Years ago, while speaking at a youth camp in Daytona Beach, FL, myself and several others were caught in a dangerous undertow while attempting to give assistance to a teenager struggling in the choppy Atlantic waters. Thinking that I was swimming over to help a teenage boy in need, I found myself needing help. Before I realized it, lifeguards filled the sandy beach, along with firetrucks and ambulances. All the while, one lifeguard swam against the undertow to rescue myself and a few others who were in danger of drowning.
Clinging to his buoy, he instructed us to kick as we tried to swim parallel with the beach in order to eventually swim out of the undertow. Unfortunately, we did not make any progress. The waves continued to pull us further away from shore. We were struggling to hang on and stay afloat. That’s when everything changed. One by one, other lifeguards entered the water, stretching out their buoys until they formed a human lifeline to reach us and pull us to the safety of the beach.
Those in the waves of gospel ministry can relate to this story all too well. They answer the call from God to go and help those struggling in the waters of life. Yet often they find themselves in need of help. Missions specifically and ministry in general is not for the faint of heart. One need only review the apostle Paul’s “resume” to realize such is the case.
He describes his own experience, “Apart from such external things [beatings, ship wrecks and fleeing], there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:24-25, 28). No wonder why God assured Paul that no harm would come to him while he was in Corinth (Acts 18:9-11). Paul faced both external opposition to the gospel and internal pressure for the care of the church.
Bottom line: ministry is filled with both physically demanding and emotionally draining work. Gospel work is hard work.
It is no wonder why Paul, in his prison letter to Timothy, reminds the young pastor, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). Ministry can be brutal both to the body and the mind. Timothy needed to be encouraged to continue in the work that God had called him to.
Today is no different. When it comes to the Great Commission, encouragement for missionaries and those who labor for the gospel is vital for their longevity. Because doing the work of ministry involves external opposition and internal pressure, finding ways to throw our co-laborers a lifeline is essential for their survival.
The church can play a vital role in lifeline ministry to missionaries and gospel workers. While ministers of the gospel grow weary, churches that embrace a culture of encouragement among those on the frontlines provide real endurance for those struggling to run the race well.
As I meet with pastors, church planters, and missionaries all over North American and internationally, the common theme I hear from them is that we have no idea what it means to them when they receive a card, message, package, phone call, or visit.
Paul knew this well. After all, after planting churches, he made rounds back to those same churches “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith” (Acts 14:22). You never know what a call, card, text, package, visit or just ongoing communication with a pastor, church planter, or missionary will do to help them “continue in the faith.” It quite literally is a lifeline to them!