Sending a Missionary
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. 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.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
We have an exciting time coming up: this Sunday we will be commissioning a missionary to go out on the field. As the pastor, I get to be the expert in all the solemn services (I don’t exactly know what I’m doing). Of course, this coincides with the brainlessness that comes with having an infant who’s decided sleeping regular like is not exactly his cup of tea. But this doesn’t mean we are left aimless. What is it that we are doing? Is there any pattern? What should we do as we send off a missionary?
For starters, it is interesting to go back to the book of Acts. Most mission work in the New Testament was of the informal sort. Jewish Christians were run out of Jerusalem, and with this dispersal the gospel went out. Likewise, Jewish Christians were run out of Rome, and the gospel slowly spread from there. But there were special sendings of people to go out on mission. Notice the sending of Paul and Barnabas. Of course, they didn’t do what we did with Jean in voting to be her sending church and then now commissioning her at this service. Instead, they did things differently. First, they had prophets in the congregation in Antioch. A prophet is someone who receives direct revelation from the Lord. So while they were worshiping and fasting, God revealed directly to the prophets that the church ought to set apart Barnabas and Saul for mission work. And so they fasted and prayed and sent them on their way. We can assume that this happened over the course of at least days so that they could fully fast and make basic preparations.
The second thing we see is that God had them set apart ‘for the work to which I have called them.’ They did not know fully what their call was. This is similar to the call of Israel: they knew they had the land, but where would they put the temple? It was going to be in the place God would show them. And later on in the mission field, it seems that in every city there was a clear time to come and clear time to go. But Paul and Barnabas didn’t know this ahead of time. And Luke doesn’t fully explain all that they did in each place. Instead, we only assume that they were doing the work God had prepared for them. For the many years that they spent on the mission field, we barely have a report of what they did in each of the cities, but we know that it amounted to gospel proclamation and establishing churches throughout Asia minor. This is quite the pattern for one of the first missionaries. Perhaps the final thing we could note is simply that the word ‘missionary’ comes from the Latin word that means sent.
Let’s reflect on this a little in our context. Fortunately or unfortunately, we don’t have resident prophets in our churches. We have God’s final revelation of Himself in his word. There are not new prophetic declarations that we hear all the time. How can we know if Jean should go on the mission field? On the one hand, we honestly can’t know for sure something like this. But that doesn’t seem to be too different from the early church. God told the prophets to send Paul and Barnabas on the road, but it wasn’t without trial or difficulty. Just because they would get in a big fight and split later on doesn’t mean they shouldn’t go. Was it a mistake to have sent them together in the first place? Some might have asked. Will it be a mistake to send Jean? The answer is no. In each instance, there is a compelling reason to send the one or the other. For Paul and Barnabas, it was the original prophecy, for Jean, we have prayerfully considered her gifting and calling, and are compelled to support her to go. Her internal calling was affirmed by a local church. This is probably as close as you get to prophecy in our day. And now, on Sunday, we get to not only affirm the call but to commission her to the work. In other words, we will lay our hands on her like the early church did with Paul and Baranabas to get her on her mission.
The second thing I mentioned above – they weren’t fully in the know about their destination- is curiously similar for Jean. But God would bring them to where he was calling them. In a similar way, Jean is on an unknown track, we don’t fully know where God is going to lead her. If you’ve talked to her about her green card status, it is astonishing. Essentially, the processing time is anywhere from 6 months until eternity. This means effectively she can’t go to Boston right now like we’d hoped to send her. Instead, she’s got to go to the country of her citizenship: Malaysia and then on from there. But for now it’s not Boston. Instead, it will be another foreign country to serve with other missionaries in their labor. And eventually, she will move on to Boston. Like Paul and Barnabas going from one place to the other, Jean will unexpectedly follow in their footsteps.
Just like the Lord worked through Paul and Barnabas, so we anticipate the Lord to work through Jean. Of course, it will be in different ways, but we look forward to hearing how the church is slowly but surely being built up around the world through her and other’s humble service. To God be the glory. So what are we doing Sunday evening? Commissioning Jean to go. Praying, singing, laying on hands, and receiving the Word.