Sending Missionaries Well
How Churches Support Global Ministry
In 1987, a sequence of thought from one of the shortest books of the Bible grabbed hold of me and never let me go. Bethlehem Baptist Church was in its fourth year of missions renewal when a veteran missionary serving in Mexico said to me in passing, “There is a big difference between a church that has missionaries and a church that sends missionaries.” As a young missions pastor, I drank this comment in, wanting to know more. A short time later, I read in my New American Standard Bible,
You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support such men, that we may be fellow workers with the truth. (3 John 6–8 NASB)
On my fortieth anniversary as a pastor at Bethlehem, on August 1, 2020, Pastor John Piper prayed the commissioning prayer as my wife, Julie, and I joined the ranks of the “goers.” After helping to send some of the dearest people I know to some of the most remote places on earth, I am now one of the church’s “sent ones,” training current and future pastors in Cameroon to be both goers and senders in the greatest cause of the universe. I have been a happy sender, and now am a happy goer, backed up by a church who has sent me in a manner worthy of God.
The main point of the passage in 3 John relates to this ministry of sending. You can see it in verse 6: “You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God.” I see three important aspects of sending in this passage: (1) the value of sending, (2) the mandate of sending, and (3) the manner of sending.
Value of Sending
Sending missionaries must be valuable, because look at how happy it makes the apostle John. Some missionaries from John’s church, it seems, had visited Gaius’s church and told him of their work (3 John 7). The missionaries then returned to John’s church and testified in front of the whole congregation of Gaius’s love for them (vv. 3, 5). When John hears this testimony, a big smile fills his old-crinkled apostolic face, and he writes to Gaius. Listen to the joy and warmth of the first four verses of this neglected letter:
The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers. For I was very glad when brethren came and bore witness to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth. I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth. (3 John 1–4 NASB)
According to verse 2, perhaps Gaius was not doing well health-wise, and perhaps his business was struggling — and so John feels the need to pray for these matters. But Gaius’s love for the missionaries assures John that his soul was prospering. The prospering soul is the soul that is walking in the truth (v. 3) or working together with the truth (v. 8). In other words, he’s not living a fantasy; he’s not living “the American Dream.” He is living in a way that fits with ultimate reality, where God is at the center.
The value of sending can also be seen in the phrase “you will do well to send them” (v. 6). The word for well carries with it the sense of beauty. It is beautiful to wash the feet of those who go out for the sake of the Name. If the feet of those who carry the gospel are considered lovely by God (Isaiah 52:7), it should be no surprise that God views the people who wash those lovely feet as doing something beautiful.
“It is beautiful to wash the feet of those who go out for the sake of the Name.”
Finally, notice in verse 8 that in God’s eyes there is no hierarchy of value, with the missionary on top and those who send playing second fiddle. In verse 8, we read that both the goers and the senders are “fellow workers with the truth.” Both are equally valuable before God, the lives of both equally significant in God’s opinion — which is the only opinion that matters. The most important thing is to let our lives be consumed with seeking the kingdom first. Whether we seek his kingdom in Cameroon or Myanmar, or where we currently live, is a secondary issue. But if God does lead you to stay where you are, your soul will prosper as it ought only if you are involved in sending others to the mission field.
Mandate of Sending
God commands us to be senders, to be actively engaged in helping missionaries get to the field and stay on the field. It is not optional. We can see this in verse 8: “Therefore we ought to support such men.” Since they go out for the sake of the Name, and since they don’t sell the gospel for money, therefore we ought to support them.
Sending missionaries is one of the oughts and shoulds of the Bible. Our all-knowing and all-loving Christ knows that our souls will prosper as they should only as we look beyond our own immediate interests and lift up our eyes to God’s global purpose.
“The most exhilarating experience in life is to be a fellow worker with God in making his name known.”
One of the most exhilarating experiences in life is to be a fellow worker with God in making his name known, both in our own neighborhoods and among the unreached people groups of the world. God commands only what is good for us, so it’s no wonder he commands us to be senders.
Manner of Sending
Now, what does it mean to send a missionary? How is it done? I want to get practical here, but first I want us to look at the logic and the content of verses 6–8.
You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support such men, that we may be fellow workers with the truth.
John exalts the importance of how we send as high as can be imagined. We are to send “in a manner worthy of God.” And why should we send missionaries in a manner worthy of God? Notice the logic: “For they went out for the sake of the Name. . . . Therefore we ought to support such men.” Verse 7 is the best definition of missionary that I am aware of in the Bible. A missionary is not someone who goes out for merely humanitarian concerns, as important as those are. A biblical missionary is driven by a zeal to exalt the name of God, to declare his glory among the nations, to make known the beauty of the character and work of Jesus Christ. These are the only missionaries God commands us to support.
And since they go out for the sake of the Name, we must support them in a manner worthy of God. When it comes to sending, no verse in the Bible has gripped me more than this one. To send a missionary in a manner worthy of God means a lot more than having missionary names on the church’s website, or adding a line item in the budget, or signing a check here or there. So, what does it mean to send a missionary?
This particular word for send occurs nine times in the New Testament, always in the context of helping Christian workers get to where they need to go to do the work of the kingdom. In Titus 3:13, Paul uses the same word, writing, “Diligently help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way so that nothing is lacking for them” (NASB). To send is to offer very practical help. It includes finances, but it goes way beyond finances. Notice in 3 John 5: “You are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren.” That word whatever shows the breadth of what is included in sending.
It takes only a little thought to imagine the upheaval that a call to missions would bring to your life. Imagine that God called you to change all your career plans, to prepare to go to the mission field, and then to serve him there for years to come — all of which would be compounded if you were married and had children. Now imagine what might be a blessing to you in your preparation stage and in your time on the field and when you returned for a season of home assignment. None of us can do everything our imaginations could put on such a list, but no one is being asked to do it all. So let’s each search our own hearts as to what our particular role may be in helping to send our missionaries in a manner worthy of God.
Fellow Workers with the Truth
The ministry of sending is both joyful and dangerous. While serving as a sender, God may surprise you and lead you to become a goer, a “sent one.” And goers may return home for a variety of reasons and become some of the best senders. While senders devote themselves creatively to do “whatever” on behalf of the goers, they will be especially motivated to being a goer to their immigrant neighbor, or international students at a nearby university, or a green-card worker in the next cubicle over.
But remember, senders and goers are fellow workers with the truth — equally valuable in God’s choreography of accomplishing the great purpose of winning worshipers from every tribe and tongue and nation. Both are called to be passionately God-centered, whether they go out for the sake of the Name, or remain in their home culture helping to send others in a manner worthy of God. A prospering Christ-filled soul is vital to the task of both.