By / Jun 2

Life on the mission field is commendable work and, for many, a calling worth giving their lives to. The life and work of a missionary, though, is challenging for untold reasons, a fact the apostle Paul knew all too well. In describing his work, he wrote, “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (2 Cor. 1:8). From families whose missionary zeal wanes because of sickness to marital difficulties brought on by a seemingly unending workload to the discouragement experienced after years of no visible gospel fruit, not to mention exposure to deep depression, anxiety, and persecution, the challenges and potential afflictions for missionaries are many. And, too often, the result is a mission field vacated, left to lie fallow. 

These are some of the real examples being highlighted by studies indicating an alarming pattern of attrition in global missions. For example, a recent three-year study conducted by Missio Nexus showed that upward of two-thirds of missionaries left the field for potentially preventable reasons, equating financially to around 40 million dollars lost every three years. From a stewardship perspective, this is problematic. But, equally important, the stories behind these numbers are tragic. Years of potential gospel ministry are being squandered, oftentimes for reasons which better pre-field assessment, equipping, and care may have prevented.

So, how can our churches better prepare their missionaries to avoid these pitfalls, so many of which could be preventable? Below I discuss two biblical principles for minimizing missionary attrition. 

Two missionary principles

After Jesus commissioned his followers to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:18), a pattern began to develop as the message of the gospel advanced, a pattern that continues to this day. The Lord saves people from their sin and, upon being baptized into the Triune name of God, these new believers are joined to a local assembly—a church. It’s at the emergence of this pattern, after the establishment of the local church first encountered in the book of Acts, that we see in the church at Antioch the first Christian missionaries identified and sent:

“While they were worshiping 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 after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:2).

We may ask: was this a random, purely reactive response by the church to send out missionaries simply because Barnabas and Saul felt “called” to go? Furthermore, beyond being prompted by the Holy Spirit, how did they know Barnabas and Saul were qualified and ready for this difficult work? These questions lead to the first principle.

  1. Take the time to have missionary candidates tested within the church

In Acts 11:26, we read that Barnabas, who had been sent by the church in Jerusalem to Antioch, sought out Saul, bringing him to Antioch where they labored together among the churches for at least a year before being sent out. If we fast-forward to Acts 16, where Scripture details Paul’s recruitment of Timothy, describing him as a man spoken highly of by “the brothers and sisters at Lystra and Iconium” (v. 2), we encounter a similar idea. In both stories, we are introduced to characters who had been vetted by the churches where they belonged and identified as men qualified for the work of missions. 

In other words, these were not quick assessments by the churches in Antioch, Lystra, or Iconium. These men were not qualified based on some sort of subjective whim, but were men from among the church who had proven themselves as qualified because of their time-tested faithfulness to the gospel. Thus, it is here, where we learn our most foundational missionary principle: the local church is the proving ground by which potential missionaries are assessed and equipped over time for the work of ministry abroad. Therefore, churches should take ample time to know their missionary candidates.

  1. Take the time and resources to care for those you send and partner with in missions

As Paul labored in his mission of proclaiming the gospel, establishing churches and elders, and encouraging the churches he helped plant, he himself was cared for by the church. In Philippians 4, Paul seems to view the financial partnership of the church as more than simply bankrolling the mission, but as a kindness to share (to have fellowship) in his trouble (Phil. 4:14). He highlights his need for the local church’s prayers, and he outlines the encouragement he draws from them (Phil. 1:19; Col. 4:3; 1 Thess. 5:25; 2 Thess. 3:1). And he writes of the importance of the church to remember his difficulties (Col. 4:18). 

Furthermore, we see the encouragement he receives in Timothy’s report that the church in Thessalonica remembers and longs for them, causing them to be comforted even in the difficulties of field life (1 Thess. 3:6-9). And after being stoned in Lystra, where does Paul go for a time of reprieve and encouragement, but to the church in Antioch (Acts 14:24-28)?

In reading the book of Acts and Paul’s letters in the New Testament, the principle of resourcing, caring for, and partnering with missionaries on the field is undeniable. And it is a principle rooted in the supernatural love found only in the people united to Christ in a local church, a love which transcends surface-level pleasantries and affects the soul. The local church, therefore, is the primary means by which biblical soul care and tangible care are given to its missionaries.

How we can get better at sending

So, how are we doing at sending? In our heart for missions, are we so eager to flood the fields with workers that we neglect our responsibility to prepare those we’re sending? Are we unknowingly sacrificing the sustainability of brothers and sisters in the field at the altar of convenience and speed? 

There are untold churches laboring well to assess, equip, and care for those in their congregations who desire to go to difficult places for the gospel. Yet there are many churches who desire this but who may not be well-equipped to provide adequate attention, time, and resources to faithfully steward this responsibility. Either way, our ultimate hope and assurance is founded in the fact that God will be glorified whether we do it well or not; it is his mission to complete. 

Yet, this is exactly the reason and fuel for why we must continue to press in and wisely steward the roles he has given us as members and participants within his flock. Our love and desire for God’s glory among the nations must not drive us to neglect the means by which he accomplishes this, which is the local church. The clear pattern in Scripture is that the local church assesses, equips, and cares for his flock, even as it sends its members to ends of the Earth. 

So, what are some practical ways the church can more fully embrace this responsibility of assessment, equipping, and care of those desiring to go and those sent?

  • Slow down the assessment process to ensure that missionary candidates are qualified to go. 
  • Prayerfully consider ways you can encourage and care for those that you send. Some ideas include pastoral trips, offering biblical soul care, sending teams to serve the staff in tangible ways, and equipping members of your church to care for those you send.
  • Grow a zeal for missions as you teach your congregation about missions and their role in caring for missionaries as it comes up in Scripture, and by praying corporately for brothers and sisters around the world.

Though we do have an enemy, and much opposition and difficulty in this world (Acts 14:22), let us not grow weary in our pursuit of sending spiritually mature missionaries and caring biblically for them on and off the field. And let us do this so that these precious missionaries and the nations whom they serve might more clearly see the glory of the one true and living God. 

By / Aug 18

The Bible is clear that (1) Christians should care about injustice (Micah 6:8, 2 Chronicles 19:7, Prov 20:23) and (2) Christians should respect civil government and laws (Rom 13:1-2, 1 Tim. 2:1-2). Yet over the centuries, Christians have toiled over the dichotomy between a godly passion for justice and the biblical call to submission. 

Believers have often found themselves at odds with the rulers and laws of the land they live in. In America today, laws stand that threaten the lives of the unborn, diverge from the biblical understanding of gender and sexuality, and forsake the widow and orphan. Currently, the U.S. House of Representatives is considering 12 appropriation bills for FY2022 that propose the removal of pro-life riders from the budget such as the Hyde and Weldon Amendments. Thankfully, Christians living in the 21st century are not the first group of believers to find ourselves in disagreement with the laws and norms of their culture. Jesus prepared us to expect as much, when he prayed for the protection of his people in the garden of Gethsemane, “they are not of the world, even as I am not of it” (John 17:16). 

The book of 1 Peter was written as the church faced persecution and focused on instructing Christians about how to live faithfully in a time of extraordinary evil. Peter instructs believers to use good conduct and submission to those in authority as a testament to the gospel (1 Pet. 2:13). We have been made free by the blood of Christ, we must now use our freedom not to bring chaos but instead to show the world the gentleness and servant nature of our Savior (1 Pet. 2:16). This includes submission to human authority (1 Pet. 2:15). Peter gives us a beautiful framework for what living as a servant of God looks like, calling Christians to “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor (1 Pet. 2:17). 

Honor everyone. 

The first two principles at work in Peter’s framework inform how the Christian is to go about showing honor to those outside the church (the first principle) and those within the church (the second). The first portion reminds believers that we are to honor (or rightly respect) all people, which includes recognizing and standing up for their dignity as image-bearers. The way we treat people should reflect the inherent worth each individual possesses as one created by God. 

Regarding those who are particularly vulnerable, Proverbs 31:8-9 calls believers to: Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” The Bible is filled with accounts of brave men and women of faith who defied their rulers to hold fast to their faith and protect the innocent: the Hebrew midwives who resisted Pharoah’s command to kill the Israelite babies (Ex. 1), Rahab’s defiance of Jericho’s rulers and protection of the Israelite spies (Josh. 2), and Obadiah’s hiding of the prophets of God from the murderous queen Jezebel (1 Kings 18). This is rooted in the reality that the Lord is a God of justice, who hates abuses of the poor, vulnerable, and powerless.

Love the brotherhood.

The second principle — love of the brotherhood — calls Christians to love one another. This includes within our own local churches and Christian communities, but it also extends to the body of Christ across the world. This should also inform how Christians respond to cries for justice from within the church. It was the Black church and its advocacy, activism, and exercise of peaceful civil disobedience that called the United States to respect the full equality and dignity of Black Americans during the Civil Rights Movement. 

Christians should strive to see an expansion of God’s kingdom here on earth. We should seek justice in a way that displays the character of God and his compassion for the hurting, and especially those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ (Gal. 6:10). We should work to cultivate justice that points to the kingdom of perfect righteousness that is coming.

Practicing this principle can take many different forms. As we look to the Scriptures, we see that Paul spent a great deal of time collecting funds from other Christians for the relief of the church in Jerusalem (1 Cor 16:1–4; 2 Cor 8:1–9:15; Rom 15:14–32). We also see Paul instructing Philemon to treat Onesimus not as a slave but as a brother (Philemon 1:16). Today, showing love for the brotherhood could mean financially assisting a believer facing a medical crisis, volunteering for a Christian justice or poverty relief ministry, helping to repair a church building damaged by a natural disaster, or providing resources and support for a community of Christian refugees from another country. 

Fear God.

The final two principles are important because the first one controls the second. The fear of God is to take priority over our honor of the emperor, and it’s also our motivation for respecting the rulers he has set in place (Rom. 13:7). The same Peter who writes the epistle is the one who told the Jewish leaders in the early days of the church, “We must obey God rather than human men” (Acts 5:29). When the early church was forbidden from speaking or teaching in the name of Jesus, Peter and John refused and said, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:18-20). 

Similarly, during the reign of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, the young Israelites Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego courageously refused to worship the King’s statue and were thrown into a burning furnace (Dan. 3). Later, Daniel would be cast into a den of lions for his refusal to follow the king’s unjust command forbidding prayer (Dan. 6). 

Again, the Civil Rights Movement illustrates how Christians should be willing to accept punishment and consequences for refusing to obey unjust laws. Those who protested against the prejudiced treatment of African Americans under Jim Crow segregation were willing to face jailing (and often unlawful physical punishment) to demonstrate that the government’s policies were not only unconstitutional but unjust. It was in one such prison that Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his Letter from Birmingham Jail as a plea to forsake silence and delayed justice.

Early Baptists in England and North America also faced persecution from the government on account of their religious faith. Men like Thomas Helwys and Isaac Backus refused to attend state-sanctioned churches and suffered retribution from the state. Like the apostles in Acts, because of our fear of God, Christians should be unwilling to submit to unjust laws that deny justice and equality to our fellow human beings. 

Honor the emperor.

First Peter 2:11-17 identifies Christians as sojourners and exiles in this world and urges believers to “keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable” and to “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” Therefore, Christians should instead give thanks and pray for those given authority over us “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

Like Peter, Paul wrote Romans, his letter to the church in Rome, during a period of persecution from the Roman Emperor Nero, making his commands concerning government all the more powerful. Romans 13 clarifies that every person should be subject to their governing authorities because their authority has been instituted by God. Though we are often tempted to forget, government in general is a good gift from God intended to keep order and lead to the flourishing of society. And Paul warns that we risk incurring the wrath of God and violating our consciences when we disobey the civil authorities he has established (v. 5). As Christians, we should honor our rulers, pay taxes, and respect those in authority with our words and actions. And as we do so, we remember that we are actually submitting to and honoring our King.

So what now?

In his commentary of Acts 5, John Stott says, “We are to submit right up to the point where obedience to the state would entail disobedience to God. But if the state commands what God forbids or forbids what God commands, then our plain Christian duty is to resist, not to submit, to disobey the state in order to obey God.” 

As Christians, we should default to respect civil authorities and submit to the laws we are subject to. When a civil mandate contradicts our heavenly mandate, our allegiance to God’s kingdom should win. Christians should resist laws that command sin and constantly work within the existing rules to change evil laws and promote righteousness. Above all, we should do so as we remember that our effort and obedience is ultimately aimed at pleasing God.

By / Apr 9

In this episode, Josh, Lindsay, and Brent discuss the latest on the Rock Hill shooting, the White House’s new gun control measures, the new UK COVID-19  strain, Brazil’s COVID death toll, violence in Northern Ireland, and the results of the NCAA championship. Lindsay gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including Alex Ward with “How can we understand trends of declining church membership? America, Christianity, and the local church,” and Jordan Wootten with “How can Christians resist the ethic of outrage culture?,” and Jared Kennedy with “Are you “working on” your kids ministry? Thinking through Process-Centered Methods for Children’s Discipleship.” Also in this episode, the hosts are joined by Dr. Todd Gray for a conversation about life and ministry. 

About Dr. Gray

Dr. Todd Gray has been Executive Director-Treasurer for the Kentucky Baptist Convention since August of 2019. Todd served churches in Kentucky and Indiana for 20 years before joining the KBC staff in 2012 as a regional consultant for western Kentucky. Since 2016 he’s served as the team leader for the Evangelism, Church Planting and Campus Ministry team. Gray holds degrees from Murray State University and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Connie, have two adult daughters. You can connect with him on Twitter: @toddgray4.  

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. Latest on Rock Hill shooting
  2. WH expected to announce gun control measures
  3. UK variant is now the dominant coronavirus strain in the US
  4. 1 in 3 Covid-19 patients are diagnosed with a neuropsychiatric condition
  5. Brazil’s daily COVID death toll tops 4,000 for first time
  6. No lockdown for Brazil amidst Covid outbreak
  7. Bus torched in more Northern Ireland violence as British and Irish leaders call for calm
  8. NCAA Championship 2021 score: Baylor routs Gonzaga as Bears win first national title, end Zags’ perfect season

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