How Churches Miss Out on One-Third of Their Mandate
The pastor’s response to my tears astonished me.
I was on a flight from Brasilia in central Brazil to Belem at the mouth of the Amazon, and had been conversing with my seatmate, an elderly pastor. I had just spent a week in board meetings as the chairman of the board of SIL, Wycliffe’s field partner in Brazil. The agenda had been heavy since leftist political pressure had forced all our workers to leave their homes in the indigenous villages the year before and there seemed to be no end to our “exile.”
As I told him 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.
I could not believe his response. He 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 started reading, leaving me to ponder.
What does that text have to do with 100,000 indigenous people, living in the Brazil’s jungles, living in fear of evil spirits, living without the Word of God in their own language, with no chance of experiencing forgiveness of sins, no chance of deliverance from fear, and no chance of receiving the power to live a new life?
Pastors Who Over-Focus on Their Congregation
Then it came to me. The man was a pastor, a man with a shepherd’s heart. He meant well, wanting to remind me that hard things will come, and that it is good for them to come into our lives when we are still young. At 40 years old I was still young.
As a shepherd pastor, he saw me as a weeping sheep, a young man feeling frustrated and sorry for himself. It simply did not occur to him that my tears were not for me, but for Brazil’s hopelessly lost indigenous populations. As a pastor his daily concern was for his flock, his congregation, even a young man on a plane. He was focused so strongly on his pastoral function, he had lost sight of a lost world. 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).
More than a decade later, I visited with an old time Bible school friend. We both had 25 years of ministry behind us, he as a pastor, I as a missionary. We discussed the difference between us and we concluded that those who have a vision for cross-cultural missions devote their primary energies to missions. But God calls people into many different types of ministry, some to be pastors, others to be evangelists, others to use their gifting in a wide variety of ways.
My Bible School pastor friend concluded, “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
And yet, isn’t it true that Jesus gave the Great Commission to “Go into the whole world and communicate the Good News to every person,” to the whole Church, not just to those individuals called to specialize in cross-cultural missions?
Tens of thousands of churches across Canada and the United States are staffed with people called by God to serve in church positions. Yet many of these servants of God are so committed to the Up-reach of worship and the In-reach of meeting needs in the congregation, they have forgotten 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 talk with me about their church experiences, they tell me that too many pastors and churches display little vision, and even less passion, for cross-cultural missions and I remember my seatmate on that long ago plane flight.
Some Do It Right
Praise God, however, there are also a growing numbers of churches that are led by pastors who see beyond the congregation and its needs. They practice and preach Jesus’ Great Commission.
They not only promote missions in their church, they personally lead missions trips.
They visit the mission field regularly to sharpen their vision and rekindle their passion.
They make sure that cross-cultural missions is part of their church’s strategic plan.
They promote organizational structure with a missions committee, and encourage the missions superintendent.
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.
The Church needs many more like them.