A single word has been haunting my pastoral work for a few years. I've devoted considerable time and attention to it, but I think I'll be chewing on this one for years to come, if not the rest of my life. It's a simple word and I believe that it holds tremendous importance for the future of the church. It's an old word, and we're trying to reclaim in in my congregation. The word is sent.
In the Bible, whenever there is trouble, God has a way of sending help. The word mission is from the Latin word “missio,” meaning “to send.” Here is a brief survey of the word sent throughout Scripture.
GOD SENT PROPHETS
“Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I!, Send me.” Is. 6:8
But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go.” Jer. 1:7
And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me.” Ez. 2:3
GOD SENT MESSAGES
And Moses told Aaron all the words of the LORD with which he had sent him to speak. Ex. 4:28
The LORD has sent a word against Jacob, and it will fall on Israel. Is. 9:8
So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Is. 55:11
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted . . . Is. 61.1
In the New Testament, there are a couple words for sent, but one in particular is primary: apostello. From it we get the word apostle, which means "sent one." This word has a deeper sense than just "sending a letter." It carries with it an authoritative weight, essentially to be sent with the authority of the sender. There is a power behind the sending because the Sender has given it.
JESUS SENT DISCIPLES
These twelve Jesus sent out . . . “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Matt. 10:5,16
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . . Matthew 28:19
GOD SENT JESUS
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:17
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. I John 4:9-10
By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for our sin, he condemned sin in the flesh . . . Rom. 8:3
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son . . . Gal. 4:4
AFTER JESUS ASCENSION INTO HEAVEN, THERE IS A DYNAMIC SENDING OUT OF THE CHURCH.
Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Matt. 9:38
(Jesus to the Father) “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” Jn 17:18
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. Acts 1:8
Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John. Acts 8:14
Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them (Paul and Barnabas) off. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. Acts 13:3-4
There was trouble, SO GOD SENT A FLOOD.
GOD SENT ABRAHAM out of Ur of Chaldeans.
GOD SENT MOSES back to his people in Egypt.
GOD SENT JUDGES, GOD SENT PROPHETS. GOD SENT HIS PEOPLE INTO EXILE.
And there was trouble, SO GOD SENT HIS SON. A Savior. A Rescuer on a divine rescue mission. God sent Love in a person. He invaded humanity. He entered our plight. He walked our land. He lived our life. When there is trouble, God sends.
Every year after Easter, I read through the book of Acts. In this last reading, I realized that it’s a funny thing that we go to church. The earliest Christians might find it odd that we associate our life as church so heavily with a place. The advent of church buildings, cathedrals, and steeples changed the paradigm. Religious activity began to move from streets, homes, and marketplaces, to one single place. Buildings are not inherently evil. And certainly, gathering for worship is a basic necessity. But a temptation is to limit God's activity to a particular place and time. For the early church, God's activity was dynamic. The church was wherever they were.
Being the church necessitates gathering. In the same way, it also requires scattering. I believe the future of the church rests in reclaiming this old word, sent. We are coming out of an epoch in which the church has limited its activity to singularly defined times and spaces. The next era is a sending of every Christian to their sphere of influence. A gathering and scattering. A deployment of God’s people to all corners. A great dispersion of God’s sent ones. So now, with the Spirit's instigation, we get to figure out how to do this . . .