Photo Gallery

Article 2020-12 Become a Sender!

Chapter 64: Become a Sender!


Missionaries cannot send themselves; that is the church’s task, but they function best when they use a sending agency. Churches and agencies need to colaborate, not compete.

Scripture reference

Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love … I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chaines … I am sending him … back to you. I would have like to keep him with me but I did not want to do anything without your consent(Philem. :8-10,12-14)

The story

Paul’s letter to his friend Philemon contains an important message for the church. The issue of Onesimus presents us with a case-study that we should take seriously. Philemon was probably a business man who had personnel, including slaves from before he knew Christ. He may have led one of the Colossian house churches. His slave Onesimus ran away and went to Rome, where he met Paul who led him to Jesus. He became a great help to Paul, but Philemon owned him. This placed Paul and Philemon in a predicament that Paul tried to solve. As usual, there’s more to this letter than just the situation at hand.

Paul could presume on Philemon’s grace and with apostolic authority order him to release Onesimus, so that he could join Paul’s team. Yet, he decided to send Onesimus (his name means ‘useful’) back, and requested Philemon to set him free from duty there, and send him to Paul. Paul was pretty sure Philemon would not refuse. Onesimus, in his unconverted state disgraced his name by no longer being useful to Philemon. By contrast, he had become very useful to Paul. Philemon had the right to claim Onesimus back, but in fact he had lost him already. If he sent him back to Paul voluntarily, he would reap the spiritual benefits of a missionary-sender.



Church pastors do not own their people in the same sense. Yet, pastors exercise spiritual authority over their church members. When people are useful to a pastor, it is difficult for him to release them when a missionary call comes. It requires much grace for pastors to let their best people go to a mission field.
On the other hand, once people have landed on the mission field, based on a rebellious attitude toward their pastors, they cannot just stay there, pretending that nothing happened. Paul gives the example here to walk the proper way of sending self-styled missionaries back home, and see whether they can be sent with the blessing of their church and their pastor. 

In a way, Paul may be seen as representative of a missionary organization. Yet he did not work independently of the church. He was sent from the church in Antioch and desired that all missionaries had a church basis to support them with prayer and material gifts. If that were not so, as with Onesimus, Paul sought to remedy the case  by recognizing Philemon’s authority and so make him part of a proper missionary-sending process.

We learn from this that the church sends people to the mission field, not a missionary organization. The latter has a role to play, but should function as facilitating body, with its specialized knowledge of world missions than can be expected of the average church. Church and missions organization are there to help, compliment and facilitate each other as true Kingdom partners. They are not to combat each other in any way.

Neither church nor organization should work independently as if they do not need each other. Churches have people as well as spiritual and material resources. Missionary organizations have the knowledge and experience of selecting and screening the right people for the jobs on the field. Neither can do without the other. Organizations without church support lack resources. They cannot do their work without those. Similarly, churches that send their resources without using the proper knowledge and experience blunder on mission fields.


Discussion & dialogue

  • Discuss what negative consequences may occur for mission work on the field, when missionaries are either sent by a church or an agency, without the two working together. Think through the consequences for field ministry and for workers and their families

Links to related content