Article 2021-06 Developing Missionary Practice
Chapter 66: Developing Missionary Practice
Paul’s pioneer missions developed into churches. We learn a lot from the missional practices he developed. In this chapter we look at five of these: firstly appointment of church leaders; secondly encouragement of missionaries; thirdly care for missionaries; fourthly co-existence of diverse missional ministries and finally issues of second- and third-generation believers.
Regarding the appointment of church leadership by the church-planting missionaries, we learn that self-styled leadership does not work, because leaders are called by God. They become visible as leaders, because they lead, but before they do they must be tested in different areas. Then they are to be acknowledged and appointed publicly.
Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith … Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust (Acts 14:21-23)
Paul’s ministry pattern was that he first evangelized an area, and then returned after some months or a year to see how the new believers did. By then he could see who was still there since he first came, who took responsibility and whose life-styles were changed by Christ. It was easier, that second time, to see whom the Lord had called to assume leadership in a new church. Such people were instructed, blessed under prayer and laying on of hands and installed as elders and deacons. Paul instructed Timothy and Titus to follow the same pattern. He gave them guidelines to use as criteria for new leaders.
These were meant to screen leaders on attitude, behavior, family life and spirituality. He calls them overseers, that is, elders, deacons and their wives. Paul’s criteria apply also to leaders of denominations, mission agencies, bible schools and para-church organizations.
Leaders must be tested. How can that be done? Here are some suggestions about what questions to ask: How do they maintain their spiritual lives, their marriage- and family life? Are they financially reliable? Are their economic dealings sound? What is their reputation within the church and outside? Have they been trained for the ministry they desire to execute? Can they teach others? Are they morally acceptable and sufficiently knowledgeable? Are they given opportunities to minister, with mentoring and coaching? Are they reliable in small assignments? Can they be trusted with bigger ones? Do their lives present an example that is worth following? Is Christ’s life visible in them?
The second topic of this chapter deals with the need for mutual encouragement between missionaries. Timothy for one, did not execute his ministry with confidence. Therefore, bolder missionaries like Paul are called to encourage their more timid colleagues.
… fan into flame the gift of God … God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power … do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord … join me in suffering for the gospel … endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim. 1:6-8; 4:5)
Paul was set free after his first imprisonment and traveled around freely again. He went with Timothy, whom he left in Ephesus to serve the church. At other times he traveled with Titus. They visited the churches, encouraged them, and appointed leaders.
Some years later Paul is imprisoned in Rome for the last time. He writes his last letter, the second to Timothy. These are his last words. Timothy differed much from Paul and before his death Paul wanted to encourage him, to firmly establish him in his ministry.
He encouraged his friend to use his spiritual gift and to not succumb to timidity. He also warned him not to be ashamed to testify and join him in suffering. Timothy needed much encouragement from his mentor. He was not as bold as Paul and may have felt inferior. The encouragement to do the work of an evangelist suggests that he lacked in that area. Was this because ‘all … in … Asia had already heard the Word of the Lord’, as we read in Acts, or because Paul had preached the gospel from Jerusalem to Illyricum, as we see in Romans? Did Timothy consider the great commission as already finished? Did he forget that there were still ‘regions beyond’, that Paul mentioned in Corinthians, to evangelize, as there are today? All this may have played a role in Timothy’s thinking.
Discussion & dialogue
- As missionary, do you have a ‘Timothy’ in training? If so, explain to your group, without mentioning names, how you encourage that person in his or her weaknesses
Our third topic deals with the care that missionaries need, from each other and from their churches. Missionaries in the midst of spiritual warfare need to be cared for spiritually, emotionally and physically, so they can avoid to ‘burn out’. Adequate member care helps to preclude that missionaries leave their fields of service earlier than planned.
Onesiphorus … often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains … he searched hard for me … You know …how … he helped me in Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:16-18)
Paul may not have had many ideas about how to care for missionaries in the beginning of his career, later he did. In the beginning he refused John Mark to rejoin him, after the latter had deserted the team. At that time Barnabas had helped the young, fearful deserter to re-enter the ministry. Now, in later years, Paul witnessed the wisdom of that decision. In the eighteen years that had passed since, Paul had been cared for by many people during his trips, and he himself had cared for many colleagues who joined his teams. He knew the refreshing elements of being thought about, cared for, supplied with and helped along. One person in particular, Onesiphorus, blessed Paul and he praised him for this ministry. When we see what he did for Paul, we have a good picture of how church- and mission leaders should care for their workers. Hence the word ‘member-care’. What qualities did Paul appreciate so much in people who have this ministry?
Onesiphorus may have been leader of an Ephesian house church, planted by Paul. He loved to bless missionaries with what they needed to keep going; physically, spiritually or emotionally. He provided refreshment when Paul was present, but even traveled as far as Rome to ascertain that Paul was well taken care of. These verses tell us that missionaries need member care (‘he helped me’); that the Lord rewards it (‘show mercy, because…’); that member care persons are not afraid to identify with workers (‘not ashamed’); that it should take place on a regular basis (‘often’); that member care people are willing to sacrifice for it (‘he searched hard’); that member care persons are persevering people (‘until he found me’) and that it costs time and money (because of travel, and maybe presents). In these few words Paul sums up the ministry of member care beautifully.
Discussion & dialogue
How is care for missionaries being organized in your church or agency?
The fourth topic deals with the given that in missions different ministries exist and that these should respect, not despise each other. Paul gives three analogies of professions that should function interdependently. Missionaries should not have to support themselves. They should minister by God’s rules, not theirs. When they sow spiritually they are entitled to reap materially.
No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs – he wants to please his commanding officer. Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops (2 Tim. 2:4-6)
Paul compares missional ministry with other professions, to emphasize its different characteristics. The different professions of soldiers, athletes and farmers underline the big differences that exist between missionaries. Soldiers, athletes and farmers – like missionaries – all need each other. They live in the same Kingdom and serve the same King. They should honor and respect one another and not despise another or show contempt for what is considered inferior or less important.
First, about the soldier he says that the latter should not be involved in civilian affairs, but be there to please his commanding officer. Too many missionaries do have to become involved in civilian affairs: they need to take secular jobs because their churches support them insufficiently. Paul gives general rules for missionaries, but we must remember that he chose to not use that right, but provided his own income by making tents. His motive was to not put stumbling blocks in the way along which the gospel was spreading.
The second analogy is about athletics, ‘competing according to the rules’. Many rules can be broken in missional practice. We see e.g that some leaders build their own ministerial empires, which to them become more important than God’s Kingdom. We see it in Simon’s attitude, formerly a sorcerer, now a Christian, who wanted power. He received a rebuke from Peter instead. Another example we find in Paul’s words to the Philippians, where he speaks about people with false motives who ‘preach Christ out of envy and rivalry’. In God’s Kingdom there is no rivalry and when it is seen, one can wonder whose ‘kingdom’ is being threatened.
Other ‘rule-breakers’ are people who take credit for ministerial success, but forget that God does not give His glory to another. Then there are people who use the ministry for financial gain: they take things instead of what is graciously granted by the Lord. All these compete according to their own rules, not according to biblical ones.
The third analogy is of a farmer who should be the first to receive his share of the crops. This is often understood as missionaries receiving a heavenly reward for souls saved – which is true – but in the Pauline context it also indicates a reasonable material reward.
Discussion & dialogue
- If you know of any, mention in what other ways missionaries can ‘compete outside the given biblical rules’ – and how that could be corrected
The last topic of this chapter has to do with the problems of second- and third-generation believers. Church history shows that with the progression of generations, spiritual quality usually waters down. Every generation of believers needs radicals to show the right way. Usually such radicals are ‘first-generation-believers’ themselves. We need to understand that God has children, not grand-children: spiritual birth cannot be inherited. Nobody is God’s child because he was born in a Christian family, and everybody has to submit to Christ personally, in order to be born again.
This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God (1 John 4:2,3)
Shortly after Paul wrote Second Timothy, he died a martyr’s death under emperor Nero. His death ended over thirty years of ministry in which he exerted tremendous influence for God’s Kingdom. He evangelized, discipled, installed leadership, wrote letters and recruited dozens of colleagues for the work. This applied to a man to whom was told at his conversion, how much he was to suffer for Christ. And he did, but the eternal fruit would be a million times more significant than his suffering ever was. He had learned to embrace suffering for the sake of eternal fruit.
By the time Paul died, Peter also died in Rome. Then about twenty-five years passed, in which all other apostles died a martyr’s death, except one. John still ministered in Ephesus at the time, where he wrote his gospel. Later he wrote three letters and lastly the Revelation he received from the Lord during his exile on the isle of Patmos.
John ran into a problem that Paul, James, Peter, Jude and the author of Hebrews had encountered earlier. These apostles were confronted with a ‘second-generation’ problem. The people that had believed during Jesus’ ministry and a little later had brought forth a new generation of believers, who had not seen as much of God’s power as the first generation had. They knew less of the intimacy with God that comes from suffering. They were less radical. John, in his later years, even saw a ‘third-generation’ problem. This generation knew gospel truths from hearsay. They had fewer spiritual experiences, had been less radical even than the second generation and suffered less as a result.
All apostles that faced second- and third generation problems saw the need to address discipleship issues in their letters, rather than foundational dogmas, like Paul had done. This applied also to John, who wrote his gospel to arouse faith in unbelievers, but his letters to deepen the believers’ assurance of faith, especially his first one.
The recipients were congregations in Asia Minor, like those in the book of Revelation. The main reason for his writing was – like Second Peter and Jude – the destructive work of false teachers. Those errors had progressed considerably since these two letters were written. The heresy against which John writes denied that Jesus is the Son of God and the Messiah Who had come in the flesh. The false teachers said that Jesus was no real man but just an appearance: He seemed human but was in disguise, they said, like sometimes in the Old Testament, when God or the Angel of the Lord appeared in the form of a man.
John’s letters are practical and teach radical ways of following Jesus. After sixty years of church life, a revival of radicalism was urgently needed. Therefore, the spiritual climate of his first letter is very sharp: black/white, true/false, light/darkness, truth/lie, life/death, love/hate. There is no grey middle: his tone of writing leaves no place for compromise.
John also exposes the false religions. The test is how people react towards God’s Son Jesus Christ. Although He loved the world enough to lay down His life for it, the world hates Him. Hating Jesus, denying His existence or separating the Man Jesus from His Deity, means hating God Himself. Many missionaries fear that confrontation with adherents of hostile foreign religions may cost them their lives. End-time missionaries need a martyr’s spirit if they want to reach the world’s unreached!
This letter helps people to test the quality of their faith in theological, moral and social ways. Regarding theology, their faith in Person and ministry of Jesus needed testing: did they believe in the Deity and humanity of their Savior? With regard to morality the question was: you may say you are a believer, but do you act like one? Does your obedience to God prove your confession? The social dimension addresses the question: is your life based on and dominated by love in your words and actions? These three tests are woven throughout John’s first letter.
Discussion & dialogue
Discuss what second- and third generation problems you run into in your church or denomination and how these can best be addressed biblically