Holding the Rope: A Model for Biblical Sending.
William Carey was a missionary to India under the banner of the Baptist Missionary Society. In that time Andrew Fuller said: “There is a gold mine in India; but it seems as deep as the center of the earth; who will venture to explore it”? “I will go down”, responded William Carey, and included these words: “but remember that you must hold the rope”.
This picture of Christians holding the rope is a fitting analogy for the relationship between missionaries and their supporters. This relationship is seen in the book of Acts when Antioch sends Paul and Barnabas to do the work of the gospel.
Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. Acts 13:1-3
Here we have a case study for a sending church and we can make the following observations.
- They were sensitive to God’s agenda.
This church was able to discern God’s call upon Paul and Barnabas. This was no arbitrary sending, there was a kind of synergy between the church, the Spirit of God, and the missionaries Paul and Barnabas. The church responded to God’s call together, missionaries can never act independently from the church.
- Their priority was worship before mission.
As John Piper puts it: “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” Antioch proves that when authentic worship is present, missions will be a inevitable result. Antioch had no missions mobilizers, no agencies pushing for the unreached, nobody putting them on a guilt trip about the unreached billions, nobody pleading with them to go to the Gentiles. It was worship that compelled them towards missions. Sending churches make worship their top priority and missions flows naturally from that. (See Psalm 67)
- They stood with their missionaries.
There is wonderful symbolism in Acts 13:3. When the church laid hands on Paul and Barnabas it was an expression of their identification with these two men. It was as if they were saying: “Brothers we are with you in this great enterprise.” Or “As you go, we go with you.” Or “We will hold the rope.” Also, Paul and Barnabas were not strangers in this church. They spent months in the church encouraging, teaching and connecting with the believers. Missions is a mandate given to the church and when it comes to reaching the unreached we either go down the mine or we hold the rope.
- They gave up their best.
I am sure it hurt to send Paul and Barnabas off into frontier missions. I mean these guys were significant leaders, they were adding great value to the church in Antioch. But the church let them go because they were following God’s agenda. The church in the west must be careful not to adopt a gathering approach rather than a scattering approach. A strong church is not identified by its seating capacity, but by its sending capacity. Sending churches realize that at some point they must allow their best people to go down into the unreached mines.
- They kept their missionaries accountable
In Acts 14:24-28 we read how Paul and Barnabas reports back to Antioch about all that God has done. It shows that Paul and Barnabas were not off gallivanting, doing their own thing. They had a task and reported back when the work was complete. There was a genuine relationship and gospel connection between the church and its missionaries. This relationship is not the primary role of the missions agency, it’s the role of the church.
Antioch gives us a good model for the relationship between sending churches and missionaries. In my next blog I hope to write about partner churches and their role in terms of sending missionaries.
I’d like to end off on a personal note. God has been so gracious in providing a team of people holding the rope for us. Like India, Japan is a gold mine that runs as deep as the center of the earth. Multiple unchurched cities and towns, many who have never personally heard the good news, 127 million precious souls. Who will go down into these mines? Many are already there, but many more are needed. We are willing to go down – but only if others will hold our rope. The resources needed are large, the training needed is tough, the time needed is long, but it is a necessary task.
We have 3 churches so far supporting us financially. We have about 30 individuals supporting us financially. Most importantly we have 6 churches and over 100 individuals praying for us. We praise God for these dear rope holders. But the rope is not secure enough yet…In order to go by February next year we need about 10 churches and 70 individuals to hold the rope. If you want to be a rope holder please contact us and we will share all the Lord is laying on our hearts to do.
Personal email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sending church email: email@example.com