The pastor’s response to my tears astonished me. It happened forty years ago, but I remember it vividly.
How A Pastor Stunned Me Into Silence
I was on a flight from Brazil’s capital Brasilia to Belem at the mouth of the Amazon; my seatmate was an elderly pastor. I had just spent a week in emergency mission board meetings. Strong leftist anti-religious actions by the Brazilian government had forced all our colleagues working in the villages as teachers and Bible translators to leave the villages and return to the city. My wife and I were also forced out, even though the people we worked with protested, saying they had invited us and wanted us to stay.
As I told the pastor about the desperate situation—scores of indigenous people groups left without teachers, without medical help and without anyone to tell them about Jesus—I started to sob and could not continue. He looked at me and quoted Lamentations 3:27, “It is good for a man to bear the yoke when he is young.” Then he turned to his book and continued reading. I could not believe his response!
I sat stunned, I wanted to say, “It’s not about me! It’s about 100,000 indigenous people, living in Brazil’s jungles, in fear of evil spirits, without the Word of God in their language, and no way of being born again to live under the protection of God’s Holy Spirit.”
Pastors Who Over-Focus on Their Congregation
Then it came to me. As a shepherd pastor, he saw me as a hurting sheep, a frustrated young man feeling sorry for himself. As a pastor, his daily concern was for his flock, for his congregation, even for a young man on a plane. He meant well, wanting to remind me it is good for hard things to come into our lives when we are still young.
He was focused so strongly on his pastoral function; he had lost sight of a lost world. He didn’t realize I wept for Brazil’s hopelessly lost indigenous populations. He had forgotten that Jesus, his Shepherd model, had said, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also,” John 10:16 (NIV).
A decade later, I visited with an old friend from Bible School days. We both had 25 years of ministry behind us, he as a pastor, I as a missionary. We chatted about the difference between us. When we parted, my Bible School pastor friend said, “Jack, we folk serving in ministries at home simply do not have the same fire in the belly for missions as you missionaries do. If we did, we would be out on the field too.”
Up-Reach, In-Reach, and Out-Reach
It is true that God calls and equips different people for different ministries. And yet, it is also true that Jesus gave the Great Commission, “Go into the whole world and communicate the Good News to every person,” to the whole Church. He was not talking only to those individuals called to specialize in cross-cultural missions.
The Whole Church must be involved in going to the Whole World, through supporting and encouraging the workers on foreign fields with understanding prayer, and regular financial support, and encouraging notes, etc.
Tens of thousands of churches across Canada and the United States are staffed with people called by God to serve in church positions. It seems that many of these servants of God are so strongly committed to the Up-reach of worship and the In-reach of meeting needs in the congregation, they have neglected the Out-reach of cross-cultural missions, confining that aspect mostly to local evangelism.
Is God saying, “Oh well, two out of three isn’t bad?” I don’t think so!
When missionary colleagues tell me that many church leaders display little vision, and even less passion, for cross-cultural missions, I remember my seatmate on that long-ago plane flight.
Some Do It Right
Some churches, however, are led by pastors who are concerned about Out-Reach.
- They practice and preach Jesus’ Great Commission.
- They lead mission trips and visit the mission field to rekindle their passion.
- Cross-cultural missions are part of their church’s strategic plan.
- They welcome missionaries who are good communicators and encourage them to tell challenging and faith-building stories to their congregation.
- Some pastors are so on fire for missions I’m astonished they aren’t on the field.
In these cases God is answering the fervent prayers of missionaries around the world.