3 Common Misconceptions about Missionaries

*The following article was originally published by Ardeo Global:

https://www.ardeo.org/blog/2019/8/21/3-common-misconceptions-about-missionaries

We believe that to help you gain some clarity in your next steps as it comes to mission work, you should know what misconceptions exist about missionary living. The following are three things our culture tends to get wrong about what it’s like being a missionary.

1.) BEING A MISSIONARY IS A POSITION, NOT A CALLING.

There is a big difference between having a vocation and a calling. One’s vocation is centered on what you do. It’s the job description. It’s the ten thousand foot view of your purpose. But calling is the deep issue, calling is the gift that only you can bring into the world. One’s call is how one dresses their vocation.

For example, one’s vocation might be a teacher. Their calling might be completely different from their vocation, though! They may be drawn to teaching, but their God-given purpose is not just to teach; it’s to give children a safe space where they can grow into who they are meant to be. The calling goes far beyond the position we hold.

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In the same way, a person serving in missions on the foreign field may hold the title “missionary”, but their purpose is rooted and grounded in something far deeper. Maybe it’s giving local battered women their time so they know they are worthy of love. Maybe it’s praying healing over the sick on the streets, looking them in the eyes and communicating that they are known. Or maybe it’s helping others connect to God through worship. Whatever it is, the reality stands that you have something only you can give the world. Being a missionary isn’t necessarily living out your purpose. Digging down deeper into who you were created to be is how you live driven by purpose.

This doesn’t negate that God “calls” us to the mission field. But, it’s important to recognize that simply being a missionary doesn’t fulfill your call. Abba has something much deeper for you to discover. Are you excited to find out what it is?!

2.) YOU WON’T SEE MIRACLES EVERY DAY.

When people think of what life must be like for a missionary they think of the biggest, grandest, evangelical movement they could imagine. They envision missionaries constantly praying for people, constantly seeing people healed, and watching people accept Jesus as their Savior non-stop. They see tent revivals traveling city to city, demons being cast out left and right. They imagine the book of Acts spelled out in real-time.

Truth be told, being a missionary can feel rather disappointing at times. A lot of people go to the mission field with this high expectation they are going to see people run to Jesus in droves. However, the way it usually turns out is as a battle to simply get people to show up to the coffee dates you’ve set up with them to talk about the Bible.

Don’t get me wrong! Miracles do happen on the mission field. But, why is there a higher expectation to see miracles on the foreign mission field than in your own life where you’re at right now? Let’s just leave that question for you to ponder on your own.

Miracles do happen on the mission field, and they usually happen after a lot of praying and spending time with Abba. Usually after a dry season in their ministry, a missionary really learns the lesson of utter dependence on God. All of the work that we hope to see in people’s lives has been done by Him on the cross all those years ago. It’s up to Him to work his incredible mystery through us on the mission field. The only way we can see Him do what He longs to do is through intimacy with Him.

Which brings us to point 3.

3.) MISSIONARIES ARE, LIKE, REALLY SPECIAL AND HOLY.

This is probably one of the worst lies that we believe about any of the positions in ministry. You might be thinking, “I don’t think missionaries are any more holy than me.” But, it’d be worth the wager to say deep down inside there is something that fears the idea of being a missionary because you don’t feel like you measure up. Why wouldn’t you measure up if we’re all on the same plane before God.

“Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” Col 3:11

The same spirit that is in you was in Nate Saint, Mother Teresa, and Paul! Good news, the pressure is off. You have no one to live up to. You have only to live into yourself. No other shoes to fill. Just wear your shoes!

Making the choice to do missions long-term is a big decision. Knowing that there is a deeper calling than simply being a missionary, miracles aren’t a daily occurrence, and that missionaries are not that special can help you see that you really can do this!

 

What to do with Paquito? Part 2 of 2

*This is part two of the article published in the previous post.

2. When ministering to adolescents we must possess a Commitment to Character and Consistency.

This has to do with expectations.

I am amazed to hear how low my friends and colleagues occasionally set the bar for our adolescents.  “The world is so much worse than it was twenty years ago.  How can we expect these kids to do anything of lasting worth?” Some have even said that holiness is not for kids and teens – it is just not possible for them with their immaturity and all that the world throws at them!

Let me suggest something radical here: That “Be holy as I am holy” thing is actually possible in our middle-schoolers!  Virtues like integrity, purity, and – yes – consistency are actually doable for 13-year old Ted and 14-year old Kami.  It is amazing what junior-highers can do when they know that others are truly depending on their character and consistency.  I have seen it in Manolo, a 14-year old from Guatemala who always arrives first to praise team practice and has started leading a Bible study in his house, even though his parents want no part of church.  I have seen it in David, a 14-year old from San José, Costa Rica, who spent his first year in youth group doodling on scrap paper and now is the first one to finish our discipleship and Articles of Faith classes.

Let’s set the bar high and be disappointed every now-and-then instead of setting the bar low and constantly griping about the mediocrity in our youth.

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3. Ministry to adolescents requires a Commitment to Christian ministry.

In Latin America, very few churches have a full-time salaried pastor, let alone a youth pastor of any kind. And more than two-thirds of the population of Mexico and Central America are under the age of 30.  Imagine what kind of local churches this creates!

In most of the churches I have been a part of during the last fifteen years, there are a good number of adolescents teaching Sunday School, serving as ushers or greeters, playing or singing on the praise team, etc.  In several congregations, I am amazed to see twelve- and thirteen-year olds that are allowed to preach! Why is this the case? If you live in a neighborhood of children and youth, your church had better be filled with children and youth and your ministry teams should be filled with children and youth!

This whole phenomenon is not constrained to the church walls.  Our current ministry in Latin America seeks to train missionaries from here in church planting and evangelism.  Part of that is providing them short-term volunteer opportunities where they can do just that as well as test out their calling.  So what happens when junior-highers – even though policy says they are not supposed to be volunteer missionaries due to insurance and other important issues – decide that they want to plant churches as part of one of these teams? Elisa (age 12) and other adolescents have taught me much about mission and passion as they knock on doors and sleep on floors in the hills of rural Mexico.*

*Incidentally, this cannot be explained just by cultural differences.  I could tell of Julie and Jeremy in suburban USA, who as junior-highers had their quirks like anyone, but served on our youth council and testified of their faith at school constantly.  When consistency is expected, lives can be changed from Peoria to Panama.

I am somewhat embarrassed to think back on my days as a youth pastor when we allowed the teens to have their “youth night” where they lead the “big service.”  In reality, it is a great idea, of course, and a fantastic way to train them in ministry.  But who says junior-highers must be relegated to a themed night? What does it say when we have entire ministries to and for them, and yet we do not really allow them to minister with us in the day-to-day life of the church?

As you saw, the title of this article is “What to do with Paquito?” If Paquito is 13-years old and constantly acts like he has just downed 10 cans of Mountain Dew, the question is a dilemma.  But perhaps the answer can be found in a deep commitment to community, character, consistency, and Christian ministry.

As I end this article, I have to clarify that my intention here has not been to criticize anyone.  In reflecting back on my ministry over the last 20 years, I have felt most critical of my own inadequacies and errors. Ministering with adolescents is a wonderful and trying adventure that requires many men and women called by God and passionate about loving and discipling this age group.  My hat goes off to all of you, and I count it a privilege to minister with you, and with them.

 

What to do with Paquito? Part 1 of 2

By Scott Armstrong

As a youth pastor several years ago, I was talking with a buddy of mine and youth pastor at another church.  “How did your youth camp go?” I asked him.

“Great!” he exclaimed, with a wide-eyed grin.  Then his look changed to befuddlement as he said, “But I cannot seem to figure out these junior-highers!”

“Huh? What happened?” I wondered aloud, somewhat confused myself.

My fellow youth pastor grinned a bit and shook his head.  “Well, I have been praying for one of these guys for over a year. He’s 13 years old and usually bounces off the walls during our youth service.  Finally at camp I thought the Lord was working on him during one of the services, and then I knew it when he went down to the altar!  I gave him a few minutes alone and then went down and prayed with him.  ‘What’s the Lord talking to you about?’ I asked him.

“‘Nothing,’ he said dryly, pointing at another junior-higher.  ‘I just came down here because my friend did.’”

Ah, adolescents.  Sometimes we see the fruit of the Spirit in amazing ways through their lives.  But most of the time we wonder if anything of permanence is really taking place.  In all this talk of video games and movies, does he even care about church? Is she more preoccupied with being popular or being passionate for God? Are they even getting what I am saying?

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Of course, all of us know there usually is light at the end of the proverbial – and pubertal – tunnel.  And that hope is what keeps us going, even in the face of pseudo-altar call responses and A.D.D.  Personally, my love for adolescents has grown enormously, and due to a somewhat surprising source: cross-cultural ministry.

I have now been a missionary in Latin America for several years.   And youth ministry, especially with adolescents, is quite different in Guatemala City as opposed to Kansas City.  I have especially learned three important things from the local churches here regarding this age group.

1. With adolescents, we must have a Commitment to Community.

What does your community look like? A bunch of teens hanging out on youth night?  Do those same teens ever talk with each other about anything of spiritual substance during the week?

A lot of times what we mean when we use words like “community” and “relationships” has to do more with staying up late at an all-nighter with a bunch of our friends than with accountability and prayer support.  And who expects junior-highers to hold each other accountable or pray for each other anyway?!  Absurd!

Now, all-nighters are a part of community and FUN is definitely a big part of community.  But the Latin American church has taught me that even middle-schoolers can truly worship.  In fact, in many cases they are willing –often hungry – for meaningful relationships that move past likes or dislikes.  I have to be honest: a lot of times in my youth ministry I have sought to entertain junior-highers instead of feed them.  Both are important probably, but the first without the second is akin to pastorally letting them drink milk (or even Coke!) when many are more than ready for some meat (Hebrews 5:12-13).

*This article will continue in the next post. 

Steps Nine and Ten: Organization and Looking To the Harvest Fields

This is the final entry, Steps Nine and Ten, in the series: “Ten Practical Steps For Planting New Churches,” written by Rev. Manuel Molina Flores.

Step Nine: Organization

From the beginning of the church-planting process, we must train with the goal of preparing the believers to take on the commitment to organize the church. We must apply the minimum structure necessary to ensure for the church’s healthy functioning, which generally means only naming the official church board. We do not have to form all of the ministries immediately. It is only necessary to identify the leaders of each department. As the church grows we can continue to implement roles as they become necessary.

Organization will be only a guide, not a straight jacket for the new work.

How is a church born?

In the process of founding churches, the moment will come when we must determine who is willing to formally and publicly commit to the new church.  We say a local church is born the moment the believers publicly commit to the Lord and to one another, as well as to Scripture (as it is expressed in the “Declaration of Faith” in the Manual of the Church of the Nazarene.

To plant a church is like beginning to build a house; the basic building blocks of the church are the converts.  It is so obvious that frequently we pass over this concept.  The primary focus of a church planter should be placed on the converts, and even though the structure and organization are not more important, they will help to conserve the results.  The success or failure of a church planter will be directly related to the fruit of his or her work in the souls of the new converts.  Missionary work should not be abandoned to dedicate ourselves to maintain the gains we’ve made.  Both of these– missionary work and maintenance – should happen simultaneously. 

Suggestions:

  1. Train specific leaders to perform their assigned roles.
  2. Meet with the new leaders and the new church board (in most cases, they will be the same cell group leaders or leaders from the home groups), to develop monthly plans and to move forward on district plans.
  3. Submit yourself to leadership above you and teach the new leaders to work as a team with the different levels of leadership within the denomination. We are all on the same team working towards the same mission.
  4. Make a plan that allows for local growth and growth in new communities.  In this way the church will not close itself in to its own four walls.
  5. Maintain a vision to raise up and train volunteer leaders.  Paid leadership has a tendency to slow down the advances of the new church.

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Step Ten: Look to the Harvest Fields

Keep the vision of new works as something natural in the life of the church.  Take Antioch in Acts 13 as a model.

Form a plan that allows for local growth and growth in new communities.  In that way the new church will not close itself in to its own four walls.  The temptation will be to settle for what has already been achieved, and new believers will want to be together and not allow the pastor to leave to explore new fields. One time a good brother said, “Pastor, if you go to another place, I’ll go back to the world.”  The pastor replied, “I thought you followed Christ, but it seems you’ve decided to exchange him for this useless servant.” This happens when koinonia become “koinonitis,” slowing the growth of the church.

Never stop doing the things that produce growth.  It is an error when church planters dedicate themselves to consolidate the fruit of the work and stop evangelizing. (This has happened in some instances, such as in the case of the project Vision 93-2000.  The goal was to organize a pioneer district in Chiapas, Mexico, and the progress stagnated.)

We have had to examine our focus to return to the original vision to plant churches in our chosen field.

***We hope that this series of practical steps for planting new churches has proven useful for you, the reader, in your ministry.  We thank Rev. Manuel Molina for his work in developing this material, and for his effectiveness in putting it in practice.

Step Eight: Corporate Worship

We continue with Step 8 from the series: “Ten Practical Steps For Planting New Churches,” written by Rev. Manuel Molina Flores.

 How to celebrate the presence and the power of God together

Corporate worship allows believers, who are growing and enthusiastic about their faith, to recognize the presence and the power of God together.

When two or more cell groups are functioning, the evangelist will work with the cell group leaders in order to plan joined meetings in which the believers will celebrate their faith in Jesus Christ.  If Bible study in the group is done well, the group will quickly be ready to celebrate a worship service and join in public teaching of the Word.

Principles: The value of corporate worship

When two or more cell groups are functioning, the church-planting effort has come to the point of uniting the groups periodically to worship God together.  Corporate worship will:

  • Introduce the new believer to the idea they are part of the body of Christ, which is large.
  • Give opportunities to use a variety of spiritual gifts, and allow them to develop specialized gifts that are difficult to maintain in a single cell group.
  • Give cell group leaders better control in issues of doctrine and lifestyle.
  • Protect from internal and external attack.
  • Offer a special dynamic for worship that usually generates larger groups.
  • Help individual believers learn their responsibilities as members of an organized church and prepare them for organization.
  • Help maintain balance and generate energy as victories, challenges and even failures of believers and cell groups are shared within the setting of the larger group and God’s work there.
  • Give the chance for teachers to exercise their gifts for the benefit of the whole body since many cell groups are not led by believers who have the gift of teaching.

Insist that the local leadership provide opportunities for new believers to participate. A true Celebration happens when we have reasons to celebrate. Believers who share their faith also tend to practice the disciplines of Christian growth and experience the family of God in action through mutual ministry.

We offer opportunities for corporate worship to celebrate how the presence and the power of God are visible in the lives of his children.

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Is it necessary for each church to have a building?

When we return to the book of Acts, we see a model of church planting that allows for the development of healthy churches that will reproduce other churches, especially in homes.  They can choose whether or not to find a building. When the church grows, it can make the decision to purchase land or rent or create a special place for their services.

Allow the emerging leadership to plan and lead the corporate worship and the most prepared leaders to preach publicly. Encourage the development of forms of worship that are culturally appropriate and biblically acceptable.  Do not copy readily available material (like YouTube videos, for example) that will confuse new believers.

Some suggestion on steps for planning corporate worship:

  1. When there are two or more cell groups, unite them periodically for corporate worship (public worship services).
  2. Begin Celebrations weekly, bi-weekly or monthly.
  3. Make sure the cell groups continue as the primary source of identity and mutual care in the church.
  4. Work with the leaders of cell groups to plan Celebrations. Make sure they are simple enough that emerging leaders are capable of leading the service effectively.
  5. Increase the frequency of the services when the emerging leadership is able to meet the demands created by additional activities. That will ensure that adding corporate worship will not result in a lack of care in other areas of ministry.

***In the next entry we will address the final two steps in this series.

Step Seven: Leadership Development: Model 222

In today’s entry, we are continuing with Step 7 in the series: Ten Practical Steps For Planting New Churches,” written by Rev. Manuel Molina Flores. 

How to recognize and train emerging leaders (2 Timothy 2:2)

Step Seven is about discovering and developing the men and women who are capable of implementing the different levels of leadership required by a properly functioning church.

When arriving at this step, the church planters will begin to step back away from intense, active involvement, such as in Step Five, in order to invest their time and efforts in the emergent leaders and focus on the new leaders’ training.

Identify, through real ministry situations, those who demonstrate they are “reliable” and “qualified” (2 Timothy 2:2) in order to begin a systematic training program to continue developing their character, Biblical knowledge and practical abilities.  This entails sharing your experience and knowledge with the leaders.

Principles:

We identify men and women who are “reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2).  Having seen their leadership, we begin a basic training program in which we invest in them and emphasize for each emerging leader areas of character, knowledge and practical skills that he or she needs to develop.

Training is what we offer the man or woman who demonstrates spiritual qualities and a divine call to leadership.  The question is not “who could be a good leader,” but rather “who is already leading” and “who demonstrates patterns of adequate spiritual growth and true love for others?”

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Training for leadership should include character elements as well as knowledge and practical elements.

Leadership training should be conducted in a way that assures simultaneous growth in three areas:

  • BEING (character): Character is developed through the disciplines for Christian growth (1 Timothy 4:12, 15-16), service (Matthew 20:25-28), faithfulness (Matthew 25:14-20), etc.
  • KNOWING (knowledge): This does not deal solely with knowledge of Biblical truths, but rather knowledge of how to study, interpret and apply the Bible to the needs of the people (Ezra 7:10, Acts 20:20).
  • DOING (practical): Potential leaders should know well and have practical experience in evangelism, discipleship and beginning a mission before moving on toward more advanced leadership training.

Leaders should grow in character (being), information (knowing), and practical abilities (doing).

***Find out about Step Eight in the next post.

Update From Bahamas After Hurricane “Dorian”

As our readers will know, Hurricane Dorian devastated parts of the Bahamas this week. Early this morning I received the following report from one of our Nazarene pastors who also serves as a member of our Mesoamerica Regional Advisory Committee:

Hello Scott,

Greetings in Jesus. I live in Nassau, which did not get the brunt of the hurricane, some rain, winds and flooding with minor damage. This was nothing compared to what the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama experienced: heavy forced winds, rain, storm surges, major flooding and major damage to many homes. Many persons in Abaco and Grand Bahama lost everything, some even lost their lives.  Additionally, there are so many who still need to be rescued, and so many people are not accounted for. Please pray that God will alert the rescuers to the cries of those still needing to be rescued, since many of them have no way of contact at this point. The authorities have reported that some 70,000 persons have been affected by the hurricane and over 60% of the island of Abaco is destroyed.  Attached is a flyer we have created to assist with securing hurricane relief for the victims. We are mobilizing the best we can here in Nassau to secure these items, while we wait on the ‘go ahead’ from authorities to travel to the island to distribute relief.

We are trusting God to save and protect these hurricane victims, and we are doing our best here to assist them with the basic necessities. I will update you as I receive further reports.

We thank you for your prayers and anything that you can do to assist. God bless.

For His Glory,

Antoine St. Louis

I have included the flyer mentioned by Dr. St. Louis above, and please consider also donating through Nazarene Compassionate Ministries at the following link:

https://give.nazarene.org/donate/f/134047.

Our Regional Director, Dr. Luis Carlos Saenz, has notified us that a group from the region will be traveling to Bahamas tomorrow.  They will provide further information and updates as they are able.

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