Gospel work is hard work. The apostle Paul knew this reality well. Not long after setting out on his first missionary journey he and Barnabas experienced much opposition (Acts 13:45). In fact, Paul’s normal pattern of gospel engagement included going where the people (Jews first) were gathered, sharing Jesus, and then seeing a variety of responses (Acts 13-14). Some believed and embraced the message with great joy. Others baulked at this message of a Messiah crucified and raised from the dead. In many places where Paul and Barnabas preached Jesus, they were forced to leave. Yet, in their leaving they often saw a fledgling church birthed from their gospel proclamation.
To be sure, these new church plants, as we would describe them today, were stationed in locations where the gospel soil was hard. For various reasons, not least of which Jewish traditions, these new churches faced an uphill climb to reach their cities with the good news of a Jewish Messiah who was crucified and raised to life on the third day. Let’s face it, Jesus warned his first followers that if the world hated him, they would no less hate them and anyone after them too (John 15:18).
Nearing the end of Paul’s first missionary journey, he recognizes the importance of encouraging those fledgling churches. He makes his way back to them “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith…” (Acts 14:22). Why is this necessary so soon after these churches were birthed? Because gospel work is hard work and if churches (and missionaries) are not careful and intentional, they can find themselves overwhelmed by the daily needs of the flock and the opposition of the unbelieving world around them.
Paul knows this from personal experience, so he models for these new churches an important Great Commission component. Other churches can help provide longevity in the gospel work of others through their encouragement. Perhaps often overlooked, encouragement of other pastors, churches, and missionaries is a critical piece in an overall understanding of Great Commission faithfulness.
Missionaries find themselves discouraged at the prospect of reaching a people hostile to the good news of Jesus, as well as all the challenges that come with living in a new culture. Pastors find themselves down over the lack of commitment of members in the church. Those in the church feel deflated at times when the ministry they help lead has few involved in it. The point is clear: we all need people in our lives to encourage us to keep running, to not grow weary.
So, what is a person to do to bring encouragement? Think of two approaches to encouragement. First, pray weekly. Second, encourage (tangibly) at least monthly. Identify a missionary, pastor, and/or church (members) that you can pray for weekly and encourage monthly. Let them know you are praying for them (ask for specific needs from them to intercede for them). Then monthly, find various ways to lift them up: send a text message, write a card, mail them a gift package, remember their birthday(s), make a visit. In other words, be creative about the ways you can pour into them while they are pouring into others for the gospel. In doing so, I am convinced that God will use your encouragement as a means for their perseverance. Never underestimate how your encouragement will make a Great Commission difference.