Next Generation Missions

Five People Wearing Clothes Behind Gray Wall

I remember when Megan and I were approved as second-generation World Baptist Fellowship missionaries 23 years ago.  At the time, we were “the next generation,” passionate to reach the world, but also challenging the status quo in many ways.  This was not in a spirit of rebellion, but in a zeal to do whatever was necessary to reach our generation with the Gospel, and the generations to come.  I remember being one of the first to move away from slides and slide projectors to a professionally edited video (on a VHS tape, of course!).  We carried around a massive, bulky projector into churches that were not equipped to display it or to handle the sound format.  Others at the time were challenging some of the expectations and requirements of wearing ties and dressing as formally as had been the custom and tradition.  Now, I look back at those “changes” and smile, because things have changed so much since then, and I am now the one watching the next generations come of age and enter vocational ministry, church planting and world missions.

Over the past years I have had a growing burden to challenge and equip the next generation of God’s servants, but that burden has only grown stronger now that it is my children who are stepping into vocational ministry and world missions.  It is thrilling to experience, but I admit that it is also challenging.  I have been forced to evaluate my assumptions, traditions, preferences and convictions to discern what truly is a Scriptural mandate or model, and what is personal judgment and discernment.  But I wouldn’t trade it for the world!

As I watch next generation missions unfolding in my own family and ministry, I have observed a few truths:

 

Without the next generation, the work cannot continue.  It has often been said that Christianity is always one generation away from extinction.  The same is true of every local church and of the cause of world missions.  If we fail to engage and mobilize the next generation, we fail in our mission.  The Great Commission is all about multiplication, reaching every generation, culture and community with the Gospel.  I believe God is still calling the next generation, but it is up to those of us in leadership to effectively engage them and equip them to reach their world.

 

Each generation challenges the status quo.  This is where things can get unpleasant.  We all have personal, cultural and historical perspectives, views and convictions.  When we are young, it drives us crazy when we ask questions and the answer we get is, “Because that’s the way it’s always been done.”  And yet, we often find ourselves giving the same answer to the next generation when they challenge our ways.  “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” right?  Sadly, much of what we do in ministry today is broken and failing to accomplish our true mission in this generation.  But if we allow the questions and challenges to honestly drive us back to the timeless, unchanging, and cross-cultural truths of God’s Word, it will give us a solid foundation that can be passed on to the generations to come.

 

The next generation has much to teach us.  I am fascinated to see how the next generation has adapted to a world that is constantly changing.  Their world is changing much faster than ours did, and yet, for the most part, they are able to keep up and adjust to the latest trends and technology.  Even though the next generation is the largest generation in human history, and is far more unreached (in America) than any before, those in this generation who are committed to the Gospel are finding creative ways to use these changes as opportunities for evangelism, discipleship and world missions.  Yes, it often looks far different than how we have been trained to do ministry and missions, but I believe they have much to teach us.  When it comes to communicating with their generation and world, they “get it.”  My desire is to learn everything I can from the next generation (always filtered through the principles of God’s Word), so that I can be as effective as possible in the years that I have left to serve the Lord.

 

Next generation missions is exciting and challenging.  Not only do I look forward to what God is going to do through my own children, but I also look forward to seeing what God is doing to do through the next generation in the church that I pastor and in the churches of World Baptist Fellowship.

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What American Churches Need: A Missionary Mentality

I have pastored in the United States for over a decade, after having spent most of my life on the foreign mission field.  The longer I serve in the United States, see the direction of our country, and witness the health condition of churches in America, I am convinced that we as pastors and churches must embrace a missionary mentality.  In other words, we need to be intentional about doing what we teach foreign missionaries and church-planters to do in order to effectively reach a foreign culture with the Gospel.  I imagine pastors and churches across America look out into their communities and feel like they are living in a foreign culture.  The fact is, they are.

Our society today is a radically different culture from the culture most of us were raised in.  It can be frustrating and discouraging when our ministry efforts fail to connect and engage.  I believe the answer can be found by looking to an amazing group of men and women.  We call them missionaries.  What are missionaries, that are effectively engaging a radically different culture, doing?  What is their mentality?  Four principles come to mind:

 

Cultural adaptation.  Missionaries are intentional about observing and studying the culture they are seeking to reach.  They make efforts to learn the language, the history, the values and priorities, the daily and weekly schedules, the musical styles and expressions, and the local dress.  Then they make intentional and strategic decisions (within clear biblical parameters) to adapt their lifestyle and methodology.  They adapt like Paul (1 Cor 9:19-23), like Hudson Taylor, like Amy Carmichael, and countless others.  We encourage and applaud when missionaries adapt to reach their cultures, and yet we struggle to encourage and applaud pastors and churches that are seeking to adjust methods, schedules and models to reach our current American culture.  We are not called to reach America’s past culture; we are called to reach America’s current culture.

 

Relational discipleship.  With such limited human, financial and technological resources, foreign missionaries have to focus on the basics.  Aside from any organized worship and preaching services, they invest in mentoring relationships that help believers grow, mature and reproduce.  In short, they make disciples (Mt 18:19-20).  They do not focus on lessons and classes alone, nor on friendship and informal time alone.  They focus on both at the same time, whether individually or in very small groups, which is what it takes to meaningfully disciple other believers.  This is often missing in American churches, though there is a growing emphasis that is encouraging to see.

 

Local church training.  Again, when our resources are limited, missionaries are forced to go back to the biblical model alone, which happens to be the best all along.  There usually are no Bible colleges and seminaries, Christian bookstores and Christian radio.  If believers are going to be trained to do the work of the ministry, and even to become pastors and missionaries, the local church has to do it.  That is why so many missionaries start Bible institutes, but even those are usually heavily tied to the local church and their pastors.  Though there is a tremendous need for Bible colleges and seminaries, many churches have relinquished their biblical responsibility of equipping the saints, and they are hoping other institutions will do the work for them.

 

Multiplication mentality.  I know of few missionaries who are not always looking out to other towns, communities and regions that are in need of the Gospel, and of Gospel-preaching churches.  Many missionaries are invested in works in separate towns at the same time!  Those who are involved in effective church planting movements write about the importance of “planting pregnant.”  In other words, from the very beginning of a church plant, there is already a focus and intentionality on planting daughter churches and eventually releasing members to start other churches.  That seems so foreign in America, and yet it is a way of life for most missionaries.

 

I wrestle with these challenges every single day.  I do not claim expertise or point to my church as the model to follow.  But I know that what we need as pastors and churches in America is a return to a missionary mentality.  Sure, it can be discouraging and frustrating, but there is hope for churches in America.  One generation of churches reached the world in the first century.  I believe our current generation can transform both our country and our world with the Gospel.  We have hundreds of living examples all around us.  They are called missionaries.

WBF President’s Post: Aligning with God’s Heart

Aligning with God's Heart - title image

The following is the transcript from the sermon preached at the Hilltop Conference, April 24, 2017, on the campus of the Arlington Baptist University.

It is probably safe to assume that if you are here tonight, you already are committed to the cause of Christ, to the Great Commission, to world evangelism and church planting.  You have probably lost track of the number of times you have quoted, preached or taught on the Great Commission.  Am I wrong?  You can probably quote Matthew 28:19-20 in your sleep!  You know the plan.  You know the marching orders.

But what I want to challenge you with tonight is not so much about remembering the plan or getting with the program.  It goes much deeper than that.  It’s about God’s heart – and our need to constantly realign our heart with His heart.  It is something we need to do individually as followers and servants of Jesus Christ; it is something we need to do corporately as local churches in specific communities; and it is something we need to do collectively as the World Baptist Fellowship, as a partnership of local churches that are committed to the global, eternal cause of the Gospel.

Just like our vehicles can get out of alignment and begin to drift in different directions, our hearts, even as pastors, missionaries, and servants of God, can so easily get out of alignment with God’s heart.  We can begin to pursue our own priorities, agenda, goals and desires.  We don’t do this on purpose.  In fact, it usually happens unintentionally, gradually and imperceptibly.  On the surface, we are still following His plan (at least, that’s what we think, that’s how it seems).  But underneath we have drifted from God’s heart.  Brothers and sisters, tonight I want to challenge you with the need to align with God’s heart.  Listen to these words from our Lord Jesus:

John 4:34-38  Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. And herein is that saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth. I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour: other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours.

 I don’t need to say much to all of you about the context of these words.  You know the story, you know the culture, you know the events.  You know about Samaritans and Jews, practically living in each other’s backyard, yet with a cultural divide that seemed impenetrable.  And one of the reasons it was impenetrable was because nobody even wanted to cross the divide.  The Samaritans and Jews were just fine leaving each other alone and ministering to their own people, culture, ways.  Crossing that cultural and ethnic divide wasn’t on anyone’s radar, agenda, or bucket list – especially the disciples.  But listen: it was on God’s heart.

I want you to notice something before we get into these verses: This took place long before the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), long before the Great Commission was given by Jesus (Mt 28; Mk 16), even long before the Cross of Calvary.  This too place long before the NT church received those famous marching orders, and was empowered by the Spirit of God to reproduce itself in Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost part of the earth.  Long before the “plan” and the “program” was defined and delivered, we get to see the heart of Jesus, the heart of God.  You see, it’s not about God’s program; it’s about God’s heart.

Remember what had just happened here.  The Samaritan woman was not looking for Jesus, but Jesus had been intentional about going to her.  As a result of their conversation about living water, true worshippers, and the coming Messiah, this woman finally understood and responded to the Gospel.  She then returned to her town to share the news about Jesus, and now a crowd of Samaritans was headed toward Jesus and His disciples (vs 28-30).  Unlike many of the Jews, this crowd, this people group, was open to the Gospel message and ready to respond in faith (vs 39, 41).  But before all those Samaritans became followers of Jesus, the Lord was privately opening His heart with His disciples, so that they could see His heart, and align their heart with His.

The disciples had been on a grocery run, and had gone into town to buy “meat” or food.  Now that they were back, what they had on their minds was their stomach.  And they wanted Jesus to stop and eat (vs 31).  But, as Jesus often did, He turned the physical situation around to talk about spiritual things (vs 32-33).

It is here that Jesus shares His passion, His heart (vs 34).  This was His “meat” (“This is what nourishes me, sustains me, fuels me, drives me”).  What was it?  It was a commitment to the Father’s will and the Father’s work.  It was a passion to do God’s will, and to finish God’s work.  Not His own plans, agenda, goals, and dreams, but those of His Heavenly Father.  That was what fueled Jesus – being aligned with the heart of the Heavenly Father.

Let me ask you this: What fuels you?  What is it that nourishes you and drives you?  What is your passion in life and ministry?  Are you fueled by your own life goals, ministry dreams, career path, and personal ambitions?  Maybe your fuel is running a bit low, and you are frustrated in life and ministry because of unmet expectations.  Things just aren’t the way you think they should be.  Maybe you find yourself relating to those disciples, standing there with their mouths hanging open, because God is doing something in your life and ministry that you don’t understand, that you aren’t comfortable with, and that does not fit into your model and strategy.

Friend, it is here that you and I must make a choice.  Do we align with God’s heart, or do we fight for our own?  In the next few verses, Jesus allows us to see a bit of God’s heart.  We get a glimpse of God’s heart for the world and for the Kingdom.  What is God’s will that we must do as pastors and churches?  What is God’s work that we must finish as pastors and churches?  You see, long before the local church began its world missions work, we see that God’s heart has always involved two fundamental things.  These two things happen to be at the core of our mission and purpose as the World Baptist Fellowship.  First, we see that God’s heart involves:
Cross-cultural Vision (vs 35)

You and I know that Jesus was not speaking of the farmland all around them.  He was speaking about people, about the souls of men, women, boys and girls.  But He was not specifically referring to Jewish people.

As Jesus was speaking these words, dozens, if not hundreds, of people from another culture were headed their way.  These were people with different habits, traditions, politics, worship practices, preferences, and countless other differences, yet having the same desperate need of Jesus, of forgiveness, of salvation, of the Gospel.  This culture, this people group, needed the Gospel just as much as the Jews did.  And God’s heart was to reach those people too.

Jesus told the disciples to lift up their eyes and look.  “Look up and look out!”  In other words, be intentional.  Look beyond your community, ethnic group, social demographic, nationality.  There are people and people groups everywhere, and they desperately need a Savior.  Many of them are different than you, but they are lost without Jesus.  Honestly, their ways might make you uncomfortable, but allowing them to be damned in hell should make you even more uncomfortable.  You cannot be aligned with the heart of God without having a cross-cultural vision, burden and passion.

Yes, there are people groups across the oceans that need to be reached, that must be reached, and it’s on us to do so.  But there are also cultures and ethnic groups all around us and around our churches that we are supposed to see with the same heart that Jesus sees them.  Why?  Because it’s the plan?  Because it’s the program?  No, it’s so much deeper than that.

We need a cross-cultural vision because this is God’s heart!  A heart that “so loved the world.”  A heart for all cultures, ethnic groups, and nations.  A heart for true, biblical diversity.  A heart for multicultural ministry and outreach.  A heart to do whatever we must do as pastors and as churches to effectively connect with people that are not just like us.

Jesus seemed to be “ahead of His time” when He spoke these words.  Jesus was preaching to non-Jews long before the local church figured it out.  Samaritans came to Christ long before Pentecost, the early church years, the persecution and scattering of believers, and even the preaching of Philip (Acts 8).  Why?  Because it is God’s heart, and Jesus was already aligned with it.  It is God’s heart, and it needs to be ours as well.

The disciples were not initially aligned with God’s heart.  They did not have a cross-cultural, multicultural vision and burden.  But Jesus did.  And it was on them to move, to align.  It took guys like Peter a very long time, a lot of divine intervention, and some personal confrontations (like with Paul), before he was willing to truly move beyond his prejudices and personal convictions to align with God’s heart, to align with God’s will and God’s work.

The need for a cross-cultural vision and burden is just as pressing today.  The implications for world missions are obvious – with over 6,500 people groups still unreached, and with millions of souls without access to a clear presentation of the Gospel of Christ.  But it’s not just for foreign missionaries.

Pastors, preachers and ministry leaders in America need it too.  We need a cross-cultural vision for our own churches and ministries.  The World Baptist Fellowship is not exactly a beacon of cultural and ethnic diversity in America.  We have not been very effective at engaging and equipping pastors who are African-American, Hispanic, Asian, or Native American (just look around).  We live in a very diverse culture, and yet our churches struggle (as does our Fellowship at times) to make the necessary changes to connect with the diverse culture that is all around us.  We are perfectly content with shaping our ministries to reach people just like us.  But that is not the heart of God.

Everything changes when we align with God’s heart, when we see people like Jesus sees people.  Jesus made it clear that we must have a sense of urgency about this (“they are white already”).  The disciples talked like they had plenty of time.  It was not a priority for them.  But Jesus knew that the time is now!  Not the next generation.  Not once we get all our ministry ducks in a row.  Not when we have figured out all the logistics.  Not when we get more people and more money.  This is God’s heart already!  And it is on us as pastors, churches, and as a Fellowship to align with God’s heart (not vice-versa).

But we can’t do this alone, nor does God intend for us to.  In fact, the only way we can truly do God’s will and truly finish God’s work, is if we are committed to working together.  God’s heart has always involved cross-cultural vision, but God’s heart also involves:

 

Diverse Partnerships (vs 36-38)

Jesus wanted the disciples to understand what would be necessary to reach the people groups of the world.  So He spoke of diverse roles partnering together, and diverse laborers partnering together.

Again, this was long before the Great Commission, and the book of Acts.  This was long before we read of the Macedonian churches doing Faith Promise giving.  God’s heart has always involved partnerships.  It involves God’s people working “together,” partnering “together,” for a cause that is much bigger than you and me, and much bigger than any one of our churches.  In God’s Kingdom, some people are planting, some people are harvesting; some generations go before, some generations come along after, but they are all rejoicing because they are partnering together to do God’s will, to finish God’s work.

1 Corinthians 3:6-9a  I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.  So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.  Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.  For we are labourers together with God.

This is clearly God’s heart for you and for me, and for the World Baptist Fellowship: Christians, pastors and churches partnering together in unity to reach the world with the Gospel.

But I don’t have to tell you that partnerships aren’t always easy or convenient.  In fact, it is often easier and simpler for us just to go our separate ways, go it alone, and do things our way, the way we like them, the way we think they should be done.  But God’s work is not for Lone Rangers, and it never was supposed to be.  That is not the heart of God.

Jesus knew that diverse partnerships would be difficult and challenging, which is why we see Jesus praying and pleading with the Father for cooperation and unity among His people, as they were being sent “into the world”:

John 17:18, 20-21  As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world…  Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

Unity does not come naturally.  We have to pray for it.  We have to fight for it.  We have to be intentional about it.  We have to be willing to die to ourselves, and remember what it is that unites us as followers and servants of Jesus Christ.  What unites us is our faith, our doctrine, the Gospel that we hold to as fundamental Baptists.  What unites us is the mission that God has given us to do together.  You simply cannot be aligned with the heart of God if you are not committed to diverse partnerships.

The problem arises when we don’t know how to handle our personal convictions, or the personal convictions of others.  Even as preachers, we often fail to distinguish between doctrine, personal convictions, and preferences.  Doctrine is crystal clear, it is laid out specifically in the Word of God, and is true for every generation, every culture, every nation, every period of history.  Personal convictions, however, are important, but are not doctrine (they are not specifically mentioned or commanded in Scripture).  Personal convictions are when we take doctrinal truth and biblical principles and apply them in countless different ways in our life, family, culture and ministry.  I need to develop personal convictions, based upon God’s Word, and so do you.  But mine are probably going to differ from yours, even though we both love God and God’s Word – and that’s okay.  Preferences, on the other hand, are not based upon Bible doctrine or biblical principles at all.  They are simply a matter of taste, of likes and dislikes, nothing more.

Here’s where the problem comes in (within local churches and within Fellowships of churches):  We treat our own personal convictions as if they are doctrine (therefore anyone who doesn’t hold our personal convictions is treated as compromising God’s Word).  And then we treat the personal convictions of others as if they are just preferences (with no foundation whatsoever, so we don’t value them or respect them).  That approach is caustic to the work of God, and to the partnerships that God has commanded.  We end up not doing God’s will and not finishing God’s work.

Paul tells us in Romans 14 that we can be passionate about our personal convictions, but we can still partner with those whose personal convictions are different than ours.  However, we must be careful not to resent them or judge them, and realize that they love Jesus and the Bible just as much as we do.

Romans 14:3  Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.

But of all that Paul lays out in that amazing chapter, I believe it all culminates in one phrase:

Romans 14:20a  For meat destroy not the work of God.

In other words, don’t destroy the work of God by fighting for your personal convictions.  It’s not worth it.  The collateral damage is too great.  Too many souls in our communities and around the world will spend eternity in hell because we placed our personal convictions above our need to partner together with fellow servants of God.

No one should have to give up or compromise their personal convictions in order to partner with others in God’s Kingdom.  I shouldn’t have to, and I should expect you to either.  Listen:  When our personal convictions are more important to us than partnering together to reach the world, I believe we have drifted from God’s heart.  God’s heart is all always been about diverse partnerships.

The fields may be white unto harvest in many places, but if are going to reach the cultures and people groups of the world, we desperately need more Christians and churches to partner together.

Matthew 9:37-38  Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.

That is why the World Baptist Fellowship and its mission is so important.  It’s not just about renewing friendships, hearing good preaching, and visiting our alma mater.  Our proposed WBF Constitution puts it this way:

The purpose of this Fellowship is to further the cause of world evangelism, through the networking and cooperation of autonomous Baptist churches, in planting indigenous Baptist churches across the United States and around the world.

This Fellowship is about aligning with God’s heart, by churches partnering together to do the will of God, and to finish the work of God.  That was what fueled the heart of Jesus.  That is what must fuel our hearts as well.

 

Jesus said: “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.”  When I get to the end of my life and ministry, I don’t want to join Frank Sinatra and sing, “I did it my way.”  I want to join Paul the Apostle in saying, “I have finished my course” (2 Timothy 4:7).  I want to be able to come to the end of my ministry say like Jesus did, “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do” (John 17:4).

I don’t know about you, but I want my heart to be aligned with God’s heart.  I want the World Baptist Fellowship to be aligned with God’s heart.  I want us to be fueled by a cross-cultural vision and a commitment to diverse partnerships.  I pray that God gives us a renewed passion for world missions, for church planting, for ethnic diversity, and for our churches to recommit to partnering together at a local, regional and national level.

Preacher, would you come and plead with God to realign your heart with His?  To make His will your will?  His passion your passion?  His perspective your perspective?  Are you willing to do that?

Would you ask God for a cross-cultural vision, burden and passion – even in your own community?  Would you commit to partnering with fellow servants of God, who, despite certain differences are committed to the same cause, the same message, the same truth, the same Lord?  Imagine what God could do through the World Baptist Fellowship in the coming year if we are aligned with the heart of God.

“My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.”  Can you say that as well?  Is it your passion?  Is it what fuels you and sustains you?  Brothers and sisters, let’s ask God to align our hearts tonight, and to light a fire that will burn within us until our final breath, until Jesus calls us home.

How Much Is Too Much?

Indigenous missions – the ultimate goal of the church-planting missionary.  Every missionary-in-training has learned to describe an indigenous church as self-governing, self-propagating, and self-supporting.  The question is not so much, “What is our goal?”  The question is, “How do we reach it?”  There are about as many answers to that question as there are missionaries.  In fact, how we answer that question will describe our philosophy of ministry.

If one of our primary goals is to establish a church that is self-supporting, how much resources should the foreign missionary provide?  There are missionaries who advocate no financial involvement whatsoever – the nationals should do it all.  The idea is that the nationals should learn to support the work and carry the full responsibility from the very beginning.  On the opposite end of the spectrum are missionaries who build an enormous enterprise of churches and/or national pastors, which relies almost exclusively on foreign funds (primarily from the United States).

Surely the answer lies, as in all areas of life and ministry, in a balance of both extremes.  Missionaries at times have misspent valuable years of ministry waiting for nationals to “learn” something they have been taught in principle (generosity, sacrifice, giving, faith), but have never seen or witnessed in their “pastor.”  At the same time, there have been large ministries that crumble when the foreign missionary and his funds are no longer present.

There are definitely no “pat answers” or rules that apply to every ministry, culture or circumstance regarding this issue.  So what do we do?  How should we approach our ministry?  When should we “pay the bill” and when should we abstain?  Here are some questions to consider as you seek to answer these questions in your ministry context:

  • What example am I setting to my church members (I Peter 5:3)?  King David sacrificed greatly and personally to build the Temple before asking the Israelites to take part and follow his example (I Chronicles 29:2-5).

  • What example am I setting to future national pastors?  The missionary is often the only example they have of personal sacrifice and commitment.

  • Does my involvement lead my church members to look to me or to God when they face a financial challenge (I Corinthians 2:3-5; II Corinthians 4:7)?

  • Am I just teaching about faith or am I demonstrating it (I Corinthians 11:1)?  Our greatest influence will be through what we model, not what we teach.

  • What would the long-term repercussions be if my financial support were no longer available?  The adjustment will always be difficult, but it should not cripple the work.

Only the LORD can help us answer these questions in our particular circumstance and ministry.  May He give each of His servants wisdom and discernment.  The indigenous work depends on it.

How have you faced these challenges?  What have you found to be a healthy balance?  Take a moment and share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Help! I Need A Furlough

There is no feeling like feeling helpless. You are in a situation that must change, but you are powerless to do anything about it. If the situation becomes prolonged, the feeling of helplessness can turn into stress, desperation, and even resentment. Something must be done.

Missionaries around the world have approached their time for furlough, after spending three or four years on their present term, but they cannot leave the field. Their families need furlough. Their emotional strength is draining. Their supporting churches need visiting, but there is no one to take the work while they are gone. The work is not ready to become indigenous. Some missionaries have left their work for a year, only to return to a work that has fallen apart. They must begin all over again. To avoid this, some missionaries have gone six or seven years (or more) without a furlough.  What can be done?  What are some options that missionaries can consider?

  • Turn the work over to a national pastor – This is what every missionary wants to do before he leaves for furlough, but this is often not possible, because there is no one qualified or reliable.

  • Turn the work over to a fellow missionary – This is a great option, but is only possible if there are other missionaries, and if they are available to leave their present work or carry the load of both works.

  • Request assistance from a retired pastor – We have seen this work in fields that are English-speaking. However, with a qualified translator on hand, perhaps it could be an option in other countries as well.

  • Arrange monthly visits from another missionary or national pastor – If the work is far enough along that a lay leader can conduct Bible studies or even preach, this can be a workable alternative. The church can carry on temporarily and still receive spiritual guidance on a regular basis from a more mature and experienced pastor.

  • Take shorter terms and shorter furloughs – This is an option that has becoming more and more popular in recent years. For example, instead of four-year terms and one-year furloughs, some are taking two-year terms and four- to six-month furloughs. It has many advantages: the work is not left for such long time, the missionary family can see relatives on a more frequent basis, furloughs are not so draining on the family, and other missionaries can commit to helping for a shorter time.

There are no “pat answers” or perfect ways to take a furlough. Every term is different; every mission field is different. However, if one can plan ahead, there are often more options than one realizes. But that is key: plan ahead.

There are no convenient times to take a furlough. There will always be things to be done. There will often be a price that is paid in the work. However, we must remember that it is the Lord’s work and He will care for His people – even in our absence. We must be diligent in preparing ahead for when furlough time comes, then trust the work to His care. Whatever your situation, the Lord will work it out in His time.

What furlough options have you found to be helpful? Share them in the comments below.

Defeating Discouragement As A Missionary

Weeks have passed. Sometimes months. It seems like an eternity since you’ve seen someone saved in your ministry. You’ve been faithful to preach, teach, hold activities and witness. Yet “nothing” is happening.

Then the questions come: What am I doing wrong? Why isn’t anyone responding? What am I going to report to my supporters? Will anyone drop us? Why am I not having the same results as that other missionary? The questions can be haunting.

John Maxwell, respectfully called the Leader’s Leader, writes that discouragement comes when we:

  • Feel that opportunity for success is gone

  • Become selfish

  • Are not immediately successful in our attempts to do something

  • Lack purpose and a plan

(The Winning Attitude, 1993)

No matter what may be the source of your discouragement, the effects are the same. You feel powerless and lack motivation. These are the times when our beliefs are put to the test. These are the times when we must insist on acting as we should and thinking as we should. These are the times when we must be driven by our faith that God only blesses obedience and is always in control. When you are plagued by discouragement:

  1. Stay active – Standing still only postpones victory and makes us vulnerable. The rewards only come “if we faint not” (Galatians 6:9).

  2. Guard your thoughts – Don’t let yourself think things that are clearly unbiblical (Philippians 4:8). Submit “every thought” to Christ’s approval (II Corinthians 10:5). This is where the battle is won or lost.

  3. Don’t compare – If you are tempted to compare, or fear others comparing you, remember that God says that those who do so “are not wise” (II Corinthians 10:12).

  4. Keep learning – Don’t get stuck in a rut and cling to failing ideas. Learn from others. Find positive examples to model. “Prove [examine] all things; hold fast that which is good” (I Thessalonians 5:21).

What have you found that has been helpful in defeating discouragement? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Three Growing Trends In World Missions

It is fascinating to observe the changes that are occurring in world missions, both in the United States and around the world. The ever-changing realities of the world we are seeking to reach with the Gospel are forcing pastors and churches to have to re-think their strategies to accomplish our God-given mission. As fundamental Baptists, our core principles remain the same when it comes to world missions: indigenous church planting. Our objective within the United States, and as we send missionaries internationally, is to plant churches that are self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating (reproducing).

The challenge is: How do we do it effectively? The models and systems that proven successful in times past are not necessarily as effective today. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I am intrigued to see a few growing trends in world missions, even among independent Baptists. I share these, not as an endorsement, but to challenge our thinking as pastors, missionaries, and missions-minded believers. Here are three growing trends I am seeing:

Church-based ministry training

I believe that there will always be a place for traditional academic institutions to provide quality education, both in ministry and in other vocational fields. However, the biblical reality is that the primary responsibility of equipping the saints to do the work of the ministry falls upon the local church (Ephesians 4). Those of us in the pastorate have a responsibility, especially toward those who feel called to ministry, to equip them doctrinally and ministerially, to provide both education and experience. That is why we are seeing more and more church planters and foreign missionaries who are being trained “in house” through local-church Bible institutes and structured internship programs. The challenge of this approach may include a lack of an accredited, academic degree when seeking a religious visa by a foreign government. The benefits include far less time and resources spent in getting missionaries and church planters to their place of service, and more effective hands-on church experience.

Smaller, specialized sending agencies

I believe that there is still tremendous benefit for churches to work together in supporting mission agencies that reflect our values and priorities, that interview and vet potential candidates regarding their beliefs and principles, and that defend the authority of local churches. However, in recent years there has been an unmistakable trend in smaller agencies being formed to reach a targeted need. Some of these sending agencies focus on a particular people group or region of the world. Others focus on a particular strategy in world missions. These sending agencies seem to be very small and streamlined, often led by a pastor or small group of individuals, and do not seek to exclude larger mission agencies. The challenge is that these agencies (and their leaders) are not always known and trusted on a broader scale, therefore the endorsement of the church planter carries less weight than a larger, more recognized agency. The benefits are that they do not require much financial overhead or operating costs, and they can focus their attention and resources more effectively.

Emphasis on trade skills

In the United States we call it “bi-vocational” church planting. In foreign missions it is referred to as “tent-making” missions. Those who are called to preach the Gospel and plant churches in a particular area are seeing the benefits of having certified training in specific trades and practical skills. Some have formal training in education, business or engineering, while others have certifications in construction, graphic design, or technology. On the home front, it allows church planters to support themselves financially, while building relationships and credibility within the community they are seeking to reach. On a global setting, it opens doors for missionaries to get into particular fields on non-religious visas, or to powerfully serve some of the serious social and cultural needs of a people group whom they are called to reach. The challenge is that the implementation of these skill sets can end up consuming valuable time that cannot be given toward structured evangelism and discipleship efforts. The benefits (ironically) are that they can create greater opportunities for evangelism and discipleship, and can create access where traditional religious training cannot.

Whether we like these trends or not, they are clearly taking place. I see them through the many missionaries and church planters that contact me for support. I see them through the testimonies of pastors and missionaries who are thinking “out of the box” and making some great strides in world missions. Our objective must be clear and unchanging: planting indigenous churches. Our methods, models, and strategies, however, require wisdom, constant evaluation, and direction from the Lord. What trends are you seeing in world missions?