Rope as a Metaphor for Missionary Member Care

The rope can either represent the connection between the missionary

and his/her support network.


The rope can represent the coming together of such support.

#1 The Baptist Missionary Society in London on October 2, 1792 included people such as William Carey, Andrew Fuller, John Ryland and more. Carey expressed willingness to go to India as a missionary. John Ryland, recorded the story where the famous “rope holder” image came up. According to him Carey stated:

Our undertaking to India really appeared to me, on its

commencement, to be somewhat like a few men, who were

deliberating about the importance of penetrating into a deep

mine, which had never before been explored, we had no one to

guide us; and while we were thus deliberating, Carey, as it were,

said “Well, I will go down, if you will hold the rope.” But before he

went down he, as it seemed to me, took an oath from each of us,

at the mouth of the pit, to this effect—that “while we lived, we

should never let go of the rope.”

#2  With the second view, the braided image of a rope is used

recognizing the metaphor from Ecclesiastes 4:11-12:

11Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep

warm, but how can one be warm alone?

12And if one can overpower him who is alone, two

can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly

torn apart.

Rope missions

Three Views of Missions

I love teaching Missions. As a missions professor, I don’t have to be an expert in Biblical

The Arms of Serampore College founded by Ward,...
The Arms of Serampore College founded by Ward, Marshman & Carey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Studies. I don’t have to be an expert in Theology. That’s a shame since Missions should have strong Biblical and Theological underpinnings. Still, it is a bit freeing that expectations of others is low in these areas. Additionally, as a Missions professor, one doesn’t even have to be very knowledgeable in missions, since there is little agreement as to what missions is, and how it is to be done.

Consider the definition of missions, by their focus.

Focus #1.  Heathen. Historically, missions was based on the target. William Carey wrote the tract, “An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversions of the Heathens.” That title describes a common view. Missions is conversion of the heathen. Who are the “heathen?” Well, that term is now considered old-fashioned. But it essentially describes people who are not part of a Christian culture (or, perhaps, not part of a Christian or Jewish culture). So the separation between missions and other types of Christian ministry is whether the people group or nation is considered “Christian” or “Heathen.”  This view is generally replaced with one of two other choices.

Focus #2.  Culture.  More recently, the focus is on the culture. If ministry is cross-cultural, then it is missions. If the ministry is not cross-cultural, then it is some other type of ministry (such as evangelism or discipleship). Ministry is divided into E-0 (within the same faith group), E-1 (same “cultural” neighborhood), E-2 (similar but different culture), and E-3 (very different culture). In this, missions is considered to be E-2 or E-3. This is probably the most common understanding of missions.

Focus #3.  Church. Another view defines missions in terms of its relationship to the local church. Church ministry could be divided up into three basic categories. Category 1 would be ministry to its own members/congregation. One could call it “Member Care.” Category 2 would be ministry that seeks to bring people from outside of the local church into the same church. One could call it “Church Growth.” Category 3 would be ministry that the local church does outside of itself without the intent of bringing people into its own church. One could call that “Missions.” In this light, missions can be local, regional, national, or international. It can also be same sub-culture, different sub-culture, same culture, or different culture.

I, personally, prefer the third type… a church-based understanding of missions. There are several reasons for this.

A.  It is more in line with missions as we see it in the New Testament. Most of us would agree that Paul and Barnabas were missionaries going out on missions. Barnabas was from the Island of Cyprus, living in a Jewish sub-culture in a broader Hellenistic culture. Paul was from Asia Minor, living in a Jewish sub-culture in a broader Hellenistic culture. On their first missionary journey, the first place they went was Cyprus where they first targeted members of the Jewish sub-culture there, and then those in the broader Hellenistic culture. Then they went to Asia Minor where they first targeted members of the Jewish sub-culture there, and then those in the broader Hellenistic culture. From a cultural understanding of missions, it is not clear that Paul and Barnabas were doing missions. However, from a church understanding, they definitely were doing missions.

B.  It challenges the theology of “Missionary Call.” For some, that would be a bad thing. But I think that is a good thing.  If one reads Acts 13, we find that Paul and Barnabas were not called to missions. Rather, the church was called to send Paul and Barnabas on missions. There is actually little Biblical justification for a separate “Missionary Call” from the normal call for all Christians to follow Christ. Some (almost) violently disagree with this… but there IS little justification for a professional call that goes beyond a general call of all to serve. Generally, even those that strongly believe in a necessary “missionary call” will acknowledge the need for the church to “affirm” that calling. Perhaps it is better to see the church as taking a more active, less passive, role in sending missionaries. Why does this matter? If there is a clear and necessary “Missionary Call,” this implies that there is a “Non-missions Call.” It only makes sense. If a missionary must be called, then most people are called NOT to do missions. If the church sends, then the problem goes away. All churches SHOULD be involved in Member Care, Church Growth, and Missions, and guide it’s members in finding how they can fit into any or all of these roles.

C.  It de-professionalizes missions. Missions stops being the work of professionals. It is the job of the church. Obviously, the church needs help by experts and and mobilizing groups… but cannot leave it for “someone else to do.” Of course, there should be a continued role for professional missions… it just stops being something limited to the professionals.

D. It removes some confusions in what is or is not missions. Is diaspora (same culture) missions carried out in a foreign country really missions or no? Is local outreach to a different sub-culture missions or not?

E.  Related to what was listed above, if missions is a necessary aspect of church ministry, then the church can’t dump it off on sodality structures (such as mission agencies). Now, when I say this, I am not rejecting sodality structures. They are not unbiblical, and they can be effective. It is just that the church must take responsibility for missions and recognize sodality structures as partners.

F.  It can bring a healthier perspective to the missional church movement. This movement has promoted the role of the local church reaching out. But some don’t take cross-cultural or international missions seriously. PERHAPS it would be taken more seriously if it was seen as an integral part of the missional role of the church, not an add-on.

Let’s stop here. Does this matter… how one defines missions? Maybe, maybe not. But generally, an interpretation of missions that leaves it to professionals outside of the church, removes it from the concern of the common membership of churches. That is not healthy.

Don’t Pay Back… Pay Forward.

Suppose I needed to contact people but I had no load on my phone. It’s a problem because it is an emergency. Perhaps someone would come by and share a load with me, or give me money to get a phone card. I would be grateful but now I am in debt. So I offer to find some way to pay him back. But he says, “No… just pay it forward.” What that means is this. I don’t want you to give me anything back. Rather, you pay me back when you help someone else who is in need.

Consider this verse from the Bible:

“And what you have heard from me (Paul) in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others.  -II Timothy 2:2

Consider the chain of

Those before Paul  (Jesus of course… but also the Twelve… and Moses and the Prophets)


Timothy and witnesses

Faithful men and women


And this is the pattern of discipleship. This is the pattern of paying it forward. Train up the next generation… and not just train the next generation but those who would be faithful to train others.

The church is always one or two generations from extinction. If a generation does not pass on the faith to the next… it will cease to be. And THAT has happened. In North Africa (present day Tunisia, Libya, and Algeria) the church died. It ceased to be back in the 8th century. In the 10th century in China, the church ceased to be. In both of those cases, there was persecution going on. However, in many parts of the world at many times in history, the church has grown and thrived in the face of persecution.  While the church was dying in Libya, the church was thriving in Egypt… even though persecuted. While the church in China died under persecution in the 10th century… it thrived under persecution in the 20th century.What happened? I don’t know. Persecution doesn’t seem to be a full answer. Ultimately, some churches stopped PAYING FORWARD to the next generation.

Paying it forward violates the typical understanding of indebtedness, but the Bible seems to place greater focus on paying forward.

Some look to verses Paul’s collection of money for the Jerusalem church for inspiration in a “PAY BACK” mentality. Perhaps the idea that from Jerusalem came spiritual care to the Gentiles, and so payback to Jerusalem with earthly things repays that debt. I have certainly seen that interpretation applied here in the Philippines. I have seen self-described “apostles” (using a revisionist definition of that term/role) train up Filipino “disciples” and then require them to pay a tithe back to themselves. I have seen a local church in the Philippines that was started as a mission action from an American denomination. The home denomination in the US demanded money to be annually sent back from the Filipino church. When that church refused, the denomination sent over people to set up a competing church. While that is not wrong (albeit distasteful), they actively pressured members of the local church to switch to the church that would PAY BACK. There is something seriously wrong with that. The church that refused to pay back wasn’t selfish. In fact it was very active in outreach. They paid back by PAYING FORWARD. I can understand why a denomination would not find that acceptable, but it would be nice to part of a denomination that would recognize that paying forward is BETTER than paying back.

To be honest, PAY BACK is not wrong. It is normal, fair, and human. But I believe it is not the normal way of Christ. I see nothing to think that the collection by Paul for the needy in Jerusalem was a “normal” or annual, or expected thing. Care is to be given for those in need, be they predecessors, friends, or strangers.

However, as it pertains to God’s mission, PAY BACK is clearly not the idea. It is PAY FORWARD. Paul recognized that he had the right to be supported by the churches he worked with, but chose not to do it. He did not want to give a wrong impression (in it for the money). He did not want churches to feel indebted to PAY BACK.

Churches here in the Philippines have a debt to mission work before. Our church here in Baguio City is West Baguio Baptist Church. It was founded as an offshoot of University Baptist Church with the assistance of the Gammages. The Gammages, an American missionary family, were able to serve in Baguio because of the foundation laid by Winston Crawley and others with him. The Crawleys were able to serve because of the financial structure inspired by Lottie Moon. Lottie Moon was able to serve because of the organizational structure set up through the vision of Luther Rice. Luther Rice was inspired by the writings and actions of William Carey. And one can go back century upon century back to Jesus.

Today, our church is supporting a missionary working in Southeast Asia, and is actively involved in a churchplanting effort. Our church is not looking to PAY BACK. Thankfully that is not being requested from those who have come before. Our church is looking to PAY FORWARD. I believe that is God’s better plan.

Missionary Member Care and William Carey

I will be teaching a two-week module on “Missionary Member Care” starting next week. So I decided to provide an excerpt from “William Carey: Missionary Pioneer and Statesman” by F. Deaville Walker pg. 125-129.

William Carey DD, Professor of Sanskrit, Marat...
William Carey DD, Professor of Sanskrit, Marathi and Bengali in Calcutta (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is a fairly old book, published in 1925. This passage describes some of the many challenges, externally and internally, that William Carey was going through. Issues include problem with financial support, colleagues, physical health, family, culture shock, doubts and depression. Problems with local government here was only briefly alluded to. It is hard to decide what opinion to have after reading this. Does one emphasize the resolute faith and determination of William Carey? Does one emphasize the faithfulness of God who brought him through the fire and to ultimate success? Does one emphasize the failure of the system (mission support system) to make the path straight for him (and family and partners)?

To a man of less resolute mold and of less faith in God than Carey, the whole position must have seemed almost hopeless. Separated thus from the colleague he sincerely loved, he was left to his own devices. Trials began to thicken around him. It was evident that he would not be allowed to live in Calcutta as a missionary– even if he could afford it, which he could not. Yet he could not find another place to go to, and money was dwindling rapidly: “For two months I have seen nothing but a continual moving to and fro,” he wrote in his journal. The climate, the unaccustomed food, and the conditions of life in the tropics were evidently affecting his wife’s health. The long strain of the voyage, followed by their unsettled life in Bengal, had told upon her nerves, and both she and her sister were, not unnaturally, inclined to complain. It is not surprising that curry and rice did not agree with them, and they found Indian chapatis a poor substitute for bread; they complained that they had “to live without many of the necessaries of life.” There can be no doubt that their privations were real, for, left to himself, Carey naturally sought to reduce his family expenditure to the narrowest limits and live within his income. Doubtless the old experiences of Moulton were repeated, which would be all the harder for Dorothy and Katherine after the– to them– comparative luxury of the ship’s table. Dorothy and the two older boys were ill for a month with dysentery. Felix, indeed, so seriously that his life was in danger. Probably, too, they all suffered from homesickness and yearned for their simple cottage in the dear homeland. Enfeebled in body and spirits, they were not inclined to give William the sympathy he sorely needed. “My wife, and sister too, who do not see the importance of the mission as I do, are continually exclaiming against me,” he wrote in his journal; and again, “If my family were but hearty in the work, I should find a great burden removed.”

Nor had Carey real friendship of spirit with his colleague. To Sutcliff he wote:

“Mr. ‘T.’ is a very good man, but only fit to live at sea, where his daily business is before him, and daily provision made for him. I own I fear his present undertaking will be hurtful rather than useful to him; the fickleness of his mind makes him very unfit for such an undertaking. I love him, and we live in greatest harmony; but I confess that Ram Ram Boshu is more a man after my heart.”

Poor Carey had enough trouble in his own little family, in addition to the burden of the work he longed to do; and the financial entanglements in which Thomas was constantly involved must have been almost the last straw. Early in January (1794), within two months of their landing in Bengal, it was discovered that one of the doctor’s creditors in England had sent his bond out to India, and they were not sure that other creditors had not done the same. Carey knew that his colleague was hourly in danger of arrest. “In his state of perplexity, we know not what to do,” he wrote.

Twelve days later, Carey got an offer of a piece of land at a place called Deharta, some three days’ journey from Calcutta. It was to be rent-free for three years. So he went at once to consult Thomas and get from him the money necessary for the journey. Tho his dismay Thomas told him that the money was entirely exhausted– the whole year’s allowance gone in less than ten weeks! Indeed it was even worse that that, they had actually overspent, and Thomas had incurred a new debt to a moneylender.

This may have been a staggering blow, and on reaching his temporary home Carey wrote in his journal:

“Jan. 15, 16 (1794). I am much dejected…. I am in a strange land, alone, no Christian friends, a large family, and nothing to supply their wants. I blame Mr. T. For leading me into such expense at first, and I blame myself for being led … I am dejected, not for my own sake, but for my family’s and his, for whom I tremble.”

Subsequent entries in the journal bear witness to the almost crushing burden Carey bore that dark week:

“Jan. 17 …..Very much dejected all day. Have no relish for anything of the world, yet am swallowed up in its cares. Towards evening had a pleasant view of the all-sufficiency of God, and the stability of His promises, which much relieved my mind; and as I walked home in the night, was enabled to roll my soul and all my cares in some measure on God. … What a mercy is to have a God!”

January 19 was Sunday; to our lonely harassed missionary it was indeed a “day of rest and gladness.” Triumphing over worry and uncertainty, he went out into the country to get among the village people. Aided by his faithful munshi, who acted as his interpreter, he visited the Manicktulla bazaar, and, while the usual business was carried on as on other days, preached to a large congregation consisting principally of Mohammedans.

That Sunday brought a measure of peace and comfort to his soul. On Monday he had once more to take up his heavy burden of finance. He writes:

“Jan. 20. This has been a day of seeking money.” He evidently felt that he had no alternative but to try to borrow five hundred rupees with which to carry on– a thing he hated, but in his extremity was driven to. The journal continues:

“Jan 22. Full of perplexity about temporal things. … My wife has, within this day or two, relapsed into her affliction and is much worse than she was before, but in the mount the Lord is seen. I wish I had but more of God in my soul.

Jan. 23. … My temporal troubles remain just where they were. I have a place, but cannot remove my family to it for want of money.”

Imagine poor Carey’s grief and dismay on visiting his colleague that day, to find him

“… living at the rate of I know not how much, I suppose two hundred and fifty to three hundred rupees per month, has twelve servants, and this day is talking of keeping his coach. I remonstrated with him in vain, and I am almost afraid that he intends to throw up the mission. …My heart bleeds for him, for my family, for the Society, whose steadfastness must be shaken by this report, and for the success of the mission, which must receive a sad bow from this.”

Every word seems to have been written in blood. What unutterable loneliness Carey must have passed through this day, with no earthly firend in whom he could confide! But ere he slept he wrote:

“Bless God, I feel peace within and rejoice in having undertaken the work, and shall, I feel, if I not only labour alone, but even if I lose my life in the undertaking. I anxiously desire the time when I shall so far know the language as to preach in earnest to these poor people.”

There can be little doubt that beside his heavy cares, Carey was suffering from the depression that so often attacks newcomers in India. His own health was probably undermined, and in his condition troubles would appear blacker than they really are.

But even in his darkest moments Carey never lost sight of his greater purpose. He had burned his boats behind him and never thought of turning back. He had come to this land to do missionary work, and nothing could shake his conviction that God had called him.

With the shadows lying heavy around he threw himself with renewed earnestness into his language studies. With his munshi he worked hard to correct the Book of Genesis that Thomas had translated into Bengali; and on the following Sunday we find him and his interpreter in the villages making known the gospel of the grace of God.

On January 28 he went again to Calcutta in a fruitless effort to find a way out of his difficulties. He wrote:

“Again disappointed about money. Was much dejected and grieved. …In the evening had much relief in reading over Mr. Fuller’s charge to us at Leicester. The affection there manifested almost overcame my spirits, for I have not been accustomed to sympathy of late”

Every door seemed closed, and to him, in his spirit of depression, everyone seemed against him. He called on one of the most honest and pious of the chaplains in Calcutta and was coldly received because the good man had “got across” Dr. Thomas. Instead of getting some friendly counsel or help, poor Carey was allowed to depart without even the common courtesy of a meal, though he had “walked five miles in the heat of the sun.”

What days of depression Carey must have experienced! If faith in God means anything at all, it is at a time like that.

Baptist Movement. Reflections on Flexible Distinctions. Part I

Andrew Fuller
Andrew Fuller (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the late 1700s in England, Baptist churches were generally “Particular.” “Particular” meant Calvinist… focusing great import on the doctrine of divine sovereignty, and minimizing or even denying human freedom of will. There were “General” (Freewill) Baptists since the beginning of the Baptist Movement in the early 1600s but during the late 1700s they had basically disappeared, only to reappear in the next century.

A man named William Carey, 1761-1834, a simple preacher/pastor in London, became convinced of the need to share the Gospel of Christ with the heathen. Heathen in this case is simply the generic term for non-Christians (neither Christian by faith or Christian by culture). He was influenced by Andrew Fuller who wrote “The Gospel Worthy of all Acceptation in 1781. That pamphlet did not argue against the doctrines of Particular Baptists fundamentally, but rather the implications of those doctrines. That is, if God chooses whom to save from the beginning of time, completely outside of human activity, then mission work is unnecessary… perhaps even an attempt to play God. Carey took on the same argument in his work, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.” The term “use Means” in this long title is critical. The term means to utilize human effort to join God in his mission to reach all people with the Gospel of Christ. The argument, again, was not so much to fundamentally attack the actual doctrines of the Particular Baptists, but to challenge the implications. Carey argued that Christ commanded all Christians to share the Gospel and one should not use one’s doctrinal stance to negate such a commandment.

This was a pivotal point in Baptist mission history. Baptists adjusted themselves, altered their stance, while still holding on to certain key distinctions. Two centuries later, with a few bumps in the road in between, Baptists as a group have remained firmly committed to Missions. There have been other changes, of course. One is no longer required to be “Particular” or Calvinist to be a Baptist. I am not a Calvinist. I have friends who tell me that if I truly understood Calvinism I would be one. But their attempts to explain it only confirm to me that it is a good interpretation of filtered Scripture… but not all Scripture. That is not the point. The Baptist movement has distinctives that separate itself from other groups… and yet within those distinctives there has always been a need for flexibility to ensure the ability to adapt to changing situations and locations. Therefore, I would like to look at some of the Baptist distinctives with special emphasis on the issues of flexibility for cultural adaptation in the next two or three posts.

I would again like to add the note that although I am a Baptist, I think of myself as a Christian first, Missionary second, and Baptist third. As Christians, we are part of a family that transcends denominational differences. This “transcending” must be to a unity acknowledged and practiced or it is just theoretical or even non-existent. So my focus on Baptist distinctives is primarily for the reflection of Baptists, although all are welcome to read. It is not intended to seek to pull other Christians into the Baptist fold. I find it offensive when other Christian groups try to lure me to other affiliations and I would not seek to act in a way I find offensive.