What Makes Someone a Missionary?

I spent 10 years in Hungary as a missionary. I had a visa and several legal papers for my residence there which stated on them that I was a missionary. Furthermore, I was sent out and supported by a number of churches who supported as a missionary.

This having been the case, I have put a lot of thought over the years into what it is that makes someone a “missionary”. 

I remember working alongside Hungarians in Hungary, doing the same work – and yet I carried the title of missionary, and they were just Christians who were serving the Lord. Every now and then, some of them would say that they too were missionaries then, since they were doing the same work. But what about the other Christians in Hungary who were not with our organization, who did similar work? Were they also missionaries? They didn’t seem to covet that title, but were content to consider their service simply completely normal Christian behavior.  Some Hungarians we worked with received financial support from churches in the West so that they could serve full time at a church. Did that make them missionaries, even though they were serving in their home country or culture?

Some missions organizations use the term “native missionaries” and raise funds in wealthier countries to support national workers who already know the culture and language of a place. The idea is that with the proper training and some financial support to free them up to do the work, these local Christian workers will be able to reach the places where they live more effectively than foreign missionaries. This is especially popular in countries which do not give visas to foreign missionaries. Is the word “missionary” appropriate in this case? 

What makes someone a missionary?

One time when my wife and I had come back from Hungary to visit family and supporters, we were in Carlsbad, CA, and at the beach some young people, probably in their early 20’s,  approached us and started talking about Jesus. They were evangelizing – and when we told them we were Christians, they told us that they had come from somewhere in the Midwest as missionaries to California. They hadn’t been sent by any church community, but believed they were called and so they had come. Does that make you a missionary?

When I moved to Longmont I knew some people who said that they were missionaries to Longmont, and raised support for their living expenses and various ministry endeavors, so that they could be free to pursue these things full-time. These particular people had grown up in Longmont and felt called to serve God in their hometown. 

What makes someone a missionary?

Something that has often been proclaimed in evangelical circles is that all Christians are called to be “missionaries” and that the work of missionaries is not something which only needs to happen in far off places with developing economies, there is need for evangelism and outreach in wealthy countries, including the United States as well. One bookmark I saw said: “You don’t have to cross the ocean to be a missionary, you just have to cross the street.”

So what are we to make of all of this? What makes someone a missionary?

A little etymology helps to sort things out:

Missio = send. Thus, to be a missionary is to be someone who is sent.

There is a sense in which all Christians have been sent by Jesus to carry out his mission, which he received from the Father, in his mission field, which is the entire world.

“”For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John‬ ‭3:16‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” – ‭John‬ ‭17:18‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” – ‭‭John‬ ‭20:21‬ ‭ESV‬‬

However, some are sent and supported by a local body of believers, led by a sense of calling from God, like Paul and Barnabas in Acts ch 13. It is clear from the Book of Acts, that Paul had an ongoing relationship with his “sending church” in Antioch, returning there after each of his missionary journeys. It seems there there was an accountability, and probably some degree of financial support from the church there which had sent Paul out. 

Here’s how I sort it out: All Christians are called by be “on mission” with God, in his mission field, which is the entire world. In fact, to be on mission is an essential and inherent part of what it means to be a Christian. Therefore, it should be normal for all Christians to do the work of a missionary wherever they live, whether it is their home or not. This is the NORMAL Christian life.

And yet, I feel that we should preserve the significance of the word “missionary” for those who are sent out on a mission by a local body of believers to another place, following the leading of God. There is a way in which to use the word missionary to loosely diminishes the sacrifices and the unique challenges faced by those who leave home and country and follow God’s leading to go to another place, having had a local body of believers confirm this by sending them out. Similarly, there is a way in which the concept of the priesthood of all believers can be taken to a degree which detracts from the significance of a calling to be a pastoral overseer. While we are all called to minister and we are all called to be on mission, these titles point to particular roles.

There is an interesting place in Paul’s second letter to Timothy, where Paul tells Timothy: “Do the work of an evangelist.” (2 Timothy 4:5)  Paul, in Ephesians 4, mentions the “office” or official role in the church of “evangelist” – in other words, it seems that there were some people in the church who had this title. However, it would seem that even though this was not Timothy’s official title or role, Paul was encouraging him to do the work of an evangelist nonetheless. 

I believe the same applies in regard to the discussion of the term “missionary” or “pastor”. If you are a Christian, you may not be an officially sanctioned “missionary” – but you are called to do the work of a missionary nevertheless! You may not be a pastor, but you are still called to do the work of a pastor in your interactions with other people.

Worst Sermon Ever

On Saturday night I was struck with a feeling that I have from time to time: that my sermon for Sunday was not good. I was convinced it was one of my worst sermons ever.

As I looked it over I thought: My exegesis and hermeneutics are good, I’m presenting the Gospel and talking about how the Gospel speaks to all of life…  The essential elements were in place, so what was I worried about?

Maybe I was just tired from the long drive back from California, maybe I was just feeling that the final draft wasn’t like the way I originally envisioned the message. But I went to church on Sunday morning asking God more than usual to speak through me, even through this message.

This isn’t the first time I’ve felt this way. But here’s the irony: it seems that every time I feel this way, convinced that my sermon – although it has all the right elements – is not my best, God seems to use it in an extra special way.

This Sunday, through this message, I had more than one person respond to my invitation to give their life to Jesus and make a decision for him. Another person told my wife that it was the best sermon I had ever preached. I got several emails and text messages after church about the message from people saying they were encouraged and blessed by it.  Here’s the audio of that message.

On a previous occasion, where I specifically remember telling my wife that my sermon was going to be my worst ever, I preached a message which again someone afterwards told me was my best ever, and now has also become one of my favorite sermons as well. When it recently aired on our radio program on GraceFM, we had several people contact our church asking for copies of it. A newer member of our church ran across that message a week or so ago and shared it on Facebook, and then wrote me that if I preached that message every Sunday, he would come – it was the best sermon he’d ever heard in his life. Here’s the audio of that message.

What should I make of this?

I heard Timothy Keller say once in a lecture to pastors about preaching, that we should always seek to prepare “Good Sermons” – meaning that we should make sure all the essential elements are in there: good exegesis and hermeneutics, good presentation of the Gospel and of Jesus as the answer to all the riddles, that they are “Good”. Our job is to prepare “Good Sermons” – because only God can make a sermon “Great” – and that happens, when the Holy Spirit takes our “Good Sermons” and makes them “Great” in the hearts and minds of our hearers. If we try to make “Great Sermons” we will be trying too hard to do something that only God can do.

When I heard him say that, I agreed in theory that he was right, but more and more I am experiencing the reality myself. God likes to glorify Himself, and it’s less about me that I am inclined to think. Praise God for that.

Pastors’ Conference

I just spent the past week at the Calvary Chapel Pastor’s Conference in Costa Mesa, CA. 

Even though the church I lead is called White Fields, I was ordained in Calvary Chapel and have many good relationships there, and very much respect for the core values and aspirations of the movement.

One of the best things about these conferences is the fellowship with other pastors – having so many people together who are doing the same work, facing the same issues and working for the same things for the same reasons is rare, and very refreshing.

I remember one leader I worked with who used to discribe these kinds of meetings as being like Gilgal: the place in the book of Joshua that was the home base of the people of Israel during the time they were moving out to take conquest of the land which God had promised to give them, but which they had to go out and take by faith, but with much work.

This leader would say: This is our Gilgal. We go out into the fight, steping out in faith, obeying God, fighting to take hold of territory – and we come back here, after our defeats, after our victories, to worship, to encourage each other, to share stories from the field of what we experienced: to celebrate victories, to lick each others wounds – and then we go out again.

I’ve always considered that a great analogy of these kinds of gatherings, and that is certainly what this conference was like for me. I’m feeling blessed and refreshed and excited to get back to the work that God has called me to in Colorado.

Tomorrow we will begin the drive back to Colorado from Southern California… Pray for us… 18 hours, to make it there for church on Sunday… 

When I Don’t Feel Like Going to Church

The story of told of the man whose wife came in to wake him up on a Sunday morning:

It’s time to get up honey, you need to get ready for church!  You’re going to be late!

I don’t want to go to church today!  It’s boring and the people there are all jerks and nobody is nice to me.  

But honey, you have to go to church!  You’re the pastor!

Now, just to be clear: I LOVE going to church!  And not just because I’m the pastor.  But I do know that some people sometimes struggle for various reasons with not feeling like they want to go to church.

I would encourage you with the words of Paul’s letter to the Galatians: That going to church, being in fellowship, joining in prayer, singing songs of praise and worship to God, partaking in Communion, hearing the Scriptures read aloud and expounded upon, hearing the Gospel message proclaimed and applied to real-life scenarios – these things are tantamount to “sowing to the Spirit”.

Paul says in Galatians 6:

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Gal 6:7-9)

When you don’t feel like going to church, I encourage you to make the choice to sow to the Spirit – take that hour and a half out of your Sunday morning to sow to the Spirit and you will, in due season, reap a harvest of joy and life and righteousness.

Charles Spurgeon on George Whitefield

“Whitefield’s sermons were not eloquent, but were rough and unconnected. But it was not in the words themselves, but in the manner in which he delivered them, the earnestness with which he felt them, the pouring out of his soul as he preached them. When you heard him preach, you felt like you were listening to a man who would die if he could not preach. Where, where is such earnestness today? One sad proof that the Church is in need of revival is the absence of earnestness which was once seen in Christian pulpits.” [1]

Church in the Park – upcoming event in Longmont’s Roosevelt Park

CHURCHINTHEPARK

White Fields Community Church will be hosting Church in the Park on August 17th in Longmont’s Roosevelt Park (700 Longs Peak Avenue).

This outdoor service will be held under the shade of the trees in the South-East corner of the park, right in front of the St Vrain Memorial building.

We will be joined by guest Pastor Pete Nelson, who will be sharing the Word with us.  Hope you will join us!

Back from Costa Mesa

Last week I was in Costa Mesa, CA for the annual Calvary Chapel Senior Pastors Conference. It was a great time of encouragement and fellowship, catching up with friends from all over the world who I only see at events like this.

This was the first SPC since Pastor Chuck Smith died, and the focus was on not forgetting the past, but not living in the past either – rather pressing ahead, building upon the foundation we’ve been given.

The messages at the conference were great, particularly what Brian Brodersen shared from Haggai ch 2, about how “the glory of the latter house will surpass that of the former”. May it be so!

Many of the sentiments shared at the conference, such as that Calvary Chapel must not be insular, but must understand its place in the wider body of Christ, and that we must stay on mission rather than being distracted by peripheral issues, definitely resonated with me.

I’m looking forward to everything that God will do through this movement in the years to come.

Pastor Tip: Preaching Outside from an iPad

This morning I officiated a wedding, and as I usually do, I had all my notes on my iPad, which is attached to a mic stand by an iKlip2. It's a really great solution, because it leaves my hands free – which is nice for me, because I talk with my hands a lot, but also nice when officiating weddings, for things like handling the rings, etc.

But here's what happened to me today: It was an outdoor wedding that started at 11:30 – it was a bit overcast, but about 80 degrees out. And as soon as the wedding started, I noticed that my iPad was started to get hot – like really hot!

And then I started to worry… because I know what happens when the iPad gets hot – and it has happened to me before… It shuts off and won't come back on until it cools down.

At one point, I was convinced that my iPad was about to shut off – and I started praying… and thinking: what do I do if this thing shuts off? I mean, it's one thing if it happens at church – I can probably preach without it, but not at a wedding! They had written their own vows, and I hadn't memorized anything…

At one point, the bride and groom did a symbolic act together, so I took the chance to turn off the screen on my iPad, hoping that would give it the chance to cool down a little. But as soon as I turned off the screen, I started thinking: Oh no…what if, now that I've turned it off, it won't turn back on?!?!

I started praying, and asking God to have mercy on me for being so dumb as to not give myself any back up in case of an emergency like this.

God was merciful, and I was able to finish the wedding from my red-hot tablet without it shutting off.

But I learned an important lesson that I want to pass on to anyone out there who might benefit from it: If you speak outside from your iPad, especially for a special event like a wedding, ALWAYS have a set of printed notes that you can fall back on in case of emergency.

I realize now how many opportunities there might have been for something to go wrong with the iPad, from getting knocked over on the stand and breaking, to rain – not to mention the glare, which made it almost unusable anyway.

I learned my lesson today, and I'm thankful that God was gracious to me (and the bride and groom) and didn't make me learn it the really hard way.

 

The Interactive Sermon

The past 2 Sundays at White Fields we’ve been trying something new, where our background slide invites people to text or tweet their questions in during the sermon. Once we get these questions, I will answer some during the service if we have time, or I will answer them on The City – our church’s in-house social network.

The response we’ve gotten to this has been really good! I’ve really enjoyed engaging with people and answering their questions. You can read some of those discussions here. Look for the posts titled “Sermon Follow-Up”.

I think that in this day and age, with the proliferation of the internet especially, sermons need to be more interactive. Finding the right way to do this though, is what is hard.

Timothy Keller, at his Sunday night services in NYC, has had a question and answer time for years. It’s a main part of the service – and it invites skeptics to come and do what New Yorkers do best: be skeptical and inquisitive. Tim Keller has said that the average young adult in New York is a thinker and thinkers have questions, and if you want them to really consider Christianity, you have to give them a chance to have their questions answered.

Nowadays, any news article you read online gives readers the option to engage in a comments section, where they can have a discussion about the content of the article. Any attitude in churches of “don’t question anything” is completely disconnected from where our culture is at today, especially with young people. Furthermore, I feel that if pastors are not answering the real questions that people are asking and struggling with, if we are not addressing the issues that people are really wondering about and discussing, then we have become irrelevant talking heads. If everywhere in the world there is transparency and discussion is encouraged, but at church we have smokescreens and we don’t like questions, what does that communicate to people? Perhaps that we lack the confidence that is required to allow people to ask questions? That shouldn’t be the case.

However, the danger in opening up to engagement like this, is that it inevitably gives a platform to haters – people who don’t have sincere questions, but who ask questions in order to be critical or in an attempt to trip others up. This is something that Jesus dealt with a lot from the Pharisees and Sadducees, who put a lot of effort into tripping him up. I’m sure that Timothy Keller gets tons of people like this as well, but it doesn’t deter him from encouraging people to ask questions and give him the chance to offer a biblical answer.

What are your thoughts on encouraging engagement with sermons? How have you seen it done effectively – or ineffectively?

…The Harder They Fall

On my way home from church on Sunday I saw a Facebook message saying that the pastor of the largest church in the movement I’ve long been associated with had resigned due to moral failure.

I hate hearing this kind of stuff.

Over the last several days I have seen tons of posts on social media from other pastors about this pastor’s fall. I understand that they want to address what’s going on. I understand that they are upset and want to talk about it. I’m not sure if we should be posting that kind of news everywhere though. At what point is it just gossip? Gossip is still gossip if you present it as a “prayer request”. Isn’t it spreading sensational news about someone else’s junk that really has no bearing on us personally?

I opened the CNN app on my iPad on Monday, only to see an article on the front page about this pastor’s moral failure and resignation. Great – more fuel for those who are always looking for fodder against Christianity and the Church.

I’m upset that someone in that man’s position would risk his legacy, his family and the reputation of the Church of Jesus Christ for some fleeting moments of pleasure.

I am sad for his wife and kids who have to go through all of this in the public eye. I am concerned for that church, and pray that the people who attend there will have the maturity to walk through this process as a body, faithful to the heart and will of God.

I am glad to see that high moral standards are upheld, and exceptions aren’t made for someone because they are gifted, talented and popular. Personally, I loved listening to that man teach. He is truly a gifted communicator. I heard someone put it this way: “David kills Goliath no matter how you read the story, but some teachers are able to make the story come alive – whereas other teachers make you wish someone would hit you in the head with a stone and put you out of your misery.” This man is a great teacher. But I am glad that his skill and celebrity were not used as an excuse for making an exception to the rules for him when it comes to moral standards for those who will serve as leaders in the God’s church.

This situation is one more sober warning for Christians, and especially for those of us in leadership and ministry, that we must watch over our hearts with all dilligence, because it is from the overflow of our hearts that our actions proceed.