What are the major barriers to the sending of gospel workers?

A couple of days ago, I posted about how you can partner with churches in deprived communities. Specifically, I noted that true partnership manifests itself in three principal ways: regular prayer, financial support and sending workers. You can read that post here.

I want to go as far as to say that if we are not doing any of those three things, we are not meaningfully in partnership as churches. I, for example, have preached at – and sent preachers to – other churches when they have needed help. I would not for one minute suggest that makes us gospel partners, helpful as our filling the pulpit may have been (or, unhelpful, as is usually the case with my preaching). Nor do I think bobbing along to the odd evangelistic event amounts to true gospel partnership either. Without wishing to sound crass, genuine partnership is expressed in our ongoing prayers, our regular financial support and our sending of workers.

The first of those is incredibly easy to give. If a church has a regular prayer letter, simply pick it up and begin praying through it. It costs you very little but a few minutes of time and you can easily encourage that church by telling them you are regularly praying for them. You can really encourage them by making it a regular feature of your prayer meetings. Likewise, though it (literally) costs us something, sending financial support isn’t all that difficult either. Most churches have a missions budget and it is relatively easy to assign some of it to another church in a deprived area. Similarly, getting hold of bank details and asking our treasurer to fire off some funds costs us very little in time, isn’t a massive commitment and is quite simple to do (if we have the will to do it). Both the offer of regular prayer and the giving of funds are straightforward affairs.

What is much harder is the giving of our people. For one, there is the immediate loss to our ongoing gospel work. If you are being godly about the sending, you’re not going to commission a couple you’ve been dying to get rid of because they never commit and keep spreading gossip around the church. When we send, we are sending our best people who will actually help the partner church. This necessarily means sending the people engaged in meaningful gospel work in your church.

Second, there is the financial cost. There is simply no getting away from the fact that sending your workers means giving away financial support. If we are intent on sending godly church members, they will inevitably be people giving their money to support the gospel work with which they are involved. It is one thing to send off a one-time financial gift, but to lose a regular ‘giving unit’ and gospel worker at the same time is a big deal. Sending workers inevitably costs us financially, in that it affects the regular giving, and it costs us in terms of work, leaving holes where we wish there would be none.

Third, and most significantly, there is the will of the individuals themselves. The elders of a church can, pretty much unilaterally, decide that new mission partners will be prayed for on a regular basis. Likewise, in many churches, the elders can simply determine where the regular financial gifts of the church will go. Even in congregational churches with a more consensual approach, few people are going to vehemently object to praying for another church and – while lots of people might have views on who or what is supported – there aren’t many who would be frustrated at the thought of supporting another like-minded, gospel-centred church. But what most elders cannot do – and even consensual congregational churches in 99% agreement can’t make happen – is to insist that a particular individual goes and serves in another church.

Ultimately, the sending of workers boils down to whether those workers are willing to go. Unlike the other forms of partnership that are much easier to instigate and can often be implemented unilaterally, the sending of workers cannot be. A church may have every intention of sending workers to support other churches in deprived communities but unless the members they identify as appropriate actually want to go, their will (collective or otherwise) cannot make it happen.

What is more, if we have (rightly) encouraged our members to love their church as best they are able, it shouldn’t be all that surprising when they love it so much that they don’t always want to leave. If they have built friendships and established valuable gospel roles for themselves where they are, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that we are asking a great deal when we suggest they might want to move to another church where they cannot guarantee friendships, the area is less desirable and they won’t necessarily have the same immediate gospel impact. That doesn’t mean they are right not to go – our churches should be teaching our members to have a bigger gospel vision than their immediate setting and serving where it is comfortable – it is simply to say we probably shouldn’t quite so blithely presume that we are asking something incredibly easy. Though the Lord does call us to take up our cross and follow him, we can rightly acknowledge that the loss of certain comforts and enjoyable things is nonetheless a cross of sorts to bear.

Moreover, there are legitimate concerns that need to be taken into account before moving. People rightly have to consider their job, schools for their children, suitable homes and other such practical things. Again, I am not saying these things justify not going in and of themselves – in truth, far too often, these things are used as get-out-of-difficult-mission-free cards as though their very mention legitimises a decision not to go – what I am saying is that those of us asking churches to send workers, or asking workers to move, do need to recognise that it is not always as easy as simply upping sticks and moving wholesale across the country (or, in some cases, to another country). That’s not to say it isn’t feasible or right for people to do it, it is simply to say we need to recognise it is another barrier that must be negotiated.

But here are some of the main reasons why churches find sending workers difficult. It will cost us financially, it will impact our gospel work, there is no guarantee other members will step up to fill the void, we cannot insist that individuals move against their will and we must recognise the very real obstacles to moving that must be negotiated. In a follow-up post, I want to suggest some ways we might be able to overcome some of these issues and send people to where they are most needed.