8 Ways To Encourage Your Missionaries

23 05 2017

encouragement2

The problems and struggles that missionaries and church planters face are always amplified on the field. It is just plain difficult to live and minister in a different culture and language. Add to that cooking from scratch, dealing with outages of electricity and water, homeschooling, and no Peter Pan extra crunchy peanut butter, and you have a recipe for disaster just waiting to happen. Unfortunately that is not all, though. We have to understand that pioneer missionaries are the troops on the front lines. They are advancing into enemy territory, and our enemy is not just going to hand it over to them. He plays dirty and will do anything to thwart the expansion of the Kingdom of God. With this in mind, our home bases need to do a better job of supporting those that have given up so much to reach the unreached.

I have a saying that I use all of the time at our church: “If we can increase the longevity of our missionaries on the field, we can increase the work.” There is only so much a short-term team can do. It is essential that we have cross-cultural, long-term missionaries on the field. The longer they stay, the more effective they are. Our enemy knows this, so he does everything he can do to get our missionaries off the field. There are a number of things that our churches can do to help prevent this. The most important is prayer, but the second is very important as well. We must be an encouragement to our missionaries. Typically, we forget to do both. Someone moves out of the home base, and it is so easy to forget. Here are some things that you can do to be an encouragement to your missionaries…

  1. Read and respond to their updates – If you don’t get updates, get signed up today. Find an email address and send them a note that you want to be added to their update list. Once you receive their update, actually open it up and “prayer read” it (kind of like prayer walking). But don’t stop there. Respond back to it, so they know you read it. Most every missionary works extremely hard to put together their update, and many of them use some kind of email service that gives them the stats. It is always very discouraging to look at the stats and see that only 40% of your emails were even opened. It only takes a few minutes to read them. Find a praise report or a prayer request and write the missionary back about that specific thing so they know you read it.
  2. Video chat – Make an appointment with your missionary to video chat with them. Most missionaries have the capabilities to do this through Skype, Facebook, or FaceTime. Just ask them questions and talk. Ask about their work. Ask them how the family is doing. Ask if they have any prayer requests. Just before getting off the video chat with them, pray for them right there. This is a great way to involve your whole family as well. Involve your children in the video chat. You might even prepare with your children some questions that they could ask beforehand.
  3. Send real mail or, even better, a package – Find out your missionary’s physical address and send them some real mail. You might even have your small group all write notes of encouragement and send it to them. Another thing you can do is send a small package, like a small padded envelope. It is not very expensive to send these, and they usually don’t have to go through customs to get these. You could send a DVD of a new movie, some packets of seasoning like chili, tacos, or ranch dressing, or even the small Velvetta packages will fit! If you send anything bigger than this, be sure and ask the missionary first. I served in a place where it just wasn’t worth it to receive a bigger box.
  4. Send them updates about you – Email them about how you are doing personally and how your church is doing. Missionaries deal with loneliness, and they get out of touch very quickly. You need to be careful about forwarding them church newsletters if they work in a secure location, but a simple, personal email will work wonders. Let them know about new music that is personally ministering to you and purchase them an iTunes credit so they can get it, too. Let them know how you are praying for them and how God is speaking to you in general.
  5. Send them a financial gift – You might be supporting them financially as a church planter or missionary, which is a HUGE blessing, but don’t forget smaller, extra gifts throughout the year. When we served overseas, we wanted to get our kids gifts for Christmas just like everyone else, but the toys overseas are triple the price or more than in the United States. Send your missionaries a “Christmas Bonus.” You might send them a little extra for an anniversary or birthday or just for fun as a blessing. iTunes gift cards or credits are always appreciated.
  6. Ask them how you can pray for them personally – Many people want to hear how they can pray for a missionary’s work but neglect the missionary themselves. Periodically email your missionary and ask how you can personally pray for them. Missionaries are not immune to periods of spiritual struggle and doubt. When they send you a personal prayer request, obviously, pray, but also write them back a prayer. This helps them to know that you really are praying for them, and it might just be the thing they needed to hear to get them through the spiritual struggle.
  7. Remember their birthdays – Don’t forget birthdays! Facebook is great for this. Write something personal on their Facebook wall or, better yet, mail them a card to get in time for their birthday. This is especially important for the missionary children. Children here in the United States can have a party with all their friends at the swimming pool, the trampoline park, the arcade, the theme park, etc. This is not always the case for children living overseas where their friends live far away. Just like we try to make our kid’s birthdays special, we could be a huge encouragement by helping our missionaries make their children’s birthdays special. Ask if you can send them anything or how you can help.
  8. Go visit them – So many times we only think of mission trips in terms of what kind of ministry we are going to perform, but have you ever thought of just going to love on your missionaries? We do this at our church all the time. It took our congregation time to understand the importance and value of this, but it has become a huge blessing to our church to be able to send a team with the only purpose of being an encouragement to our missionaries. You have to be able to understand that your short-term trip might have little impact with regards to reaching an unreached people group, but going to boost your missionaries’ spirits might be just the ticket to keep them on the field longer and see exponential fruit. I have another saying at our church for our mission teams going out: “Our first priority is to come under the strategy of the church planter or missionary. Our second, and very close to the first, priority is to encourage our missionaries.”

We need to start defining our success for our mission ministry and trips differently than just “souls won.” I have heard of many short-term mission trips that reported they saw hundreds saved, but they left with no long-term strategy to continue the work. Our mandate is not to save souls, but to make disciples. Disciple-making happens within long-term relationships, which on the field might be only provided by the cross-cultural missionary throughout the first or second generation of believers. This is why it is imperative to keep our missionaries on the field! We, personally and corporately as a church, can help keep missionaries on the field by the simple act of encouragement.





The Race – Part 2

17 05 2017

therace02Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrew 12:1-2

Last fall I was able to take a shot at the Spartan Beast. This is a 13-mile obstacle course. Every obstacle is difficult, and if you fail an obstacle after one try, you earn 30 burpees. Running 13 miles on level pavement is difficult enough, but this was running up and down hills and cliffs on dirt single tracks. It was definitely the hardest event that I have competed in to date. There was one obstacle that was the hardest for me and many others. We ran around a bend in the trail and were confronted by a volunteer who gave us a 5-gallon bucket. We had to take that bucket to a pile of pea gravel and fill it to the top. We then proceeded to carry that bucket straight up a steep hill for half a mile and straight down the back half. Most, me included, could only carry the bucket 10 steps or so before we had to lower it down to catch our breath and shake our hands out. I even saw a couple of people break down crying. My wife always reminds me at this point in the story that I chose to do this and even paid money to carry that bucket.

That bucket always reminds me of the hindrances and sin mentioned in Hebrews 12:1. It seems ridiculous to run with a 5-gallon bucket filled with pea gravel, but that is how many Christians try to run. We might even have Jesus in our sights, but we are struggling every step carrying all that weight that so easily ensnares us. Some believers knowingly choose to carry a full bucket of sin and hindrances, but for most it is a small accumulation over the years that results in a wearing down. We may not even notice until one day we come to a stop completely burned out surprised at the load in our arms and our ineffectiveness in producing fruit. This is a great reason why every believer needs to surround themselves with a community of friends that are willing to point out those unnecessary loads.

It is important to note that the author of Hebrews talks about two distinct things that can ensnare us: hindrances and sin. Sin is something we understand. We know that it starts small and progresses over time accumulating a weight that keeps us from running. The way to cast off that sin is to embrace the forgiveness that is available to you through Jesus and repent of those sins. Although sin is incredibly destructive, it is something that is easily recognized, if not by ourselves then others and especially through the conviction of the Holy Spirit.

This word “hindrance” is usually something that is not talked about and fully understood. In the world in which this was written, this word would have been used for any restrictive clothing that caused athletes not to do their best. As a longtime runner, I understand the need for proper clothing and equipment. It’s one thing to throw any old shorts on and run a few miles, but those same shorts might rub you raw at 20 miles. As we will see, we are running an endurance race, and we must evaluate everything in our lives. It is important to note that these hindrances are not necessarily sin. Running a marathon in high heels is not the best thing to do, but it is not wrong.

If our race is to complete the Great Commission as Jesus has commanded, then we must evaluate our lives to see if there are any hindrances that might keep us from finishing that task. I don’t think that debt is an outright sin in all cases (it certainly can be in some), but debt could easily hinder you from running the race. What if you were led by the Holy Spirit to be a pioneer missionary among an unreached people group, but you were up to your ears in debt and could not go because of that? Do you spend so much time on your hobbies that you forget the lostness of your neighbors? Hobbies are not sin and could be used for the glory of God, but they can also be a hindrance.

Every year we push our church members to take a class called Perspectives. One of my favorite speakers each year is Todd Ahrend. Todd talks about how God has blessed us so that we can be a blessing to others, but he says that, instead of being a channel of God’s blessing, too many are consumed with managing their own blessings first. Having a boat is not a sin, but once you purchase a boat you must take care of it, spend money on it, store it, use it, etc. It can become a hindrance to running the race God has laid out for us.

Each person must pray and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to them those things that are hindrances and sin so that they can be freed up to run the endurance race marked out for us.





Multiplication

16 05 2017

multiplication

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to go to Exponential Conference as a guest of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. This was an outstanding conference that focused on teaching how to plant a Level 5 church or move your church into a Level 5 church. Let me explain…

Most of you know that the majority of churches in the US are either plateaued or declining. Level 1 represents a church that is declining, and Level 2 a plateaued church. Level 3 is a church that is adding members. Most churches are trying to go from a Level 1 to a Level 3. One problem with this is that declining churches tend to continue to decline. Another problem is that the rate at which Level 3 churches add members is too slow to keep up with the population growth rate.

The techniques used by a Level 3 church are widely known, but are only actually successful in a small percentage of churches. Most Addition Churches have a dynamic preacher and an excellent Sunday worship experience, and its members are constantly encouraged to invite their friends, family, and co-workers to the service. The reason this only works in a small proportion of churches is because most churches cannot pull off the best worship service in town and they don’t have the best preacher. The other common addition techniques used are big programs, productions, or events. These are shown to have minimal to no results, and they are contingent upon a big budget if done correctly. If you find yourself in a Level 1-3 Church, you will find yourself spending the vast majority of your time talking about Sunday mornings and the next big events.

A Level 4 Church is a Reproducing Church. Once a church beats the odds and becomes an Addition Church, they begin to talk about multiple services, or they begin to talk about multiple campuses, which is a common trend right now. They, also, might talk about church planting. These are all positive things as multiple venues, new campuses, and new churches all reach new people. The problem is still the same, though. We are using addition, instead of multiplication, and addition will never be enough to complete the Great Commission.

The mistake that is made is in thinking that we are to build the church, but that is not the case! Author, Neil Cole, said that we are called to make disciples; it’s Jesus’ job to build His church. This is a complete paradigm shift from what is taught and modeled. Author, Alan Hirsch, explains that what gets you to a Level 3 church will never get you to a Level 5 church. A Level 5 church is a Multiplying Church. It is more of a movement of churches. As a matter of fact, missionaries around the world in places like East Asia and South Asia describe a “church planting movement” that looks nothing like our typical churches in the West but which are exploding faster than anyone can keep up (see Garrison, Church Planting Movements). A Multiplying Church is described as a movement that has third or fourth generation churches that know nothing of the parent church.

In order for us to complete the Great Commission as commanded by Jesus, we have to start thinking multiplication and trusting that making disciples is the strategy.





The Race – Part 1

10 05 2017

therace01Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrew 12:1-2

 The very first word of this scripture, therefore, is hugely important. It means that in light of the previous passage and because of the previous passage, now do this. So whenever we see this word, it should sound an alarm for us to look at what was written before, so that what we are about to read is understood in the proper context. In regards to this particular therefore, it refers back to Hebrews 11. This is a chapter that many people have nicknamed the “Hall of Fame of Faith.” Beginning with Abel, it lists many individuals and included the multitude of unnamed people who kept their faith even through the worst hardships, torture, and persecution.

Our passage of scripture in Hebrews 12:1, referring back to all those listed in Hebrews 11, says that all of the faithful make up a large cloud of witnesses that surround us.

Not too long ago, I watched a documentary on Netflix called “Fittest On Earth.” This documentary followed some of the greatest athletes as they competed in the 2015 International CrossFit Games. On the second day of the games, they competed in a workout called “Murph.” This starts with a 1-mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats, and then ends with another 1-mile run all of this done with a weighted vest on. It happened to be very hot that morning of the competition, and most of the athletes were really struggling to even finish. They showed these competitors exhausted, taking ice baths, and some were even passed out. Although this was an extremely difficult workout, the day was just beginning! Following this workout, they were to do another very difficult workout called a “Snatch Speed Ladder.” This is basically throwing a bunch of progressively heavy barbells over your head in a controlled fashion. As the athletes waited to enter the field, you could see the trepidation on their faces, but something changed as they entered the playing field. The stands surrounding the field were completely packed with crazy, cheering fans! Of course the athletes were still tired, but the encouragement from the stands allowed them to pull from some deep reserves to do some incredibly difficult lifts.

This is what the author of Hebrews is talking about. Those faithful that went before us are sitting in the stands cheering us on to do incredibly difficult or even impossible things for God. Now, I am not sure if this means that those people are with us in spirit or if they can physically see us. On my good days I like to think that they can gaze from where they are and see us, but I have bad days, too, where I would just rather nobody sees.

The point, though, is we should be encouraged knowing that when we remain faithful we are just the latest of generations of faithful that have gone before us. In Hannah Hurnard’s famous allegorical book, “Hind’s Feet On High Places,” the main character named Much Afraid is led down into a desert of suffering. In the midst of that suffering she is encouraged when she sees a long line of people as far as the eye could see beginning with Abraham, and she is invited to join hands with the last in line making her a part of the faithful sufferers.

Because of knowing the fact that others have successfully gone before us and they now surround us with their encouragement, throw off every hindrance and sin, and run!





Business For Missions

9 05 2017

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Here’s how it works… We are told that we ought to give 10% of our income to the church. That fraction of our income goes towards many things to make sure the church is operating, mostly towards ministries directed to the spiritual growth of its members. Depending on the church, a small percentage of that pot of money goes towards missions in some form or fashion. Usually about once or twice per year, the church takes up a one-time offering that goes towards missions preceded by tear-jerking videos to get us to give more. This is how the church in general has operated for quite some time. I just do not find this model of church the most God-glorifying or the most Biblical or adequate to complete the Great Commission.

Our tithe (10%) to the church is based upon an Old Testament principle. There is certainly nothing wrong with giving away a portion of your income, and an argument can be made that this is a Biblical principle. However, Jesus never commanded the tithe. Jesus always asked for more, specifically everything. He asks us to give our whole lives for the mission, not a token amount. In talking about money, the least that Jesus ever seemed to be satisfied with was when Zacchaeus said he would give half of his money to the poor and pay back anyone he cheated four times over (Luke 19:1-10). Most of the time, Jesus asked for everything when someone wanted to follow Him.

All across the world our churches are full of Godly people that are wise business people, savvy investors, and risk-taking entrepreneurs. What we teach and ask of these people is to simply give 10% of their income to the church. The rest of the money that they earn is theirs to spend as they please. Understand that I am not suggesting that God is calling all of these people to give every last penny to the church. What I am suggesting is that God is calling them to leverage their lives, gifts, and talents to be the most effective for completing the Great Commission. If that means they give all of their money away, then so be it. But what if, however, they are given the opportunity within the church to use their talents and gifts to make money for the mission of the church. Instead of a one-time gift of all their finances, they create significant income streams for the express purpose of financing the work of missions now and into the future. We allow this for all sorts of people in our churches. If you have the gift of teaching, you are signed up to teach! If you are gifted with children, we have a spot for you! Why not tent-makers (entrepreneurs)?

This idea of churches creating income streams to support missions is not without precedent. There is a church nearby who started a popular coffee shop in order to fund their orphanage in another country. There is a church who started a thrift store to supplement their mission budget. There is a church that started a bakery to provide local jobs to former prostitutes and exotic dancers and provide funds for their mission endeavors. The examples go on and on, but these examples are generally what we see: small-scale businesses making a small impact. I am not saying that these smaller impacts are not significant. I am suggesting, though, that we use these as catalysts to think and dream bigger. What is keeping a church from bringing those gifted in business together to start a large, multi-million dollar company to support missions? The difference between the two is not that one is Biblical and the other not. It is simply a matter of scale.

A former leader of our denomination said correctly that for whatever reason God has tied finishing the Great Commission with finances. There is still a great need for cross-cultural missionaries, Bible translations, discipleship material, etc. All of these things cost money. The solution that is always presented to our churches is that we need to give more donations. This will just not provide the amounts that we need to finish the Great Commission at the rate at which we are going. We must dare to dream bigger!





Go, Unless It’s Dangerous

8 05 2017

dangerous

In Revelation 22:18, we are warned not to add anything to the scriptures, but many Christians, by their actions, have added a parenthetical statement to the Great Commission. We will go and make disciples of all nations, if it is not dangerous.

Every year our church sends 300+ people on mission trips all over the world. One of our longest-running partnerships is with a fantastic orphanage in Honduras, and the perception of this particular trip is that it is perfectly safe. We also send people to countries in Central and South Asia where persecution of believers is happening, and these countries always strike more fear with our people. The funny thing is that out of all the countries we go to, Honduras is only one of two countries that have a specific State Department warning against traveling there. The reason Honduras is perceived as safe is because it does not make the nightly news. The truth is that Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world, and kidnapping of Westerners increases every year. Crime like this does not make the headlines. Terrorism is the popular news item of the day, and by its nature terrorism affects a very small amount of people in order to scare the masses. For many Christians, the terrorists have won. Before we took our very first trip to a country in Central Asia, Osama Bin Ladin was killed. Many people called the church telling us that we should cancel the trip. The country we were going to was not even near where this occurred. For many Christians, terrorists and fear are the determining factors on whether or not to follow the commands of Jesus.

It always surprises me that parents will worry to death about sending their students on an international trip to a very safe location, but they will not hesitate to go on a family vacation to a large city in the US. Some of the most dangerous cities in the world are found within our borders and are major tourist destinations. As a matter of fact, some of the international places we go to have lower rates of crime in the entire country than some individual cities in the US.

The point is that there is inherent risk in traveling anywhere. Going and making disciples of all people groups is inherently risky and could be dangerous. This, however, does not negate the command of Jesus. In the very same breath (one verse later in Matthew 28:20) Jesus gave us the promise of His presence. In the comfort of that Presence, there is no space for fear! Knowing that Jesus was with them, even through the most dangerous circumstances, the disciples and millions of known and unknown followers of Jesus after them charged the front lines without regard for their own safety so that the vast numbers of lost might hear of the grace of Jesus Christ. The question is simply, will we fearfully stay in disobedience or courageously go as light piercing the dark?





Persecution in America

6 10 2015

persecutionMy eager expectation and hope is that I will not be ashamed about anything, but that now as always, with all boldness, Christ will be highly honored in my body, whether by life or by death.
Philippians 1:20

In this passage of scripture, Paul is writing from prison. He has been imprisoned because of his faith in Christ. His prayer is simply that no matter what happens, Christ would be glorified, whether he lives through this persecution or he is killed. Death is a reality that he is facing as he writes this letter.

In recent years, there have been numerous Christians talking and writing about increased persecution of Christians in America. Certainly there have been instances where Christian people or businesses have been targeted expressly because they hold a Biblical worldview, but the vast majority of these do not end up in prison or dead. We have all been following the news about the mass shooting that happened in a small college in Oregon. It has been reported that the gunman was targeting Christians. There have been in the recent past other such shootings with similar stories of Christians being targeted and killed, but, not to minimize these tragedies, these events are not the norm and are usually carried out by mentally unstable people. In America today there is no widespread, systematic persecution of Christians going on where the end result is imprisonment, death, or banishment.

To say that we, as American believers, are persecuted is an insult to the many Christians that face hatred, discrimination, death, torture and imprisonment in other parts of the world simply because they have chosen to follow Jesus. Instead of crying foul at the media, sharing alarmist articles on social media, and wishing for the good ole’ days, we should be taking advantage of the unprecedented freedom that we have to share the gospel not just in our country, but in most places on the planet. The fact of the matter is that I could go out on our streets right now, share the gospel with someone, and see them become a Jesus-follower, and neither of us is going to face prison, torture, or death. If it ever comes to that, then we can start calling it persecution.

In the end, though, persecution does not matter, because all that matters is that God receives the glory. If I live in a country where persecution is the norm, then by my imprisonment, torture, and death I should see that God is glorified. If I live in America where I can share openly and freely, then by my life I should see that God is glorified.

May Paul’s prayer be our prayer! We need to quit worrying about this fallen world. God will take care of that. It should be no surprise that this country is going the direction it is going, yet we act shocked when a sinful people actually sin. We have been called to see that God receives all glory, and by His plan we are to do that by making disciples of all people groups. Paul could have easily languished in prison feeling sorry for himself. Instead he boldly witnessed so much that it could be said that the entire Imperial Roman Guard knew that he was imprisoned because of his faith in Christ. God, please, give us that same expectation and hope!








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