Mobilization and the Great Commission


After twelve years in pastoral ministry, why does the word “parachurch” still give me shivers? How has a year with RTIM helped me see a way that parachurches can truly partner with a local church? 

Sometimes, the difference between a ministry that contributes to the Great Commission and a ministry that confuses the Great Commission is as minuscule as a prefix. If—like me—you didn’t pay attention during Sophomore English, then allow me to give you a brief refresher. 

The prefix “para” simply means “to come alongside or beside.” Think of Jesus’ “parables” as illustrations alongside truth. When a parachurch comes alongside a church, it lives up to its name and is a wonderful asset to Christ’s bride.

But “mission drift,” that buzzword of the 2010s, creeps into the parachurch world. While no organization I know of styles itself a “supra-church” ministry, many operate this way. “Supra” means “to come on top of or go beyond.” When a ministry supersedes or usurps the church, it often confuses Great Commission work. 

Andy Johnson illustrates this relationship when he writes, 

God is committed to using the church to accomplish his work of redemption to display the glory of his wisdom to the universe. . . It is his one and only organizational plan for world missions. Most of all, it is his beloved Son’s beloved, blood-bought bride. Consequently, any humanly invented organizations that assist in missions must remember that they are the bridesmaids, not the bride. They are stagehands, not the star. That position and honor and responsibility has been given by Christ to his church, and only to his church.1 

To love the church as Jesus does and to recognize the parachurch’s role to cheer her on takes both good theology and an enormous amount of humility. But it can pay huge dividends. RTIM’s humility and support has helped us prepare for the field. We’re more informed because we understand which lane the church, the missionary, and the parachurch falls into. The relationship is complementary, not in conflict.

In Acts 13, the young and vibrant church at Antioch gathers for worship and suddenly the Holy Spirit orders them to “set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2). The Spirit of God is sending Antioch’s varsity team out to make disciples in new lands. The occasion’s solemnity is obvious: “after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” 

If we follow the dynamic narrative of Acts, then we’ll realize the church’s task continues despite the missionaries’ physical absence. Through soul care, financial support, and fervent prayer, the church still supports the missionaries it sends out (Phil 4:14-16). If we wanted to summarize the church’s role in missions, we could say that the church sends and supports

As our departure nears, we’re increasingly aware of how daunting it is to leave, to separate from what we know and love to go somewhere we hope and pray is palpable. If the church sends and supports, we could just as easily summarize the missionary task in the New Testament as those who go (Mt 28:18) and report (Acts 18:22). 

They have to “go.” In other words, missionaries shave to cross linguistic, cultural, or geographical boundaries in order obey Jesus’ Great Commission. They must also return  every now and then to report what the Lord is doing. This is Paul’s pattern. His affection for and accountability to his sending church is obvious when he comes back or writes to the church of his successes (Acts 14:27), trials (2 Cor 11:25), and financial needs (Phil 4:18). 

Though Aaron, one of RTIM’s mobilizers, didn’t know it at the time, his take on RTIM’s missiology and ecclesiology was exactly what my wife and I needed to hear. “We avoid calling ourselves a sending agency because when we read through the book of Acts, we see the church sending missionaries. We facilitate their work.” That theology and posture is a gift to the church and missionary. 

How has RTIM helped our church send and support us so that we can go and report? We might summarize our answer to this question by saying a faithful missions organization exists to help churches mobilize and maintain their missionaries. This post explores the first. 

It’s no secret that many churches find it challenging to send and support well. Pastors who shepherd the flock of God (1 Pet 5:1–3) do so much for so many—prayer, marriage counseling, sermon preparation, comforting of the widow, and on and on it goes. RTIM has the luxury of thinking about and facilitating mission endeavors 100% of the time! There are so many advantages to this. I’ll mention just a few.

Emmanuel Bible Church in Great Falls, Montana is sending and supporting us with great zeal, generosity, and love. But like many local churches, Emmanuel isn’t prepared to pool and manage our finances, or to remind me to update my last will and testament, or to get in touch with a Polish lawyer so he can work on my visa, or to stay abreast of IRS rules. 

Neither do most churches possess a growing reservoir of podcasts and blog articles devoted to educating missionaries and their sending church. RTIM’s blog and podcast (Missions Talk) have equipped and energized our church and missionary efforts. Wondering what kind of members would make good missionaries? Need reminders on how to prepare them well? Been sending for years but you’re realizing your hold on the rope has slackened? Need some ways to think about a “core team” from your church who will hold the rope? Want to help supporters understand the strategic nature of an international church in our increasingly nomadic and global world? Need help thinking about the daunting task of support raising? RTIM has answers to all these questions and more.

When we were counting the cost of taking a young family of six overseas, Aaron connected us with other missionaries with young families fresh on the field. The mobilizing effort of RTIM is not strictly “necessary,” but if your church wants to narrow its focus and sharpen its missiology, RTIM has served the Great Commission in how they’ve come alongside our church and family. 

Hur and Aaron stood beside weary Moses (Ex 17:12) so that Israel could win a battle. Similarly, RTIM holds up weary arms amidst spiritual warfare, equipping them to stay in the battle. In the world of missions, prefixes can make the difference between “mission accomplished” and “mission drift.” In our case, Reaching & Teaching has restored my faith in the humble and beautiful work of a parachurch by mobilizing us to the field by being a bridesmaid to the bride.  

1Johnson, Andy, Missions: How the Local Church Goes Global. Crossway, 2017, pp. 26–27.

Tanner Ripley

Tanner Ripley served in pastoral ministry for 12 years in the US before he and his family moved overseas to labor to bring the true gospel to the people of Poland, plant and strengthen local churches, and train national pastors. They hope to help provide church-centric theological training for pastors while Tanner pastors an international church with the goal of it reaching a place of health, maturity, and reproduction. Tanner and his wife Brooke have four kids: Harmony, Meg, Timothy and Isabelle.

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