I was asked recently about missionaries. Specifically, “What is your thinking when it comes to missionaries? It is churches that send missionaries out and help support them in ways that they need. How would you send out missionaries in your community?” It’s a great question, and it got me thinking about it. To be quite honest, I just assumed that evangelism and missionary work was included in community living. If you aren’t affecting the society/people around you, wherever you are, then what on earth are you doing?
But to ask it directly made me to realize that I don’t know that I have it as nailed down as tight as I thought. So here is my response, which I couldn’t seem to make small enough to post on that Facebook comment…
When dealing with evangelism and missionaries I think we’re dealing with subjects deeper than sending them and supporting them. What was it that gave Paul his authority and power? Everywhere he went there was either riot or revival. The disciples after being sent out from Jesus came back and proclaimed miracles and demonic deliverance in such a way to make even the Charismatic/Pentecostal denominations seem anemic in comparison. Notice in Acts 13:1-5 and when Jesus sends out His disciples that they are sent in 2 – never alone. There is still community even when they are sent out of community. Even in being sent out, they know where they are sent from is still their community, and they are welcome home at any time.
Paul seems to indicate that even when he is out abroad that he had hopes to go back to such and such church where he could reconnect with “home.” I guess what I’m feeling for is that maybe missionary work isn’t merely winning the lost or going to places that haven’t heard the gospel? What if missionary work is something more like apostleship in that you are sent by the word of God to proclaim the message God gives you to proclaim to the people God sends you to (Romans 10:14-15)? Maybe it is the sent word that causes faith upon hearing, because it is hearing the very word of God.
Lets not pass that so soon. What makes this word so powerful? It actually gives faith to the hearer, gives liberty to the captive, and/or causes uproar. The man who is sent out by the will of the Lord is sealed with the power and authority of the Holy Spirit. I think that maybe what actually warrants that power and authority is found in the context of community. What exactly do I mean by that word?
Community is the denial of self. It is a relation with other believers that displays the mystery of the Godhead. As Jesus was one with the Father, so are we one with each other. We sacrificially give self unreservedly for the benefit of the other believers without expectation of recompense. Because I sacrificially give myself, and my wife sacrificially gives herself, somehow we pour into each other in a way that neither of us are empty, and neither of us are weak, but we somehow strengthen each other. This is the mystery displayed in that Jesus gave Himself unreservedly for the Father, and the Father selflessly promoted the Son (gave Him a name above every name – including His own name).
When we can display that kind of reality, of denying self for the benefit and promotion of the others in the community, and by the power of the Spirit we are transformed into being one as God is one, it is precisely at that point that we have now reached “community.” When a Church is able to live like that, then they have no issue with also giving to another community in another town, village, country, etc.
One of my wife and my initial thoughts with the question were about the distinction made between local and global church. Kim and I don’t think that we should make a distinction between local and global church. Paul addresses the whole city, not “local churches” in Ephesus. He does sometimes address churches that met in homes (typically at the end of the epistle). Because they are all connected as the Church, many times we read of how the church in such and such location has shown its faithfulness by sending someone to another location in support.
The reason this is important is because I want to make it clear that I am not against supporting missions groups. They’ve already been established, and if you know they do good, then by all means support them. The point, however, is that having a special offering for missions, or having a denominationally supported mission, is not enough. It takes the whole Church. If it weren’t for the saints throughout the world coming to Paul in his time of need, who knows what kind of condition he would have been in Rome? He told Timothy that everyone abandoned him. He then goes on to say that he is thankful for some who came to him.
I would like to suggest that maybe the idea of community is so central to the Christian faith that even missions work is not a different subject. Maybe the reason that the disciples in that first century had such power is because “when two or three are gathered in My name, there I am in their midst.” What if the whole framework of missions is held up by the global church as community – being one with each other as God is one – in that they are in communion with the same Spirit? Is it possible that by the togetherness that we truly display here and now with the other believers that we gather with actually affects our witness?
In conclusion to try and directly answer the question, to support a missionary as a community means to take up their burdens with them; even if we are absent physically we are together in spirit. I think that if you don’t have community, you don’t have church at all. And what can we call “church” if not an entity that is connected together by the Spirit with all brothers globally, which is displayed locally through a body that has torn down all walls of hostility to one another.