by Judi Chow
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?