by Michael E. Brooks
“Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27, NKJV).
A common complaint often made by elders and mission committees is that they rarely or never hear from their supported missionaries. If they do hear from them, it is only to request more money.
Paralleling that is the cry from busy missionaries, “I just don’t have time for all these reports.” Their frustration is increased by the knowledge that many of their messages lie stacked up unread in church building lobbies.
This situation raises the question posed by the title of this article.
- Must missionaries present reports to their sponsoring congregations?
- Do those reports do any good?
- How much time and effort are they really worth?
As we ponder those queries we would do well to remember how often reporting is mentioned in the activities of New Testament evangelists.
It was Paul’s invariable habit to go to the churches of Antioch and Jerusalem to tell of the things done on his missionary journeys (Acts 14:27; 15:12; 18:22, 23; 21:15-19).
Peter discussed his mission trip to Cornelius’ house with the church in Jerusalem (Acts 11:1-18). Phillip’s work in Samaria was quickly known by the apostles in Jerusalem (Acts 8:14).
It is apparent that there was great interest and cooperation in the evangelistic efforts of these early Christians.
Paul reveals important reasons for our reports to one another in Philippians 1:27.
Note these motives for correspondence:
First, reports encourage the recipient. The presumption is that the reader cares about the missionary and those with whom he works. If love for the lost (and recently saved) is present, then news about them will be eagerly sought.
Additionally, Christians at home have their own struggles and discouragements — to hear of good things happening to others reminds us that God answers prayer and cares for his people.
Second, reports motivate the sender. Our monthly, quarterly, or annual reports are a time of accountability. The anticipation of putting down on paper our actions and their results makes us desire to prepare well for writing by working diligently.
The belief that beloved brothers and sisters at home are reading and appreciating our reports gives a warm glow to sometimes lonely and homesick hearts.
Third, reports promote unity. Paul longed to hear that Christians in Philippi “[Stood] fast in one spirit with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” Such unity was evidence that their conduct was “worthy of the gospel of Christ.” When communication is open, churches are motivated to act in such a way that others think well of them.
No one wants to be known for strife and division. Rather we want other churches to look to us as positive examples. Most importantly, regular communication between distant congregations helps to unite them in heart and mind.
Fourth, Paul reminds us that reports will be sent, by the missionary or by others, for good or bad. He was confident that news from Philippi would come to him, one way or another. We hear things about Christians in other countries. Rumors abound.
Gossip will travel, even if official reports are rare. Is it not better that elders and congregations be informed promptly and thoroughly by those whom they trust?
Yes, reports are necessary. The practice of reporting goes back as far as does Christian missionary activity. Let us use these important tools in a way that benefits our work.