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  • Writer's pictureMark Bocanegra

We do not 'support' missionaries, but joyfully 'co-suffer' with them.

Hello again from sunny California! For those who don't know, we have closed our first chapter/term and now transitioning into our second phase of ministry. The Bocanegra family will be traveling to supportraise for Kaihin Makuhari Grace Church. Mark has been called as their pastor, who will be particularly focused on the planting of their second congregation. Please see this brochure for an overview of what we hope to do. Also, some have asked me about my pursuit of a PhD. I applied last year and I was waitlisted and rejected. I was encouraged to reapply again, but Megumi and I felt it was more urgent and a more strategic need to focus on the church plant now rather than postpone everything for the PhD. This is why we have come back to the US and focused the next year on fundraising.

Mark was asked to speak at the West Coast MTW Equip Missions Training this past month. Mark spoke on what it means to be a 'missional' church and how to become one. For the next couple of issues, I'll be sending out what I shared in the seminar. Hope it is edifying to you all. This is part 2 of a two part series :) Here is the link to the previous issue titled, "Missional does not mean zealous."

What is a missional church?

1) An obedient church – the Great Commission is not an option but a command.

See previous issue above for the details...

2) A self-denying church—the church is called to co-suffer with—not ‘support’—missionaries

One of my pet peeves as a missionary is when churches or people think that missionaries that “GO” suffer more than churches and individuals that “SEND.”

When I hear “support” I think of an image as missionaries as boxers in the ring, while “supporters” provide water, encouragement, and some physical care so that the missionary can stay in the ring. But the image is that the missionary takes all the punches, while the supporter is free from it all. It’s like the sending church ‘outsources’ the suffering for the Great Commission to missionaries. This kind of “supporting” is not missional—nor is it biblical.

We must fight the belief that someone can get a free pass for suffering for the Great Commission. All of you know what the Lord Jesus said, If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple… So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. No one can voluntarily step out of the ring—because it isn’t about whether you feel called to do missions, whether you have an cross-cultural interest, or whether you have the financial or human resources to do so. It’s actually about our obedience to the Lordship of Christ. MTW Recruiter summarized it this way—if you are not willing to “go,” you are not qualified to stay. We are all called to suffer for the Great Commission and obey the King who has all authority in heaven and on earth.

The Philippian Church is a wonderful example of this. The start and end of the letter shows clearly his primary (but not his only) intention for writing to the Philippians. In Phil 1:5 and Phil 4:10, Paul is first thankful for their koinonia (translated as 'partnership'). Christians usually think of organic, heartwarming, relational fellowship when they hear koinonia. However, it is also used to describe business contracts, formal agreements, and marriage contracts. It was a formal, many times a financial partnership.

Later in Phil 4:16, he described this financial partnerships with the Philippians as being “partners” or “co-fellowshippers with me in my affliction.” I think that is a wonderful description of a ‘sending church.’

But what does that specifically mean?

First, they gave money sacrificially. It's pretty clear that Paul was happy about the Philippians' financial contributions (Phil 1:3-5 and 4:15ff). However, it wasn't the amount that made him happy but their willingness and degree of sacrifice. The Philippian church is the same church that Paul talks about in 2 Cor 8-9. The Philippians were new converts and dead broke; however, they literally begged Paul to take their money for mission. Would you give to missions generously even if you’re still in the red?

Second, they cared for Paul sacrificially. The Philippians didn't just blindly send a check. They were concerned for the physical and spiritual well-being of Paul--that's why they prayed constantly, they tried to find out the needs of Paul, and they sent money and able men, Epaphroditus (Phil 3). Are you willing to sacrifice worship air-time to pray for mission fields you’ve never seen before? Are you willing to send your most able leaders to unknown places?

Third, they co-labored with Paul sacrificially. They were passionately concerned for the advancement of the Gospel in their local church, even to the point of physical persecution (Phil 1). They did not outsource the suffering of evangelism to Paul in Rome, they also did themselves locally. Are we engaged also in the task of evangelism? When was the last time you shared the Gospel to a complete non-believer? When was the last time you persecuted for that?

​The best modern example of this is Andrew Fuller. Andrew Fuller was the Founder of Baptist Missionary Society in 1792. When a missionary presented the spiritual needs of India, the secretary of the meeting remarked: "There is a gold mine in India, but it seems almost as deep as the center of the earth. Who will venture to explore it?" "I will venture to go down," said Carey, "but remember that you must hold the ropes." Andrew Fuller held the rope for Carey. Suffering the loss of his first wife, and eight of their eleven children, Fuller persevered in the midst of severe affliction and overwhelming responsibilities in order to partake in the labor and suffering of mission. After meeting many of my supporters, I know for a fact that MANY of supporters suffer in the same way as Fuller.

And I would actually argue that Paul believed that the suffering of SENDERS are more significant than the suffering of GOERS. He says in Philippians 2:17— Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Paul is literally in chains waiting to be executed. And he equates his suffering to being the poor man’s offering. Not only that his poor man’s offering is merely the dressing, or the topping of the more significant offering of his sending church. I always get weird looks when I say this, but, do you believe that it takes more suffering to send rather than to give? But notice in 2:18 that he calls the Philippian church to “rejoice”, which is the third characteristic.

3) A joyful church—a church that does not dutifully forbear, but joyfully suffers.

One of the themes you get from the letter of the Philippian church is that Paul really wants them to “Rejoice.” If you’ve done a study of Philippians, it’s really hard to miss. And I think this is an important theme as well and tests the true motivation of our obedience and suffering. It’s always very easy to fall into the trap of becoming a Martha or becoming the Ephesian church in Revelation 2 who forgot their first love.

Although the Philippian Church was the model of obedience and sacrifice, Paul wanted to teach them something about finding joy in it. And that’s why as the more experienced “joyful sufferer for Missions,” he shares his secret of why he can continue to be joyful in the midst of suffering.

“whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ, Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as dung or rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and found in him.” That is why he calls to Philippian church to join him in imitating him in his joyful suffering. Why? Because we have set our minds on heavenly things and our citizenship in heaven, as he says in the end of Philippians 3.

And I really do think the Philippian or Macedonian church modelled that. Paul actually commends the Philippian church to the Corinthians: 2 Cor 8:1-4 - We want you to know, brothers,[a] about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor[b] of taking part in the relief of the saints The Philippian Church was so gripped by their joy in the Gospel that they BEGGED to give—even if they were in deep poverty—so that they partake in the Great Commission.

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