Answer…the local church. It is the local church that God has appointed to be the agent to test, train, affirm, and send those called to be pastors and missionaries. Because of this truth, the local church must embrace this enormous responsibility. This call has been the responsibility of the church from the beginning, as we see the church in Antioch (Acts 13) embrace it. The church in Antioch is a great example and picture of how the local church can better understand the external call in its relation to the local church in our day. Luke accounts of Saul and Barnabas preparing to be sent on their first missionary journey. Here is the scene given as the church sends them:
Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. (Acts 13:1-3)
The responsibility of the external call is centered on the local church, evidenced in the sole presence of the church at Antioch. There were no seminaries or mission organizations. This is not to say that seminaries and mission organizations are not very helpful and ordained by God. Nevertheless, in the early church the testing, training, affirming, and sending of pastors and missionaries were the sole responsibility of the local church and the pastors, leaders, and believers found within.
Though this picture in Acts focuses on the affirming and sending of missionaries, supporting texts throughout the New Testament should cause us to conclude this same process for all those called into the gospel ministry. Paul wrote to Titus and instructed him to, “Appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5). Paul wrote to Timothy that, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). This picture in Acts can also be seen in Timothy’s pastoral calling as Paul references other pastors laying hands on Timothy in affirmation of his gifts and calling (1 Tim. 4:14). Regardless the type of gospel ministry, God has designed pastors and missionaries to be identified by pastors and affirmed by the local church.
This is the main theses of my new book Test, Train, Affirm and Send into Ministry: Recovering the local church’s responsibility to the external call that should be in stock at Amazon in the next week or so.