Like many church kids of my generation, I grew up thinking that to be “sent” by Jesus meant I would have to go to Africa or China. I never heard, nor did I ever think, that to be sent was something that was to happen right where a Christian lived. I had no understanding that I could be used to help share the love of God in my own home town, my family, or my circle of friends. In other words I was never effectively discipled.
Church was always a part of growing up, however, and I grew to love her. I was a true son of the family. Acolyte, Junior Choir, Youth Group, then in early adulthood Sunday School Teacher, and Lay Reader. But “sent?” That was for missionaries who went to far places, and came home with tales of adventure and hardship. Now I know better. Every true disciple is to be sent into the place where God has the most need for them to serve.
For many it is inside the household of God. There are ministries needed close to hand, and others that cry out for laborers in the town or region round about. In the schools, the hospitals, the places of business. When someone has come to any level of maturity, there is work prepared for them to “walk in.” (Eph 2:10) What I now understand is that only when those first steps are taken faithfully, will someone be asked to do more, or to go further. The challenge to be found faithful in a little is the Lord’s prescription for being entrusted with much. (Luke 16:10) But first must come the initial assignment, the inaugural placement. Is the church actually doing this with any regularity? Is she seeing to it that all God’s children learn to say: “Here am I! Send me?” (Is 6:8)
After a lifetime of hearing sermons preached from this text in the prophet Isaiah, I have yet to hear one that applies the next verse. “And [God] said ‘Go.’” Indeed I have come to realize that the pews are filled with men and women who do not even know how to hear the Lord, let alone obey his direction to go. There has been a profound breakdown in the life of the church, which is called to equip people to know the voice of their Shepherd, and to obey his direction.
Remedying this gap is not easy in a long established place. The customs and patterns are well established and difficult to change. But the new converts, if there are new converts, are ripe to be equipped and sent. They have an inner desire to allow God to use them, now that they have woken up to his call and received his abundant grace. But once again I must warn, the place to make this transition is not the classroom. It is in a relationship with other disciples who are walking the same path of learned obedience to their Lord.
Many suggestions have been given, and many schemes tried, but I know only one way that these truths can become widely shared in the local congregation. The senior leader must lead it, and it means letting go of the control of the work. Other leaders must be equipped, capable of walking alongside a few others, and helping them discover their individual callings. The people of God must help one another actually be sent.
Next Week: Unmistakable Clarity?