Godly preachers desire to support missionaries. What do missionaries most want the churches back home to do? We might make a list of actions such as praying, giving regular financial support, sending care packages, helping missionaries when they’re on furlough, visiting them on the mission field, and sending missionaries to come alongside them. However, these actions presuppose an attitude: missionaries want churches to care (Phil. 1:7; 4:10).
That caring attitude is embodied in our Lord Jesus Christ, who “was moved with compassion” at the needs of mankind (Matt. 9:36 KJV). Jesus cared about people, and he cared about missions.
In Christ’s compassion we find several principles that preachers can implement so they may be agents by whom God leads their churches into compassion for the nations.
1. Model Evangelistic Ministry
Matthew describes our Lord’s compassion in the context of Christ’s ministry as Jesus “went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching . . . and proclaiming . . . and healing” (Matt. 9:35 ESV). Jesus was executing his messianic mission to be the light of the world (Matt. 4:12–17). Christ preached in all the villages, showing that he cares about individuals, not just big numbers.
Pastors, the first thing you can do to cultivate a church that cares about missions is to preach the gospel to unbelievers in the congregation. As you do so, you’re not only seeking the good of perishing sinners; you’re also modeling for the church the evangelistic love of Jesus.
2. See the World’s Need
Christ was moved with compassion when he “saw the crowds,” that “they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36 ESV). The image refers to people with no faithful leader to guide and defend them (Num. 27:17; 1 Kings 22:17; Ezek. 34:5). Preachers must help the church see people as Jesus sees them.
We must preach the depravity of man’s sin, the misery of being under God’s wrath, and the necessity of hearing and believing the gospel of Christ. We must declare these truths with tears in our eyes and tenderness in our voices. We must also inform the church of the billions with little or no access to the gospel in their location or language. Then, by God’s grace, missions will become a matter of urgency.
3. Know the Heart of Jesus
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, “was moved with compassion” (Matt. 9:36 KJV). The word compassion means mercy that grips one’s inner being with the misery of others. It’s used several times of Jesus in the Gospels as a primary motive behind his healing their sicknesses (Matt. 14:14; Matt. 20:34) and teaching them God’s Word (Mark 6:34).
“We must preach to the church that our Lord and Savior loves sinners and has profound compassion for them in their misery.”
Pastors must proclaim the heart of Christ. We must preach to the church that our Lord and Savior loves sinners and has profound compassion for them in their misery. Such preaching lifts up Christ as the image of the God who is love and calls the church to imitate him in loving others.
4. Pray for Laborers
Christ didn’t immediately command his disciples to go and evangelize the world, but instead said, “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:38 ESV).
Preachers must teach their churches to pray for laborers. Pastors, exemplify this priority in your congregational prayers and provide practical means (e.g., prayer guides) to help Christians in their devotions ask for more laborers.
And if we pray for God to raise up laborers, should we not also continue to pray for those laborers after they go out into the world?
5. Send out Missionaries
Lastly, we note that Christ’s call for prayer is followed by his commissioning the apostles for their preaching mission, initially to Israel (Matt. 10:1–6) but later to all nations (Matt. 28:19).
“Preacher, when was the last time you challenged people in your church to consider whether God might have them go and make disciples in another nation?”
Preacher, when was the last time you challenged people in your church to consider whether God might have them go and make disciples in another nation? Do you ever encourage parents to bless a son or a daughter who aspires to enter the ministry or go to the mission field? Furthermore, teach the church how it pleases God when we help those who go out for the sake of Christ’s name (3 John 6–7).
Not all Christians should be missionaries, but all should be senders.
6. Preach the Word
Pastors, you have a privilege and responsibility to call the church to care about missionaries and missions. There are many ways you can do that, but don’t neglect one of the most powerful tools God gave you: the preaching of the Word.
May your preaching be pointedly evangelistic, doctrinally illuminating the needs of the lost to the church, warmly setting forth the love of Jesus Christ, faithfully calling God’s people to pray for laborers, and perseveringly focusing on fulfilling the Great Commission.
Eternity will show how God used such preaching to sustain and expand his mission from generation to generation, even unto the end of the age.
Joel R. Beeke (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary) is the author of Reformed Preaching: Proclaiming God’s Word from the Heart of the Preacher to the Heart of His People (Crossway, 2018). He is president and professor of systematic theology and homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary.
Paul M. Smalley (ThM, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary) is faculty teaching assistant to Joel Beeke at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. He previously served for twelve years as a pastor in the Baptist General Conference in the Midwestern United States.