"AS I SEE IT"
Volume 1, Number 9, September, 1998
The very "reason for existence" for New Testament churches is to propagate the Gospel to the ends of the earth, or, in a word, MISSIONS. This is not A purpose of the churches; it is THE purpose of the churches, and the degree to which missions is neglected or subordinated to other purposes or designs by the churches, to that degree they fail in their God-commanded purpose.
Since March, 1991, I have been a "commuting" missionary to Romania and other parts of Eastern Europe. I have made 23 mission trips in the past seven-plus years, spending an average of three and a half weeks per trip teaching and preaching (a total of considerably more than 400 days on the field). I have been involved in evangelism, in-church Bible institutes, seminary teaching, and youth camps, and have preached hundreds of sermons. States-side, I have experienced the misery of deputation. On the basis of my modest experience (and many conversations with other missionaries), I would like to address the subjects: WHAT MISSIONARIES SHOULD BE ABLE TO EXPECT FROM THE CHURCHES, and conversely, WHAT THE CHURCHES SHOULD BE ABLE TO EXPECT FROM THE MISSIONARIES.
First, WHAT THE MISSIONARIES SHOULD BE ABLE TO EXPECT FROM THE CHURCHES (and from pastors).
1. A concerted effort by the home pastor to generate contacts for them.
The typical pastor knows many more pastors than the typical new missionary, and as a result is in a better position to solicit meetings than a missionary making "cold calls." Some pastors are very good in this regard, but, unless I am mistaken, most pastors do little or nothing in this regard to help the missionaries sent from their church. If the missionary is worthy of being sent, he is worthy of a diligent and sustained effort by his pastor to help him make pastoral contacts (I would suggest that pastors only send, and recommend, missionaries in whom they have complete confidence).
2. An honest answer to a request for consideration for support.
Very frequently, I have sensed that the goal of pastors I have spoken to at national meetings was to avoid even speaking to missionaries seeking support. Or, if a missionary happens to "corner" a pastor, he says, "call me in X number of months" (usually six or more), and, if the missionary calls, he is put off again. Brethren, is this right? To whom are we missionaries to go for financial support if not to the churches? Why can you not simply say: "we are over-extended," or, "we are considering other missionaries at present," or even the brutally honest, "you are not exactly the kind of missionary we want to support," or, "we are looking for missionaries to a different field." Every pastor knows that he will encounter money-seeking missionaries at national meetings and will not infrequently get calls at other times. Why not be prepared to deal honestly with deputating missionaries? A strong sense of rejection by the very people we are supposed to seek help from is a terrible feeling (believe me).
3. An important place in the church service.
If missions is really central, then is it right for the missionary (whom you may see only once every four years, or even less) to have a mere ten or fifteen minutes to communicate his needs and burden to the church? I know the excuses: A. "Some missionaries just can't preach." [Neither can some pastors!] Frankly, if a missionary cannot effectively communicate in his native tongue to an American audience, I certainly wouldn't send him elsewhere (at great expense) to try and communicate the Gospel in a foreign tongue. B. "If we gave a whole service to every missionary we support, the pastor would rarely have a chance to preach." This is symptomatic of a church which supports too many missionaries (about which I will say more later). By treating missionaries as a nuisance and merely something "tacked on" to a regular service teaches the congregation that missions is NOT the focus of the church. I personally think a whole Sunday for a missionary is not too much: Sunday school and both services (with some guidance from the pastor about what subjects or topics the church would like to hear about). Indeed, I think having a missionary at the church for several weeks or even a whole month is not too much exposure for him. The better a church knows its missionaries, the more intelligently it can pray for them. And, by the way, to have a missionary serve as merely "pulpit supply" while the pastor is away is despicable (unless the missionary is well-known to the church and has had other opportunities to present his work to the church with the pastor present, and knows in advance the arrangements for the day).
4. A good honorarium.
Usually a missionary will speak on average in two churches per week (sometimes only one or even none). His expenses for driving, eating, laundry, and all else continue whether he is booked solid or has scattered meeting. Even if you don't take him on, be generous while he is with you. It will encourage him greatly. As for myself, I have few serious complaints in this regard. Most of the churches have been generous (once, I merely accompanied a visiting Romanian pastor to a church and gave a brief testimony, but was given $600 nevertheless). And if your practice is to take a "love offering" for the missionary, make sure that your people are properly instructed about the need, and be sure and give the missionary everything given on his behalf (I heard of one now-former pastor--a man widely known in the BBF--who would keep back part of a missionary's love offering if he thought it was too generous! A regular Ananias!).
5. A realistic support level.
One great reality of missions work is that the lower the support level per church, the more supporting churches necessary for adequate support, which in turn translates into longer and more expensive deputation, a more rushed furlough, and greater expense in keeping the churches "posted" via report letters, in addition to a "dilution" of prayer support. No missionary should have to have 80 to 100 supporting churches. While I thank God for the $10/month I receive from a widow, and the $30 support from one supporting church, I am convinced that churches should have an established policy of a higher monthly support level: a minimum of $100, and I even think $250, $500, or even $1,000 or more (from the home church) is not extravagant. I know that some pastors have inherited missions programs where the support is spread a mile wide but is only an inch deep, and this hand-cuffs the church from making any rapid changes. I also understand the desire to support 20, 30, 50, or 100 missionaries scattered across the globe, but I am convinced that more is accomplished by doing less (more below). Even a small church with an annual missions budget of just $10,000 could still support 6 or 7 missionaries at $100/month.
6. Regular "on time" support
Promising support to a missionary is in truth a solemn oath to God and must not be made lightly. First, if you promise to take a missionary on, keep your word. Nothing has been more distressing to me than to have a church promise support and then never follow through (this has happened to me more than once). Second, once you have begun regular support, keep it regular, and if for any reason you are unable to meet your obligation, by all means inform the missionary of the problem as soon as possible. Believe me, the missionary will understand (assuming the cause is legitimate), and he just might pray for you in your troubles! One of the most despicable acts is for a church to stop a missionary's support without apparent or sufficient cause, and then to compound the offense by failure to even inform the missionary of the action! And yet this is done as a matter of course on a regular basis by some churches!!
7. Regular report letters from the churches.
The churches, rightfully, expect regular reports from the missionary. Many missionaries would like regular report letters in turn from their supporting churches so that they can pray for those "holding the rope" and so that they can rejoice together with you in the blessings of God. Regular personal letters from the pastor and from others in the churches are also a great encouragement. The missionary discovers that he hasn't been forgotten after all!
8. A congregation regularly informed about the missionary's labors.
It is a source of frustration to the missionary if he thinks his regular report letters are seen only by the pastor (or worse, only by the church secretary), and nothing is done to inform the church of prayer needs and praises. How many churches read the missionary's letters to the congregation on prayer meeting night, and post them in the church so that they can be read by all? Not enough. I know the objections: the letters are often boring (this is the missionary's fault), and there are just too many letters. If a church has 100 missionaries and they report every third month, that's 33 letters/month, or more than 8 each week on average, too many to read and pray for on Wednesday night. I say in reply, if a church has more missionaries than it can properly pray for, it has too many, because prayer--intelligent, fervent, informed and timely prayer--is the most important thing a church can do for a missionary.
9. Visits from home
While too many visitors from the States can be a nuisance and hindrance to the work (I have never actually heard any missionary complain of too many visitors; I speak theoretically), too few or no visitors at all from one's home church can be a knife in the missionary's heart. I have a good friend who has been a missionary in Mexico for about 10 years, and his ministry is such (printing Gospel literature) that he could certainly put a team of visitors to good use for a period of a week or two several times a year (to say nothing of the need of personal fellowship). And yet, even though there is a need, and the field is near at hand, not once in all those years has he or his family had a single visitor from their home church (a sizeable congregation). This is a rotten way to treat a missionary, and is completely inexcusable. I think every pastor should go to the field on a regular basis: once a year, or once every other year (and send the rest of the pastoral staff on a regular basis, too!). It will open the pastor's eyes to the real nature of the work, increase his burden for missionaries and enable him to more effectively lead his people in supporting missionaries. Any pastor who has no interest in visiting the missionaries on the field has no business in the pastorate. (It is a legitimate use of mission funds to send the pastor on a working visit to the field; indeed, it is a great investment of such funds).
This last is really first (I Timothy 2:1,2). It has been properly said that the meagerness of results on the field are directly traceable to the prayerlessness of the churches back home. But to properly pray for someone, you must know him, which requires more personal exposure to a missionary than a fifteen-minute slide show and a ten-minute testimony once every four years allows. My home church supports over 200 missionaries (and at substantial $100/month or more), but I must confess that even though I am very interested in missions and am on the mailing list of 20-30 of these, it is simply impossible for me to pray for 200 missionaries, most of whom I have never met, and who are little more to me than names. I've toyed in my mind with an ideal scenario of having missionaries come to a church and stay for from two full weeks to a whole month, meet with various groups in the church (deacons, seniors, various Sunday school classes, etc.), speak at various services, and let the church get to know the missionary, and the missionary get to know the church so that both can intelligently pray for the other, and then have support levels of $300, $400, $500/month or more from each church, with a need then of only 8-10 supporting churches. Deputation would be a matter of months rather than years, churches would have fewer missionaries to keep track of and could become much more personally involved in the work of the missionary. And for very large churches, the possibility of multiple full-time staff missionaries is entirely do-able.
Second, WHAT THE CHURCH SHOULD BE ABLE TO EXPECT FROM THE MISSIONARY
1. Real commitment to the work
The missionary simply has to be a self-starter. On most fields, there is much less concern with time, schedules, and punctuality than in the States, and with no "watching eyes" to shame the missionary into action, it is easy to slide into lazy habits. Merely going through the routine (sometimes "adventure") of buying the groceries, dealing with bureaucratic obstacles, and other daily "busy work" is not fulfilling the work of the ministry. There is very pressing work to be done, and done now, and done by me. I simply must get to it.
I have found that it is much easier to spend time "fellowshipping" with other missionaries, talking about the work that needs to be done rather than to actually do the work. Yes, fellowship of the right kind and in the right quantity is essential (and some have starved spiritually on the field for lack of it), but let us not use it as an easy excuse for neglecting study, prayer, and the ministry of the word.
2. A well-defined plan of action
The old proverb is sound: "If you aim at nothing, you are bound to hit it." The missionary has an obligation to those who sacrifice to send and support him with money and prayers to have a well-thought out and well-defined plan of action. Yes, such a plan will need repeated mid-course corrections, and occasionally a complete revision, but a man without a plan will accomplish precious little. I have encountered or heard tell of several missionaries (thankfully not BBF or BIMI) in Romania who came to the country because it was a new or exciting field, but who have not a clue as to what they are doing or even what they would like to accomplish. Most of these soon (in a matter of months, or at the outside, after a couple of years), head back to the States, following "the Lord's leading," leaving nothing to show for the time and money invested in them by the churches back home.
3. An absolute commitment "to get the language"-- FIRST
For most missionaries, the first and greatest hurdle to the work is the language. Missions work REQUIRES effective communication, and before this can be done, the missionary simply MUST "get the language." If any real long-term achievements are to be made, the missionary must learn to correctly speak, read, hear, and write the native tongue of those he is going to minister to. I am quite aware that some languages are easier to learn than others, and that some missionaries are more adept at language acquisition than others, but this is a subject which will bear no excuses. If the missionary (and that includes his wife and children) must spend a year, or two, or three in formal language study when he first gets to the field, then that is what he must do. Yes, initial "results" from the field will be more meager, but the long term harvest will be greater. The missionary who says "I just can't get the language" is usually really saying "I don't want to bad enough."
Nationals are impressed when a new-comer tries to speak their language even if he does it badly, and are even more impressed when that new-comer progressively speaks it better, more correctly, and with greater fluency. And they are decidedly insulted when the new-comer, now an "old- timer," still grossly mispronounces their language, and has done little to make their language his own. I have met missionaries who have simply "given up" on learning the field language. Why, then, are they still taking money from churches when they have failed to get the single most practical thing their work demands: competence in the language?
If I were a pastor with a missionary intern on staff, I would REQUIRE that missionary to begin serious study of his target language while on staff, if at all possible, and would not send him to the field if he didn't approach the task with deadly seriousness and concerted effort (and I probably would join him in his studies, so that when I visited him on the field in a few years, I could communicate to some degree with the people). Among the first questions I would ask of any prospective missionary seeking support is, "What are your plans for language study?" and if his answer was in any way vague or non-committal, I would plainly tell him that my church was seeking missionaries who had a better- thought out plan of action, and who were putting language acquisition at the top of their priorities.
4. Regular, informative, honest reports
Some missionaries rarely write to their supporting churches. I ask myself: are they crazy, or just stupid? Failure to regularly report of events in the work often leads to loss of financial support (and justifiably so) and worse, loss of prayer support. I suspect that in some cases, failure to report is a "guilt" reaction to failure by the missionary to fulfill his duties in the work and are a symptom of neglect and of laziness on his part. Reports once every two or three months are a minimum. And the letters should be informative, well-written and proof-read for errors (spelling and typing errors always leave me with a bad impression of the writer). The letters should be frank, candid, and well- thought out. I want to pray intelligently for the missionaries whose letters I receive, and I simply cannot do that if there is little or no information upon which to base prayer.
I make it a practice to pray for all the individuals and churches on my report list as I work through the letters, envelopes, stamps, and return address labels. Sometimes it takes 3 or 4 hours to prepare a mailing, but it is productive work. I expect to have prayers on my behalf in response to the letters and am sure I have a prayer obligation toward those who support me in the work.
5. Financial accountability
Every missionary should keep good accounts of income and expenditures, not merely for tax puposes, but also so that he can evaluate how he spends his money (this is called "budgeting"). I have discovered through careful record- keeping that money sent to me had been inadvertently mis- routed. I personally hate book-keeping more than just about any task, but I grit my teeth and do it.
If the missionary keeps current, accurate, and full financial books, then if the churches ask for an accounting of how the missionary spends his funds (which they have every right to do), the answer is easily given.
All moneys designated for a specific project (building materials, car, printing, etc.) must be spent for the designated project and for that alone (unless the giver approves in advance of a change of use). Anything else is a dishonest misappropriation of funds, and besides being a sin, may also be a crime.
6. A diligent effort to maintain a vibrant spiritual life
Just as a Bible college is an easy place to become spiritually "run down at the heels" because of neglect and general carnality, so too the mission field can become a spiritual graveyard for the careless or "busy" missionary. Our work depends in greatest measure on our own personal spiritual preparation. Without regular personal Bible study, prayer and self-examination, we can drift dangerously far from God. Often I ask myself: "Would I want to support a missionary whose spiritual life was on the same level as my own?" and I have had to honestly answer sometimes, "No."
An adversarial relationship between missionaries and churches (all too common) simply cannot be pleasing to God. We have great and serious work to do, and we need each other if we are to properly carry it out. As co-laborers together, let both churches and missionaries do everything in their power to strengthen their relationship, and to help one another in every possible way, for the work's sake, and for the glory of God.
Brian Walton's great BIBLIA SACRA POLYGLOTTA was published in 1667 is 6 large folio volumes. It contained the OT and NT in the original Hebrew and Greek as well as numerous ancient translations of these texts into the Aramaic, Syriac, Greek, Latin, Arabic, Ethiopian, and Persian languages, accompanied where necessary by a literal Latin version. In reviewing this magnificent production, Thomas Hartwell Horne said,
"The simple reading of a text in the several versions often throws more light on the meaning of the sacred writer, than the best commentators which can be met with." (An Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, 8th ed, 1839; Baker reprint 1970, vol. 2, part 2, p. 37).
To most Americans, the very thought of reading the Bible in any language but English comes almost as a joke, or at least an absurd suggestion. Our myopia on this point is to our great loss. Since God has allowed me the opportunity to study several foreign languages, I have tried to "keep up" my knowledge of them and add to it by regularly consulting during Bible study several different foreign language versions (plus the original languages), both ancient and modern.
And from my own experience I can affirm that what Horne wrote is exactly true. Reading the Scriptures in a foreign language (and it really doesn't matter a great deal which language) compels the mind to slow down, analyse, identify, co-relate and process the information in the text, all of which is a marvelous stimulus to thought, something often sorely lacking when we read the English text, simply because our great familiarity with the wording of the English gives our brains nothing on which to get "traction." A phrase, a word, a grammatical construction will turn on the light, or remind of a related passage elsewhere, or correct our misunderstanding of English words, or show us the true emphasis of a text.
Every translation I have used to any great degree in whatever language has shown me things which I never noticed in English (though in retrospect they were often there in the text all along), and things which I failed to see even in the original (though, again, in retrospect, I had failed to see what was in fact there). For myself, the best study is to "lie asoak" in the text with a couple of foreign translations. In Romania, because I cannot take many books with me, one of my constant study companions for the NT is a bilingual Hebrew-Romanian NT. After I have carefully thought through my text in both these versions, I usually have far more material to preach than I can get into one message, and discover that there is usually little more to be learned from most commentaries.
Few things will better equip a preacher for Bible study than the diligent study of a foreign language or two or three (may I suggest Greek first?). It will teach him ENGLISH as nothing else can, and it will make him a closer, more exacting student of the words "given by inspiration of God." It will compel him to think as he studies, and wonderfully concentrate his attention.
"If anyone should ask me, 'What is the great secret of holy living?' I would say at once, 'Living in the Holy Spirit.' If anyone should ask me, 'What is the great secret of effective service for Jesus Christ?' I should reply at once, 'Serving in the Holy Spirit.' If anyone should ask me, 'What is the one greatest secret of profitable Bible study?' I would reply 'Studying in the Holy Spirit.' And if anyone should ask me, 'What was the one great all-inclusive secret of prevailing prayer?' I should reply, 'PRAYING IN THE HOLY SPIRIT.' It is the prayer that the Holy Spirit inspires that God the Father answers." R. A. Torrey, THE POWER OF PRAYER (Zondervan, 1971), p. 137.
[This is, by the way, one of the three best books on prayer I ever read. DK]
This is one tremendous book!! The subtitle of the book is, "Testimonies of fifty converted Roman Catholic priests." The individuals whose testimonies make up this volume come from many countries, and diverse ethnic and social backgrounds, but most chose to enter the Catholic priesthood for idealistic reasons: to help people, to instruct others in the "truth," but especially to find peace with God and spiritual salvation for themselves.
This idealism led them to endure the deprivations, poverty, hardships, and enforced asceticism of long years of training for the priesthood. And this idealism gave way to frustration, cynicism, and serious doubts about Romanism, when they discovered that all their efforts brought them no peace with God, and brought them no nearer to the salvation they hoped to find. This was compounded by the hypocrisy they discovered in the hierarchical system. One man said that every priest has a "crisis of faith" over what he discovers for himself in the Church. In God's Providence, they each turned to the Bible and discovered (like Luther before them) that there were vast conflicts between what the Church taught as dogma and what the Bible taught as doctrine. Ultimately, each found peace with God through faith in the finished and completed sacrifice of Christ on the cross, without works, sacraments, prescribed prayers, rituals, masses or any of the other means of salvation offered by the Church.
Having found the eternal life and peace with God which the Church promised but could never give, their lives were transformed. This lead them, some soon, some after many years struggle, out of the Catholic Church, and in many cases into the ministry as conservative, Bible-believing pastors and evangelists. In many cases, leaving the Church was virtually an "escape" from a prison, followed by heavy personal and financial repercussions. Many work in ministries to Catholics.
Over and over again as I read, I stopped and praised God for His mercy in reaching those so steeped in spiritual darkness. The entrance of His Word still gives light. And it has led me to decide to be bold next time I have the opportunity to speak to a priest about salvation by grace alone: he may be in the midst of just such a personal struggle. Many are open to hear the Biblical truth.
For those enamored with the prospect of an ecumenical re- unification of Protestants and Catholics (I speak of the ECT movement, i.e., "Evangelicals and Catholics Together"), this book would serve well as a wake-up call. The unvarnished truth is that the differences between conservative, evangelical, Bible-based Christianity on the one hand, and tradition-based, image-serving, authoritarian and unchanging Roman Catholicism on the other, are REAL, SUBSTANTIAL, FUNDAMENTAL, and IRRECONCILABLE. Shared common social and/or political goals (such as opposition to abortion) are insufficient grounds for glossing over the vast and inherent conflicts between the two systems.
I purchased my copy for $7.95 (a discounted price) from Trinity Book Service, PO Box 395, Montville, NJ 07045. They issue a monthly listing of specially-priced books (including many Banner of Truth titles). I have been purchasing books from them on a regular basis for the past half-dozen years, and strongly recommend them to you.