How many people die each day without hearing the Gospel?

Jumbo Jets

If 88 Jumbo Jets fully loaded with passengers crashed every day for a whole year, the tragedy still would not equal those who die without ever having heard the Gospel.

A friend’s prayer letter first drew my attention to this proposition, which caused me to wonder: How many people are on a jumbo jet? How many people die each day? How many people in the world are unevangelized? So I decided to look into these matters.

First, I checked with the World Health Organization and learned that in 2011 about 55 million people died. Divide that by 365 to find that 150,685 people died each day.

Now, how many of those people have not heard the Gospel? One of my favorite “go to” sources for information is The International Bulletin of Missionary Research.  Each January issue contains an update on the state of Christianity based on the World Christian Database. The IBMR 2014 update indicates that 29.2% of the world is unevangelized and that the world’s population will surpass 7.2 billion people mid-2014. So just about 2.1 billion people in the world are unevangelized.

A simple calculation (150,685 people who die per day times 29.2%) shows that 44,000 people perish each day without hearing the Good News. An average Boeing 747 holds about 500 persons. So 44,000 persons per day divided by 500 persons per plane = 88 planes per day.

I suppose that the person who first thought of this analogy intended it to be a “wake up” call to the Church. And thus it is! With 2.1 billion people in the world who have not heard the Good News about Jesus, strategic action needs to be taken.

As I contemplate the Church’s response to this tragedy, two responses quickly come to mind.  First, messengers need to be sent to the unevangelized to tell them the Good News of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25 NIV). Second, an appropriate response would be to “ask the Lord of the harvest… to send out workers into his harvest field” (Luke 10:2 NIV).

While these two responses are good, I felt it necessary to make some personal applications. What will I do about those people who have never heard about Jesus and eternal life that he offers?

First, I can send messengers to the unevangelized, which I have been doing and will continue to do. Recently I’ve written two other postings about how to do this well, which you may find interesting:

Partners in Mission: The Example of the Philippian Church and the Apostle Paul
Serving as Senders: Six types of support every missionary needs

Second, our family is willing to put some skin in the game. We’re ready to go to the Philippines to share the good news and to prepare Filipinos to do the same. But for us to go, we have to be sent – and there is still a significant amount of monthly support needed.

Third, I decided to set the alarm on my cell phone to ring at 10:02 PM each evening to remind me to pray for workers to be sent out to the unevangelized. “Lord, send forth more workers!”

Finally, I’ve written this to encourage others to ponder their involvement in taking the Good News about Jesus to those who’ve never heard.

So then what might your response be? What will you do?

Please share your thoughts about taking the Good News to those who have not heard.

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Church Planting Movements: How Fast Do They Grow?

 “A Church Planting Movement is a rapid and multiplicative increase of indigenous churches planting churches within a given people group or population segment.” (Garrison, CPM, 8).

Church Planting Movements, by definition, evidence exponential growth or growth through multiplication, not addition.  Although I’ve read a number of CPM case studies, I do not remember seeing Average Annual Growth Rates (AAGRs) provided.  So to find out how fast these CPMs are growing, I have calculated the AAGRs for the following case studies which I’ve read over the last few months.

Cuba

Here is a case study from Cuba that one of my blog readers, Dr. Kurt Urbanek,  pointed out to me. Dr. Urbanek, author of “Cuba’s Great Awakening: Church Planting Movement in Cuba” (available from www.amazon.com) provided me with surprising news about what is happening in Cuba. He begins chapter 1 of “Cuba’s Great Awakening”  by saying:

“In the face of staggeringly difficult political, social, and economic circumstances, Cuba is experiencing an unprecedented movement of God. This inspiring movement has seen hundreds of thousands come to faith in Jesus Christ and thousands of new church starts. Congregations among Baptists alone have multiplied from 238 to 7,039 churches, missions and house churches in just 20 years. Among the Assemblies of God, the increase has soared from 89 churches in 1990 to 2,779 in 2010 and this number of congregations is augmented by 7,997 house churches. Total Assembly of God membership (including adherents) has increased from 12,000 in 1990 to over 688,931 in 2010. This spiritual awakening continues and promises even greater blessings in the days to come.”

For this example the Baptists achieved a Church Planting AAGR of 17.4%. The Assemblies of God Church Planting AAGR is over 22% – not including the 8,000 house churches; the Christian AAGR is 18.8%.

David Garrison, who serves with the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, also provides several case studies of in his writings about Church Planting Movements.  It is possible to determine growth rates for several of these.

China

“When a strategy coordinator began his assignment in 1993, there were only three churches and 85 believers among a population of more than 7 million lost souls. Four years later there were more than 550 churches and nearly 55,000 believers” (Garrison, CPM, 15). Later Garrison gives 1991 as a starting point for this work. So I used that year to calculate the following AAGRs. Here the Church Planting AAGR is an astounding 110.5% and the Christian growth rate is even greater at 152% AAGR.

Latin America

“By 1989, the northern union had a membership of roughly 5,800. That same year, they began to experience an awakening as membership climbed 5.3 percent and then 6.9 percent the following year. By the end of the 1990s, the northern union’s membership had grown from 5,800 to more than 14,000. Over that same period, the number of churches increased from 100 to 1,340. At last report, there is little sign of this growth slowing down.”  (Garrison, CPM, 11).

For this example, the Christian AAGr is 9.2% (the lowest of any example noted here), and the church planting AAGR here is 30%.

Garrison provides a summary of another Baptist union in Latin America:

 “Similar developments were also unfolding in the southern union. In 1989, they had 129 churches with a membership of just under  7,000. With 533 baptisms recorded that year, they were showing signs of vitality. By 1998, their membership had risen to nearly 16,000 with annual baptisms of almost 2,000. The number of churches increased during the same period from 129 to 1,918, a remarkable 1,387 percent growth rate for the decade.”  (Garrison, CPM, 11)

For this example the, church planting AAGR is 35%; the Christian AAGR is 9.6%.

The Bholdari of India

Garrison also includes a case study of the Bholdari of India (Garrison, CPM, 20-22). This is the work that David Watson started (http://www.davidlwatson.org ). It is reported that the work grew from 28 to 2000 churches from 1989 to 1998 (60.7% AAGR) with over 55,000 conversions. From what I understand, this work continues to grow with more than 11,000 new churches and nearly 1,000,000 new believers in less than ten years.  (WIGTake Resources 2010).

Cambodia

Garrison includes a case study form Cambodia (Garrison, CPM, 25). I include Cambodia here because it is on the “Top 20 Hot Spots” list. From 1992 to 1998 the churches studied multiplied from 6 to 94, the AAGR being 58%.

China

The final case study I will mention here comes from the book T4T: A Discipleship Revolution by Steve Smith with Ying Kai. This particular case study is considered to be the largest recorded CPM, according to David Garrison who wrote the forward to the book. In a ten year period, the number of churches grew from 3,535 to 53,430 (35% AAGR) and membership grew from 158,368 to 1,738,143 (30.5% AAGR) (Smith, 21).  Recent update indicates that they have now seen nearly two million baptisms and more than 80,000 new church starts in less than a decade.

CPMs are Happening Even among Muslims

David Garrison recently published a new book about Church Planting Movements among Muslims: A Wind in the House of Islam (WIGTake Resources).  This thumbnail sketch is astounding:

As Garrison reports, in the first 1,300 years since Muhammad, there was only one voluntary movement to Christ among Muslims of 1,000 or more believers. In the last 20 years of the 20th Century, there were eight. In just the first 12 years of the 21st Century there have been 64. That is not a misprint. As of 2012 there were at least 64 documented movements to Christ taking place among Muslims, each with over 1,000 baptized believers and 100 worshiping fellowships. And the number of these movements is growing. (http://www.missionfrontiers.org/blog/post/something-is-happening  Accessed 9/30/2013)

One example would be a movement among Muslims in North Africa which grew from 22,000 baptized believers in 2003 to more than 160,000 in 2009 (WIGTake Resources 2010). The Christian AAGR is 39%.

CPMs Document Exponential Church Growth

The CPM case studies mentioned here document exceptional and exponential growth. The church planting AAGRs for these CPM case studies range from 17% to 110% and the Christian AAGRs range from 9.2% to 152%. Keeping in mind that the global average for Christian growth is basically 0% (actually an indication of losing ground because global population growth is 1.47%) and the highest  50 year estimations for Christian Growth are in the neighborhood of 10% AAGR, it is no wonder that these church planting movements, which are now taking place among what have been historically resistant people groups, and the factors that are producing such results are being viewed with great interest.

If you wish to better understand the dynamics that produce CPMs, I would recommend David Garrison’s writings because they describe in detail the factors that help, as well as hinder, exponential church growth.

Selected Bibliography

Garrison, David. Church Planting Movements. The International Mission Board, 1999. (Garrison has also written a longer book by the same subject.  Church Planting Movements: How God is Redeeming a Lost World. WIGTake Resources: Monument, CO, 2003.)

Garrison, David. A Wind in the House of Islam. WIGTake Resources: Monument, CO, 2014.

Mitchell, Russ.  “The Top 20 Countries where Christianity is Growing the Fastest”, https://discipleallnations.wordpress.com/2013/08/25/the-top-20-countries-where-christianity-is-growing-the-fastest/

Smith, Steve with Ying Kai. T4T: A Discipleship Revolution. WIGTake Resources: Monument, CO, 2011.

Urbanek, Kurt, Cuba’s Great Awakening: Church Planting Movement in Cuba. 2012. www.Amazon.com

What’s it gonna take to see church growth surpass 10% per year?

Recently a good Romanian friend of mine, whom I consider one of the most influential champions of domestic church planting and foreign missions in Romania, wrote me a thought provoking question.

Given the reality that in Romania the rate of church growth is slowing down at the national level, as one who is familiar with the dynamics of church growth in different areas of the world and knows the context in Romania, what would be, in your opinion, steps to once again have an annual growth of over 10%?

Because achieving an annual church growth rate that surpasses 10% is universally relevant,  I’ve chosen to provide some background information that will offer a useful perspective to answer this question.  Here I will summarize the growth of the church in Romania since 1989 and the significance of a 10% annual growth rate in comparison to rates of church growth in other countries. I believe this perspective is needed to answer the question: What’s it gonna take to see church growth surpass 10% per year?

Church Growth in Romania since 1989

The fall of Communism in Romania in December 1989 opened the way for a period of extraordinary church growth. During 1999-2001 I was part of a team who performed a nationwide church census in Romania. We determined that the number of evangelical churches easily doubled in the 1990s. Likewise a significant number of new believers were added to evangelical churches.

In our report, God’s Heart for Romania, we documented that for the period 1990-1995, 14 of Romania’s 42 administrative regions had an average annual church planting growth rates between 10% and 27%, which is quite strong. Likewise we documented that between 1996 and 2000, just two administrative regions continued to have growth over 10%, although several denominations in these regions continued to have exceptional growth, with an average annual growth rate (AAGR) above 10%.

We continued to monitor church planting after 2001 based on information provided by the Romanian evangelical denominations.  The data is approximate, but I would say that the number of evangelical churches in Romania grew from 5,000 in 2001 to approximately 6,000 in 2011.  Thus the approximate AAGR for 2001-2011 is in the area of 1.8% – a good bit less than the 10% my friend would like to see.

When we look at the change in the number of evangelical believers in Romania, the government census data can be used to monitor this dynamic.  We found the 2001 Census figures to be very close to the information we gathered in 1999-2000. So I consider the Census information to be reliable. According to the Census, between 1992 and 2001, the number of members of evangelical churches rose at least 35% (3.05% AAGR).  An annual average growth rate of 10% is equivalent to a ten year growth rate of 160% (also known as the Decadal Growth Rate). From 1992-2001, a growth rate of at least 160% for all denominations was recorded in the Calarasi, Ialomita, Olt and Vrancea regions, though individual denominations also realized exceptional growth in certain regions.

For the period 2001-2011, the government unfortunately has not published Census information for denominations with less than 100,000 members. So we have information for only the Pentecostals and Baptists. On average, the Pentecostals grew by 12% (or 1.14% AAGR) but the Baptists decreased by -6.8% (-0.65% AAGR).  It is important for us to keep in mind that Romania’s population decreased 12.2% between 2001 and 2011. In this context any positive growth is significant.  Two general factors contribute to Romania’s population decline: a drop in birth rates and an increase in emigration. The Pentecostals in Ialomita have continued to have a high growth rate (192% DGR) and Buzau has a DGR of 312%. I recollect a pastor telling me that several entire villages of Gypsies came to faith in this area.

This brief overview for Romania shows that since 1990, there have been regions where the church planting rates and the Christian growth rates have been 10% or more per year. In the 1990s, the national church planting average was approximately 7.2% and some areas of Romania had church growth rates of over 10% per year. However since 2000, the church planting rate has declined to 1.8%.  The growth rate for new believers was around 3% in the 1990s. Since 2001, the Pentecostals in a few areas in Romania have seen the number of new believers surpass 10% per year; but their average annual growth rate is 1.15%. The Baptists are in decline – and it probably is a reasonable assumption that the other evangelical groups are in decline as well.   But on a positive note, since 1990 we do see exceptional cases in Romania were 10% annual growth has occurred and continues to occur. So the growth rate proposed by my friend and colleague is attainable. But you can also imagine that it will take some effort to turn this growth trend around.

Romanian Church Growth in Global Context

I also want to view the goal of achieving an annual growth rate of 10% from a global perspective. When I wrote a blog last August on the top  20 “hot spots” in the world where Christianity is growing the fastest, https://discipleallnations.wordpress.com/2013/08/25/the-top-20-countries-where-christianity-is-growing-the-fastest/  I observed that only two countries in the entire world are projected to have an annual growth rate of over 10% for the period 1970-2020: only Nepal (10.94%) and China (10.86%). Thus an average annual growth rate of 10% over a long term growth is an extraordinary accomplishment.

Take away points

There are two take away points from what I’ve written here. First, it is possible to see church growth surpass 10% per year. We documented several areas in Romania where this has happened and continues to happen. Second, an annual growth rate of 10% or higher is an extraordinary accomplishment.  Might extraordinary outcomes require extraordinary actions? We will see.

My next posting will focus on Church Planting Movement and will examine the growth rates for several of these movements from around the world. We will see groups of churches growing at much higher rates than 10% for an extended period of time.  I believe case studies of Church Planting Movements can help us answer the question:  What’s it gonna take to see church growth surpass 10% per year? I hope you will follow along.

Partners in Mission (2): The Example of Paul with Four TIPS for Christian Workers

Partners in Mission PaulMy experience with developing Mission Partnerships shows the importance of these two axioms: Mission Partnerships grow out of relationships.  Mission Partnerships thrive when both parties contribute to the partnership.  Both of these axioms are found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

The first part of this series described how the relationship and mission partnership developed between the Apostle Paul and the Philippian church. There we focused on the Philippian’s contribution to this partnership. They prayed for Paul. They encouraged Paul. They gave financially on an ongoing basis. Now I want to look at the partnership from the other side. What did Paul do to nurture this partnership?

Just as we discovered three ways that the Philippians supported Paul’s ministry, we will see four ways that Paul nurtured the Mission Partnership with the Philippians. And just like the Philippians’ example, we have an acrostic to help us remember Paul’s actions: T.I.P.S. Thank. Inform. Pray. Serve.

Paul’s example provides four “best practice” TIPS for Christian workers to follow.

Thank. Paul thanked the Philippians for their generosity. He does this in a general way (1:3) but also makes special mention of their most recent efforts in chapter four. As I pointed out in the first part of this series, Philippians is Paul’s “thank you letter” to his one-and-only supporting church.

It goes without saying that Christian workers should thank those who support their work through prayer, encouragement or financial giving. The one who neglects this practice does so to his or her own detriment.

Inform. Paul shares his joy (2:17) with the Philippians and informs them about his life and ministry. The second half of chapter one contains a large “block” of update information.  “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel” (Phil. 1:12). Paul further indicates that: (1) the gospel is spreading among the Praetorian Guard (1:13); (2) most of the brethren in Rome are more courageous in preaching the word (1:14), though some do so out of less-than-pure motives (1:15-17); (3) he hopes to be released (1:19), after which he plans to personally visit Philippi (1:26 cf. 2:24). In chapter two Paul tells the Philippians about his plans to send Timothy to them as soon as he sees how things go with him (2:19,25). Paul also comments on Epaphroditus’ mission of mercy in Rome (2:25-30). In chapter four, we even learn that the Gospel is spreading within Caesar’s household (4:22). And mixed in with all these updates is a prayer request for Paul’s release from prison (1:19).

Christian workers should regularly share prayer requests and update supporters about their ministry, future plans, and share personal/family news. We see that Paul did all this in Philippians.  In today’s culture, it is preferable to send out shorter updates more frequently – think Twitter, Facebook, a blog or e-mail – rather than writing a very long letter once or twice a year. The longer the letter, the less likely it will be read. Short, frequent updates empower partners to pray and act in appropriate ways.

Pray. We see that Paul regularly prays for the Philippians. He begins the letter by expressing his habit of joyfully remembering them in prayer (1:3-4). He also shares a specific prayer for them.

God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:8-11 NASB)

Paul prays for them, not because it is his duty, but because he genuinely cares for them (v.8).

Following Paul’s example, Christian workers should pray for their partners in mission. A simple tool like a prayer list could be useful. Likewise keeping in contact with mission partners creates a better awareness of how to specifically pray for them.

Serve. Paul uses his spiritual gifts and influence to serve the Philippian church. Chapter one concludes with Paul wrestling over whether it would be better for him to be with Christ or to remain and serve them (1:21ff). A tough call! Although it would be far better to be with Christ, he considers it beneficial to remain to nurture their progress and joy in the faith. We see that Paul definitely puts the Philippians’ needs before his own comfort and self-interest.

A careful look at the letter to the Philippians reveals at least three ways Paul was serving the Philippians, even while in prison in Rome, 550 miles away.

Example. Several times Paul urges the Philippians to follow his example.

For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me. (Phil. 1:29-30 NASB)

Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. (Phil. 3:17 NASB)

The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4:9 NASB)

Whether in enduring sufferings for Christ’s sake, pressing on to maturity or modeling a lifestyle of contentment, Paul lives what he teaches, setting an example for the Philippians to follow.

Teaching. Philippians is filled with practical teaching to encourage the Philippians toward spiritual maturity. “To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you” (Philippians 3:1b). Paul used his spiritual gift as a teacher to nurture the Philippians’ faith.

Conflict Resolution

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Phil 4:2-3 NASB)

Epaphroditus likely informed Paul about the struggles which two women in the church were having. Paul knows these ladies well – they were co-workers. So Paul figures he might have some influence to help resolve this conflict. He also calls upon a “true companion” to help these women live in harmony.

Reading through Philippians again with this conflict in mind, I find several indications that perhaps Paul was indirectly addressing this conflict earlier in the letter. Consider how these passages might apply to a conflict:

Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel. (Philippians 1:27)

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:1-5)

 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.  Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. (Philippians 2:12-16)

It is not possible to tell whether or not Paul intended these passages to address the conflict between Euodia and Syntyche, but it seems to me that his teaching does apply to relational conflicts in a general way. And realizing that Mission Partnerships are based on relationships and that where relationships exist, conflict will most likely occur, the mindset outlined here will certainly help nurture effective mission partnerships.

So we see that Paul found three ways to serve his ministry partners: he provides an example to follow, he teaches them and strives to resolve a problematic conflict. And yes, these three points form an acrostic: E.T.C. Example. Teaching. Conflict Resolution – an easy way to remember three ways Paul served the church at Philippi.

Four TIPS for Christian Workers: Thank. Inform. Pray. Serve.

Just as Paul urged the Philippians to follow his example, so Christian workers can follow Paul’s example to nurture Mission Partnerships. From Paul’s example we see these four TIPS:

Thank your partners for their prayers and generosity.

Inform your partners about what is happening in your life and ministry. They care about you and can only minister to your needs and pray for you specifically if they know what is going on in your life.

Pray for your partners. You expect them to pray for you; you should also pray for them.

Serve your partners.

So then, if you are a Christian worker, what would be one way that you could excel all the more in each of these vital areas of nurturing a mission partnership? As I did with the first article in this series, I will allow you to ponder what actions are relevant.

Please share any insights you may have!

Partners in Mission: The Example of the Philippian Church and the Apostle Paul

Philippians 1It has been a while since I have been able to make a post on this blog. Last month I taught an intensive New Testament Survey class for Taylor University; hence, I was fully occupied with that good work.  It takes some effort to think of multiple choice questions like the one above!

As we were working our way through Acts and the Paul’s letters, it occurred to me that the church at Philippi is probably the best example of a missionary supporting church in the New Testament. Within Paul’s letter to the Philippians, there are clear indications of how this church uniquely partnered with the Apostle Paul over a ten year period, beginning with Paul’s second missionary journey through his imprisonment in Rome.  Specifically, by looking closely at this letter, we can discover three ways that the Philippians actively supported Paul’s missionary work. This partnership, however, was not a one-way street, for we will also see more than three ways Paul contributed to the Philippian church. So the examples of both the Apostle Paul and the Philippian church provide “best practices” for both missionary supporting churches and Christian workers to follow even today.

The Background of the Mission Partnership

During his second missionary journey (early 50s) Paul received a vision from God to extend his work into the providence of Macedonia in Europe (Acts 16). At Philippi, the chief city of that region, Paul established the first church.  As time passed, local opposition arose and it became expedient for them to move on to other cities. Paul kept in contact with the church at Philippi, and the church kept in touch with Paul, even financially supporting his work at Thessalonica (Phil. 4:16). Paul would once again visit this area during his third Missionary Journey (Acts 20:1-3; 2 Corinthians 2:13) at which time the Macedonian churches gave generously to assist the poor in Jerusalem (Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 8-9).  Paul personally took these offerings to Jerusalem (Acts 21). While there, Paul encountered opposition from the Jews, which led to his imprisonment at Caesarea for about two years. At this point, Paul appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:11-12) and was sent to Rome. The Philippian Church, learning of Paul’s imprisonment, sent Epaphroditus to Rome with a gift to provide for Paul’s needs (Philippians 4:10-20).

Throughout this ten year period the Philippian church was significantly involved in Paul’s missionary work.  In the first chapter of Philippians, Paul recalls their “partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:5). In the last chapter of Philippians, Paul highlights the uniqueness of this partnership, “that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone” (Phil. 4:15 NASB, emphasis mine). This is why I would say that the Church in Philippi was the best example of a missionary supporting church found in the New Testament – nothing like this is said about the church at Antioch, Jerusalem, Rome or any other. In fact the occasion that led Paul to write to the Philippian church was the generous gift brought to him in Rome by Epaphroditus. Thus, in a very real sense, Philippians is Paul’s “thank you letter” to his one-and-only supporting church.

Within this letter we learn more about the mission partnership between Paul and the Philippian church.  It involved more than just money, and it was not merely a one-way street. In Philippians 4:15 Paul indicates the reciprocal nature of the partnership that he and the Philippian church enjoyed. “You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone” (Phil. 4:15 NASB, emphasis mine). Both Paul and the Philippians gave and received.

As we take a closer look at this partnership between Paul and the Philippian Church, we will see three ways the Philippians supported Paul’s missionary work.  A future post will examine Paul’s contributions to this mission partnership.

The Example of the Philippians

In examining Paul’s letter to the Philippians, I discover three ways that the Philippians were involved in Paul’s ministry. The acrostic P.E.G. can help us remember these three key points: Pray. Encourage. Give. Let us take a closer look at the importance of each for a mission partnership.

Pray.  In chapter one, as Paul updates the Church about his situation in Rome and his defense of the gospel, he is confident “that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers” (Phil 1:19). Paul assumes that the church was praying for him. Likely Paul has evidence to base this statement upon, either his own interactions with the church over the previous ten years would lead him to this conclusion or Epaphroditus told Paul of the praying people for him back at Philippi. Thus the first part of the mission partnership is based on prayer. Prayer for the front line worker is the best form of support. However there is more that a supporting church can do for a Christian worker.

Encourage.  In chapter two we learn that those at Philippi sent Epaphroditus, as Paul says, ”to complete what was deficient in your service to me” (2:30 NASB). I would assume that Epaphroditus’ arrival was a great encouragement to Paul in his chains. Certainly Epaphroditus brought news from the church, of their love and concern for Paul, and personal greetings. As the proverb says, “Like cold water to a weary soul, so is good news from a distant land” (Prov. 25:25 NASB).

There is a growing awareness that front line workers need encouragement and care. Frontline work can be discouraging and difficult! While the trend today is to delegate missionary care to missionary sending organizations, supporting churches also have an important role. Supporting churches expect Christian workers to be in regular contact. In the same way, churches need to be in regular contact with workers. Visits, care packages, cards, telephone calls and correspondence are some of the ways to encourage and care for front line workers.

Give. In chapter four we learn that the church also sent a financial gift with Epaphroditus (4:10). This was not the first time the Philippians had financially supported Paul’s missionary work.

You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. (Philippians 4:15-16 NASB)

From Acts 17 we know that Paul went to Thessalonica after leaving Philippi. Here we learn that the Philippians sent several gifts to support Paul’s work. We also see that this was the only church to support Paul’s work. No wonder he was so thankful for this particular group of believers! (cf. Phil. 1:3-5).While one-time gifts are useful, a best practice for mission partnerships involves ongoing financial support.

“Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account” (Phil 4:17 NASB). This passage reveals an important truth about giving. There is much more here than just a financial transaction between two parties. A third party, God, is involved. He is the “accountant” who gives the Philippian church “credit” in their heavenly account for supporting Paul. This reminds me of Jesus’ saying:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 NASB)

Thus by supporting workers who spread abroad the Good News of God’s kingdom, we lay up treasures in heaven.

2 Corinthians 8-9 provides another relevant perspective on giving. There Paul boasts about the Macedonian churches’ generosity, the church at Philippi being included.  He again highlights the divine party involved in giving, when he says, “they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God” (2 Cor. 8:5). Supporting front line workers is first a matter of people’s commitment to our Lord Jesus Christ, then secondly to the worker. Mission partnerships are built on relational commitments, first to the Lord, then to the worker. We may conclude that relationship precedes stewardship.

Thus, as we look at the mission partnership of the Philippian church with the Apostle Paul, we see that they prayed for him. They sent Epaphroditus to encourage him, and they financially supported him. I would consider these three essential practices for any missionary sending church. Of course, a Great Commission church is made up of Great Commission individuals. So these practices should characterize our individual lives too.

P.E.G. Pray. Encourage. Give. Three Practices of a Missionary Sending Church.

So then, what would be one way that you or your church could excel all the more in each of these vital areas of missionary support?

I would like to go into greater detail how each of these three general practices could and should be worked out.  But I know that I cannot touch upon all that may be relevant for each reader. So I will leave the practical application to you, concluding here with Paul’s fitting words to Timothy: “Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this. “ (2 Timothy 2:7 NIV)

Please share any insights you have!

My next posting will examine the example of the Apostle Paul, giving four TIPS for Christian workers.