Article 2021-10 Partners & Predators
Chapter 68: Partners & Predators
Missional ministry is no business for ‘lone rangers’: several contributors must cooperate to make missions possible. John’s partner-model includes facilitators, senders and sent ones. Jesus’ missionary model includes ‘church’, training and sending. Partnerships should not lead to financial dependence on foreigners.
Sometimes, mission-loving churches have mission-hating members or pastors. On occasion outside help is needed to sort such matters out.
To … Gaius … It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness … in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. They have told … about your love. You will do well to send them on their way … It was for the sake of the Name that they went out … We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth (3 John :1,3-8)
John’s church sent missionaries, people who went out to preach the gospel in other areas. When traveling, they visited Gaius and his church. So the missionaries maintained contact and relationships between their churches. News was exchanged among them: Gaius and his church became informed about what went on in John’s church in Ephesus, and vice versa. When the missionaries came back, they reported to John that Gaius led a healthy spiritual life, and that his church members had been very helpful to them. And so we see three groups who depended on each other’s help:
Firstly, the church in Ephesus, the sending body who took spiritual and material responsibility for the missionaries, the second group, the sent ones. They were the voice of the church in Ephesus, preaching the gospel where the church could not go. The third body was Gaius’ church, who helped the missionaries with hospitality and supplies. They were a facilitating partner, which made sure that the gospel could reach farther away.
In our time we see the same, although the role of the third, facilitating partner is usually fulfilled by the sending agency. So, this model is already as old as the practice of the first century church. In fact John had learned the model from Christ. Jesus participated with His disciples in ‘church-life’: they ministered in synagogues. He was also the ‘bible-school’ through His teaching. Finally He functioned as ‘sending agency’, because He sent them, first as short-termers and later as long-term evangelists and missionaries. This practice underlines the necessity for similar models in today’s missionary enterprises.
In John’s third letter we see eight aspects of missionary partnership. The brothers were sent out from John’s church in Ephesus and visited Gaius and his church on their way, thus keeping contact between the churches. These missionaries reported positively about Gaius’ life and how he had helped them. The help consisted of hospitality and facilitation in travel, financial and practical. Although these itinerant missionaries were strangers to Gaius, he did not feel they took his hospitality and help for granted. On the contrary, he counted it a privilege to care for them.
John’s expression ‘you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers …’ indicates a reliable habit. Whether hospitality was Gaius’ gift we do not know, but it certainly was his choice. John encourages him to continue in it. The missionaries had left to preach the Jesus among the Gentiles, from who had not given them any help. Therefore they depended all the more on the help of God’s people.
John does not suggest that missionaries should not accept gifts from Gentiles. There are ‘sheep’ among the nations who will gladly help missionaries when they meet them, with no strings attached. Such gifts can be received with gratitude and should be refused only when the giver tries to manipulate God’s workers by them – which of course does not include designation of certain gifts for specific purposes.
Finally, John includes the duty of the wider body of Christ in partnership development by using the word ‘we’. We are supposed to work together for the truth. This includes the missionaries, John’s church as sender and Gaius’ church as local facilitator. If all three parties contribute as they are able, true missionary partnership has developed.
Partnerships do not have to consist of only three partners. There can be more, as long as there is unity of purpose and equality of contribution. Partnership may never have the form of ‘one who pays and another who works’. Usually then, the one who pays comes from overseas and the one who works does so in a mission field, faraway from the donors. This is not partnership, but an employer-employee situation, of which the outcome is often that the rules are made by the one who carries the financial costs. Where the one who pays lays down rules for the ones that are being paid, there is no partnership but a work with a ‘boss’ and a ‘laborer’. When such situations occur, the danger is that dependency develops. Workers become dependent on funds or personnel from overseas to such an extent, that when these are being withdrawn, local ministries die. Where foreign monies are being used structurally the danger is, that a mercenary spirit develops: one works only when being paid, not because one owns the ministry as a gift from God.
Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church (3 John :9,10)
Not all church members or leaders like missionaries. Gaius and others were helpful to John’s missionaries but Diotrephes hated them. What his motives were to treat them this way, we don’t know. We gather from John’s words that he had serious character flaws, although he held a position of authority in the church. John concluded that it would be best to visit and deal with the issues himself.
Many churches have a ‘Diotrephes’: one who resists missional ministry. John describes a hostile situation: Diotrephes resisted his church’s missionary participation openly. He ‘loves to be first’ is an attitude, incompatible with the servanthood needed to send out missionaries. It indicates an immature level of discipleship in his life, in spite of his apparent authority. He ‘will have nothing to do with us’ pictures him so in favor of local church autonomy that he spurned John’s apostolic authority and considered the missionaries as a threat to his position and budget. Diotrephes loved his little empire more than God’s Kingdom. He ‘gossiped maliciously’ about the apostolic movement. This proved his spiritually deteriorated state and the desperate attempt to hold on to a power that was not his. In contrast to Gaius’ ministry, Diotrephes ‘refuses to welcome the brothers’. The present tense indicates a habit. This may have been because the missionaries reminded him of mission tasks he had left undone and their compassion with the lost that he himself lacked. Did he refuse to be confronted with his guilty conscience? His enmity and aggression was so big toward those who hosted missionaries, that he excommunicated them. Such hostility may have been because he could not accept foreigners of other nations or races as gospel preachers. John decided to visit and deal with this ulcer, so that further damage to the church could be avoided.
Discussion & dialogue
- Discuss how partnerships can be developed within your missionary work. Use questions like ‘what personnel is available? What prayer-force can sustain the work? Is help needed of literature-ministries? What material help can sending and facilitating churches/agencies offer?’
- Discuss how to deal in a biblical way with mission-resisting Diotrepheses in a church
- Which 4 themes of the 10 reoccur in this chapter? How? (Answer: see Teacher’s Guide)