Sending Well: Discovering missionaries in your church

Twenty-six years ago something happened to me that I never anticipated. I found myself believing that the Lord wanted me to plant a church. That was in 1990. Nobody was planting churches back then. The feeling wouldn’t leave me, so after 18 months of prayer, counsel and searching for the right place to plant, my wife and I packed up our preschoolers and headed to northern San Diego.

I suppose you could say that with a last name like “Seed,” planting a church was inevitable. But I didn’t see it. Amidst our finitude and frailty, the Lord has been gracious to us though. We’ve seen miracles we never anticipated and are living proof that the Lord is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all we could ask or imagine. In these past two weeks, we’ve seen over 150 first-time decisions for Christ. Add that to our running total, and New Song has celebrated 19,000 since our inception.

The biggest miracle of our ministry may be the number of kingdom leaders we’ve released into ministry. Years ago, I read that Spurgeon’s church launched over 200 ministries during his tenure. I thought, “Could something like that happen here?” So I began to pray that the Lord would enable us to launch a few ministries ourselves.

Some of my greatest joy comes from celebrating the men and women who have started ministries out of New Song: Paul Becker launched Dynamic Church Planting International, a church planter training mission that has trained planters in 100 countries. Scott Evans started Outreach, Inc., helping churches with invitational tools and resources like Sermon Central and Outreach Magazine. Chris Fowler created Church Community Builders Online.

Then there are the church planters: Mark Williams planted our first daughter church. Jim Boyd has planted three churches in the U.S. Edwin Samson is planting a church on an island where no evangelical witness has ever been before. Two young men whom I cannot name are planting a coffeehouse church in a Muslim country. The list goes on. Right now, we have two young men preparing to launch churches locally in 2017.

How does this happen? My best answer is, only God. He’s the Lord of the harvest. In my experience, when you pray that the Lord of the harvest will send out workers into His harvest field, He takes your prayers seriously!

On a practical level, there are four things we’ve done to contribute harvest workers to the harvest. The first two are more theological than practical, but without them, there would be no vision and momentum for sending.

1. At New Song, we believe that a church’s fruitfulness shouldn’t be measured by its number of apples, but by its number of apple trees.
Apple trees are to produce more apple trees. Christians are to produce more Christians. For too long, a pastor’s prowess has been measured by the size of his parish, when really, it should be measured by the size of his productivity. One tree can produce a lot of apples, but an orchard produces immeasurably more.

2. We believe every church can help in some way in the reproduction of churches.
Our first daughter church started with four New Songers and a church planter. Four members was all we could muster back then. During Katrina, a number of New Orleans churches had to be replanted. We partnered the Saddleback in paying the salary of one of these pastors for the next year. Believing there is a way to help in the harvest has enabled us, and lots of other churches to play a part, even if it wasn’t the primary part, in sending a missionary.

Some churches don’t have members to give to church planting, but they have prayers. They can host a babyshower for a new church. They can send missions teams to help with the launch. Or they can supply a nearby planter with an office in their building. One of our daughter churches was planted too far away for any of us to go, and the founding core had enough money that they didn’t need financial help. But they needed my support, so I served as the church’s founding Board chairman. The church is eight years old now, with over 3,000 in attendance and I still serve that planter as a member of his Board.

3. We teach that the calling of every Christian is to participate in the Great Commission.
We teach New Songers that we were born to reproduce. All of us have a role to play in leading people to Christ and growing them to full devotion. With that mindset, every few years, one of us realizes they have the giftedness and calling to lead something entrepreneurial. When that happens, a new ministry is born.

4. We look for called people and encourage them.
Actually it’s not as simple as someone figuring out they’re gifted and called. God’s normal method for identifying new leaders is to use His Body to identify and encourage them along the way. Usually, during the early stages of a call to church planting or a call to some other form of missions work, I and other leaders will affirm and encourage that person as they are exploring their potential call.

Ultimately, the work of identifying and calling missionaries and church planters is God’s work. But in my experience, pastors and churches who are willing to play a part get to play a significant role in the discovery, development, and deployment process.

Published September 12, 2016