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In the spring of 1982, just months after my life had been won to Christ, two missionaries visited my church. They captured my heart as they shared stories of their ministry in the remote interior of Papua New Guinea, recounting in both humorous and heartbreaking ways the difficulties they faced, the fruit they saw, and the Lord’s redeeming grace in it all. They also challenged our church to join with them in the support of missions through two simple means: by giving and going. Though it was a simple challenge, it changed my life.
The God of Missions
We shouldn’t be surprised at this simple approach to missions. When we consider missions through the lens of Scripture, we find that these twin roles of giving and going reflect the Lord’s approach, and this approach predates even the creation of the world. This is revealed clearly in the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus. In these intimate words of the Son to the Father on the eve of the crucifixion, we discover three important truths that affect our understanding and support of missions.
First, we learn that the Father has eternally loved the Son (John 17:24). It is amazing that the most detailed picture we have of eternity past is the Father gloriously loving the Son. Second, we learn of the special love of God for His people. Jesus prays “that the world may know that you . . . loved them even as you loved me” (v. 23). What is hinted at by Christ is fully revealed through Paul to the Ephesians: our heavenly Father “chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world. . . . In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:4–5). In other words, not only was the Father eternally loving the Son in eternity past, He was also eternally loving us in the Son. Third, we learn that this love of God moves the Father to send the Son, and the Son to faithfully go. It is difficult to miss this point because Jesus mentions it six times in His prayer. For us, therefore, supporting missions begins devotionally: we love the Lord, who has eternally loved us and is the architect and builder of missions.
We support missions not only by loving the God of missions but by loving missions itself and faithfully participating in it. As Jesus prays: “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18). These words of our Savior orient our lives and remind us that we have a divine calling in this world.
The Support of Missions
How can we faithfully engage in our call to missions? The Apostle Paul echoes the Lord’s plan: “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ . . . How are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:13–15). We participate in missions by either sending or going. But how can the local church practically be a faithful sending church? Here are a few suggestions (though not exhaustive).
First, develop a clear missions vision and strategy. The most vibrant sending churches have a clear plan for how they will present to their people the lostness of the world, the readiness of the harvest, and the need for laborers. These plans also detail how the church will evaluate and prioritize opportunities as they arise.
Second, initiate ministries in the church that cultivate a heart and vision for missions. My own fire for missions was ignited through tasting missions first at a large national conference, then through a multiple-week mission trip. Whether such opportunities are hosted by the home church or presented in partnership with other agencies, the life-changing effects of these events are undeniable.
Third, keep missions continually before the congregation. This includes times of special emphasis (such as conferences) and regularly praying for missionaries from the pulpit and in small groups. Consider having the small groups in your church “adopt” the different missionaries you support. My family and I spent many years on the mission field supported by committed and engaged churches. On one occasion, a family that knew my love for football sent us a “Super Bowl in a Box.” They recorded the big game and mailed it to us along with chips and salsa. This was a special treat for us, and it communicated that we were not just missionaries; we were their missionaries.
Fourth, financially support missionaries in a significant way. My recommendation is to support fewer missionaries but to support them at a higher level. This is better for the missionary and also helps the local church develop more personal relationships with those they send. One of our sending churches was not only involved in giving to our monthly support needs but also provided us with the one-time seed money that led to the translation and publication of more than forty books. This relationship made the Apostle Paul’s words come alive to us: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you . . . because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil. 1:3, 5; see 4:15).
There are many other creative ways mission funds can support missions. For example, in one of the churches I pastored, we started paid missions internships where college students could work an entire summer in missions while not forfeiting their opportunity to earn money for school. In this and other ways, we see the vital importance of the generous financial involvement of the sending church.
Earlier this year, after supporting or serving in missions for thirty-five years, I had the privilege of setting foot on the same island I had heard those missionaries share about so many years earlier. I visited some of the remotest places on earth while meeting the newest generation of missionaries. Despite unbelievably difficult circumstances, I saw them lovingly and faithfully proclaim Christ, all the while absolutely dependent on the Lord and the timeless partnership with the sending church. May we all be faithful in our roles as “senders” and “goers” to the glory of God.