I want to introduce you to the Three Cs of Sending.
Sending language is becoming common parlance in church circles nowadays. Like “missional” before it, most churches know that it’s good to be a “sending church.” Unfortunately, the term is often stretched to mean something that may not actually be real sending. If we’re not careful, we’re just using a rhetoric of multiplication.
Real multiplicative sending is not merely supporting, but requires a church to first look inside of its own congregation for those they would send. Real sending means sending your own.
Becoming a real sending church begins long before you commission your first members to be missionaries, church planters, or replanters. In order to send, you must first identify those among you that you would equip to go. But if the sending process begins with identification, then that raises an obvious question: What are we looking for in potential sent-out ones?
Enter the Three Cs: character, calling, and competency.
When looking inside your church for those you would send out, these three categories are both biblical and indispensable for assessing those you would send.
Character is far and away the most important quality to consider in identifying sent-out ones. Ironically, it’s often the least considered when looking for potential church planters or missionaries. We often first evaluate someone by how they perform a certain way, such as being a good public speaker or having a dynamic personality. This may be well-meaning, but it puts the cart before the horse in identification.
A person’s godliness is much more important than their ability to gather a crowd. In I Timothy, Paul makes this point clear. Paul provides Timothy with instructions for identifying new pastors from within the house churches in Ephesus. His list of qualifications is very telling—it’s almost completely character-based. Paul provides a whole list of qualities to look for in a ministry leader, and only one quality relates to a competency: that he is able to teach.
When identifying potential sent-out ones, we must follow Paul’s guidance. Character comes first. Before even considering someone, know about their spiritual formation. Do they truly know and love God? Do they abide in Christ? Are they disciplined in the habits of grace such as Bible study, prayer, and biblical community? Do they possess the fruits of the Spirit, the virtues of the Christian life? Finally, do they already obey the command to make disciples?
Calling is where we Baptists start to get mystic. I don’t want to discount some divine communication here, but we need to understand that there’s more to it than that. In fact, I believe there is a good deal of confusion that surrounds this idea today.
All Christians are called to the mission of the church. Full stop. Everyone is called to participate in the Great Commission. Everyone is called to make new disciples. Everyone is called to share the gospel. Everyone is called to serve Christ by serving their church.
But some people are called to be sent out for their church to other gospel ministry in the form of planting a new church, replanting or revitalizing an existing church that needs help, or by serving as a missionary in another place.
When we are talking about a church identifying potential sent-out ones, it’s this more specific calling that we are trying to see.
To be frank, if your church is doing its job in discipling its people then there should be people with this sent-out calling. Perhaps the reason you can’t find them is because you’re not being intentional about instilling this purpose in your church.
In short, when trying to discern calling, there are two things to consider: if an individual feels called and if the church affirms this calling.
First, does the person desire to do the task? That may sound too simple, but Paul tells us that the one who aspires to be an elder desires a good thing (1 Tim. 3:1). However, a mere desire is an inadequate understanding of calling.
In addition to this desire, does the greater church body also see a potential calling in this person? Calling is not some hyper-individualistic process. Do others in the church who are spiritually mature and know this person well affirm with them this desire?
Competency is last on this list for a reason. I’m convinced we tend to make more out of this category than the Bible does. In our Western ways of business acumen and efficiency as virtue, we tend to outsize some list of talents in identifying people for ministry and overlook the more foundational issues of character and calling. We must learn to once more rely on the Holy Spirit to accomplish the work of the ministry through us. Too often, I am afraid our approach makes too much out of our finite skills and not enough out of the almighty power of Spirit to accomplish his purposes.
With that caveat in place, I do not think we can completely ignore competencies. Though there is much less discussion of competencies in the Bible, it does mention them at times.
What is more, competencies are a helpful way to determine a particular sending pathway. Often, people feel called to be sent but are less certain of how they should be sent. Sometimes, people possess skills that lend toward one pathway instead of another. While any pathway will include the fundamentals of gospel ministry, there are truly different competencies required to be an international missionary or a church planter or a replanter.
Finally, identifying competencies is more about someone’s potential to develop them than their current possession of them. In essence, we are asking if this person has what it takes to develop the skills necessary to do the task to which they’re called. This takes being a learner, and it takes being a worker.
Real, multiplicative sending rests on the back of identification in the local church. My prayer is that more church leaders would see the potential in their own pews, calling their members to consider whether they may be the next one to go for the sake of the Great Commission.