Raising Up Missionaries — Part 2
There is a current concern in evangelical churches about where the next generation of missionaries will come from with the demise of so many of our recruiting grounds. This is the second part in a series addressing that very topic.
As a missionary, I am a frequent recipient of the lament about the crisis of the Great Commission. While being blessed by the Lord with new missionaries every year, there exists a general downward trend of missionary support, missionary emphasis, and missionary sending. The devolution of missions is more than concerning, it is debilitating.
From Romans 10, we learn that God has already called the missionaries. It would be unreasonable to say otherwise considering the fact that the Lord has sent forth his witnesses into the world. Faith in God necessitates a trust that if God issues such a decree, he has equipped his people for its fulfillment.
This is why a missions’ call begins in the church, not apart from it. Prepping missionaries then, is not a separate duty from the discipleship that should already be taking place within the church.
Lessons from Philemon
As the call to missions begins in the church, the training must also begin in the church. If a person isn’t qualified to serve in the church, how can we ever expect that they will be qualified to serve on behalf of the church? Furthermore, if they aren’t working in the church it is a likely expectation that they will not work in the field either. It is crucial for us to then take a look at the role of the church in training missionaries.
In the epistle to Philemon, we are introduced to the relationship between Paul and Onesimus. Onesimus, a slave who has committed wrong against his owner Philemon, perhaps by running away and possibly stealing from him, has somehow met with Paul in Rome. Through Paul’s ministry, it is clear that Onesimus became a believer and was pressed into immediate service as a disciple (having been useless, he is now useful). A look at the discipleship relationship between Paul and Onesimus provides insightful teaching into the training and building up of believers for the ministry and from it we see four points: the instruction of a father, the exhortation of a pastor, the connection of a mentor, and the function of a laborer.
Instruction of a Father
In verse 10 of Philemon, Paul refers to Onesimus as his child, and himself as the father of Onesimus. It was not uncommon for Paul to refer to himself as a spiritual father to believers. He did this with groups such as the Corinthians and Galatians (1 Corinthians 4:15; Galatians 4:19) and with individuals such as Timothy and Titus (1 Corinthians 4:17; 2 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4). As the spiritual father to Onesimus, this indicated both a closeness and responsibility.
The relationship between a father and son is characterized by closeness. A father is aware of the character of his child and the situations faced by his child. Thus, a father is enabled to rightly provide guidance suited to the needs of his child.A father is given the responsibility of imparting the words of God into the lives of his children (Deuteronomy 6:6-7), providing instruction so that the children learn and grow in knowledge and wisdom (Ephesians 6:4). At times, this requires discipline (Proverbs 13:24; Ephesians 6:4) not in a way to provoke the child to anger (Colossians 3:21). Instead, it is an act of love consistent with other scriptural teachings in which a father builds up and encourages his child. The role of a father is vital to the growth of a child, and so it is also between the church and the missionary. With the love and compassion that a father has for his child, the church instructs a missionary.
While Paul was certainly not a physical father to Onesimus, he does view himself as a spiritual father. Fatherhood often defined both Paul’s relationship and his role with people he had the privilege of seeing give their lives to Christ. Such a relationship is an example to the role that churches should fulfill in the lives of believers through discipleship. However, that relationship goes deeper, and will be examined in part three.
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