I was asked to lead a commissioning service today. It made me think about what a commissioning is… or at least should be. Commissioning is an interesting Christian tradition. And it is even used in non-Christian circles.
In 1987, I was involved in my first commissioning service. I was commissioned as an officer of the United States Navy.
In 2004, my home church in the United States, Spring Hill Baptist Church, had a commissioning service for us to serve as missionaries in the Philippines. Then First Emmanuel Baptist Church, a Filipino church in the US had a commissioning service for us. In 2005, I was commissioned here in Baguio as a minister of the gospel. In 2006, the Virginia Baptist Mission Board had a commissioning service for us as Mission Venturers… and then in 2008 as Mission Ambassadors. In 2011, I was ordained here in Baguio. It has a different name, but it is still essentially a commissioning service.
So I have been commissioned at least 6 times. Eventually, I decided that I wanted to learn what it means to be commissioned.Some commissioning services give the impression that they are bestowing authority on the recipients. Others appear like they are trying to inject some sort of spiritual power into those being commissioned. While either might fit a particular denominational tradition, I think in this case a bit of etymology may come in handy.
The term “commission” comes from two related Latin words… “commissio” and “committere”. From them we get the two related ideas of commission and commit. Both words give the same idea… to place one’s trust in. I then had an amazing realization. The Commisioning service was not about me as the one being commissioned… It was about them, the “commissioners.” When I was commissioned in the Navy… the commissioning ceremony was the Navy’s way of telling me that they trusted me… and they entrusted me to do what is right. When my church had a commissioning service… they were telling me and my family that they were placing their trust in us… they are sending us off to the other side of the world because they chosen us to trust us to do what is right and good in our role as a missionary of their church. That is a heavy thought. Let’s read a parable that you all probably know.
Consider the Parable of the Talents… Matthew 25:14-30. The primary message is that we cannot know when Christ is returning (a good lesson for anyone seeking “secret knowledge” to time the end of the world. But the story is also a commissioning.
The first verse (vs. 14) makes this clear. “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property.” The passage said that the master entrusted his property to His servants. That is another way of saying that he commissioned them. The rest of the story is about what each did. Two were trustworthy and one was not. Because it is primarily not about a rich man and his servants. It is about God and us. God has entrusted everything He has to us. God has commissioned all of us.
Isn’t that the crazy thing? We keep being reminded that we are supposed to trust God. But God trusts us??? What have we ever done to suggest that we are trustworthy???
In the story, God has placed His trust in three different people. Two accepted and embraced that trust and were faithful to God. One was very uncomfortable with the trust… with the responsibility that God gave him. He took what God gave him and hid it, continuing to live the life he chose… not the one God had called him to live.
God has placed His trust in each person who follows Him.
- God has entrusted us with His work… His mission. God is at work in the world. But much of that work He has given to His servants. So often, we look around at the problems in the world and ask “Why isn’t God doing something about this?” But really, God has entrusted us to be a blessing in this world. When I see problems in the world… it is quite appropriate to look into a mirror and say, “Why am I not doing something about this?”
- God has entrusted to us His reputation. When we are calling ourselves Christians, we are saying that we are followers of Jesus… followers of Christ. Followers of God. If you share the Gospel with people enough, you are likely to come across people that will not listen to what you have to say because they have seen Christians. They have seen Christians who are hypocrites. They have seen Christians who are sinful. They have seen Christians who are lazy. They have seen Christians who are selfish. When they see that, they are turned off about Christianity. They are turned off about God. To be fair… sometimes I am a hypocrite. Sometimes I am sinful. Sometimes I am lazy. Sometimes I am selfish. We all are. Yet God has entrusted us with His own reputation.
I think the story implies a possible different form of commissioning. The commissioning doesn’t have to be primarily about the commissioner. It can be about the one being commissioned. After all, it is quite likely that most of the people at the commissioning service today did not care all that much whether I trusted them or not. My son Joel, who was part of the commissioning, might care somewhat whether I trust him or not… maybe those from West Baguio care a tiny bit. … But most probably care even less… even zero. And that is okay.
When each person chooses to follow Jesus… to accept God’s gift… each is commissioned. God entrusted his work and his reputation to each and every believer. In 1 Corinthians 12 it says that to each one he gave specific gifts or talents for different roles. But each role is important… it is all part of God’s work. And one can accept or embrace that role… or one can ignore it… hide it… and make the trust that God has placed worthless. Jesus trusted Peter… he trusted John. He also trusted Judas Iscariot. God often trusts us more than we deserve to be trusted.
I would suggest that every Christian should have a Commissioning Service. It is fine if certain people are formally commissioned (entrusted) by their church or by their mission board for mission work. But we all have been entrusted by God to serve and to maintain His reputation. The commissioning for all believers should be to remind us that God has entrusted His work and reputation with us. The question is how we will respond to that trust. Will we embrace it with excitement… or will we cower and hide what God has entrusted to us?
14 15 To one he gave five talents,[b] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.[c] You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’