The Deserted Missionary :: Gospel Fellowship Association Missions

The Deserted Missionary

Bill Knipe
3:03 read

I heard a missionary once say that if he had everyone he had discipled over the years faithfully attending his church today, he might run the risk of being called a mega-church. I immediately connected with this sentiment.

Where are all those people that I have discipled? Yes, some have stayed the course and grown into faithful maturity, but what about the increasing number of souls into whom I and others in our ministry have invested countless hours? Where are they today? Was all that time wasted? Couldn’t my energies have been invested better? Couldn’t I have spared myself the heartache, sorrow, and countless nights of lost sleep? Did I miss some kind of subtle hint that should have alerted me that my disciple would eventually desert me and my church family?

Have you ever felt like this? If so, you are in good company—I am not referring to me, but to the Apostle Paul. He is a wonderful example of how to deal with such agonizing desertion.

The Missionary’s Deserters


In 2 Timothy 4, Paul draws attention to several deserters. He calls out Alexander the coppersmith who did him much harm (4:14). Paul even warns Timothy to be on guard around this man because Alexander vehemently opposed Paul’s teaching. It is quite possible that this is the same Alexander mentioned in 1 Timothy 1:20, and that he was under Paul’s ministry before his expulsion from the church.

I am certain that anyone in ministry for any length of time has experienced “Alexanders.” They come rather faithfully and for a while seem fine with what they hear taught. Over time, however, while not necessarily opposing the teaching in words, they do so in lifestyle, influence, and sinful choices.

Much time has been invested in them. The church family has shown them love, but because of sin, these deserters twist the Bible to allow their sinful choices to seem reasonable. When confronted, they vehemently oppose what has been taught. They can hurt many people as they leave. As missionaries, we are left to be the cleanup crew, repairing the damage and comforting those who have been hurt in their wake, including ourselves. 


Paul also draws attention to Demas (4:10). He left Paul “high and dry.” Paul depended on him. While Demas was faithfully by Paul’s side assisting during Paul’s imprisonment, Paul spent much time teaching Demas and training him. Demas didn’t act like Alexander. He didn’t oppose Paul, but simply deserted him and chased after the world. He knew he was wrong, but rather than heeding Paul’s counsel, he ran the other way.

Through the years our church family has spent hours discipling, praying for, and encouraging people. We have even seen some of these people grow to have a mature and faithful position of ministry in our church, only to have them quietly disappear without a word. They did not reject the teaching, and they never disagreed with our doctrine. They themselves even preached the same things. Unfortunately, they let this world and all its sins draw them away. They left us in the lurch, knowing how much we needed their help and fellowship. They left with a guilty conscience. They ignored our cell phone calls and attempts to visit them. These deserters seemed to hurt our church family the most. Have you ever had a Demas in your ministry?


Paul also mentions Mark here (4:11). You may remember the previous sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas concerning Mark. Paul refused to take Mark on the next missionary journey because Mark had deserted Paul on his first missionary journey. Now Paul tells Timothy that he should bring Mark with him, because Mark is useful to Paul.

What wonderful encouragement we receive from this! Not all who desert us are final. There is great hope that maybe they will return and be useful to us. We should always keep in mind that although they have left, the day may come when God will so convict them that they return and make things right. We should be eager to welcome them back. Maybe you have some John Marks who will return.


If this were not enough, Paul goes on to say that there was one point during his first defense in court that no one stood with him. I can’t imagine having everyone I love and trust desert me, but Paul says that all deserted him. (See 1 Timothy 4:16.) He had those faithful believers around him who became fearful and withdrew in the heat of the battle. He is writing this letter to request Timothy to come to him.

The Missionary’s Encouragement

We learn from Paul how to rightly respond to the hurt that comes from those who abandon us. Paul runs to the One who knows better than anyone else what it is to be deserted—our Lord Jesus.

Paul says,

But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (2 Timothy 4:17-18, NASB).

Paul set an example for us that, when we are deserted, we must turn our eyes toward Jesus, His kingdom, and His glory. That is where we find One who will never desert us.