Raising Up Missionaries — Part 3
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 third part in a series addressing that very topic.
The Great Commission is monumental. It is a monumental in its calling, in its equipping, and in its function. Yet, we are in grave danger of converting the Great Commission into the Great Omission and so this article is not written out of practicality but necessity. As pastors, churches, and organizations seek to reemphasize it, they are left with a continuing question: “Where are our next missionaries going to come from?”
Romans 10 taught believers that not only has God mandated a plan for mission, but also a plan for raising up his people to fulfill that mission (you can read more of this point by reading part one of this series). That plan includes the equipping of the believers in the church to fulfill the Great Commission of Matthew 28. Therefore, the church must equip the saints for the purposes of building up the kingdom and it is Paul’s relationship with Onesimus that demonstrates monumental discipleship for determinative missions. Reading through Philemon, we are privileged to observe the relationship that Paul has with Onesimus and while he was previously useless, Onesimus has now become useful as Paul has taken the time to disciple him. In part two, we examined Paul’s relationship with Onesimus through the instructions of a father. Today, we continue by seeing the exhortations of a pastor, the connections of a mentor, and the functions of a laborer.
Exhortation of a Pastor
Note now, the exhortation of a pastor in Philemon 11. It is here that Paul indicates that Onesimus was once useless and is now useful. Originally, Onesimus was useless only to Philemon, but now he is useful to not only Philemon but also to Paul. We must ask, “What is it that makes Philemon useful now?”
It is certain that the Holy Spirit imparts gifts to believers for the sake of building up the body of believers in order to glorify God (1 Corinthians 12:1-11). However, Paul gives a personal testimony here in Philemon 11 indicating that he can bear witness that Onesimus is indeed working for the sake of the gospel, which is profitable in the ministry of Paul, Philemon and ultimately on behalf of the Lord. The indication of the personal testimony is that Paul has both seen Philemon at work in the ministry and has provided oversight of his work; indeed, Paul has been shepherding Onesimus.
At the conclusion of the Gospel of John, Jesus imparts instruction to Peter to shepherd the sheep (John 21:15-19) a charge that Peter repeats to the leaders of the church (1 Peter 5:1-4). This is the solemn charge of the leadership: being entrusted to care for the sheep, shepherd the flock as Christ did. A shepherd has great concern for his sheep providing constant care, constant protection, and constant love for the sheep to ensure their safety and growth. Thus, the leadership must guard the flock (Luke 2:8), teach the word (2 Timothy 4:1-2) and ultimately be examples of the word (1 Timothy 4:11-16). As the church shepherds the flock, it is shepherding missionaries.
With the work of the Holy Spirit working in a believer, the church body exhorts and encourages the body of Christ to fulfill the role of a missionary. That exhortation comes through the teaching of God’s Word, which both conveys the necessity of the Great Commission and incites excitement for it.
Connection of a Mentor
I want you to note third: the connection of a mentor. Paul continues on in verse 12 to indicate that he is sending Onesimus back to Philemon as though he is sending his own heart to Philemon. The connection between Paul and Onesimus cannot be missed in this verse. They have an intimate relationship bound together by a love for Christ. Paul’s relationship to Onesimus as a mentor created opportunity for developing that relationship. A mentor invests heavily into the life of a disciple, with little regard to the cost of that investment.
In the midst of discipling a believer, a mentor provides instruction and exhortation. It becomes a relationship in which the mentor will rejoice with his disciple, cry with his disciple, and pray with his disciple. There becomes a connection in which their lives are intertwined because the mentor is so committed to a disciple’s growth. This commitment costs, as ministry often does. It may cost in money. It will certainly cost in time. Sometimes it may be patience among other costs. That cost is minimal though when it is for the sake of seeing people grow in a deeper relationship with Christ.
Paul exemplifies the function of the church’s role in developing missionaries by fulfilling various roles in the life of Onesimus. In the same way, churches are called to disciple believers to maturity by acting as a spiritual father, exhorting them pastorally, and connecting to them as a mentor. However, these aspects are meaningless if they do not make the connection between belief and behavior, which will be addressed in the final part.