Since 1990, I've helped equip church leaders throughout Latin America, Africa and Asia. Tucked away in needy nations I've discovered some of the greatest servants of Christ to be found anywhere.
Their names are not familiar to most of us. They don't have high-profile, strongly financed ministries. These hidden heroes often live in countries ravaged by relentless poverty. Most of them are poorly trained and poorly resourced. Yet their dignity in Christ, their grace under trial and their perseverance in struggles place these "frontline shepherds" among the church's most outstanding leaders.
I go to equip and encourage them, but I always end up receiving so much. Paul expressed this dynamic when he told the Romans he wanted to see them so "that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith" (Rom. 1:11-12, NIV). Here are some crucial lessons I'm learning from God's servant-leaders on the frontlines of the church's global advance:
Frontline shepherds remind me that evangelism should permeate all aspects of ministry. One African pastor lamented to me, "I fear we're becoming too Westernized; we're losing our evangelistic edge." Developing-nation pastors view any ministry that does not result in people coming to Christ as superfluous. They are committed to the Great Commission. Like the first Christian believers, they "went out."
Frontline shepherds model obedience. They implicitly obey the Lord and quickly put into practice what they learn at our conferences. They know that obedience to God's Word and the Spirit's directives is imperative for fruitfulness in life and ministry.
Frontline shepherds show a great love for God. They go with the gospel "for the sake of His name." These hidden heroes recalibrate us to a pure love for Jesus and a passion for His global glory. Out of that love springs the motivation to serve Him and others joyfully.
Frontline shepherds teach me simplicity. Like early Christians, they take nothing from unbelievers. They rely on the support of fellow Jesus-followers for their sustenance and funding. Although they have minimal finances, they are grateful, resourceful and fruitful. They do so much with so little.
Frontline shepherds exhibit great courage. I've met men and women in developing nations whose stories of valor read like an addendum to Hebrews 11. Most of their courageous acts will only be told fully in heaven.
Frontline shepherds exercise great faith. Our brothers and sisters in destitute nations have learned to live with undiluted faith in God's promises. Faith is one of the greatest criterions for spiritual leadership and leaders in underserved nations have it in abundance.
Frontline shepherds are teachable. They are profoundly grateful for any training they receive. I never encounter an "I deserve this" attitude. These servant-leaders are hungry to learn and they ingest the few resources they have.
Frontline shepherds model tenacity. Their ruthless pursuit of God and their willingness to fight for the vision of the kingdom challenge me. These hidden heroes just keep pressing on until their faith is made sight.
Frontline shepherds expect signs and wonders. They fully expect Him to show up in power and glory when they gather in His name. They know the anointing of the Holy Spirit makes all the difference.
Frontline shepherds exhibit a willingness to suffer for Christ and the gospel. Martyrdom isn't an ivory tower topic—it's an ever-present potential. They have heeded Paul's admonition to endure hardship as good soldiers of Jesus Christ.
Frontline shepherds teach me about lordship. They know what it means to live as a slave to Christ. Our history of freedom can sometimes impede our understanding of what it means to live under the absolute lordship of God.
The entire church has much to learn from these servant-leaders in underserved nations. Personally, my life has been forever changed by them.
David Shibley is president of Global Advance, a ministry that has provided on-site training for more than 325,000 church and business leaders in 74 nations. His latest book, Living as if Heaven Matters (Charisma House), releases this October.
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