This is the third point to the sermon I preached regarding the qualities of missions-minded church. First, the missions-minded church is a diversely gifted church (v. 1). Second, the missions-minded church is a Spirit-led church (v. 2). Finally, we see that a missions-minded church is a sending church (v. 3).
A local church’s commitment to the advancement of the gospel requires the tough task of learning to say goodbye. Remember, Paul and Barnabas were not stranger to the church in Antioch, they were leaders. They had spent a substantial amount of time teaching (Acts 11:19–26) and serving (11:27–30).
This text emphasizes the local church’s involvement in sending missionaries. Inversely, this shows that biblical missionaries have roots in a local church. This is a principle that seems less and less important in the world we live in today. Too often, people emphasize work on the field at the expense of the local church’s affirmation and blessing. Missionaries put themselves in compromised positions when they enter into the field without having roots in a local church. The local church trains, equips, and affirms the ability of missionaries to do the work. Entering the mission field without the support of a local church is a sign of immaturity and ignorance. It provides little to no accountability to what is said, taught, and modeled on the field. If there is no local church support then what gives the missionary confidence that they are on the right course? This may sound extreme, but a rogue missionary is a disobedient missionary. The irony is that missionaries should aim to establish local churches, yet fail to emphasize the importance of local churches themselves. One of the greatest problems in modern missions may very well be a low view of the local church, a bad ecclesiology.
The passage indicates that healthy local churches give their blessing to missionaries in three ways. First, the missions-minded church prayerfully say goodbye. The text continues to indicate that the church fasted and prayed. These two actions show the church’s humility and dependence upon God in the act of sending. Despite the clarity of God’s calling upon Paul’s life to minister to the Gentiles the local church wanted to be spiritual sensitive to the Lord in the act of sending. The decision to send was never done in the confidence of human ability, but through the dependence of the divine.
Second, the missions-minded church confidently say goodbye. The church then lays their hands on the men as a sign of approval for the work they are to embark on. The local church is affirming their gifts and abilities, but most probably above all the message. The local church is affirming that the message that Paul and Barnabas will proclaim is the same message they have received and believed. They can say with confidence that these two men are accurate representatives of the gospel and its implications in life and ministry. Local churches need to be confident in the people they send out. They need to affirm and approve the work of ministry and the people behind it.
Third, the missions-minded church actually say goodbye. Lastly, the two men were actually sent. The local church said goodbye. On the surface, it seems like a simple task, but considering how close they were to Paul and Barnabas probably implies a bitter-sweet experience. Saying goodbye is difficult and a lot of selfishness is exposed when we refuse to say goodbye. The prideful sins of ungodly comfort and familiarity, and the pride of building a ministry with an elite staff are all challenges to actually saying goodbye. This church, looked at the need and gave their best men to the work. The local church made a sacrifice for the proclamation of the Gospel to those in need.
These are principles that every church must have. Remember, the work of gospel proclamation and disciple-making is not an option, it is the church’s mandate (Matt 28:19–20). Therefore, these principles in Acts 13:1–3 are not merely for the elite churches or mega churches who have people to spare. These principles are desires for every biblically faithful church (large or small). It is my prayer that my church would have gifted leaders who are sent by the Spirit-led church in good conscience to do the work of ministry.