“And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:35-38)
A few weeks ago a large missions conference aimed a mobilizing college students and young people was held. It had all the typical, popular speakers whose messages inspire many to consider missions. In many ways I am thankful for these types of conferences because many young people are challenged with the sobering reality of the great need for more workers to go into the harvest.
However, my heart’s desire is not necessarily to see more twenty-somethings with limited ministry and life experience to engage in cross-cultural missions; rather, I desire to see North American pastors leave their pastorate for the harvest of the cross-cultural mission field and thus I pray to this end.
3 Reasons I Want to See Pastors Come to the Mission Field
They are proven and qualified men
1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; and 1 Peter 5:1-4 all lay out the biblical qualifications for pastors. Outside of ‘the ability to teach’ these qualifications mainly focus a man’s character that are developed, observed and recognized by others over time. Moreover, they are put to the test and further refined through the rigors and trails of pastoral ministry. In my brief experience, living in another culture and learning/operating in a second language only turns up the heat and stresses in one’s life. Therefore, having more men (and their families) who’s character is already battle-tested in the pressure-cooker of life in ministry may help to curb the high rates of missionary attrition as well as allow for a more robust ministry workload, not to mention set a high example for those to whom they will minister.
They have ministry experience
Ask any pastor and they well tell you that one of the greatest challenges early on in full-time ministry is the steep learning curve that one goes through. This takes place on almost every facet of the job – such as waking up each day and having nobody telling what you need to do for that day, trying to give the right encouragement to a family that the husband/father just lost his job, counseling leading men and women in the church who surprisingly show up in your office to let you know that their marriage is on the brink of divorce, visiting someone dying in the hospital as they look to you for words of encouragement to hold on to, making appropriate time to prepare for the responsibility of teaching the Bible 3-4 times per week, etc. As you can see the job of a pastor is often filled with weighty issues that are nearly impossible to “leave at the office.”
I personally cannot imagine going through this type of learning curve while at the same time enduring the difficulty of adapting to a foreign culture and learning a new language. While some of the issues missionaries face are different than that of a new pastor I would contend that many of those issues are even more complex since they are taking place in the context of a culture that the missionary does not fully understand.
Therefore, there is much to be said for having the experience (and hopefully the wisdom) under one’s belt that comes from studying/teaching/preaching the Bible, counseling people through difficult situations, experiencing the highs and lows of a life in ministry, etc. that would seem to make one better prepared to engage in full-time ministry.
The best people to develop, train and mobilize pastors are…pastors
One of the greatest needs in missions today is discipling, training, developing and mobilizing national pastors, missionaries and church leaders. This is due to the fact that throughout the last several decades there has been great work done in “reaching” the nations but what seems to have fallen through the cracks is the “teaching” or training of leaders in the places that we have preached the gospel.
In fact, missiologist Dr. David Sills, often quotes the statistics that inside the United States there is 1 trained Christian worker for every 235 believers while outside the United States that number jumps to 1 trained worker for every 435,000 believers. Moreover, 90% of the world’s seminary graduates live in the United States but 85% of the world’s pastors live outside the United States. These statistics are shocking and they show not only is there a great need to develop a great deal more pastors and ministry leaders outside of the United States to feed and shepherd God’s flock but also that there is a staggering number of pastors have never had any formal training to prepare them for the the great responsibility that they carry.
To be clear, when I say, “formal training,” I am not talking about Western-style seminaries. Instead I am simply talking about a pastor being intentionally and systematically trained in basic understanding of the Bible, theology, doctrine, Bible interpretation, character formation and practical skills in culturally appropriate ways.
Now, who is better to train them in these things than one who can personaidentify with weight and challenges that pastors face? Or to give an example, who is better to train surgeons than those who have actually been in the operating room themselves? Thus, who is better to train pastors than those who have experienced the unique life of a pastor themselves?
So, my prayer for pastors in North America is that more of them would leave the pulpit and land in the mission field because the harvest is plentiful but the workers are FEW. After all, in order fulfill all of the Great Commission we are going to need to mobilize all of God’s people to go into all of the world.