Becoming a missionary can be a difficult journey.
It is fraught with loneliness as one decides to leave family, friends, and familiar roles to cross cultures for the gospel. It requires walking a financial path of faith, trusting that God will truly supply all needs. And let us not forget that any time one steps out into ministry, spiritual attacks are sure to follow. To sustain his faithful servants in their crucial yet challenging mission, God has called the local church to love and care for those sent to proclaim the gospel.
God’s plan for missionary care has always been the local church.
The interesting little book of 3 John gives us a glimpse of this plan. In this letter, the Apostle John raises a complaint that certain missionary brothers had not received proper care, especially from Diotrophes. Diotrophes was a false teacher, characterized chiefly by his self-centeredness and refusal to meet the needs of missionaries who arrived at the church. In contrast, John commended those who faithfully assisted these brothers, exhorting the church to “send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God” (3 John 6 ESV).
I find this to be an interesting challenge. What does it mean to care for missionaries in a manner “worthy of God?”
John’s entreaty drives at the heart and goals of meeting missionaries’ needs. Therefore, rather than starting with a list of practical ways to help missionaries—a simple internet search will reveal many useful suggestions—let us examine the biblical model to discover our aim and develop an outline of how sending in a manner worthy of God may look.
As we explore biblical giving in the New Testament, four motivations and goals become immediately evident.
1. Our goal should be to make sure our missionary’s needs are met (Titus 3:13, Philippians 4:16, 2 Corinthians 8:14)
These passages, along with others, reveal God’s generous heart for those sent out as ambassadors of the gospel. All the glimpses we have of missionary support in Scripture demonstrate providing for the life necessities of gospel workers. We are encouraged to give out of our abundance to provide generously (2 Corinthians 8:14). Churches are encouraged to send missionaries in a way that ensures they “lack nothing” (Titus 3:13). We even see that the Philippian church took multiple offerings to make sure Paul’s needs were met. These verses reflect a heart of compassion and care for those carrying the good news of the gospel to the nations.
2. Our goal should be to find ways to share in our missionary’s “trouble” (Philippians 4:14)
Another glimpse into the early church’s giving mindset reveals that they engaged when they saw trouble. Paul commended the believers in Philippi for the ways that they “shared” in his trouble. The Greek word rendered “share” is koinonia, which can be translated in English as “fellowship,” “partnership,” “gift,” or “share.” The word communicates the relational closeness created by joining with one another, as when sharing a meal or a gift. In the Philippians’ case, they shared in Paul’s trouble by helping him bear the burden of ministry.
Sharing in trouble extends beyond financial provision for needs. When Paul was arrested in Rome, the Philippian church sent Epaphroditus not only to deliver a monetary gift, but to be a gift himself as a brother, fellow worker, messenger, and minister to Paul’s needs (Philippians 2:25-30). Epaphroditus was so devoted to his mission that he risked his life to complete the Philippians’ care for Paul.
Foundational to this level of care was the church’s long-standing relationship with Paul. Through their strong, stable partnership, they stayed informed and committed to meeting Paul’s needs in each situation. Paul elsewhere communicated specific requests, asking Timothy to bring his cloak, books, and parchments (2 Timothy 4:13). During times of trouble, missionaries are sustained as their partners in the gospel help shoulder their material, relational, emotional, and spiritual burdens.
3. Our goal should be for our missionary to be “well supplied” (Philippians 4:18)
As Paul commended the Philippians, he gives us a clue as to how generous they were to him. He tells us that because of their gifts, he was “well supplied” (4:18). The Greek word here is the same word one would use to describe being full at the end of a meal: complete, satiated, and fully supplied. The Philippian church noted what Paul needed and fully supplied that need.
Let us avoid a minimalist mindset. There are often two approaches to missionary care. The first considers: What is the bare minimum a missionary might need to faithfully serve the Lord? This is a common mindset. In our zeal to be good stewards of God’s resources, or in our desire to support as many ministries as possible, it can be easy to become miserly and withhold good that we could provide for a missionary family. This is not the biblical mindset we see demonstrated by the early church. Instead, we observe a second approach: How can the church supply resources, help, and support to the extent that the missionary “lacks nothing”? Paul commends the Philippians because he was fully supplied.
4. Our goal should be to create overflowing thanksgiving to God (2 Corinthians 9:12)
It is interesting that when Paul exhorted the Corinthian church to give a gift, he did not specify an amount. Rather, he told them to give a gift that would create spontaneous, overflowing thanksgiving to God. What a great goal!
This idea of overflowing gratitude goes far beyond meeting specific needs or even completely meeting a missionary’s needs for life and service. To expand Paul’s analogy of a meal, if our first goal is to provide basic nutrition, and our third goal is to offer a spread that fully satisfies and fills the stomach, then the fourth goal involves serving a meal so exquisite that the natural response of the guests will be to summon the chef to profusely express their compliments.
Giving like this in missions aims to see missionaries on the field overwhelmed with gratitude: I picture tears of joy, missionary couples hugging each other in gladness, and parents exclaiming to their children how good and gracious God and his people have been to their family. Our gifts have the power to create worship and thanksgiving in the lives of others.
The New Testament example calls us to care well for those carrying the gospel to the nations. Rather than delineate a certain amount to give to missionaries, Paul encouraged the local church to meet their needs—completely. He looked to the church to help bear the spiritual and emotional burdens of ministry. And he gave us a giving challenge: to create overflowing worship and thanksgiving in the hearts of missionaries through our generous gifts.
As we continue to look for ways to creatively and compassionately care for missionaries, let us maintain a clear focus on the goals of that care, sending them on their journey in a manner worthy of God.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Focus on the Family on August 22, 2023. Used with permission.