As Southern Baptists, we have a long history of involvement in international missions. We have a large sending agency (International Mission Board) that prepares, supports, and sends out new missionaries. We have a Woman's Missionary Union that provides great encouragement for overseas work. We have six seminaries (Southeastern, Southern, Southwestern, New Orleans, Midwestern, and Golden Gate) that all educate future missionaries.
In light of the existence of the IMB, WMU, and the seminaries, what responsibility does the local church have? Specifically related to the sending out of missionaries, where does the local church come in? After attending Southeastern Seminary, I got the feeling that it was the seminaries and/or the IMB that had the most to do with the sending out of those called to go overseas. The local church seemed to be relegated to a sort of background cheerleader. I am in no way criticizing either the seminaries or the IMB, but rather am wondering out loud how the local church should be more involved in the sending out of missionaries.
If we look at Paul's example, we know that he sensed a personal call to missions. This is clear in Acts 9. However, Paul's conversion does not give us a picture of the involvement of the local church. We must turn to Acts 13:1-4 for this. In these four verses, we see five men who appear to have been some of the leaders of the church. We can see these men both worshiping and fasting. At that point something amazing happened: the Holy Spirit told them to set apart Barnabas and Saul. The biblical text actually says, "The Holy Spirit said..." So God not only spoke audibly to Paul on the Damascus Road, but He also appears to have audibly told them to send out Barnabas and Saul.
After this amazing experience, the church responded by 1) fasting, 2) praying, 3) laying on of hands, and 4) sending out. So the local church was simply recognizing who the Holy Spirit was sending out. In fact, in verse 4 the text says, "So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia..."
In Antioch, the church recognized who the Holy Spirit had chosen, and then supported them in going out. This is the model of the bible. Is this what our local churches do? Or, do our local churches simply find out that one of their own wants to be a missionary, and supports them in this?
In other words, are our local SBC churches recognizing who the Holy Spirit has chosen, or are they just so proud of their own missionary-to-be that they forget to seek the Lord in this? Let us not forget that the men in Antioch were worshiping, fasting, and praying. When was the last time you saw a local church fast and pray over who God wants to be a missionary from their body?