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Mission Pastor/Director as Bridge Builder to Church Leadership

Everyone remembers precisely what they were doing and where they were on September 11, 2001. I was getting ready for a mission trip. I was flying out September 12, to South Sudan to spend three weeks at an indigenous pastoral training school. Missions pastor was one of the hats I wore at the medium sized church where I was employed. I was at a breakfast meeting at IHOP with one of my fellow associate pastors delegating three weeks worth of my other pastoral duties.

International missions was only a piece of my total job description, but serving missionaries was all I wanted to do 100% of the time. And being out on the mission field serving is where I wanted to be. There’s no doubt in my mind it’s where God created me to be.

The days following the 9/11 attacks, things got crazy in our country. Understandably so, but there were numerous knee-jerk decisions made all over the world in every sector. On a macro level, there were long lines in airports worldwide, stadium events were cancelled, financial markets were in turmoil, and nations had to decide over night if they were with us or against us. On a micro level, businesses, institutions and non-profits had to rethink travel policy and employee security. For several days after the attacks, flights were canceled.

Nothing cancels missions. World events do not negate the Great Commission Jesus gave His disciples. For my wife and I, this was a given; a non-negotiable.

Our church leadership and local congregation had a different point of view. While the lead pastor at the local church where I served told me he would never prevent me from doing something I thought God was calling me to do, he made it very clear that he didn’t want me to go to South Sudan. The conversation went something like this:

Lead pastor: “We just saw 3,000 people die on national television!”

Me: “More people than that die every single day in conflicts around the world in countries where the name of Jesus is not known like it is here. Just because it happened on cable TV doesn’t mean missions should stop.”

Lead pastor: “The church can’t afford to pay your salary to your wife if you die on the way to Sudan.”

Me: “If God plans on me dying in South Sudan, He can get me there in the belly of a fish. Missions doesn’t stop.”

It’s not my intention these seventeen years later to be irreverent, insensitive, or disrespectful, to those who gave their lives that tragic day. I don’t want to downplay the courage of first responders nor the hardship families have experienced. In fact, the crassness communicated by me to my pastor is what I want to focus on in the rest of this piece.

Those of us called to serve in International Missions are a statistical anomaly. That’s a fact. We, in missions accept this with extreme difficulty. The call to missions you have on your life feels natural. The trouble is with everyone else. From your point of view, it seems unnatural that people don’t have the same urgency you do to reach the nations with the gospel.

It’s your job to learn how to teach and influence leaders about this in a respectful, tactful, and mature way. The job that needs to get done will get done more effectively if those who are called to missions, especially at the church staff level, are mature in their communication. Humble communication with your leaders – especially when you’re right – goes much further than a harsh conversation fueled by self-righteousness.

I called the former associate from the IHOP breakfast meeting referenced above. He’s a lead pastor at a large church now. His church is a good example of balance between local outreach and international missions. My phone call to him was a fishing expedition. I hoped he would tell me that his church’s intentionality about missions outreach was due in part to that breakfast meeting seventeen years ago. No such luck.

What my friend told me, however, was he remembered that I was adamant about leaving on the first flight out. “I remember the calling on your life and how I thought you had Hebrews 11 faith.” I was very blessed by his comments. He knows me well and he’s much too tactful to say, “…but you were an arrogant jerk about it…”

If you’re called to missions you’re a specialist in a field people have very little knowledge or education about. Communication about what we love needs to be seasoned with humility, tact, and wisdom. When it is, you’ll see your leaders much more willing to work with you to make the name of Jesus famous among the nations.

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