A Sending Church is a local community of Christ-followers who have made a covenant together to be prayerful, deliberate, and proactive in developing, commissioning, and sending their own members both locally and globally, often in partnership with other churches or agencies, and continuing to encourage, support, and advocate for them while making disciples cross-culturally.
Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth. (3 John: 5-8)
Who would’ve thought that such significant words for the sending church would come from such a tiny letter! In a brief correspondence with his friend, Gaius, the apostle John rejoiced that he was “walking in the truth” (v. 3). This was evidenced in large part by Gaius’ working for the truth. How was Gaius working for the truth? By supporting those sent out from the church to proclaim the truth. He was practically making the mission possible.
The church cannot be the church without sending, and sending cannot happen without support. Expert in missionary care, Kelly O’Donnell, writes, “It is imperative that the local church play a larger role in world missions, particularly in the care and development of missionaries that they send out.” 1He even places support on par with key missions aspects, such as strategy and contextualization.2But what exactly is support? Is it just money?
Christoph Stenschke says that support reflected in the New Testament is the financial maintenance of missionaries, the provision of co-laborers, and prayer for the workers and the work.3Neal Pirolo adds logistics to the list.4 And Eric Wright includes accountability.4Let’s take a look at each one.
According to professor Craig Blomberg, Gaius’ support of the sent ones referred to in 3 John probably included not only “bed and board, [but also] often donated funds as well [pay] for past or future travel expenses.”5Gaius had put his money where his mouth was. In Paul we see examples of both ongoing support from the church (Romans 15:24, 1 Corinthians 9:14, Titus 3:13) as well as one-time gifts to advance the mission (Romans 15:26, 2 Corinthians 8-9, Philippians 4:18). John Stott applies this in his commentary on John’s epistles by affirming that “Christians should finance Christian enterprises…there are many good causes which we may support; but we must support our brothers and sisters whom the world does not support.”6
Realistically, however, most churches cannot fully support every missionary whom they send out. Even in light of God’s abundant provision and believers’ sacrificial generosity, churches have limited resources to steward. That’s why pastor David Horner says that his church “soon realized that if [they] were going to reach the nations beyond [their] borders, [they] needed a strategic plan for how [their] dollars would be invested.”7
Support is firstly financial, and it must be strategic to have the greatest impact.
It only takes a skimming of the book of Acts to see that Paul rolled with an entourage. As reflected in the Trinity, community and mission go hand in hand. So Paul regularly sought from the church his most critical missional resource: co-laborers. He took Silas with him in Acts 15:40, commanded Timothy to come to him ASAP in Acts 17:15, and even beckoned for formerly disappointing John Mark in 2 Timothy 4:11. Likewise, today the sending church eagerly seeks to outfit its sent ones with co-laborers through short-term teams, mid-term apprentices, and long-term partners.
Jason Mandryk , author of Operation World: The Definitive Prayer Guide to Every Nation, says that “missions and prayer for the world should be at the heart of every [church].”8Paul certainly held this conviction long before us, as he consistently asked churches for prayer in his letters to them (Ephesians 6:19, 1 Timothy 2:1, 2 Thessalonians 3:1). Sending churches are praying churches. According to Tom Telford’s study of all-star missions churches, this form of support can and should involve the entire church.9
Logistics & Accountability
“Nobody can handle everything!” is Pirolo’s tagline for the critical role of logistical support.10Thriving cross-culturally involves a host of finely-detailed challenges. We see snippets of this in Paul’s life, such as his request for “the cloak I left with Carpus at Troas and the books, but especially the parchments.”11The church has the capacity to lend a hand, allowing sent ones more freedom to focus on the work. Closely related is the concept of accountability. Wright notes that sent ones, like all of us, need accountability to remain focused and doctrinally sound. “Churches should not feel they are intruding by lovingly monitoring their missionaries’ work.”12It’s actually a support.
And that’s the very thing sending churches are eager to do.
Supporting missionaries financially is critical and biblical, but what are some other ways your church has actively supported their sent missionaries? Offer your ideas in the comments below.