I spend a lot of time with missionaries, and they always challenge me and stretch me. Frankly, I wish I had spent more time with missionaries when I was a full-time pastor—as I think I would have been a better pastor. I don't want to suggest that pastors are not already doing these things, but here are some things I think missionaries can remind us:
- Go to a place as a learner as much as a teacher. The culture may be ours, but we still need to exegete it as it changes. When we go as students, we learn more about the people we're called to reach—and we tend to be less susceptible to arrogance when we're learning.
- Love people who are quite different from us. That love means not worrying about their skin color, their history, their traditions or their language. It means loving them with the love of God, who demanded that we make disciples of all peoples.
- Prioritize evangelizing people who don't know Jesus. Many of us wrestle with the tension of reaching lost people and equipping believers, but too many of us pastors focus on equipping without evangelizing much. We need more of the missionary heart that wants everyone to hear the Good News.
- Don't worry about your own kingdom. It's tough to build your own kingdom when your work focuses on reaching people in a place where few others are willing to go. In my denomination, that means being willing to serve whether or not the press knows you're there.
- Study the worldview of the people you want to reach. Just because the people we're working to reach in our country may speak our language doesn't mean that we understand the way they think. We're wise to study their history, religion, relationship structures and so forth if we want to reach them.
- Genuinely live among the people. Missionaries do that by definition. Some pastors, I fear, live in a city but cocoon themselves among believers. They don't really know non-believers around them.
- Learn the language of the people. Even if they speak our first language, they may still use a different vocabulary and different definitions. I assure you that I have to work hard to understand the English of generations much younger than I.
- Reproduce yourself. Missionaries know their responsibility is to raise up the next generation of believers who then become leaders themselves. For too many pastors, this process happens more by accident than by intentionality.
- Pray a lot. Many believers struggle with this discipline, but missionaries sometimes face such struggles and opposition that they know they must turn to God throughout the day. We pastors often need that reminder.
Tell us other things you have learned from missionaries.
Chuck Lawless is dean and vice president of graduate studies and ministry centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where he also serves as professor of evangelism and missions. in addition, he is global theological education consultant for the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
This article originally appeared at chucklawless.com.
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