By David Roadcup
An effective elder-shepherd team connects to the missions initiative of the congregation. Elders should be the greatest proponents for mission service in the body of Christ. By following Jesus’ marching orders, we can facilitate and support the missions outreach of our churches in the most effective way possible. Good elder teams are involved in missions!
In Acts 20:17-38, Paul, who is on his way to Jerusalem, arrives by ship at Miletus and calls for the Ephesian church elders to join him there. (Paul had planted and nurtured the Ephesian church.) When the elders arrive, Paul involves them in his missions effort.
The Ephesian Elders Were Aware of Paul’s Work.
In verses 18-24, Paul reports on his work over the last several years. He shares with them his successes and hardships. He speaks of the open doors planned for him. He tells them what the Lord had revealed to him about his future ministry ventures.
Good communication is the heart of any healthy relationship, and it must flow both ways. Missionaries need to be aware of the life and activities of their supporting churches. Mission teams and elder teams need to hear about their missionaries’ lives, families, activities, and ministry results. The relationship between the sending congregation and her missionaries must be nurtured and protected. Elders should be part of this ongoing process.
Technology enables us to visit with missionaries face-to-face, even if they are thousands of miles away. Skype, FaceTime, Lync, ClickMeeting, and Amazon Chime can bring the church’s missionaries into the elders’ meeting for a quality visit and prayer. E-mailing and texting also help to keep the informational and relational lines open.
The elder-shepherd team and the church’s mission team can work together for best results. The missionaries, sent by the church, ideally will work to keep the elders and the mission team informed of their plans and progress. When missionaries are home from the field and available to their supporting churches, it is good for church leaders to meet with them and hear of their forward momentum.
Good communication is a significant part of teamwork. When we effectively communicate, kingdom work will be more successful.
The Ephesian Elders Were Involved in Paul’s Ministry.
In Acts 20:17, 18, the elders traveled from Ephesus to Miletus to connect with Paul and have fellowship and conversation with him. They were involved in his life and ministry.
Elders oversee the financial support provided to their church’s missionaries and also have the opportunity to visit missionaries in the field. My ministry is with TCM International Institute, a graduate school whose European base is near Vienna, Austria. Nine class sessions are offered each school year. With each session, 15 to 25 American volunteer workers travel to the campus and provide services for students.
Through the years, many elders have served on our volunteer teams. They connect with our staff, meet and work with our students, and become part of our ministry in Austria. These wonderful men deeply invest themselves in kingdom work at the institute. Many elders also do construction-work trips, teaching trips, and provide other forms of ministry alongside the missionaries they support. This is encouraging to the missionaries who are on the field and enriching to the elders and others who journey there to serve.
Paul and the Ephesian elders connected with one another through personal involvement. And, if anything, it’s easier for elders to connect with their missionaries today.
The Ephesian Elders Joined Paul in Prayer.
Acts 20:36 says, “When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed.”
Paul firmly believed in prayer. He asked for prayer from the Corinthian church: “On [God] we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many” (2 Corinthians 1:10, 11). Prayer was part of Paul’s relationship with the Ephesian elders, just as it should be between Christian leaders at all levels.
Can you hear Paul pray for the elders, their work, families, ministries, and the Ephesian church, which he loved? And can you hear the elders, through their tears, praying for Paul, his health, safety, and the success of his preaching and evangelism ministry? Paul and the elders understood the power and prominence of prayer in their relationship and leadership. They made sure the Lord was the focus in their time together.
Including prayer for our church’s missionaries as part of each elders’ meeting should be a priority. Mission service is fraught with spiritual warfare, difficult circumstances, language barriers, and cultural adjustments. Our missionaries need our prayer support.
Prayer changes things. Prayer opens some doors and closes others. Prayer is the power by which we accomplish kingdom work. Lifting our missionaries to the Lord and mentioning their names and work may be one of the most important things we do to support our missionary families. We pray and believe that God responds. Prayer makes a difference.
Effective elders are key to the life of any healthy congregation. As we lead as elders, missions outreach must be a priority. Communicate with your missionaries, be involved with them, and pray for and with them. By working as a team, we open doors for evangelism, church planting, and great fruitfulness for the kingdom of God.
David Roadcup is cofounder and outreach director for e2. He also serves as professor of discipleship and global outreach representative with TCM International Institute. He is also on the board of directors of Christian Arabic Services.