Missions 101: Serving as Senders
Missions 101: Serving as Senders
In World War II, for every one soldier on the battlefield, there were fifteen backing him up in what is called the “line of communication.” The “line of communication” is the route that connects a military unit with its supply base. In the more recent Persian Gulf War, there was a 50:1 ratio of soldiers in the line of communication to soldiers on the field. This simply illustrates that our “Army of One” is one in unity but that one on the field depends on a host of men and women in a support network to provide everything that is needed on the field of battle.
In a similar way, God is not looking for Lone Rangers or Superstars. He is commanding an army: soldiers of the cross.
As Swartz Creek moves back into supporting and even sponsoring preachers either in Michigan or in a foreign country (and I hope it is both), you and I need to provide all the support we can to those men, and potentially their wives and families, on the battle field we call the “mission field.” That is what I want to discuss…
THE NEED FOR SENDERS:
In our assigned text, Romans 10:15, we see that ultimately, before someone can be saved (v. 11), someone has to be “sent” (v. 15). The “sending” is the foundation for the “believing.”
We have sung the song “Ready to Suffer” by Charlie Tillman and one verse reads: “Ready to suffer grief or pain, Ready to stand the test; Ready to stay at home and send others, if He sees best. Ready to go or ready to stay. Ready my place to fill. Ready for service, lowly or great, ready to do His will.”
The elders and deacons hope and pray that within 2-3 years, we will be supporting a man here in Michigan and one in a foreign country, maybe even full time. We have two men we are supporting in the school of preaching in Knoxville, TN, both of whom are from MI: Michael Tanksley and Jake Burris. Our missionary might be one of those two or it might be someone else. We need a strong, integrated, educated, knowledgeable, excited-as-we-are, active team of people who have committed themselves to the work of serving as senders: that’s you and me.
To take on a man or a family and serve as their senders, we need to provide moral support, logistics support, financial support, prayer support, and communication support. The reward of more souls in the kingdom of Christ will be equal to our missionary’s and our own faithfulness to the task of seeking and saving the lost.
Let’s take a biblical look at these areas of support:
The need for moral support is seen in Joshua’s words of encouragement to the Israelites before they conquered the Promised Land: “Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Josh. 1:9). Look at Acts 14:26-28; this is a passage that reflects the missionaries, Paul and Barnabas, returning home to the church of Christ in Antioch, on what we call a “furlough” visit, to report to their sponsoring congregation what had been happening to them on the mission field.
Moral support is the very foundation of the whole support system. You all understand that. You provide that moral support to Bishop, Madison, and Rachel and me on a regular basis. You understand completely that if we did not have moral support to work here with you, we would not stay. It is hard to stay in a job where you do not feel like you have the support of the people you work with.
Moral support is as much an attitude that is felt as it is an action. Remember the woman caught in adultery in John 8? Jesus did not do anything to her; He specifically did not stone her as the Pharisees were hoping (vv. 10-11). But Jesus did forgive her and encouraged her to stop living in sin. That attitude of forgiveness was something that was felt.
To be the type of senders that our missionaries will need, you and I need to be close and intimate disciples of Jesus Christ ourselves. The support we provide to others will flow out of our connection to Jesus Christ, as individual Christians. As a church, we should look at integrating our missions into various facets of the SC church’s ministry in other areas. One ministry should never supersede another ministry but they should all mutually support and mutually benefit each other. I heard one missionary received a letter from a supporting congregation, where the author was encouraging the missionary to ask the elders to quit supporting that very missionary!
To provide strong moral support, we need to be active listeners. We need to give our attention to our missionaries. We need to respond to their communication with respect and give feedback.
Let’s take a look at Acts 13:1-3, the first Christian missionaries sent out by a church of Christ… These two men were called by God to go on this mission trip. For those who feel compelled to become preachers of the gospel, we need to support them in all the ways we can. Here in Acts 13, the church fasted and prayed, seeking guidance from the Lord. Preachers and missionaries need counseling. They need a listening ear. Every preacher and every missionary is an ordinary human being and they will struggle, generally speaking, with the same things that you and I struggle with. Missionaries are not “super-Christians.” Finally, relative to Acts 13, these missionaries had a specific task in front of them. That helps them, and us, to know exactly what is expected because unfulfilled expectations are a major cause of disappointment in all of our relationships.
“Logistics” are all of the details that are required to accomplish a given task. “Logistics” involves people, supplies, facilities, and tools. In 2 Timothy 4:13, Paul asks Timothy, when Timothy came to Rome to visit Paul in prison, to bring the cloak Paul had left in Troas, as well as the “books, especially the parchments.” We do not know what books and parchments Paul is referring to. They might be copies of the gospel accounts; they might be copies of letters that Paul was writing that he had not finished yet; they might be letters from others that Paul wanted to answer. We don’t know. What we do know, is that Paul needed to have these things in his hands.
The nuts and bolts of our missionaries still have to be handled. We are living in an age when a lot can be done online, of course. We’re talking about areas of business that must be handled, personal details that need to be resolved. Those details might be handled by family or they might need to be resolved by the missionary’s line of communication.
Up to 50% of cross-cultural workers do not complete their first term of commitment because they experience a “spiritual drought.” They just dry up spiritually. One man writes that it is very easy to work “so hard for the Vine that the branch becomes pinched and the life-sustaining sap is cut off” (Pirolo, 57).
Let’s read about Epaphroditus in Philippians 2:29-30. We need to make sure that our missionaries stay strong in the faith, that their Christian foundation remains strong. If we do not provide full support for our missionary, we might help them gain further support. Many of you have family members in other congregations. We might need to follow those lines of communication to find more support for our missionary. When Rachel and I were getting ready to move to Romania, one man (not a deacon or an elder) in our congregation put me into contact with a friend of his in another congregation and that second congregation eventually became very strong supporters of our work, the second highest givers to our work, and continue to support us to this day! That first congregation dropped out after the first 1 1/2 years.
Missionaries may need logistical support in health matters, physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. They may experience the death of a family member and that will require logistical support. The missionary family itself needs logistical support, perhaps in family matters, ministry needs, care packages (what our family called “happy packages”). Here’s my point. You and I, as senders, need to be diligent in providing the support our missionaries will need. We need to be concerned about the details of the work and the missionary’s health and family. We will ask the missionary to be punctual in providing communication to us and to use sound business practices because they are spending the Lord’s money.
Speaking of money, let’s take a look at Paul’s discussion of financial support to a missionary, in Philippians 4:10-16…
With the US being as wealthy as it is and you and I, generally speaking, are doing well financially, we need to provide plenty of support for our missionaries. The reason why good men don’t become preachers (one reason), is because they can make better money in the secular world. If we believe in the importance of sharing the gospel with others, if we believe in the importance of the work of preaching, then we’ll put our money where our beliefs are and provide the kind of financial support that our missionaries need, not just personal support but also the financial support they need for the work they do.
When we lived in Romania, our mission team decided to translate the Visualized Bible Study Series (aka the “Jule Miller” study) into Romanian, including the audio transcript and film. We estimated it would cost $15,000 for the whole project. Because we had three families on the team, each missionary was responsible to raise $5,000 apiece. We did, within a 2-3 month timeframe.
Let’s read Paul’s discussion of giving in 2 Corinthians 8:12-15 in the context of serving as senders…
When Paul discusses the Christian solders’ armor in Ephesians 6, he concludes the discussion by talking about prayer (vv. 18-20).
The early church writer Augustine said, “Without God, we cannot; without us, God will not.” God certainly merges His working with our prayers.
Prayer is the battlefield where spiritual warfare happens. When you and I pray for each other, when we pray for our missionaries (when you pray for your ministers), you are in touch with the world in need. If we are participating with our missionaries in their work, participating by praying for them, we will feel their scars of battle but we will also know their victories.
We need you to pray, even now. Pray for this specific work of the church: that we’ll find the right man / family to serve as our missionaries. Pray for those in school right now. We have these two in school; we also have two of our own, I don’t want to forget our own Dylan and Tyler Atkins, both of whom desire to go into full-time ministry. We need to pray every step of the way, from planning to preparation, all the way into the mission field wherever it might be whether it is in Timbuktu or the U.P.
They will experience plenty of discouragement. Adjusting to a new location, perhaps a new language, different foods, different cultural norms, a different climate potentially. We should pray for their protection in travel, their health, avoiding accidents, and dangerous situations. We should pray as parents pray for their children: their health, their schooling, friendships, housing, privacy concerns, living standards, the fact that they might lack the conveniences we have here in America. Rachel went 7 years without using fabric softener because fabric softener was not available in Romania.
Missionaries, especially their wives, potentially their children, can experience loneliness and homesickness. It can be especially trying if they are accustomed to the fellowship of others. There are inter-personal relationships that can be challenging. Teamwork is the best way to do mission work but it brings its own challenges: dealing with your own faults, prejudices, selfishness, the dependence on other’s faithfulness in finances.
We should pray for effectiveness in their ministry. That they will have the tools, the equipment, they need for effective service. We should pray for visible results. It is hard to stay encouraged when the results of conversion are often not visible. But, we cannot rush, we cannot hurry the “sowing” and “watering” stages of evangelism. We should pray for the people to whom our missionaries minister and pray for their own stability, wisdom, compassion, self-discipline, boldness, power, and love.
FINALLY, COMMUNICATION SUPPORT:
Let’s take a look back at Philippians 2:19… Paul was constantly sending greetings to his Christian family in different cities. Half of Romans 16 are greetings. In that chapter, Paul mentions 41 people. Paul gets personal in his communication in 2 Timothy 4:13 and Philemon 22.
When James writes his letter, he uses the phrase “my bothers” 17 times! John found it difficult to put into words how much he loved his fellow Christians: 2 John 12; 3 John 13. To talk about Jesus, John said that he needed a piece of parchment that was the size of the whole world! (John 21:25)
What should you write in your communication? The same type of things you write in December when you write to our soldiers. There were times when Rachel and I received letters from people we did not know. “Who is that letter from?” “Well, it’s so-and-so from the South Green St. congregation in Glasgow, KY.” They would tell tell funny stories about their children. We did not know any of them but you know what we felt? We felt: hey, these people care enough about us that they’ll take the time to write a letter and tell us about their children.
Share your thoughts and feelings; what is really going on in your life. Be realistic and honest but don’t use the missionary as your counselor. You are providing them support.
Express interest in the concerns of their hearts. Ask questions about their lives and respond to what they have said in their previous letters.
Share how you are praying for them. Ask for specific prayer requests as well and updates on things you have prayed for previously.
Share a particularly meaningful sermon you have heard, church news, or news about a mutual friend.
Have your kids write to the children in the families.
If you wait for a large block of time, you’ll never write! Jot down a few notes here and there. Do the same a little later. Then, when you have a “letter’s worth” of notes, mail it! “Like cold water to a weary soul, so is good news from a distant land” (Prov. 25:25).
If you prefer to talk on the phone, call. Depending on where our missionary is, remember time zones! Romania is eight hours ahead of EST so when we first moved to Romania, we were awakened by friends and parents at strange hours of the night! Of course, with today’s technology, we can send text messages and emails. Send pictures. Especially if the missionary does not know you.
Care packages are an unexpected surprise that show we care. “Caring is communication” (Pirolo, 130).
The church is God’s missionary society. When we serve as senders, we all need to provide all the support we can.