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.