My mom had a diamond ring that my sibling and I bought for her when we were teenagers. She wore it for many years without taking it off because that ring was a token of our love. After so many years of wear and tear, the tiny diamond somehow got loose and was lost. My mom searched high and low, day and night, on her hands and knees, investigating every inch of her apartment not because of its monetary value but the precious memories it carried. This instance caused me to think of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son of Jesus’ parables in Luke 15.
We usually use these parables to refer to saving lost heathen. If we take a closer look, we can see all 100 sheep belonged to the same master, just as that woman owned all 10 coins and the father had two sons from the beginning. It was from these original lots that one sheep strayed, one coin was lost, and one rebellious son left home. These lost ones used to belong; they were precious just as that tiny diamond belonging to my mom. She knew the ring still on her finger no longer had the diamond; it had an empty crown where the diamond once set. It was incomplete just as the 99 sheep, the nine coins and the one son without the lost ones.
Remember what I talked about in “Where have all the Leaders Gone?” about fallen leaders– the gifted pastor, the sacrificial missionary, and the dedicated elder? Didn’t they once belong to a church? A mission agency? A community of believers? When they fall, they are lost, and no one seems to know how to search after these lost leaders. You know what they say, “the higher you are; the harder you fall.” Maybe these lost leaders don’t want to be found; maybe they are still licking their wounds; maybe it is easier to be lost and forgotten than losing face; or maybe they need the gentle, loving hand of God extended by His people to bring them back home where they once belonged– to be restored.
I have been talking and dreaming about the idea of developing an ICU for missionaries and ministers. I am not a doctor or a nurse, but as a counselor I see wounded people almost everyday. I listen and feel their pain; some wounds are so deeply infected that sometimes I have to perform emotional operations, with their permission, to take out whatever is eating them alive. Restoration of God’s fallen leaders starts with not having them get lost in the first place by continuous contact, diligent prayer, and agape love from God’s people close to that leader. You can only correct and restore when the person is present and willing. ICU is a team effort with the Holy Spirit as our head surgeon guiding a group of mature, humble, caring servants of the Lord living out the community of love and dedication.
During one’s lifetime, there are different big events one attends, from birthday parties to weddings to funerals. I find myself attending ordinations and commissioning services at this point in my life. Maybe that has to do with the fact that most of my friends are in the ministry and some of them have chosen the path of missions. I’ve seen commissioning services take on the form of elaborate wedding ceremonies except for the exchange of rings and the kissing part. Seriously, why do we have commissioning services? Is it a celebration? A public testimony? A time to take pictures and say good-bye? An opportunity to bestow gifts and pray for the missionary?
Actually, the commissioning service symbolizes the missionary’s willingness to submit to the authority of the sending church and missions agency. It is a partnership effort with the missionary as a channel of blessings between the field and the home base. The purpose of the commissioning service is to further the ties of unity and confidence between the missionary and the home church. This is the time to publicly acknowledge the call of God upon this missionary and his family. The church in recognition of this call and in obedience to the Spirit sends the missionary family off by fasting, praying, and laying on of hands. (Acts 13)
Without question, the bride and groom should be the center of focus on their wedding day. What about commissioning services? Shouldn’t the missionary be the star for the day? It is another one of those big events parallel to one’s wedding. After all, we need to make a deep impression to last for at least a term, so people won’t forget the missionary family once they leave. You know what they say, “Out of sight, out of mind!” This is rightly so and maybe needed, but if we take another closer look at Acts 13:1-4, we can see it is the Holy Spirit Who initiated the selection and the sending; the church leaders confirm it by laying their hands on them.
Commissioning services can be uplifting if we can place the center of focus back on the One Who loves the lost, calls and sends those who are willing to go and make disciples of all nations. It is a partnership endeavor like in any wedding; you cannot have the groom without the bride! It takes two. So does the commissioning service; we have the one who sends and the one who is being sent. I have nothing against rituals and ceremonies; it is nice to have members of the official board to form a circle around the missionary family while a prayer is given. It is good to have a charge or exhortation to the church and the missionary family. It is great if the missionary can give a response or testimony. It is heart warming if a slide show and music is presented of the field. Flowers, pictures, gifts, food, and everything else can be enjoyed if the center of focus is on the partnership effort of the God Who sends and the missionary who submits.
The wedding only last a day or a week in some countries, but the marriage a lifetime. How should the commissioning service and the relationship between the sender and missionary be?