The Sending Church Defined

Written by a former missionary who is now a pastor writing for the Upstream Collective, The Sending Church Defined is a helpful and practical guide for any local church making efforts to reach out globally with the gospel. The perspective of the author and the Upstream Collective (a forum created to deepen the conversation of sending churches with their involvement in missions) is that it is the task of the local body of Christ to identify, equip, support, and send missionaries throughout the world. According to the author, the shift from the local church to mission agencies as the primary sender was unfortunate at best. Bell and the Upstream Collective are calling the local church to once again accept this role and for mission organizations to assist the church in its effort (pp. 122-128).

Bell offers a rather long and detailed definition of the local sending church and writes the book confirming this definition:

A Sending Church is a local community of Christ-followers who have made a covenant together to be prayerful, deliberate, and proactive in developing, commissioning, and sending their own members both locally and globally, often in partnership with other churches or agencies, and continuing to encourage, support, and advocate for them while making disciples cross-culturally, and upon their return (pp. 13, 27).

The author challenges some of the standard positions common to most mission-minded American churches. In addition to relocating the sending of missionaries to the local body of Christ, he seriously questions the individual call to missions disconnected from the church (p. 60). While individuals might want to serve Christ as missionaries, it should be the church, which recognizes and sends them out (pp. 91-94, 103). Not everyone who desires to be a missionary should receive the affirmation and support of the church and, given the modern pattern, turning some away will be painful and often misunderstood. But we must send our best, not our misfits (pp. 91-94), Bell writes the following:

When a church leaves the assessment of their missionary candidate’s calling up to the individual’s discernment or fully outsources it to a missions organization, it “indicates a lack of understanding of the central role of the local church in world missions…” “The most that an individual can do is express his willingness. Others must determine his worthiness. The individual may be free to go, but only his church knows if he is really fitted to go” (p. 91).

The author believes Christianity has shifted to the global south (p. 82) (a concept that needs more discussion given the type of Christianity that is often found in the south), and America now receives more missionaries than any other country (p. 117) (another statistic that needs more reflection). Therefore, it is important that the western church partner with nationals (pp. 128-133). He goes too far, however, when he writes that “the world hasn’t been evangelized yet because Christians are attempting to do it independently, rather than together” (p. 121). Bell is prone to these types of exaggerations. For example: “the earth shakes when the church prays” (p. 71); “the nations are theirs for the asking” (p. 71); “every Christian can change the world through prayer” (p. 72); and crossing cultures guarantees the mission will be completed (p. 156). Bell also occasionally uses Scripture out of context (see pp. 80, 156) and quotes questionable sources such as Dallas Willard (p. 72), Dan Kimball (p. 112), Lesslie Newbigin (p. 123), and Tim Keller (pp. 77, 114). Since Keller was a leader in adding a social agenda to the biblical gospel, coupled with a quote by Matt Perman about ending extreme poverty and bringing justice to the oppressed as being part of the missionary task (p. 111), it draws into question how Bell defines the gospel. However, since the gospel is not his subject, and since he never directly addresses his understanding of it, we cannot know for certain.

The strong points of this book are not only its solid biblical philosophy of missions, but also its practical application of how to encourage and aid missionaries (pp. 136-139). One excellent suggestion is to develop support teams of small groups which adopt a global missionary family and give them special attention (pp. 147-149). Another vital chapter deals with missionaries returning home, which the author terms “missionary kryptonite” (p. 164). Whether for furlough, resignment, or retirement, reentry is a most difficult time and requires extra attention from the sending church (pp. 162-171).The Sending Church Defined is a wonderful resource, and any church wanting to enhance its missionary outreach would do well to read and apply many of its concepts

by Bradley Bell (Knoxville, TN: The Upstream Collective, 2021), 188 pp., paper $10.99

Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Southern View Chapel

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