By Chuck Lawless —
All of us need to develop more relationships with missionaries. Here’s why:
- God has called us to reach the nations, and we’re more likely to do so when we know missionaries.
An internet story or a journal article about missions might be interesting, but nothing carries the weight of a live person who’s giving his or her life for people who need Jesus. The issues of security for missionaries and their national partners are still real ones, but the options to meet them in person or via technology while they’re on the field or furloughing elsewhere in the States are numerous.
In fact, many servants on the field today first learned about missions from a missionary visiting their church. They met a person, heard a story, saw a picture, or even ate something “weird” that they never forgot. We must provide the same opportunities for the next generations in our churches.
Our children need missionary heroes, so we at least need to introduce them to men, women and other children who are serving God in unique and often dangerous places. If missionaries become their heroes, they’ll consider following in their footsteps because their work matters.
2. Missionaries need the support of local churches.
In fact, they want our support — but they shouldn’t have to be the initiators in every relationship. They lose precious time on the field when they have to seek out churches that ought to be seeking them first.
And we’ll pray more for them if we know them. A generic prayer for God to “bless the missionaries” is a start, but it won’t lead to lasting, heartfelt prayer. We really start praying when we can name a name, see a face and lift up a need.
Pastors, this responsibility to lead churches to support missionaries begins with us. Indeed, I have never seen a strongly missions-minded church without a pastor whose heart beats for the nations.
(See some suggestions to missionaries following this column.)
3. Missionaries remind us of what really matters.
When I spend time with young families starting their missionary service or long-termers who have served for years, I’m reminded how silly some of our church and denominational squabbles are. The world needs the saving work of Jesus.
When we recognize what really matters, pastors and church members alike must at least ask, “Does God want me to use my training and experience in an unreached, hard-to-get-to place around the world?” Missionaries we know can help us wrestle with this question.
Some suggestions for missionaries
Here are my thoughts to my missionary friends around the world:
- The local church really does matter.
Nothing in the Scriptures precludes denominations or mission-sending entities — and certainly not cooperation — but the local church is still primary. The missionary without a connection to a sending church is missing something.
I regret that some churches send missionaries and then seem to forget them, but don’t give up on all churches. Out of thousands of churches in the U.S., many have a genuine, deeply-held passion for missions. Ask your sending agency or your colleagues to help you find a supportive church. God will provide some congregation so you don’t walk alone.
2. Please be patient when local churches don’t always know how to serve a missionary well.
I don’t know a church or pastor who wouldn’t want to walk arm-in-arm with a missionary, but I do know a lot of them who aren’t sure about the best ways to go about it. We need your help to help you. We may not always be in a position to meet every need, but we have connections and other resources where we might turn on your behalf.
Granted, it may get wearisome to initiate contacts with churches when you have so many other life-transforming things to do. Nevertheless, please know that many of us do want to hear from you, to read your newsletters and pray for you. But, no congregation will catch that fire unless you’re in communication with somebody in the church who advocates for you.
Give us practical, simple ways to walk beside you. The church that you help guide now may well develop a passion that extends beyond your ministry. — Baptist Press
Chuck Lawless, online at chucklawless.com, is vice president for spiritual formation and ministry centers and professor of evangelism and missions at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.