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Ministry Monday: Sending people out

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Posted by Paul Williams, 5 Sep 2016

Paul Williams helps us see the priority of passing on the baton, and sending out workers into the harvest field.

Reach out, build up and send out.  I’m yet to meet an evangelical church leader who doesn’t aim to do those things in one way or another.  But of those three aims I reckon “Send Out” is the one that is most easily neglected, or if not neglected, then most quickly relegated down the “to do” list.

I am using the term “Send Out” in the sense of identifying potential leaders to send out as ordinands and church workers and cross-cultural mission partners.  And there are two huge reasons why church leaders are likely to fail in the duty of sending out.

First, the sheer busy-ness of the pastor.  Church leaders feel overwhelmed by the task.  Barely a day goes by when I don’t ask myself, “How am I going to get everything done?”  Most Sundays I find myself genuinely praising God that I got through the week, because on Monday, when I looked at the days ahead, I found myself praying a heartfelt prayer of desperation.

And even on those rare occasions when I look ahead believing that I can reasonable manage the workload and perhaps even start to tackle those long neglected tasks, something happens. 

I can be super organised, disciplined, and efficient.  I can have clear priorities.  And still my plans are disrupted by the demands of the parish.  Just this week, my schedule to write this article was changed by the news that a couple in the congregation had lost their baby at 40 weeks.  In such a tragic situation, it was a “no brainer” — the article could wait.  I didn’t begrudge for one second the time to sit and mourn with this dear Christian couple.  But it illustrates the unexpected demands that come, thick and fast every week.  And so I find myself overwhelmed with the tasks that have to be done and then the unexpected comes.

My point is simple.  Unless I am convinced that sending out potential leaders is a priority, more than that, an essential part of what it means for me to be a faithful leader, then it will not get done.  Or let me put it this way.  If Sending Out is not very near the top of the “to do” list, it won’t get done.

The second, obstacle to sending people out is the cost.  Not the financial cost, although there is one, but the cost of losing key people. 

Here we are, at the beginning of a new academic year and our staff meetings are something of a dog fight for leaders.  It’s a godly dog-fight (most of the time) and the motives are pure and right (most of the time).  We need people to be leaders of small groups, student, youth and children’s work. We need Christianity Explored leaders, and people to step up to serve in the music and to help with the ministry among older people.  But there are only so many people in the church family to go around.  We simply don’t have enough leaders to do everything we plan to do.

Every church leader I speak to tells me the same.  So the thought of tapping good people on the shoulder and suggesting they might consider ordination is a costly one.  Because that tap is potentially the first push to them leaving the church.  It is costly to encourage the best people we have, towards ordination or cross-cultural mission.  Oh, and yes, they take their giving with them, so there is a financial cost too!

For these two reasons, I have to be absolutely convinced that sending people out is not just a good thing to do, or a worthy thing to do, but that is an essential part of what I am to do as a godly church leader.  And to be convinced of that I can do no better than to turn to 2 Timothy.

In this Olympic year we all know (and have probably used) the illustration of 2 Timothy 2:2.  Just as the 4x100 metres relay team have to pass on the baton in the relay race, so we must pass on the gospel to others.  I have no objection with the point.  Yes, let’s be people who pass on the gospel and pass it on to reliable people.

But be clear on the emphasis in this verse.  The whole of 2 Timothy is about training future leaders. So let me suggest that the emphasis in 2 Timothy 2:2 is not on the baton (the gospel in the illustration) but on the runners (the people we pass it on to).  It is about team selection, more than baton passing.  The emphasis is on finding and training “reliable men” to be leaders of the church in the next generation. 

Yes, they must have the gospel in their hands, but this is not just a charge to tell the congregation the gospel or to teach them the whole council of God — it is a specific charge to identify and then train godly leaders. As we read through this wonderful little letter we see how Paul has done just that with Timothy.  And that is why Paul can speak the way he does at the end of the letter. 

In chapter 4, Paul is ready to die.  He says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7).  Note how Paul uses exactly the same metaphors here as he does in 2 Timothy 2:4-5.  Like a soldier (2:3) he has fought the good fight (4:7).  Like an athlete (2:5) he has finished the race (4:7).

And that tells us the big point and the huge challenge.  It is precisely because Paul has trained Timothy, handing the baton onto a good, trustworthy, and reliable man, that he can say he is ready to die as one who has fought the fight and run the race.

The challenge is a stark one.  For a gospel leaders ministry to have been a faithful gospel ministry, he must have trained, equipped and “sent out” future gospel ministers.

If that’s right, it’s not enough to teach the Bible to the congregation — essential as that is.  It’s not enough to have done the work of the evangelist and under God, brought people to Christ — essential as that is.  It’s not enough to have prayed — crucial as that is.  It’s not enough to have grown the congregation or planted churches — good as those things are.  If we, as gospel leaders, haven’t identified, trained and sent out the next generation of leaders, we’ve not run the race or fought the fight as comprehensively as we should have.

And when I believe that, it gives me the spring in my step to overcome the obstacles of overwhelming busy-ness and the cost of losing some of the best people in the congregation.  When I believe this, “Sending people out” is now rocketed way up the “to do” list.

And then, even when the demands of ministry are overwhelming and the cost of sending people is great, I’ll not neglect this task.  And what a blessing that will be to the church nationally and internationally.

Oh, and don’t worry, you won’t lose out locally — for the Lord is sure to bless you as you give people away because you’ve made it a priority to send people out.

Paul Williams is the Vicar of Christ Church, Fulwood in Sheffield.

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