By: JoHannah Reardon
If for no other reason, it provides perspective and balance
Hindus attack Christians in India. Chinese believers are imprisoned for taking a stand against their government’s position on house churches. Venezuelan Christians are reeling from a perpetually downturned economy. Many West African Christians were suffering from lack of infrastructure when Ebola hit, making a bad situation worse.
Overwhelming? Definitely. If you are in church leadership, you probably are up to your ears with the needs of your own body of believers and have little energy left to even think about the problems of the global church. It’s tempting to ignore these massive difficulties and go about your local ministry, especially because very few of us are going to be able to get directly involved in solving Christians’ problems in another country. But there are good reasons not to ignore the stories coming from the rest of the world. Here are a few.
We tend to be isolationists. Those of us born and raised here often disconnect from the rest of the world. If you doubt that, think about what is generally on the nightly news or what shows up on social media. Most of it is about us. And if there is no big news concerning us (no natural disasters, no downturn in the stock market, no political debates), it dissolves into a cesspool of interest in sensational murders or celebrity faux pas. To see how different our view of things is, go to a news source outside your country and you will be astonished at how much world news is covered that our news sources barely mention.
Unfortunately, this attitude spills over into our churches. Most congregations support missionaries, but very few people in a congregation actually know those missionaries or are involved with them. How many times does conversation at church fellowships drift to the needs of Christians in other countries? Or how many prayer meetings focus on that rather than the needs within your own church?
This is a way that Christ has called us to be countercultural, and caring about more than just ourselves definitely is not the norm in most of our churches. We look much like the rest of our country in that regard.
We get caught up in petty problems. Because of this tendency to isolation, we are tempted to spend all our time and energy arguing doctrine endlessly, disagreeing on worship styles, and following the lead of Christian celebrities. Being informed, praying for, and giving to the needs of the global church breaks that pattern and forces us to think outward rather than inward.
For example, Barbara got caught up in a certain doctrinal position. That stance informed everything she did and became a source of contention in her church because everyone who didn’t agree with her was seen as the enemy who needed to be converted to her point of view. As a result, her ministry began to shrink and become more inwardly focused.
But when a friend whom she respected invited her on a mission trip to China, her trajectory changed. While there, she saw believers who had never heard of her doctrinal positions and yet were living vibrant Christian lives that put hers to shame. It gave her perspective and changed the way she approached ministry in her church at home. Although she still holds her doctrinal views, she now embraces others who hold many different points of view as long as they can back it up with Scripture. Her ministry has blossomed.
If your congregation is continually arguing over internal affairs, being aware of global needs can force it out of its lethargy. It’s hard to get too worked up over what song we are singing if we are praying for our fellow Christians who are deprived or suffering. Make those you lead aware of specific needs so they can engage emotionally with those who have much bigger problems. My own problems often shrink when I compare them to what Christians go through who live in more difficult areas of the world. The same happens to a church as it takes its eyes off internal affairs and looks at the bigger problems the rest of the world has.
We focus outward when we get involved with the global church. It’s been said that mission trips do more for the participants than the recipients. Because of that, there has been backlash against doing mission trips. But those who go come back changed and become representatives here for that country and group of Christians. Like Barbara, they often have the props knocked out from under them, which cause them to rely more on Christ.
But mission trips aren’t the only way to get involved. Drew and Tracie moved near their local university and invited international students to live with them. As they open their home to students of all faiths, they have a chance to live the Christian life before them, giving them a glimpse of how Christ wants to work in our lives. They feel strongly that it would be a shame for students to come to their country and never hear the claims of Christ, so they want to be a vehicle to see that happen. They bring them to church, invite others from the church over to meet them, and provide a gathering place in their home for church friends to meet their students. As a result, Drew and Tracie’s church benefits by getting to know and appreciate others’ points of view, and students come to Christ under this kind of tutorial care.
If you don’t live near a university, most likely there are immigrants nearby and most high schools have an exchange program. Jen regularly invites international students to live with them, which not only provides a service for the student, but also exposes her own children and those in her church to what life is like elsewhere in the world. As a result, those who come in contact with them expand their view of ministry.
But what if you find the needs of others overwhelming? It can be that way for me sometimes. My husband travels regularly to Africa to train pastors, and when he comes home with stories of how they suffer, my heart melts. My tendency is to close my ears and pretend I never heard about the need. After all, his ministry may be there, but my ministry is here. Yet I’ve noticed that my ministry, and even the way I read Scripture and pray, has expanded because of my awareness of and commitment to those who have much less than I do. So what do I do with it? I tell others about the needs but always qualify my message with a focus on a God who is far, far greater than any want. And in that process, I get to know and love God more than ever before.
JoHannah Reardon is involved in a church that embraces international students and people of many races. She also is a prolific writer.
This article was taken from Christianity Today´s website