A Fresh Look at World Missions
But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus; and not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me; so that I rejoiced even more” (2 Cor. 7:6-7 NASB).
On June 25, 2007 I had been the pastor of Valley Baptist Church for about one month. We had grown from about 12 to 20 people at this point, when I invited young missionary family that was heading out to Mongolia to share at the church. Being married to an “MK” (i.e. Missionary Kid) world missions have become very important me and I want to build world missions in to the DNA of the church. At the end of the service I made a bold proclamation, “I can’t wait until VBC sends a team to Mongolia in five years!” I didn’t really know what I was saying, or if this little church would even survive five more years, but the proclamation would ultimately transform my understanding of my role in missions as a pastor.
Fast forward two years. This statement stuck in my heart. It kept me up at night. Would we send a team? How would this happen? I didn’t have the first clue. I started to think, “Man, ‘five years’ is approaching quickly. Maybe I need to go to Mongolia to take a ‘vision trip.’ I think that is what people do.” This thought scared me. As a former Navy SEAL I wasn’t too comfortable with a trip to a formerly control communist country that lies between Russia and China. This thought was crazy. I thought I would run it by my wife for her to shoot the idea down and to finally do away with this crazy thought. To my surprise, she replied, “That is a GREAT idea! I support you 100%!” Oh no, I was in trouble.
I prayed. I Skyped the missionary family to discuss this idea with them. All the doors were opening all together to fast for my comfort. Within a matter of months I booked my ticket to Ulan Batar, Mongolia via and over night stop in Beijing–a place where the church has some “friends” serving also. I ended up taking a man from the church with me on this journey. As we prayed and prayed about the purpose of trip, it became crystal clear that our purpose was for the sole purpose of encouraging the family who was serving overseas.
The goal of encouraging seemed a bit strange to me. I do not have the gift of encouragement and wasn’t sure that this goal was legitimate or valued in the eyes of the pastoral establishment. The idea of a senior pastor flying overseas is normally for the sake of evaluation–if one ever goes. But the more I prayed and the closer we came to the departure date, the more I realized I was going only to encourage.
I departed for Mongolia on April 19 and stayed there until May 5, 2010. In my mind the missionary family was encouraged already, but my purpose was to take them up a notch or two. I wasn’t ready to face the amount of discouragement they were facing. I spent the two weeks with their family experiencing Mongolian culture and enjoying some American treats that we brought with us–like tortillas, taco seasoning, pancakes, and a variety of other things Americans miss when they are away. We had a sweet time of fellowship and enjoying time together during my stay. At one point, the missionary told me, “Last night my wife said, ‘This is the first time I remember seeing you laugh in almost three years.'” This statement revealed to me how harsh missionary living is on the spirit.
Upon my return the thoughts to the trip lingered. I wrestled with the thought of missions today in the church in light of Scripture. It seems today we are about sending people out, giving money (which is great), praying for them (maybe, if we remember), and sending teams overseas a few times a year, but something just seems amiss to me.
Through this experience the Lord has shaped my understanding as a senior pastor concerning my role with world missions. Maybe these are just new thoughts for me? I hope they convict and encourage you. Here are a few things I have learned:
1. The missionaries we support are a part of my flock and I have a responsibility toward them as a shepherd. They are not staff that I am keeping accountable, but are saints doing the work of the ministry that God has called them to. My ministry is to help them on their journey even when they are gone (Ephesians 4:11-13).
2. Discouragement is real for missionaries. Look to the top of this post and read the verse. Seriously, read it. Paul the apostle was DEPRESSED and how did he get undeppressed? Titus came to him and spent time with him! Pastor, I encourage you to make an annual trip to visit a missionary. Encourage them by visiting, Skyping, email, and by any means that you can! I am so thankful that my church is on board with me visiting and encouraging our missionaries. My next stop is Florence Italy next month…
3. Missionaries are not forgotten if the pastor is in relationship with them. I can’t tell you how often our missionaries come up in my sermons, or in my prayers on any given Sunday. They are important to me and so I talk about them. By being involved with them, I can communicated to the church who they are and what they are doing. These are seeds that God will use.
4. God will stretch you through your going, thereby making the church healthier. I strongly believe the best way to keep you church healthy is by allowing God to stretch your faith. By going overseas and getting a shot of world missions, you will grow in your relationship with Him. When you grow spiritually your people will grow spiritually.
I strongly encourage you pastor to get your passport and go overseas and stay with one of your missionaries in the field (if you don’t have one, get one…I can help you). I guarantee that you and your church will benefit from this!
Great post! I was taught the same lesson a couple of years ago when we visited Poland. We got to encourage a couple that has been over there for years. Just the conversation alone was so uplifting for the Husband. They loved showing us Krakow, which I am dying to take my wife to see. We never sent a team over there but now have a Polish couple in our church and I understand their life a lot better. Yearly trips of encouragement are now part of my ministry year.
Gunnar, Let me start by saying your heart is wonderful.Let me also say, please ask your missionaries if a visit is truly encouraging and helpful. There is a HUGE difference between one or two mature visitors that come to minister to a missionary family and, at the far other end of the spectrum, a in whacky bunch of short-termers that come to be ministered to by having some “experience that will change their life.”
In our almost seven years in Africa our church has sent two teams of mature believers on member care type visits. Both were wonderful and encouraging. We have also turned down about 50 requests for visits by churches that would have created a ton of work and disrupted our call to plant churches. I’m only saying how much I appreciated hearing of your willingness to Skype and seek the mind of God to find out how you could best minister.
By the way, I’m not totally down on short-term teams. We receive one a year (actually, they arrive Friday evening), we just don’t mix them with pastoral care.
Ed, good word. My assumption was that my post was aimed at the lead or senior pastor of a church and the heart of my post was to encourage pastors to view missionaries as a part of the flock they are shepherding. I totally agree with you that short term missions trips. Yes, they have value, but more often than not they hurt the missionary in the field.
It truly is a blessing and joy to travel as an ambassador of Christ throughout the world. I’m always excited to go just about anywhere the Lord opens a door. I think it is very important that lead pastors stretch their faith by stepping out of their comfort zone, before they encourage others to do so.
Ed, I appreciate your take as an “on the field missionary,” too. We know all to well the realities of the burden a short-term team can be to missionaries on the field, therefore, we’ve made it a policy to go only where we’ve received a “Macedonian call.” Furthermore, we only commit to bring a team when we know that we can meet the need requested by those on the ground.
There certainly is much work that remains to be done. I am so grateful that the Lord continues to raise up individuals who are willing to spend and be spent in the uttermost parts.
Praise God! Sitting in language class today I began to think I may have come off harsh sounding (its been known to happen with me and electronic communication –though I usually blame it on Steve Jobs). I did not intend it that way and am glad it did not come out that way.
Ed, no worries. When I read your post I felt as though you were affirming why I wrote it. You are obviously feeling the pain/frustration of something most Christians and pastors in the US are totally unaware of. There is a HUGE difference between sending a huge team (which in my opinion is a group more than 3) to “win some souls” overseas to “bless our missionaries” (which ultimately does more damage to the work the in field missionary has accomplished) and what I was hoping to convey. My aim now in visiting with our missionaries is to spend time with them, to bless them with treats (i.e. American food they have been longing for), and to just to let them vent to me about whatever. Praying for you brother!