“Three Als” Quote (Mission-Al, Attraction-Al, Incarnation-Al)

“(Michael) Frost and (Alan) Hirsch who are great proponents of the missional church, make a clear distinction between incarnational and attractional churches. They see incarnational churches as the opposite of attractional churches. The attractional church, as they see it, does everything possible within the church to get more people flocking to the church, often ignoring their commitment to the community. This leads to a come-to-us stance rather than a go-to-them mentality. But I see missional families as both incarnational and attracti others to them. The missional familhy is incarnational because they do not detach themselves from the reality of their community, but are intrinsically connected to the needs of their own community and context. As Frost and Hirsch describe, ‘it seeps into the cracks and crevices of a society in order to be Christ to those who don’t yet know him.’ Missional families are also attractional because they live out a Christ-like lifestyle, which is noticed by others and draws others to them. Truly missional families will both shine out the life of Christ, attracting others like a lighthouse, and will also be actively engaged in the community within their own context as the presence of God to the community.’

P.C. Matthew, “Becoming a Missional Family–Fulfilling God’s Purpose in and through Your Family.” (Bangaluru, India: Urban India Missions, 2014), Chapter 2

Note: The quote of Frost and Hirsch is from their book, “The Shape of Things to Come–Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church.”

Church and Missions Relationship

How one sees the relationship between the church and missions has ramifications on how one sees missions. Consider three perspectives as shown above.

First let’s consider OPTION A. With this perspective, the church consists of local churches only. Missions occurs only to the extent that local churches directly carry out missions. There are two groups who embrace this perspective as far as I can see.

  • Churches that embrace a “Primitivist” perspective can see things this way. In this view, The local church is the only institution that is God-ordained to carry out His mission on this earth. Such groups are normally very limited in mission work. For some such groups this is exacerbated by a hyper-Calvinist theology that sees God’s predestination as negating the need for mission outreach by the church. But even for those who don’t embrace this, the rejection of specialized structures outside of the local church does hurt their competency for outreach.
  • Churches that embrace the Missional Church movement can move TOWARDS this perspective at least. The local church is missional at its core and so focus is placed on the church organizing and doing missions more than partnering with outside mission organizations. This can be quite commendable. My wife and I were sent out by a local church not a mission organization. However, the lack of specialized structures to deal with the unique challenges of cross-cultural work can be a challenge. In the case of my wife and I, we established ministries not directly tied to a local church, and also work with and through a seminary (which is a sodality structure, much like mission organizations).

Let’s jump ahead to OPTION C. In this case, mission organizations are outside of the church in some way. There is a strong separation. Those who embrace OPTION A sometimes start here. They see the universal church as from God and missions (mission organizations) as not part of the church. Thus they reject mission organizations (and other sodality structures) entirely. However, others can do a similar thing. One might argue that the Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox Churches, and Anglican Church works this way with two separated groups— Diocesan or Secular priests and Religious Priests. The first group is tied to a bishop and normally linked to a parish/church. The second group is tied to a religious order— many of which serve as the missionary arm of the denomination.

In the latter case, it could be argued that there is a strong connection between religious orders and parishes in the Catholic Church (for example). In fact, in 1978 there was a push state that religious orders existed within the local church— autonomous but not independent. Be that as it may, history has at times (including in Protestant circles) where a denomination has a missionary arm that is funded and overseen by the denominational leadership, but whose link to and influence on the local church is very indirect. As the link becomes more tenuous, the missional vitality of the local church wanes.

In between is OPTION B. To understand this, I like to draw on different views of God. One view of God is Unitarian (Unitarian Christian groups, along with Muslim and Jewish groups). In this view. God exists as unity and there is no discernible structure within God’s unity. This is rather like Option A. Another view is Tritheism. This is where God is not a unity but exists as multiple beings (gods rather than God). These gods may have some form of relationship between them, but far from existing in terms of unity. The Hindu “Trinity” or the “Trinity” of Mormonism. This is rather like Option C. In between is historic Trinitarianism (or Binitarianism as well, I suppose). With this view, God is seen as Unity (not gods) but there is discernible structure within that unity. This is somewhat like Option B. The universal church exists as the assembly of the faithful, but there are discernible structures within that unity. Some are people-structured (local churches and bible studies, for example), while some are task-structured (mission organizations, training organizations, helps ministries, etc.).

To me, Option B has the best POTENTIAL. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have problems. But seeing the work of God done by the church as existing not only in terms of work down by modalities, but sodalities, best fits the calling of God in the Gospels and Acts, as far as I can see.

Still, these three Options are still VERY GENERAL. Each has a wide range of minor variations that need to be considered.

Ultimately, we need to find a way to honor and empower the specialization needed often to carry out specialized work, without pushing such specialization completely outside of the church.

Missional and Missionary Churches

One of my students is writing about the Missional Church movement as part of her dissertation. I will not steal her thunder. I will just make a couple of comments on the topic here. She noted that the term “missional church” has often been seen as another term for “missionary church.”  Over time, however, the missional church and missionary church has bifurcated in meaning. It seems to me that some of that has to do with their understanding of their place in culture (or as my student would say, their connection with the idea of “Christendom.”)

Missionary churches have often seen themselves as “Sending Churches.” That is, they send cross-cultural missionaries or send money to cross-cultural missionaries. This is certainly a reasonable understanding of the term.

Missional churches commonly see themselves as “Sent Churches.” That is, they exist in the mission field. This seems pretty reasonable as well.

In a time of Christendom as a concept that “just makes sense,” the church can be seen as existing in an E-1 setting, and people in the community exist in a P-1 setting with respect to the local church. <I am drawing from Ralph Winter and Bruce Koch’s article in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, titled “Finishing the Task: The Unreached People’s Challenge.” Pretty good chance you have heard of the E-Scale, and maybe P-Scale in missions outreach.>

However, Christendom (Christian societal evolution) has fallen on hard times as a belief, and we find churches in many parts of the world as being Marginalized— in cultural conflict with the society they are in. This is the reality in many places, but is now being seen as more of a reality in the West as well. In some ways that is a good thing. Being American (although I haven’t lived there in over 15 years) churches there have commonly blended into a politico-patriotic Americanism that has a lot to do with the surrounding culture but little to do with Christlikeness. Of course the US is not alone in this. The goal is, of course, not to be different for the sake of being different. Some in an attempt to be different… are not a transformative influence— they are just strange and foreign. In fact many churches established by missionaries world-wide do not fit well with their culture because they fit the culture of the missionaries who founded them (Philippine churches are a really good case in point for this).

Churches need a connection to the culture to be relevant, but need a certain amount of disconnection to provide an alternative as an impetus to transformation.

Getting back to Missional Churches— identifying themselves as being somewhat marginalized within their setting, they then could be seen as existing in an E-2 culture (and people in the community would find the church as P-3 with respect to its context).

                        Missionary Church                                  Missional Church

             Sees itself as E-1 in its context                   Sees itself as E-2 in its context

   Sends missionaries to E-2 and E-3 settings       Sends people into its community

      Good distant missions… poor theology       Good theology, poor distant missions

One may think that Missionary Churches and Missional Churches should be quite compatible with each other, but sadly they often are not. Missionary Churches often see Missional Churches as anti-missions. And, in fact, to some extent the charge can be true. Many missional churches focus on local missions so much that they don’t support foreign or E-3 missions except perhaps with Short-term missions— a shaky strategy at best. The lack of support for E-3 missions and reliance on Short-term missions are worthwhile complaints about (SOME) Missional Churches.

The thing though is that the Missional Churches are correct theologically. The church does exist in a marginalized setting in much of the world— and is supposed to be. The church does exist in an E-2 setting pretty much everywhere. As such, real cross-cultural missions DOES happen every time someone seeks to do ministry outside of one’s own church gathering place. The separation between local outreach for a church and missions outreach is a false dichotomy that may have made sense a few decades ago, but makes sense no longer.

It seems to me that we need a mix of missionary churches and missional churches (and certainly such things do absolutely exist). Churches need to recognize that they exist as sent out into the world (on mission) wherever they exist. Churches don’t just send… they are sent. They need to recognize that they exist counterculturally within their own community. On the other hand, the church exists as part of something far bigger than itself… it exists within a world of diversity and should embrace its role to impact the entire world, not just its own corner.

Missionaries to 3 Churches and the “Can Do” Church

Four ChurchesThere has been a growing trend to raise up the importance of short-term missionaries. Nothing wrong with that, except that it has often been tied to a de-emphasis of long-term missionaries. Related to short-term missionaries has been the church’s move toward short-term thinking. This has seen itself in the increase of “project missions.” In this, churches do not send or support missionaries, but support individual short-term projects.

There are problems with overemphasis on short-term missionaries and projects. Some are, I would like to think, fairly obvious. Problems include

  1. the breakdown of relationality between churches in different parts of the world,
  2. need for people to coordinate short-term projects and personnel for long-term transformation,
  3. the necessity of a bicultural bridge.
  4. a dual role (emic and etic) viewpoint of needs in the mission field, tied to understanding what outsiders can and cannot help with.

But there is more.. Consider where missionaries, on some level are needed. See the above Figure. Think of each hexagon as a type of church.

  • The first church is the Church that Is Not. This church does not exist in the real world, only in the mind of God. Missionaries are needed to evangelize, churchplant, disciple, establish leadership (and move on). This Missionary Role is shown by Arrow “A” moving people to the second church. One could call this PIONEERING.
  • The second church is the Church that Is but Has Not. This church exists, but some aspects of its God-ordained ministry it has not embraced… yet. Some of these may may be pastoral care, theological education, community development, social justice, evangelism, ministering to sub-cultures and missionary outreach. There are many more. Missionaries can inspire, train and provide “tooling” for the church to embrace its role (moving from has not to has). This is shown by Arrow “B” moving people to the third church. One could call this PARENTING.
  • The third church is Church that Has but Cannot. This church can take care of its own people, as well as do a wide variety of ministries in its community. There are, however, some ministries that it doesn’t do, because it cannot. It lacks specific materials, as well as financial and skilled human resources. Some of these might include radio ministries, orphanages, livelihood centers and hospitals. In these cases, missionaries may need a longer presence, but with the intentional plan towards gradual transfer of resources and skills to this church to move it to the fourth church. This is shown by Arrow “C”, and could be described as PARTNERING.
  • The fourth church is the Can Do Church. The church has moved to the point that it has no real NEED to receive missionaries. That does not mean that there cannot be missionaries helping in some way with some aspects of the work. In this case the missionary is not doing classic missions but is assisting or PARTICIPATING in what this church is doing. This is shown by the broken line Arrow “D”.

Where can short-term missionaries come in? All four arrows, all four “churches.” However, how many of these can a short-term missionary (or STM team) serve without long-term missionaries supporting and bridging their activities? Really only Arrow D. Arrow D is where the STM team participates with the work of a Can Do Church. There may be some very specific ways in which short-termers can do Arrow B (parenting) without long-term missionaries, but for the most part, Arrows A, B, and C really need long-term missionaries working with both STM and the associated “churches.”

Where can project mentality really work? Again, Arrow D is the most obvious one. Mission projects can be linked to the Can Do church to participate in their broader and longer-term vision and mission. To a lesser extent, projects may be able to effectively Parenting in some ways under Arrow B with the Has Not church. However, projects are not appropriate for Arrows A (Pioneering) and C (Partnering).

NOTE: I am using the four Ps (Pioneering, Parenting, Partnering, and Participating) a bit different that in used by others. They link it strictly to church planting and building. I am tying to the broader church cycle. As such the terms are a wee bit awkward. Especially awkward is “parenting” when it pertains to projects and short-term missionaries. However, when connected to longer-term missionary programs, this one also makes sense… sort of.

Missional “Surface Area”. Part 2

I like to take the idea of church impact as related to what I think of as “surface area”. In chemical reactions and heat transfer (to name two things) the rate is proportional to surface area of the relevant bodies (warm versus cold bodies, or reacting chemicals). This goes back to the organic idea. If the boundaries of an organism is its membrane, that is where it interacts with the outside environment. One might say that the church also has such a membrane. Take a fairly extreme case. Case A might be a communal closed society which interacts with the outside environment only through goods and services.

Case A,       Church Building Focused Ministry

Church AMinimal Interaction with Outside World

Case B.  Church with Modest Local Outreach

Church Building Focused Ministry  Moderate Interaction with outside World

Church B

Case B may be a more typical church. It meets at one place and has members that have a certain amount of interaction with neighbors and businesses. They may send money to local ministries or mission boards and such (as shown by the greater surface area).

Case C.  Multisite or Cell Group Church

Church C

Local church with outlying sites 1, 2, 3, and 4

Case C may be a multisite church or a cell group church or a church with members doing ministry work at a distance from the church.Church Multiple Local Points of Ministry Work Greater Involvement with Local Community

Case D. Church with Multiple-Levels of Outreach, Local, Regional, International

ChurchWe can take the case D where the church is actively involved in ministry work throughout the world.


Which case has more effective interaction with the community and world? All else being equal, it would be the one with the greater “surface area”. One can, of course, imagine exceptions, but Case D is set up to have more impact wherever it is.

Missional “Surface Area”, Part 1

<I wrote this something like 8 years ago. I think I still agree with it.  But I also now see the challenge of maintaining it. The greater the distance the harder it is to maintain connections. Even though we live in a “wired” age, most of us don’t think that way… we don’t feel close emotionally, viscerally, when separated by distance. That separation can lead to drifting apart of church and missionary whether or not there is a mission agency assisting (or getting in the way). Some things are… whether they should be or not. NOTE: The concept of “surface area” gets covered mostlly in Part 2>

I have been a big supporter of the Missional Church Movement. I am disappointed that missional churches have often chosen a path that is often anti-missionary. It seems ridiculous to me that it should be so. Some of the problem, in my mind, is “sociological” or “anthropological”. We have a tendency as humans to decide who is “US” and who is “THEM”. Churches, ideally, identify members serving on 1000, 5000, 10000 miles away as “US”… but the human tendency identify people so far away as “THEM” is powerful. The disconnection starts out subtly, relationally. Eventually, it drifts to financially and organizationally..

Yet Missionaries, historically, have been arms of the church… either being sent out by a church, or an association of churches. Paul and Barnabbas fit this type. Some missionaries have gone out independent of other Christian groups. Bruce Olsen (author of the book “Brushko”) would be one example, as well as tens of thousands of “tentmaker missionaries”. However, most often when we think of missionaries, we think of people who are not sent out either of these ways, but rather sent out by a parachurch organization.

Parachurch organizations are a beneficial alternative for sending missionaries. In some cases it can even be the ideal environment for a missionary, due to their experience and connections. However, I believe that it is ideal for a church to have missionaries who are sent out by the church.

Consider two options.

Option 1. “Local Community Church” (LCC) has 10 mission families that they support at approximately 20% each, sent through a mission agency. These mission families have never been part of LCC. But they get reports back on a regular basis, and they get occasional furlough visits.

Option 2. LCC has 2 mission families supported 100%. These two families are members of LCC. They get reports back and visits as well.

  1. Involvement. In Option 1, LCC has limited direct involvement with missions. Money leaves the church and goes to an external mission agency and goes to people who are not members of the church. In Option 2, LCC has direct involvement. Money does not actually leave the church since it is going to church members. Work done by the mission families is now actually the direct work of the church at a remote site. All members of the church can look at the mission work as their work, and they can be part of the team in a real way.

  2. Accountability. In Option 1, the missionaries are accountable to no one church. As long no single church provides too large of a monthly support, the missionaries are really accountable to the mission board. Likewise, no church is really accountable to missionaries, since they are minority members of the relationship. In Option 2, the missionaries are accountable to the church they are a member of. Likewise, the church is accountable to their missionaries/members. The relationship necessitates prayer and vigilance.

  3. Relevance. What is the church supposed to do. Take the following quote.

The Church in the West has sacrificed so much of what she is supposed to be about that her relevance is lost to the lost. Parachurch organizations, such as seminaries, mission agencies, Christian counseling agencies, and evangelistic ministries, have risen to accomplish so much of what God intended the Church to do. She expects others to do evangelism, leadership development, and social care.”      –by Neil Cole in “Organic Church” (p. xxiv)

I believe it is not just the lost that question the value of a church. Is the church a social club? Is it a fund-raising entity?

  1. Organic Relationship. This requires a bit of explanation. This goes back to Dr. Christian Schwartz and his work in the area of Natural Church Development. It also is related to the work done in small group networks and multisite churches. Consider a church like a living creature (maybe a tree, maybe an amoeba). A living has a surface where interactions take place between the “inside world” of the organism and the outside world. An animal takes in water, food, and air, and excretes various wastes across that interface. Inside that interface, oxygen, sugars, and nutrients are shared throughout the organism for its growth and health. Just as an organism is greatly different in its functions within itself and external to itself, the church is also greatly different in how it (ideally) functions within the body, and external to the body.

    1. Consider church planting. A church starts another church and provides help (money and an initial group of core members, for example). But in the case of multisite, a church starts something that looks like a new church. Its members are still part of the original church, and its leaders are still leaders within the original church. Its budget it part of the greater budget of the original church. Its success or failure is directly related to the success or failure of the church as a whole. With a church plant, often the original church eventually forgets that it had planted a church (the church historian would hopefully know). In that situation, there is not much concern about the long-term viability and growth of the daughter church (after the honeymoon relationship subsides in a few years).

    2. Consider missions. A church pays money to a mission board who supports a missionary. Whether the church recognizes this or not, this is strictly an external relationship. It is like paying the heating bill. One might even look at it like paying a company to come in and go door-to-door sharing the Gospel in the neighborhood of the church. A missionary falls? He can be replaced by another… there are lots of missionaries on deputation, correct? However, as members of the sending church, the missionary has ties that go back to the church that go beyond money. It is relational. It is organic. It is visional.

Three Views of Missions

I love teaching Missions. As a missions professor, I don’t have to be an expert in Biblical

The Arms of Serampore College founded by Ward,...
The Arms of Serampore College founded by Ward, Marshman & Carey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Studies. I don’t have to be an expert in Theology. That’s a shame since Missions should have strong Biblical and Theological underpinnings. Still, it is a bit freeing that expectations of others is low in these areas. Additionally, as a Missions professor, one doesn’t even have to be very knowledgeable in missions, since there is little agreement as to what missions is, and how it is to be done.

Consider the definition of missions, by their focus.

Focus #1.  Heathen. Historically, missions was based on the target. William Carey wrote the tract, “An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversions of the Heathens.” That title describes a common view. Missions is conversion of the heathen. Who are the “heathen?” Well, that term is now considered old-fashioned. But it essentially describes people who are not part of a Christian culture (or, perhaps, not part of a Christian or Jewish culture). So the separation between missions and other types of Christian ministry is whether the people group or nation is considered “Christian” or “Heathen.”  This view is generally replaced with one of two other choices.

Focus #2.  Culture.  More recently, the focus is on the culture. If ministry is cross-cultural, then it is missions. If the ministry is not cross-cultural, then it is some other type of ministry (such as evangelism or discipleship). Ministry is divided into E-0 (within the same faith group), E-1 (same “cultural” neighborhood), E-2 (similar but different culture), and E-3 (very different culture). In this, missions is considered to be E-2 or E-3. This is probably the most common understanding of missions.

Focus #3.  Church. Another view defines missions in terms of its relationship to the local church. Church ministry could be divided up into three basic categories. Category 1 would be ministry to its own members/congregation. One could call it “Member Care.” Category 2 would be ministry that seeks to bring people from outside of the local church into the same church. One could call it “Church Growth.” Category 3 would be ministry that the local church does outside of itself without the intent of bringing people into its own church. One could call that “Missions.” In this light, missions can be local, regional, national, or international. It can also be same sub-culture, different sub-culture, same culture, or different culture.

I, personally, prefer the third type… a church-based understanding of missions. There are several reasons for this.

A.  It is more in line with missions as we see it in the New Testament. Most of us would agree that Paul and Barnabas were missionaries going out on missions. Barnabas was from the Island of Cyprus, living in a Jewish sub-culture in a broader Hellenistic culture. Paul was from Asia Minor, living in a Jewish sub-culture in a broader Hellenistic culture. On their first missionary journey, the first place they went was Cyprus where they first targeted members of the Jewish sub-culture there, and then those in the broader Hellenistic culture. Then they went to Asia Minor where they first targeted members of the Jewish sub-culture there, and then those in the broader Hellenistic culture. From a cultural understanding of missions, it is not clear that Paul and Barnabas were doing missions. However, from a church understanding, they definitely were doing missions.

B.  It challenges the theology of “Missionary Call.” For some, that would be a bad thing. But I think that is a good thing.  If one reads Acts 13, we find that Paul and Barnabas were not called to missions. Rather, the church was called to send Paul and Barnabas on missions. There is actually little Biblical justification for a separate “Missionary Call” from the normal call for all Christians to follow Christ. Some (almost) violently disagree with this… but there IS little justification for a professional call that goes beyond a general call of all to serve. Generally, even those that strongly believe in a necessary “missionary call” will acknowledge the need for the church to “affirm” that calling. Perhaps it is better to see the church as taking a more active, less passive, role in sending missionaries. Why does this matter? If there is a clear and necessary “Missionary Call,” this implies that there is a “Non-missions Call.” It only makes sense. If a missionary must be called, then most people are called NOT to do missions. If the church sends, then the problem goes away. All churches SHOULD be involved in Member Care, Church Growth, and Missions, and guide it’s members in finding how they can fit into any or all of these roles.

C.  It de-professionalizes missions. Missions stops being the work of professionals. It is the job of the church. Obviously, the church needs help by experts and and mobilizing groups… but cannot leave it for “someone else to do.” Of course, there should be a continued role for professional missions… it just stops being something limited to the professionals.

D. It removes some confusions in what is or is not missions. Is diaspora (same culture) missions carried out in a foreign country really missions or no? Is local outreach to a different sub-culture missions or not?

E.  Related to what was listed above, if missions is a necessary aspect of church ministry, then the church can’t dump it off on sodality structures (such as mission agencies). Now, when I say this, I am not rejecting sodality structures. They are not unbiblical, and they can be effective. It is just that the church must take responsibility for missions and recognize sodality structures as partners.

F.  It can bring a healthier perspective to the missional church movement. This movement has promoted the role of the local church reaching out. But some don’t take cross-cultural or international missions seriously. PERHAPS it would be taken more seriously if it was seen as an integral part of the missional role of the church, not an add-on.

Let’s stop here. Does this matter… how one defines missions? Maybe, maybe not. But generally, an interpretation of missions that leaves it to professionals outside of the church, removes it from the concern of the common membership of churches. That is not healthy.

The Church on Mission


Acts 13:1-3

1Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.

St. Peter’s Grotto Church in Antioch

Let’s reflect on this short passage. First, let’s deal with some technical issues with the passage.

First, let’s look at the people in the church. It was a very diverse church. Five names are mentioned here. Three of them were definitely Jewish, the other two, we aren’t as sure. But we know that there were many Gentiles in the church.

  • Barnabas: A Jew from the Island of Cyprus. He was a Levite. He was of Greek culture. He was sent to Antioch by the church of Jerusalem to see what was going on there. Great things were happening in Antioch and the church of Jerusalem wanted to understand it better.
  • Paul: A Jew from Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). A former pharisee. Barnabbas went to Paul’s home to recruit him to help in Antioch.
  • Manaen… or Menachen… was Jewish but was a companion, the foster-brother, of Prince (later King) Herod Antipas. That meant that he was raised up in the royal family.
  • Lucius of Cyrene. Roman name, came from Cyrene/ present day Tunisia, in North Africa.
  • Simeon who was called Niger. Some of have suggested that he was also from Cyrene. If that is true, he was the man who carried the cross for Jesus. Simon of Cyrene apparently did become a follower of Christ as well as his family. If this was the case, and the fact that Lucius was from Cyrene, they may have called him Niger, or black because of his coloration. So he may have been African. Not really sure.

Second. the passage says that they were prophets and teachers. Teachers make God’s word clear to the people… it instruct. But what about prophet? In the early church, prophets went from church to church encouraging and admonishing. So that might be the idea. Perhaps these 5 went around to other local churches in this role. Or maybe in this case it simply meant that they preached God’s word… speaking on God’s behalf to God’s people.

Third. The passage says that they were ministering to the Lord and they were fasting. The term we use as ministering is the same word where we get the term liturgy. It implies both worship AND service to God in the church. But what about fasting? Commonly, in the Bible fasting symbolized sorrow– a way of expressing grief. When Nehemiah heard horrible news from home, it said that he prayed, mourned, and fasted. Praying was his mental response. Mourning was his emotional response, and Fasting was his physical response. Head, heart, body. When critics of Jesus complained that His disciples did not fast, Jesus said that they had no need. Since He was with them, it is a time for celebration, not sorrow. However, there is at least one other reason to fast. It symbolized separation from the world. When Jesus spent 40 days with the Father, He symbolically separated Himself from the world by going into the wilderness and by fasting. By symbolicaly separating from the world, they were saying they were prepared to listen to and be guided by God’s Spirit.

So these five were serving God in the church. But they were also seeking God’s guidance… and God spoke to them.

I believe there is a lesson here. God spoke to them when they were seeking guidance from God. But they also were doing God’s work while they were waiting. I have known many people who seem to be doing nothing for God because they are waiting to hear from God what they are supposed to do. I would suggest that these 5 are a better example. Do what you KNOW you should be doing while your are seeking what ELSE you should be doing. Be faithful in the little until God gives you much to be faithful with.

Note here that the message is not to Paul. The message is not to Barnabbas. The message was to the church. “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Missions isn’t about individuals leaving the church to do things for God. It is about the church being involved in missions. And the church responded.

Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away. Almost certainly, this was referring to the entire church, not just the other three… Lucius, Manaen, and Simeon. In Acts 14:27 it speaks of Paul and Barnabbas returning to Antioch and reporting to the entire church, not just the other three.

So what might one gain from this:

1. God has a mission. It is the Spirit of God who initiates the action. I don’t believe that we have to wonder or worry whether God has a mission in Baguio. I don’t believe that we have to wonder or worry whether God has a mission for the Philippines. I don’t believe that we have to wonder or worry whether God has a mission in the world. And I don’t believe that we have to wonder or worry whether God has a mission for your church. God is on a mission and has a mission big enough to involve all.

2. God calls the church to join Him in His mission. Missions is not the job of specialists… missionaries. Missions is not the job of church leaders. Missions is the job of the entire church. God is on mission and invites the entire church to join in it. The church is a body and that body functions properly when each member of that body does its job correctly and faithfully.

3. The church goes on mission when it sends out missionaries. It is interesting to note that in verse 3 it says that the church laid hands on Paul and Barnabas. In the Bible, there are essentially two major reasons for laying hands on a person. One reason was in giving a blessing or gift of some sort. The other reason, frankly the more common reason, was to show a connection or a unity between the individual and the one laying on hands. I believe it’s pretty clear that the second applies here.

When the church laid their hands on Paul and Barnabas, they were saying that as they go on missions, the church goes with them. They are united in mission. They are united in spirit… even if they are separated by distance.

Sadly, in churches today, we don’t tend to do this… when we do lay on hands for missionaries, it tends to be with some idea of commissioning… not really a biblical concept. Then, all too often, the missionary goes away and the church forgets about them. What a shame.

The idea of laying on of hands is that when you go, we are with you. We are supporting you. The ministry you do, wherever you do it is our ministry. And what ministry we do, they are also part of.

Imagine that when a member of our church is going to a distant country, rather than feeling as if we are losing them… we feel that we have gained a new ministry location… wouldn’t that be powerful… wouldn’t that be a profound idea… seeing ministry through the eyes of God.

4. We have a choice. When God told them what to do… the Church of Antioch did not make excuses. They were not powerful… they were a modest church struggling to survive in a huge pagan trading city. Yet, this single church in the city of Antioch… changed the world. Sending out Paul, sending out Barnabbas, sending out John Mark and Silas and Nicholas, and others that we don’t even know. The planted churches all over Asia Minor, Greece, the islands of the Mediterranean, Egypt, Mesopotamia and beyond. It is hard to even imagine what the church would be like today without the church of Antioch. Even today, the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch has millions of members scattered throughout the world, including the Philippines.

We have a choice… but we are all called to respond with “Yes Lord.”

Don’t Get Out of the Pool

The church can be involved in missions on several levels. Here are three.

1.  Pooling

Pooling is pretty obvious. Churches pool their resources, particularly their money… giving them to an outside body, such as a denominational organization or  non-denominational mission agency. The involvement of the church in missions is extremely limited.

Relationship with missionaries/ministry sites:            NONE

Church Training Needed:        NONE


Missions Promotion:          ANNUALLY (BUDGET TIME) BUT NON-SPECIFIC

Mission Locations:             SOMEONE ELSE’S CONCERN

2.  Participating. 

With participating, members of the church go on missions and serve on mission trips. Commonly, the work is short-term with little to no long-term strategy (at least from the church side).

Relationship with missionaries/ministry sites:            SHORT-TERM


Strategy:           SHORT-TERM SPECIFIC

Missions Promotion:          AS NEEDED SPECIFIC

Missions Locations:           SHORT-TERM SPECIFIC

3.  Partnering.

With partnering, the church is actively involved in missions work. There is an attempt to be part of the strategizing and planning and to develop a long-term ministry (either regionally or ministerially).

Relationship with missionaries/ministry sites:            LONG-TERM

Church Training Needed:        MINISTRY OR REGIONALLY SPECIFIC

Strategy:           LONG-TERM SPECIFIC


Missions Locations:           LONG-TERM SPECIFIC AND STRATEGIC


I would suggest that a healthy church missions program has all three tiers making a complete pyramid. I think that it is good for churches to support missions outside of themselves. I also think it is good to support short-term mission sites as special opportunities arise. Not everything has to be long-term and strategic. But it would also be good for churches to be actively involved in strategic missions. Ideally, all three exist locally, regionally, and internationally.

At the pooling level, there is no differentiation between the different regions. However, in participating missions, it starts to matter as to region, and it becomes even more important at the partnering level.

Summing it up, a church should seek to be involved in multiple regions in multiple ways. However, being involved at higher levels of strategy and involvement should not mean removing the foundational aspects of the pyramid (as shown). Churches should be involved in missions, but please “Don’t get out of the pool.”