Anthony Norris Groves (1795 – 1853) stands as one of the great missionaries of the 19th century. Most people in today’s churches haven’t even heard of him.
Mission Societies vs. Churches
In that day, mission societies sent missionaries overseas, rather than the churches doing the sending themselves. In the early days of the modern missionary movement, mission societies were the sending agencies for cross-cultural missionaries, such as the Scottish Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge (1707), the Moravian Mission Society (1732) and the Baptist Mission Society (1792). The full name of the latter establishment was the Particular Baptist Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Heathen (or, BMS). William Carey, “the father of modern missions, helped found it.
In 1795, the year Groves was born, a group of English Congregationalists (including David Livingstone and Robert Moffat), established the London Missionary Society (LMS).
Groves believed that, while the early missionary movement could be forgiven for their awkward method of sending out missionaries, churches should discover a better, more biblical way to do this. Scripture had convinced Groves that local churches must send out missionaries through the power of the Holy Spirit. Local committees and boards should not be the ones giving a salary to the missionary. Local churches must send and support the missionary.
A good example of this is the church in Antioch (Acts 13:1-3). They observed the ministry of Paul and Barnabas for at least a year. Then they set these men apart for their missionary work, praying and fasting before sending them on their way.
Five Reasons Churches Should Send Out Missionaries
Groves gave several reasons why he thought this was the best model. I will summarize some of them below.
First, churches that send out missionaries will know and love them intimately. The family crossing the globe isn’t just a face on a prayer card. The church is able to sympathize with their trials and rejoice with their success because they know them intimately.
Second, churches that send out missionaries will ensure they are qualified. Who is better prepared to judge a man’s character and ministerial gifts than the local church in which he has ministered? Prospective missionaries can easily fool outsiders. Not so with their local church. This is another reason why the modern method of individual families providing the majority of support for a missionary is so dangerous. There is little accountability.
Third, churches that send out missionaries will give more cheerfully. The Apostle Paul didn’t have to send weekly appeals for funds to the church in Philippi. Several in that church had been led to Christ by the riverside (Ac. 16:13). They knew and loved him. When he visited them, they were thrilled. When he needed help, they quickly sent Epaphroditus. Churches generally give the most to missionaries they know best.
Fourth, churches that send out missionaries give them freedom. They will pray for him. They will offer counsel. But contrary to a society, the church does not have a set of hard-and-fast rules the missionary must follow. They trust him and realize they do not know the culture or the difficulties as he does.
Fifth, churches that send out missionaries will not hamper him. There is no finance committee that must approve the decisions he makes. Speaking from experience, there are literally hundreds of ministry decisions I must make each year: purchasing a vehicle, locating a new preaching point, buying plane tickets, accepting a conference invitation, disciplining a backsliding believer. Churches that know their missionary and then send and support him, have much greater confidence that he will make the proper decisions. They are less likely to hinder him from reaching a conclusion quickly.
Groves wisely encouraged churches to take the lead in supporting and sending out missionaries. This does not preclude some of the advantages of mission boards, but it does emphasize the necessity for local congregations to know, love and judge their missionaries well before dispatching these evangelists around the world.