“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.”– Matthew 28:19
“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.”– II Timothy 2:2
“Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin.”– I Timothy 5:22
The local church that makes the commitment to train and send missionaries must also be committed to sustaining the missionaries while on the field. In other words, the church’s spiritual care of the missionary does not end when he and his family depart for the field. Although the church may be thousands of miles away, it is still obligated to care for the missionary through all available means. Some of these means are clearly set forth in the New Testament.
Believing and Persevering Prayer
The first means of missionary maintenance is believing and persevering prayer on the part of the sending church or churches. In missions, prayer is not the last resort, but the first resource, the primary weapon in our arsenal. The saving of a single soul is a human impossibility. The advancement of the kingdom of Christ and the taking of one inch of the devil’s territory is a human impossibility. The survival of one missionary on the mission field is a human impossibility. Thus, God must save, God must advance, God must protect, God must strengthen, and the church must pray! In the great mystery of God’s sovereignty, we have been encouraged to “pray and not lose heart”1 and we have been warned that, “we have not because we ask not.”2.
Do our missionaries need protection? We have been commanded to pray. Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, “I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers.”3 Do our missionaries need boldness? Paul wrote the church in Ephesus, “Pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel.”4 Do we desire for men and women to be added to the church? God promised through Ezekiel, “This also I will let the house of Israel ask Me to do for them: I will increase their men like a flock.”5 Do we desire for the church to grow in knowledge and grace? Paul tells us to “bow our knee before the Father”6 because, “He is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask our think.”7 A great rule to follow in the sending and care of missionaries is this: “Do not even entertain the idea of sending a missionary to the field for whom you do not intend to pray diligently.”
The second means of missionary maintenance is ongoing communication. In the time of the New Testament and the greater part of church history, communication was only possible through letters or messages sent through envoys. However, in our day, we have means of communication that the first century Christians could not have even imagined. Through this blessing of technology, the elders have an almost unhindered opportunity for continuing to instruct their missionary, offer biblical counsel for specific needs, and give the encouragement that is always in great need on the mission field.
The word “encouragement” is one of the most common terms in all the Scriptures. In the midst of the battle, this is the thing for which the soldier longs. The discouragements of the devil are beaten back by prayers to God and communications of encouragement to the missionary. The missionaries need to know and be reminded that their work matters and will endure even in the midst of much opposition and apparent failure. God commanded Moses to encourage and strengthen Joshua, by telling him that He had chosen him as the instrument to lead Israel into the promised land.8 Jonathan encouraged David in the midst of Saul’s persecution, ensuring him that God would make him king.9 God commanded Isaiah to “encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble.”10 When Barnabas was sent to the new Gentile believers in Antioch, he “encouraged them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord.”11 Paul and Barnabas “returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.’”12 The missionary needs no less than this, for the task that he has been given is greater and more opposed than that given to Joshua or David!
Visits to the Field
The third means of missionary maintenance is visits to the field. This can be a great blessing to the missionary, or it can be a burden, and therefore, great discernment is required. The missionary is an ambassador of Christ, whose calling is far above the most exalted dignitary of any earthly government. Therefore, they must not be reduced to babysitters, entertainment directors, or tour guides for youth groups. They have a task to complete and woe to them if they do not complete it. For this reason, the elders should protect the missionaries from unwarranted visitations that will only further burden them and delay their progress on the field. At the same time, in counsel with the missionaries, the elders of the church should promote those visitations that will encourage them and advance the work to which God has called them. Frequent visits from elders/theologians who can aid in teaching are highly recommended.
The fourth means of missionary maintenance is the furlough. It is common that missionaries return home for several months to a year after serving four years on the field. This policy is not found in the Scriptures but has proven beneficial to many through the years. Here again, the elders must take the lead to protect the missionary during their return home. Although a restricted travel and ministry schedule can be beneficial, the furlough must also be protected as a time for spiritual and physical renewal, fellowship with the church, and being reacquainted with family.
- Luke 18:1
- James 4:2
- Philippians 1:19
- Ephesians 6:19
- Ezekiel 36:37
- Ephesians 3:14-19
- Ephesians 3:20
- Deuteronomy 1:38; 3:28
- I Samuel 23:16-17
- Isaiah 35:3
- Acts 11:23
- Acts 14:21-22
Paul is the founder of HeartCry Missionary Society and currently serves as its missions director. He also ministered as a missionary in Peru for ten years. He has preached hundreds of sermons and has authored a dozen published works. Paul lives in Radford, Virginia, with his wife Charo and their four children: Ian, Evan, Rowan, and Bronwyn.More By Paul David Washer