There’s a trope much-favoured by the Hollywood blockbuster of the person hanging on to the cliff edge whose only hope is the tight grip of the person on solid ground, promising them they won’t let go. Not exactly a day-to-day occurrence (at least not in my neck of the woods) but - unlikely as it may seem - it does have something to say about the role of a supporter.
So often the focus of attention seems to rest on the person who goes – their calling into mission might be very clear and their response is one of action, whether it involves travelling across the globe or working closer to home, we can understand the purpose of their calling.
But in order for someone to ‘go’ there needs to be someone who ‘sends’. It’s an essential part of a Biblical equation.
“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” Romans 10:14-15
Those feet would not arrive in the first place if it weren’t for the sender.
The sender plays a fundamental part in God’s economy – moving and redistributing God’s resources to where He wants them to be. This may be money or other practical resources to enable God’s work to be done. In Romans 12: 8 Paul identifies some of the different gifts given to us, one of which is “contributing to the needs of others”. This is not to say that we don’t all give but for some it is a particular gift, mentioned alongside prophecy, serving, teaching, encouraging and leadership, and Paul encourages those with this gift to exercise it generously.
But how else can a sender provide support? Mike Frith of OSCAR (mission information service) describes how important his supporters have been to him and his family over the years:
“My supporters weren’t just those who were giving to support us... they were encouraging, they were praying, they looked after some of the practical things that we needed, when we came back home, even when we were on the field, so there was a whole support network giving to our ministry. Being part of a bigger support team made all the difference in what we were doing.”
Paul recognises the importance of encouragement in Ephesians when Epaphroditus arrives with the offering from the Macedonian churches (see Philippians 4: 14-19). While he speaks of being ‘content in all circumstances’, Paul says “I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me.” Keeping in touch can make all the difference to the person who’s feeling isolated or discouraged and in need of a listening ear or a word of encouragement.
Prayer is fundamental to any ministry and underpins everything. And who is likely to be the one who is consistently faithful in prayer for the person who goes? The sender – the one whom God has called to be part of that support network.
So back to that edge of the seat cliffhanger. Surely real life isn’t like that? Yet the image of a team of 80 people stretching out into the water to rescue a family caught in a riptide on a Florida beach is a powerful illustration of a support team. Each person playing a vital role in making sure the family were returned to safety. Some stood in the shallows; others stretched out into the deeper water but it took the human chain to succeed.
If you’ve ever wondered about your role in supporting someone’s ministry or considering whether you should start supporting someone’s ministry then consider first the privilege it is to be called to be part of a group of supporters. Then beyond that, appreciate that you’re every bit as needed as the person called to go because without you and others like you, those beautiful feet would go nowhere.