What it means to Send, Part I

April 01, 2024 Brian W

Before we can define a sending church, we need to see how Scripture looks at it, especially in terms of the “setting apart” and the sending forth functions the Holy Spirit has empowered the church to do. What I write below is a guide to my thinking through the Scripture that leads me to define a sending church. 

[1] Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. [2] While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” [3] Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. [4] So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. (Acts 13:1–4 ESV)

It is without question that Christians are called out of this world into a holy assembly. We are called an Ekklesia 111 times in the New Testament, which means that we are set apart from the world and the world's people into a separate, unique, holy assembly. As we see in Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas were set apart from this holy assembly by the Holy Spirit and, crucially, confirmed by the Elders of the church. The call of the Holy Spirit was not delivered in isolation to Paul and Barnabas but to their Elders as well at the church of Antioch. The Elders did not only react to the call issued to them all during their regular worship but confirmed with further fasting and prayer before laying their hands on Paul and Barnabas to set them apart for a mission.

The Greek word for set apart in the above verse is Aphorizó (af-or-id'-zo): to mark off by boundaries from, i.e. set apart. What were Barnabas and Paul being set apart from? The Ekklesia. Setting apart was done symbolically by the Elders laying on of hands and through the authority and direction of the Holy Spirit. You see the word again in Acts 19:9 when Paul separates the believers from the unbelievers and teaches them in the Hall of Tyrannus. Being set apart from the church is a momentous thing.  

We see this sending out using slightly different Greek words for sending out or sending away in Acts 15: 

[22] Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, [23] with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. (Acts 15:22–23 ESV)

Here, the whole assembly of the church was involved in sending Silas and Judas, called Barsabbas, on a specific mission to deliver a letter and teach and strengthen the bonds of fellowship with another church. Then a little later in the book, presumably Judas returns to Jerusalem to report on the mission, but Silas remains and joins Paul on another mission where we learn this critical point of information: 

[40] but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. [41] And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. (Acts 15:40–41 ESV)

They are again commended by the brothers before leaving, receiving confirmation of their mission from the Church. From these examples, we see some common threads:

The call to missions is not limited to the person who becomes the missionary but is received by the leaders of the Ekklesia and affirmed by the leaders and possibly by the whole congregation. The call itself is given at the will and by an act of the Holy Spirit. Making the sending of a missionary an act of unity even though it sends out a member of the Assembly.

Missionaries are set apart from the pagan world (as all Christians are) but are further set apart from the assembly of believers. A key component of being assembled is a presence. You can’t be assembled if you are absent. By being set apart and then sent out, the assembly allows the person to be a part of the assembly while physically absent from the assembly. A person can leave an assembly, minister in a new location, and not be a missionary. A missionary does not leave the assembly; instead, the assembly goes with the missionary, and the missionary stays with the assembly as long as the mission lasts.

A shared mission:  The local church (assembly) is part of the mission, agrees to the mission, and has both responsibilities and obligations. The missionary, too, is uniquely responsible for sending the church in faithfulness to the mission and reporting on accomplishing the mission. The leadership of the church, at the least, has affirmed the mission and defined the mission given to the missionary by the Holy Spirit. As we see from numerous passages in the New Testament, the church did not simply lay hands on Barnabas and Paul, pray, then say, “God bless you,” forgetting about them. Take Romans 15:22-29 and 3 John 5-6 for instance: the church helped to or fully funded the missionary trip, sending churches to send aid to missionaries over the long term. New members joined the missionary team, and eventually, the assembly of the believers affirmed the accomplishment of the mission. The church wished the mission to be accomplished as much as the missionary. The missionaries in the above cases made it a priority to report on the mission and tell the church the story of the mission because the assembly had a right to know. The assembly went on a mission with the missionary in the same way the missionary stayed with the assembly of believers despite physically leaving them.  
Read other articles in this series: Biblical Roles in Missions
The Holy Spirit Calls – Biblical Roles, Part II
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Brian W
Brian served 14 years in the Republic of Georgia, where he started a youth ministry, discipled new leaders, and planted over 15 new churches before serving in leadership of another missions organization. Brian is married to Maia and they have two children.