Short-term missions and team devotions

Short-term missions is strategic for making disciples not only globally, but locally within of our own congregations.  Using short-term mission efforts for disciple-making among our own church members is one slice of the disciple-making pie.

No need to reinvent the wheel here.  Ample resources are available for mission teams to use for team devotions.  Teams might select a book of the Bible or a portion of Scripture to work through prior to departure as well as while on the mission field.  Questions related to the passage can be developed that generate team discussions when meeting together before and during the mission effort.

Teams might also select short, but pertinent books on specific topics to read prior to departure and to discuss while on the field.  Suggested topics include:

  • Evangelism
  • Missions
  • Church Membership
  • Theology (a specific doctrine or a summary of multiple doctrines—e.g. BF&M 2000)
  • Biographies of missionaries or Christian leaders
  • Selected sermons (manuscripts that can be read as well as listened to)
  • Spiritual disciplines (Christian growth)
  • Church health/revitalization
  • Church planting

If using a book study, prepare some questions related to each chapter or section of the book you plan to discuss.  Use mornings or evenings with the team to not only review the upcoming day or debrief the day, but to discuss the topic for intentional discipleship time.

The point in team devotions is to maximize the concentrated time with the team for Jesus’ model of Mark 3:14—being with and sending out.  Mark gives us the reason for Jesus choosing the twelve (apostles).  He spent time with them and sent them out to share the good news.  Jesus is modeling what it looks like to make disciples—it’s time together and it’s time serving.  In fact, Matthew gives us a similar paradigm for discipleship.  Jesus mentored (taught) (Matthew 5-7); modeled (served with) (Matthew 8-9); and multiplied (sent them out) (Matthew 10).

Short-term missions allows churches to build disciples in a similar way that Jesus and Paul modeled it for us.  We can mentor, model, and multiply our church members in a concentrated way unlike at other times throughout the year.  Capitalizing on your time with the team for teaching and serving is invaluable and will often transform the way they engage the church and others once back home.

 

Enlisting Short-term Mission Teams

Jesus’s command to makes disciples of all nations is for all believers (Matt 28:19).  While we want every Christian to be a disciple-maker, not everyone in the local church will necessarily leave their home for gospel mission (Acts 13:1-3).  Some go; the rest send.  Some go long-term; others can go short-term.  Short-term mission teams can be a valuable asset to assist those making disciples in far places.  Enlisting proper short-term team members is an essential part of ensuring we have an effective and faithful long-term mission impact.  Here are some suggestions for enlisting your short-term mission team.

  • Communicate clearly to the church the mission. Pastors play a key role in communicating and giving “stage time” to the mission that the church will engage in.  Use as many (creative) communication platforms as necessary to inform the church of the upcoming mission opportunity.
  • Work closely with the pastor(s) in the process of recruiting or approving team members. As the shepherds of the church, pastors need to be involved in the decision process of those who participate in the mission effort.
  • Plan an informational meeting. Those who express interest need to know key details (as much as possible) in finalizing their decision. Schedule an informational group meeting with interested persons. Cover such details as:
    1. Location
    2. Purpose of the mission (as it aligns with the strategy of the host missionaries)
    3. Cost (travel, food, lodging, ministry expenses, travel insurance)
    4. Accommodations (lodging, travel, food, etc.)
    5. Expectations of team members (health abilities, type of work, behavior, etc.)
    6. Q&A time
  • Schedule interviews and/or an application process. Whether through an interview with those interested or by filling out an application, this step is important in making sure that those desiring to go are a right fit for the mission effort.  Issues covered in the interview and/or application include:
    1. Personal conversion story.
    2. Description of personal growth (e.g., prayer, Bible reading, church involvement, personal witnessing).
    3. Explanation of why the individual desires to go on this mission effort.
    4. Look for team players. There are no lone rangers in missions.
    5. Gain a feel for the personality of the person and ability to relate well with others.
    6. Willingness to be flexible and serve as needed.
    7. Physical and emotional stability.
  • Inform each interested person of the decision. In many cases, the answer for an interested mission team member will be “yes, welcome to the team.”  On occasion, the team leader, pastors and other decision makers will have to inform interested persons that the answer is “wait”.

Short-term teams provide valuable help to long-term missionaries when those teams are carefully selected and properly trained.  While not every Christian will be called to live far from “home,” every Christian is called to make disciples of all nations.  One way to faithfully live out this disciple-making call is by being part of carefully selected short-term mission teams.

Disciple-making and Short-term Missions

As the eleven apostles wait on the Mountain in Galilee for Jesus, they are filled with mixed emotions.  No doubt they wonder, “What will Jesus say and what will we do next?”  When Jesus appears to the them, the heart of His message is “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19).

Short-term missions is for the purpose of making disciples, not just somewhere else, but among our own church members.  Pastors and church leaders should view short-term missions as a two-point prong—making disciples locally and globally.  We go elsewhere to assist missionaries in their work of making disciples in other places, but we also understand short-term missions as a vital part of making disciples of our own church members.

There is something incredibly valuable about pouring into our own church members while they are away from normal routines and distractions.  Don’t miss this opportunity through short-term missions to have long-term discipling impact on your church members.

Here are some suggestions for discipling your short-term mission teams.

  • Encourage team members to enlist prayer partners. These partners can be within the church, family members, or other believers outside of the church.  Lead them to give weekly or monthly prayer matters leading up to the time of the mission effort.  For the time of the mission effort have your team members give a daily prayer point guide to their prayer partners before they leave.  Also, encourage team members to have at least one prayer partner that prays with them each week leading up to the mission effort. They can pray through facetime, in person, over the phone, etc.
  • Develop personal time in God’s Word and prayer. Nothing prepares the team member more for missions than his/her personal time with God.  Several months before the mission effort, teams can be encouraged to read through certain passages or books of the Bible.  For example, reading through Acts prior to and during the mission effort is a great way to prepare the team spiritually for what they are about to do.  Providing specific prayer guides for the team member’s own spiritual preparation is essential as well.  This might be the first time these team members develop an intentional personal time in God’s Word and prayer.
  • Teach them how to share the gospel. Missions is not missions if the gospel is missing.  There are many tools that can be used to teach teams how to share the gospel.  The point is not one particular method as much as making sure each team member can articulate the gospel concisely and clearly.  Spending time with the team not only teaching them how to share the gospel but giving them opportunities to practice on one another and even in the community before the team leaves is critical.  The goal is not teaching them to be an expert in winning arguments, but simply telling the “old, old” story of Jesus and His love.  The gospel is the power of God for salvation, not our presentation or method (Rom 1:16).  Share the gospel and trust God to do His work!
  • Utilize your time on the field for discipleship. While on the mission effort, being intentional about pouring into the team members is essential.  Taking them through a study in the Bible (like Acts) or a book is a great way to have deliberate discipleship time while on mission (there are a number of short, but impactful books that could be used for this purpose).  Either in the morning before the team leaves out for the day or in the evening when you settle down from the day, walking the team through a planned study time is a valuable way to point the team to God’s Word and apply both the Word and their daily mission experiences to their Christian life. Amazingly, God often uses His Word and the experiences of the team while on mission to grow them exponentially.  Take advantage of that time for team discipleship.
  • Don’t forget when you get back home.  Pray for new habits and convictions that begin to form while on the mission effort to remain once you are home.  Team members often ask themselves and their churches, “now what?” when they return home.  The experiences are often overwhelming and can cause frustration when others back home don’t quite see things in the same way as the team members upon their return.  Learning to leverage one’s experience for personal growth and influence of others is a delicate but important step.  Here are some “when you get back home” suggestions:

1. Remain active with your prayer partner(s). Continue praying with and meeting with others for accountability and encouragement.

2. Stay deep in God’s Word. The habits of personal Bible-intake you begin to form on mission will be life transforming if you stay with them.  Be consistent in your personal Bible time.

3. Don’t overreact by selling everything you own (just yet) nor see everyone else as less spiritual than you. Meditate often on Philippians 4:10-14 about finding contentment in whatever situation the Lord brings your way.  Further, the temptation you will face is one of being judgmental to those who didn’t go, haven’t gone, or refuse to go.  Steady wins the race.

4. Don’t waste your mission effort. It’s easy to merge back into the traffic of life and forget what you experienced through God’s Word and His work. Find one way you can continue serving the gospel in your own community.  How are you living on mission where God has planted you?

5. Remember, the goal is make disciples (locally and globally) (Matt 28:19-20). While the experience of disciple-making globally is thrilling, whom would God have you pour your life into for long-term impact where you live?  You can begin with the study you went through on the mission effort by sharing it with someone else for discipling purposes. Meet monthly or weekly to discuss what you learned with someone else.  In other words, make disciples here and there.

Short-term missions done poorly and done well

While in a hotel overlooking a European city, our vision team recapped the experiences we had over the previous days as we met with various missionaries and visited several European countries.  Our goal was to find ways that we could connect our local churches from the state conventions we represented to mission partnerships in Europe.  As we listened to one another share, one state convention leader remarked, “Money alone is not the answer.  We need boots on the ground.”

He is right.  While the Cooperative Program is an enormous tool for gospel advancement, money alone is not the answer.  Yes, we need long-term missionaries.  But we also need local church short-term teams partnering with missionaries for long-term impact.  Boots on the ground involves not only our long-term missionaries, but short-term teams doing missions well.  Here are ways missions is done poorly and done well expressed with opposite key statements.

  • Go in order to see “new places” / Go in order to see God do a “new work”. If we go in order to see new places, then we go for the wrong reasons.  Comparing stamps in our passports is not our goal.  Don’t misunderstand me, seeing new places is always exciting; but our aim is not simply for the thrill of the adventure or to travel the world.  We go believing that God is at work and we desire to see Him do a “new work” in the lives of those we are serving with and among. So, go expecting God to do something new in you, your team, and those who you intend to serve.
  • Go without a plan and be rigid / Go with a plan and then go with the flow. “Winging it” is not the best approach to maximizing our impact and effectiveness.  Sometimes we spiritualize our lack of planning as trying to be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading.  To further complicate our unpreparedness, teams or individuals are reluctant to bend as schedules change.  Or worse, they bemoan how things are different than “back home” and how they wouldn’t “do it that way.”  On the other hand, our preparedness for what we plan to do and where we are going does not minimize the Spirit’s leading; it maximizes it.  We must prepare our teams well and then be prepared to go with the flow as circumstances change.  Being flexible with a spirit of willingness is critical for the Spirit to work in and through short-term teams.
  • Forget that a spiritual battle is underway / Recognize that a spiritual battle is before us. In the moment of experiencing new places and new people, we can easily forget that the challenges of the mission field—that often are dismissed as culture shock or personality conflicts, are directly tied to an unseen battle. Paul reminds us that we wrestle not with flesh and blood (cranky short-term team members or unfamiliar cultural customs), but against Satan and his dark forces (Eph 6:12).  Short-term teams need sensitivity to the fact that the spiritual reality that we may not perceive is much greater than the tangible reality around us.  A battle wages and we do not fight it with conventional weapons, but with the armor the Lord supplies (Eph 6:10-20).
  • Neglect to prepare your team / Be intentional about team preparation. Similar to going without a plan, teams that fail to prepare will prepare to fail.  On the other hand, teams that are intentional about their preparation will be an asset to the strategy of the field missionaries.  Basic preparation is necessary for maximizing the team’s impact with the work of the missionaries.
  • Set your own agenda / Develop a strategy with the missionaries. While many short-term teams mean well, they can often be a burden to missionaries.  The burden might stem from a lack of adaptability in their new (short-term) environment or it might involve an unwillingness to listen the counsel of the missionaries on best practices.  Often, the burden revolves around short-term teams setting their own agenda over against the desires and/or counsel of the host missionaries. Short-term teams that have the most gospel impact are those which submit to the leadership of the host missionaries in planning the purpose of the team. Think about it.  It only makes sense that those who have immersed themselves in the culture by living among the people and learning the language and way of life are the ones who know best what strategy will be most effective in advancing the gospel in a particular area.  Short-term missions done well involves teams that develop strategies with the host missionaries. This collaboration results in advancing the gospel in way that could not be done with the long-term missionaries only or at least be done at the concentrated pace that a short-term team provides.

Discipling short-term mission teams

As the eleven apostles wait on the Mountain in Galilee for Jesus, they are filled with mixed emotions.  No doubt they wonder, “What will Jesus say and what will we do next?”  When Jesus appears to the them, the heart of His message is “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19).

Short-term missions is for the purpose of making disciples, not just somewhere else, but among our own church members.  Pastors and church leaders should view short-term missions as a two-point prong—making disciples locally and globally.  We go elsewhere to assist missionaries in their work of making disciples in other places, but we also understand short-term missions as a vital part of making disciples of our own church members.

There is something incredibly valuable about pouring into our own church members while they are away from normal routines and distractions.  Don’t miss this opportunity through short-term missions to have long-term discipling impact on your church members.

Here are some suggestions for discipling your short-term mission teams.

  • Encourage team members to enlist prayer partners. These partners can be within the church, family members, or other believers outside of the church.  Lead them to give weekly or monthly prayer matters leading up to the time of the mission effort.  For the time of the mission effort have your team members give a daily prayer point guide to their prayer partners before they leave.  Also, encourage team members to have at least one prayer partner that prays with them each week leading up to the mission effort. They can pray through Facetime, in person, over the phone, etc.
  • Develop personal time in God’s Word and prayer. Nothing prepares the team member more for missions than his/her personal time with God.  Several months before the mission effort, teams can be encouraged to read through certain passages or books of the Bible.  For example, reading through Acts prior to and during the mission effort is a great way to prepare the team spiritually for what they are about to do.  Providing specific prayer guides for the team member’s own spiritual preparation is essential as well.  This might be the first time these team members develop an intentional personal time in God’s Word and prayer.
  • Teach them how to share the gospel. Missions is not missions if the gospel is missing.  There are many tools that can be used to teach teams how to share the gospel.  The point is not one particular method as much as making sure each team member can articulate the gospel concisely and clearly.  Spending time with the team not only teaching them how to share the gospel but giving them opportunities to practice on one another and even in the community before the team leaves is critical.  The goal is not teaching them to be an expert in winning arguments, but simply telling the “old, old story” of Jesus and His love.  The gospel is the power of God for salvation, not our presentation or method (Rom 1:16).  Share the gospel and trust God to do His work!
  • Utilize your time on the field for discipleship. While on the mission effort, being intentional about pouring into the team members is essential.  Taking them through a study in the Bible (like Acts) or a book is a great way to have deliberate discipleship time while on mission (there are a number of short, but impactful books that could be used for this purpose).  Either in the morning before the team leaves out for the day or in the evening when you settle down from the day, walking the team through a planned study time is a valuable way to point the team to God’s Word and apply both the Word and their daily mission experiences to their Christian life. Amazingly, God often uses His Word and the experiences of the team while on mission to grow them exponentially.  Take advantage of that time for team discipleship.
  • Don’t forget when you get back home.   Pray for new habits and convictions that begin to form while on the mission effort to remain once you are home.  Team members often ask themselves and their churches, “now what?” when they return home.  The experiences are often overwhelming and can cause frustration when others back home don’t quite see things in the same way as the team members upon their return.  Learning to leverage one’s experience for personal growth and influence of others is a delicate but important step.

Short-term missions is valuable for assisting missionaries in their strategies to reach other peoples and places with the gospel, but also crucial in raising up mature believers in our own congregations.  It’s not a matter of which of these two impacts we desire for short-term missions; it’s that we pray for both.

Supporting the Sent

Missions is at the forefront of who we are and what we do as Southern Baptists.  By God’s grace, we support thousands of missionaries across the globe.  However, if we aren’t careful and intentional, it would be easy for us simply to give our money as a denomination and detach ourselves from the reality that our missionaries are real people with real needs.  How can we not only support our missionaries financially, but make certain we are also supporting them beyond simply our dollars?  The apostle John helps us see the important role churches and individuals play in the ongoing support of missionaries from 3 John.

John writes to a believer named Gaius.  John rejoices in the growth of Gaius’ life and prays for his health to prosper as much as his spiritual life apparently prospers (v 2).  I wonder how much our physical health would prosper if it were to prosper in comparison to our spiritual health?  It seems that John’s connection to careful and intentional mission support is tied to one’s own spiritual health.  When word got back to John about Gaius “walking in the truth,” he was ecstatic (vv 3-4).

For John, walking in the truth, or “acting faithfully,” involves a care for furthering the gospel and supporting those who do so (v 5).  John hears of Gaius’ love for missionaries (traveling teachers) (v 6a).  John commends Gaius for supporting the sent in a manner worthy of God (v 6b).  John reminds us that those who travel to further the gospel go “for the sake of the Name” (v 7a).  Their support comes not from the “Gentiles” (outside financial support), but from within the church(es) (v 7b).

John’s word of encouragement to Gaius is to “support such men,” in order to be “fellow workers with the truth” (v 8).  Gaius and the church supported these traveling missionaries with lodging, food, money, encouragement, and prayer (Danny Akin, Christ-Centered Exposition, 3 John).  In other words, cooperative missions is a cooperative effort.  Some send. Some are sent.  All are involved.  We accomplish more for the gospel not on our own, but together.  We send the sent, but we support the sent.  How might we tangibly support our sent?

  • Provide salaries so that gospel work can be the primary focus of the missionaries. As Southern Baptists, the Cooperative Program allows us to unite our resources for maximum impact and support missionaries who can give full attention to reaching the unreached.

  • Provide lodging both on the field and when “home” for rest. For Gaius, it seems he both received and provided lodging for these traveling missionaries.  A place to call home away from “home” is an essential component for missionaries living in another culture.  Further, when able to travel back to the states for “rest,” missionaries need an oasis to recoup and recharge.

  • Provide meaningful care packages. On occasion, perhaps every other month, churches can send gift cards or care packages filled with favorite snacks and thoughtful gifts.  This builds a personal connection with church members and missionaries.

  • Provide continual encouragement through texts, emails, skype calls, etc. Loneliness is a reality for those living overseas for the gospel.  New cultures, new languages, and often extreme isolation can lead to battles with discouragement.  A simple message of encouragement from a passage of Scripture or just checking on the missionary’s family goes a long way in building them up.

  • Provide intentional prayer (and let them know it). Regularly praying for missionaries by name not only provides the spiritual support they need, but also gives the church a tangible connection to those serving on the field.  This puts a face to “Lottie” and “Annie” when we pray by name for our missionaries.  So, pray for them but then let them know you are praying for them.

Supporting those we send as missionaries involves more than our dollars.  It requires our personal time and investment in their lives.  In do so, John informs us that we are “fellow workers with the truth” (3 John 8).  Some send. Some are sent.  All are involved cooperatively as workers with the truth.

Praying for a Fresh Wind in Chicago

Chicago is known for its many names: The Windy City, Second City, Chi-town, Heart of America.  Chicago is also known for many things: deep-dish pizza, hot dogs, Chicago Cubs, and Lake Michigan. The list goes on.

Amidst Chicago’s various names and iconic sites, there is something much less known about this great city.  What is less known, you ask?  Jesus.  The metro population of Chicago makes it the third largest city in the United States at 9.5 million people.  However, only 9.1% of the population is affiliated with an evangelical church.  Furthermore, there is only 1 SBC church for every 34,348 people in metro Chicago.

The KBC is entering a new partnership with NAMB in Send Chicago.  In conjunction with the lead Chicago Send City Church, Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, the KBC is beginning this partnership with the prayer and intention that many KBC churches will make the short trip up to the Windy City for gospel engagement.

With only about 25 church plants in metro Chicago, more work is needed to impact this great city with the gospel.  Coming alongside a church planter and new plant is a tremendous way in which KBC churches can have tangible gospel presence in a city only about 300 miles away.

While NAMB has selected Chicago among 31 other cities in North America as a strategic place for gospel advancement, the KBC is joining efforts here and praying that God will bring a fresh wind of gospel engagement to the 3rd largest city in the US.

Why is the KBC choosing to partner in Chicago?  Because we believe in cooperative missions, not just our dollars but our efforts as well.  Our mission as a convention is simple: created by churches, for churches, to help churches reach Kentucky and the world for Christ.

Created by churches

We exist as the Kentucky Baptist Convention because Baptist churches throughout Kentucky desired to cooperate for the furthering of the gospel.  The KBC owes its existence to Baptist churches.

For churches

Baptist churches created the KBC for churches.  In other words, the KBC was created not to be served by the churches, but to serve the churches.

To help churches

Thus, the KBC exists to help churches do what God has called the church to do—the Great Commission.  Because the KBC was created by churches, for churches, the convention exists to help churches.  Helping mobilize churches for the Great Commission is the mission of the KBC.

Reach Kentucky and the world for Christ

God did not give the Great Commission to a denomination or mission boards; He gave it to the church.  Denominations and mission boards are helpful insomuch as they help churches reach those across the street and across the sea with the gospel.

We desire to connect KBC churches to gospel partnerships in Kentucky, North America, and the nations.  We want to resource, train, and introduce KBC churches to missionaries, church planters, established churches, and ministries in order to develop relationships that will further the gospel around the world.

We believe one such needed place to connect KBC churches in making Jesus known in the US is Chicago.  With well over 90% of the city not connected to a gospel-centered church, Chicago needs some wind, a fresh gospel wind that blows throughout the city.  Will your church be part of seeing this wind blow?  Learn more about partnering in this city or other KBC partnerships at www.kybaptist.org/vision.

How is your vision?

I have never had issues with my eyesight.  Well, until recently.  As I am now fully into my mid-40s, I am noticing that my vision is becoming a bit blurry.  Distances are not quite as clear as they once were.  I have yet to do anything about this new middle-age challenge.  Perhaps I should go to the eye doctor.  If I do, the doctor might prescribe me glasses, which would affirm my lack of clear vision.

Seeing clearly is important.  As Jesus traveled through cities and villages he saw people, and he felt compassion for them because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36).  How sad it would be for us to see and yet not see the needs of people all around us. Because Jesus saw the people (Matt 9:36a), he felt compassion for them.

In other words, Jesus seeing people first led him to have compassion.  Compassion has been defined as sympathetic pity for the distress of others with the desire to alleviate it (Merriam-Webster).  Believers cannot look on the hopelessness of others and not be moved—moved not only with compassion, but with the desire to bring hope.

The Missions Mobilization Team of the Kentucky Baptist Convention exists to mobilize KBC churches for gospel impact.  We might say, to mobilize KBC churches to bring hope.  One of the ways we desire to help KBC churches see clearly is providing vision trips to various North American and international partnerships.  These vision trips are designed to expose KBC churches to the hopeless peoples and places throughout the world.

By seeing it, touching it, tasting it, hearing it and overall experiencing it, our prayer is that KBC churches will see the people, feel compassion for them, and do something gospel-centered to bring hope.  Making the most of a church’s time on a vision trip is crucial.

Be prayerful—With Paul, pray always.  Be in prayer as you travel from point A to point B. Pray as you walk and talk.  Pray as you hear from planters or missionaries. Pray as you return to your room.  The point…pray!  Ask the Lord to lead you in how He would have you partner in this place.

Be flexible—the time is short and filled with much to see and hear and experience.  Be prepared to spend long days with potentially shifting schedules.

Be attentive—take careful notes both on paper and in your head of planters/missionaries, stories, and situations that stand out to you.  What might speak to you now might be forgotten if you do not write it down and make note of why it impacted you.  Be observant of the area you are in (what is the community like, the people, the needs, etc.).  Take whatever notes necessary, so that you can make a prayerfully discerning decision about partnerships later with your leadership team.

Be interactive—this vision is meant to be an experience, not simply an informational dump load.  When able, talk with the planters/missionaries about the city, the needs, ways to be involved.  The point is to be engaged in the vision trip.

Be willing—to partner as the Lord leads you.  As David Platt suggests, bring a blank check (of your life) to the table and ask the Lord to fill in the amount.

So, do you have a clear vision for missions?  Learn more about KBC vision trips and partnerships at www.kybaptist.org/vision.

“Hey, Come Over Here!”

As the Apostle Paul began his second missionary journey strengthening previously planted churches, he planned to travel northeast, toward modern day northern Turkey.  However, the Holy Spirit forbid him to speak the word in Asia (Acts 16:6).  In fact, the “Spirit of Jesus did not permit them” to go there (Acts 16:7).  Instead, they traveled west toward Europe under the Lord’s leading.  Why? Because Paul had a vision during the night of a man in Macedonia (present day Greece), saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9).

So, immediately they concluded that the Lord was calling them to preach the gospel to them, and they went.  The first city they came to was Philippi.  Paul and his traveling companions went to the riverside outside of the city to find people who would be gathered there for prayer.  Women were there, and as Paul shared about Jesus, God opened the heart of an influential business woman named Lydia and she believed (Acts 16:14).  Paul and his team then shared with her whole family and they all believed and were baptized (Acts 16:15).

What an incredible start for this mission team as they were sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit.  The gospel is shared for the first time on European soil and a house church is birthed.  Lest one think that things always go this well, the following events take a different turn for Paul and Silas.  As they continued to stay in Philippi for many more days a slave girl with a spirit of divination began following them.  She continually said, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17).

Paul finally has enough and casts the spirit out of this girl.  Her master sees that his form of profit is now gone and drags Paul and Silas before the authorities, accusing them of throwing the city into confusion by proclaiming unlawful customs (Acts 16:19-21).  The authorities beat them with rods and throw them into jail.  Things definitely have turned downward…or have they?

While in jail Paul and Silas sit shackled singing praises to God.  Around midnight an earthquake rocks the jail and all the prison doors and shackles are unfastened (Acts 16:25-26).  Fearing that the prisoners had escaped, the jailor intends to kill himself, but Paul cries out to him, saying, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here” (Acts 16:28).  The jailor then asks the question of all questions—“Sirs, what must I do to be saved” (Acts 16:29)?  “Believe in the Lord Jesus,” Paul and Silas reply, “and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:30).

Here are a several take-aways from this visit to Philippi.  First, gospel advancement relies upon the leading of the Holy Spirit.  Where do we go?  Just be faithful to go and trust God to lead you in where to go.  Second, gospel advancement involves engaging people where they are.  Go where people are gathered and engage them with the gospel.  Third, share the gospel and trust God to open hearts.  Ours is not the responsibility for results, but for faithfulness to share.  Fourth, gospel advancement often involves opposition.  Here is the bottom line, the devil does not like for us to advance the gospel.  Therefore, don’t be surprised when opposition arises; in fact, expect it.  Last, gospel advancement, amidst opposition, often leads to opportunities for God to do the unimaginable.  God can use demon possessed girls, earthquakes, and jail cells to change sinners’ lives.  If we will simply listen, we might hear the faint cry of someone “over there” saying, “Hey, come over here.  We need your help!”

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Faithful gospel ministry is hard.  It is often filled with deep valleys.  Just a simple scan of Jesus’s earthly ministry reveals the challenges of gospel work.  In fact, Jesus tells his band of novice followers, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. . . . You will be hated by all because of my name” (Matt 10:16, 22).  So, as Jesus tells it, gospel ministry will be filled with people who want to attach us as a wolf attacks sheep because of their hatred of us for preaching Jesus.  How is a gospel servant able to endure such hardship?

A quick glance of Paul’s journeys in Acts demonstrates the same challenges of faithful gospel ministry that Jesus spoke of with His early followers.  On his first journey taking the gospel to new places, Paul finds himself in the city of Lystra.  Jews from neighboring cities follow him there in order to stir the crowds up against him for preaching Jesus.  Winning the crowds over, the people stone Paul and drag him out of the city, supposing him to be dead (Acts 14:19).

When Paul’s companions surround him, he gets up and goes to the next city and preaches Jesus there as well (Acts 14:20-21).  After many disciples are made, Paul returns to Lystra and previous cities “strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to continue in the faith” (Acts 14:21-22).  Imagine Paul blooded and bruised from the previous day.  He was one beaten mess, and here he is encouraging these new-found believers to continue in the grace of God.  How can gospel ministers continue in such overwhelming situations?

Encouragement.  Paul understood the absolute necessity of gospel encouragement in the face of crushing obstacles.  Encouragement is that component of the Great Commission that is often overlooked but is no less invaluable. Yes, we must pray, evangelize, plant churches, and disciple for Great Commission faithfulness, but if we want to see longevity in ministry we must be intentional about encouragement.

Here is Paul, the recipient of being beaten nearly to death with stones, as the giver of encouragement.  Let’s think of missionaries serving the gospel overseas, much like Paul in his day.  One vital piece to their longevity in gospel service is the proportion to which they receive encouragement from believers back home.

Missionaries often find themselves in a tunnel of darkness because of the demands and challenges of serving the gospel cross-culturally.  Your church, your ministry group, or your Sunday School class can be the light at the end of the tunnel for those laboring tirelessly day after day for the gospel. A text, an email, a skype call, a special package, a team visit, are all ways that you might be a light at the end of their dark tunnel, and thus provide longevity for gospel impact in places that desperately need the gospel.