One of the many reasons I love Spurgeon…

“Once more, he who really has this high estimate of Jesus will think much of him, and as the thoughts are sure to run over at the mouth, he will talk much of him. Do we so? If Jesus is precious to you, you will not be able to keep your good news to yourself; you will be whispering it into your child’s ear; you will be telling it to your husband; you will be earnestly imparting it to your friend; without the charms of eloquence you will be more than eloquent; your heart will speak, and your eyes will flash as you talk of his sweet love. Every Christian here is either a missionary or an impostor. Recollect that. You either try to spread abroad the kingdom of Christ, or else you do not love him at all. It cannot be that there is a high appreciation of Jesus and a totally silent tongue about him. Of course I do not mean by that, that those who use the pen are silent: they are not. And those who help others to use the tongue, or spread that which others have written, are doing their part well: but that man who says, “I believe in Jesus,” but does not think enough of Jesus ever to tell another about him, by mouth, or pen, or tract, is an impostor. You are either doing good, or you are not good yourself. If thou knowest Christ, thou art as one that has found honey; thou wilt call others to taste of it; thou art like the lepers who found the food which the Syrians had cast away: thou wilt go to Samaria and tell the hungry crowd that thou hast found Jesus, and art anxious that they should find him too. Be wise in your generation, and speak of him in fitting ways and at fitting times, and so in every place proclaim the fact that Jesus is most precious to your soul.”

-C.H. Spurgeon

Ministry is a Life Lived Together, Not “Your Husband’s Job”

Warning..I’m going to call out the women in this one. Which I can. Because I am one. And I’m 50 too. Which means I have been a woman for a long, long time, so I know some stuff. And I’ve been a mother for 22 years and a wife for almost 28, so I know some stuff about that too.

Recently Curt and I spoke on a panel about living overseas. Our audience was prospective international church planters. When I learned about a very serious issue facing the global organization we worked for when we served in Southeast Asia, I jumped at the chance to address it. The problem? The prevalence of families serving overseas who (in the organization’s words) “want to recreate a middle class American family existence overseas where the wife stays home and the husband does the ministry.” In short, they are finding that wives do not want to be held to the same expectations as their husband when it comes to learning language and sharing the Gospel. They want to have the freedom to stay at home to raise their children, be a housewife, and leave the “work” to their husbands.

WHAT?!

Since you can always count on me to have a strong opinion (I wasn’t born and raised in NYC for nothing), let me preface this the way I did that night to the people in attendance: In the 22 years that I have been a mother, I have been both a working mom and a stay at home mom. And yes, I believe that being a stay at home mom was the far more rewarding role and the one that absolutely was best for my family. So this is not a stay_at_home_Mom_hater post. Read on.

When you become a follower of Jesus, your life is no longer your own.

” Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24 ESV).

In addition, all of Jesus’ followers are called to make disciples.

 “And Jesus came and said to them, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV).

Although disciple-making is something every Christian husband and wife is called to do, when you are called into full time ministry, and become “professional Christians,” 😉 you don’t take on a new job, you begin a new life. If you then compare your husband’s work  hours with someone who has a 9-5 corporate job, it won’t be long before the “overworked and definitely underpaid” aspect will get to you. Don’t ever look at it as a job. Remember, its a life, and one that is being well spent!

But that applies no matter what side of the world we find ourselves on. So specific to those serving overseas, I broke my response down into 5 of the roles that I now play..

GIVER

My family and I financially give as generously as we possibly can to the organization that sent us overseas for one reason.. so that unreached, unengaged people groups can hear the Gospel. Remember that. Your salary and benefits are a result of people giving “sacrificially.” (I’m not such a fan of the whole ‘sacrificial giving’ description..Jesus is the only one in every equation who made a ‘sacrifice’) As international church planters, you made a committment to devote your lives to seeing the Gospel transform entire people groups. In the case of our sending organization, both the husband and the wife sign the contract. No one financially gives so you can transplant your American life overseas, brag about being “bilingual” to your friends back home, and post exotic photos on your blog.

SENDER

In Curt’s role at the Summit Church of training and leading international church planters, he will not send anyone who is not a well equipped disciple maker fully committed to the main thing, male or female. People who are not already actively engaging unreached people in their own culture won’t do it in a foreign one. We expect both husband and wife to be doing this, while they are still in America. There are only missionaries, not ‘missionary wives’ (which sounds like a bad reality show). If you aren’t both called, then you aren’t ready to go, because you don’t yet fully understand calling.

WIFE

As Curt’s wife of almost TWENTY EIGHT YEARS, I was designed by God to be a helper to him. That’s why I participate in helping him train and equip others to take the Gospel to places where Jesus is not yet known outside of America. Although I still have a child at home, who is homeschooled, I don’t use that as an excuse not to join my husband in the work God has called us to do. As my husband and spiritual leader, Curt is called to encourage me in my own giftings in our ministry. We are one another’s first partner in the Gospel.

MOTHER

None of us lead single focus lives. For example, I am a Christ follower, a wife, a mother, a homeschooler, an author, a pregnancy care center director, a volunteer, a friend, etc. I want to model for my children what I hope to see them do: make disciples. That is not “Dad’s job,” it’s who we are as a family. And before you say, “Oh Hilary, you don’t understand how HARD it is to learn language and do ministry when you have babies or little ones.” Yes I do. First of all, Jordan and Molly weren’t born awesome teenagers. They were babies too once. Secondly, I lived alongside wives and mothers who were actively engaged in what we were all there to do. Finally, don’t forget that during my term overseas, I transitioned a middle schooler and a high schooler who had lived their whole life in the States up until that point, and were having to be homeschooled for the first time in their lives while I did language and ministry. That was not easy or relaxing. When I was home with the kids in Southeast Asia,  I made my house helper my best language teacher by talking to her for extended periods of time every day. She was the first person I shared the Gospel with in SE Asia. In addition, Curt made sure I had time every week to get out of the house and be with friends that I was actively sharing the Gospel with. Your husband can and should do that too. And think about the great mothers who have gone before us all…Ann Judson, Elisabeth Elliot, Maria Taylor, Betty Stam, just to name a few..were they sitting at home while their husbands did the work? Definitely not.

 

TEAMMATE

I’m so thankful to have served on a highly successful and highly functioning team in SE Asia. Although we were (and still are) FAMILY, we were also employees of the same company. And as someone who has years and years of work experience in many different roles, one thing was the same no matter where I worked: employees don’t get to pick and choose what part of their job they will do. They call those people, “former employees.”  In our organization, during the first year we are paid to learn the language and culture so that we can share the Gospel in the local language and in culturally appropriate ways. If you make excuses about being too busy or tired with the kids to learn, then you are taking money for a job you were hired to do that you aren’t doing. Besides, in the part of the world where we lived, males and females were segregated for the most part. It wasn’t appropriate for Curt to share with a woman. So if wives don’t learn language and culture, how will the unreached, unenaged women hear? I wouldn’t want to be on a team with a woman who wasn’t actively engaged with the language, culture, and ministry.

In short it comes down to two questions..

Are you going overseas to facilitate a specific lifestyle? If so, do that on your own dime.

Or are you going overseas willing to do whatever God asks you to do so that unreached, unengaged people groups can hear the Gospel? Fifty percent of the unreached and unenaged won’t hear the Gospel if fifty percent of those sent to proclaim the Gospel are silent. So learn the language and culture and share the Gospel because ministry is not “your husband’s job.”

10 Essential Characteristics of an Effective International Church Planter: #1 Spiritual Vitality and Maturity

#1 Spiritual Vitality and Maturity

One of the responsibilities my husband Curt has, that he enjoys the most, is overseeing the training of prospective international church planters sent out by the Summit Church. He wants to make sure that every Summit member that goes to the nations is a well-discipled disciple maker. “That’s the local church’s responsibility,” he always says. 

A few years ago, Curt and his team, along with some of us who are mentors/coaches within the program, came up with a list of ten characteristics we believe to be essential to the success of an international church planter. We compiled these based on our collective field experiences and then had that list reviewed by multiple people who have spent their lives serving overseas. These characteristics are what our church teaches and disciples to within our training program. Typically, prospective planters will participate in this assessment and equipping program for 1-2 years before they either go on to additional training by their sending organization or directly to their overseas assignment.

photoThe first characteristic we focus on is spiritual vitality and maturity. That one may surprise you. Isn’t that stating the obvious? Wouldn’t someone need to be spiritually mature and vibrant before they were ready to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth? Exactly. So how do you know how you measure up? We ask these questions…

Do you give evidence of a Gospel-centered life?

Do you possess a passionate love for Jesus and a vibrant devotional life?

Do you exhibit Godly character?

Are you growing in your understanding of the Gospel and Christ-likeness?

A simple “yes, yes, yes, and yes” to these questions is not what we are looking for. Taking the Gospel to dark corners of the world where there is little to no Gospel witness is stepping into enemy territory with both feet and therefore not a great idea for those whose relationship with Christ is not yet mature.  If you go in your own strength, well, you will, fail. Having an already established mature walk with the Lord, as evidenced by the patterns that are already in place in your life through the spiritual disciplines that you have developed and display – before you leave – is what will help sustain you during the times of trial that will undoubtedly come.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
(John 15:4-5, ESV)

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,”
(Ephesians 6:10-18 ESV)

Cultivating and nurturing your mature walk with the Lord before you leave is critical. Don’t make the mistake of assuming it will come once you are in your area of service as if those patterns will be established just because you’re on the field, or just because you are a missionary. They need to be established before you go. They’re important now and will be that much more so once you are there.

Next Characteristic: Calling

How to Go

By Curt Alan, Pastor of Missions, The Summit Church, Raleigh-Durham, NC, and…Hilary’s husband 

There are a number of missions sending agencies that can facilitate the sending of missionaries to the nations. At the same time, our response to the great commission isn’t to be limited by missions sending agencies – a relatively modern invention. Frankly, as we examine the historical church, we have to acknowledge the role that merchants and businessmen and others had in bringing the gospel to the unreached from the very beginning.

In turn, we need to explore all avenues to send those obedient to the call to follow Christ to the ends of the earth – not only traditional missionaries but also kingdom-minded professionals willing to transfer to jobs in the 10/40 window, entrepreneurs willing to start businesses in closed contexts, and students willing to pursue graduate studies in places with little or no gospel witness.

For example, the successful corporate guy who, as a mature Christian, begins to believe that the call on his life to follow Jesus may be leading him to go to the nations shouldn’t simply be counseled to quit his job, relinquish the skills and experience he’s developed over many years, and go to seminary in preparation for a life as a career missionary.

While that may ultimately be exactly what the Lord is leading him to do, prayer and godly counsel may reveal another path to the nations.

Perhaps this businessman works for a large multi-national company that has offices around the world. He may well be able to apply within his company for a transfer to a similar job in an overseas context – affording him self-sustaining access to a culture (and to a strata of culture) that is completely unreached and unengaged. In that instance, with guidance, training, and assistance, he could be connected to full-time apostolic resources – full-time missionaries and church planters – that might be working in that context as they extend the reach of the Gospel witness and strategic efforts in that place.

One of the things we consistently tell people in our church is to do what you’ve been gifted and trained to do to the very best of your ability to the glory of God; but do it somewhere strategic for the mission of God.

All decisions to go should be prayerfully nurtured and assessed every step of the way.

No matter the avenue, the local church has a huge responsibility to assess, equip, and support those that are sent out. We must do all we can to not only counsel the means by which followers of Christ go overseas but to prepare them well and hold them accountable to their stewardship of call to go.

Often, I’ll talk with people who can carefully recount the burden that the Lord has put on their heart for a specific people group or nation. They can detail how the Lord has clearly spoken to them and called them to take the gospel to these nations.

In situations like this, I always ask a series of simple questions intended to assess the nature of this call on their lives and their readiness to go.

Can you name the last 3 people you shared the gospel with?”

Who have you been discipling in the last year?”

Have you ever been consistently discipled?”

If these questions are met with blank stares or responses like “my schedule just doesn’t allow me time for that,” or “it is very hard/awkward/or prohibited to have spiritual conversations where I work/study/hang out” I know we have a problem.

So, you’re telling me that you want to move to a context and culture that you haven’t lived in before nor completely understand, where it may be illegal to share the gospel, and learn a language that you may not know yet and do something that you can’t be bothered to do in the culture in which you’re most comfortable, in a language you’ve known since you were a child, and where no laws prevent you from sharing?

Really?

Without a doubt, Christ can do anything – all power and authority have been given to him and we can do all things through him. However, where is the acknowledgement of who Christ is in the disciple that wants to respond to go to the nations but has never gone to his neighbor, his co-worker, or his roommate?

The Great Commission was given to all disciples – no matter the zip code or time zone.

Some reports indicate that there are nearly 7,000 unreached people groups around the world – with little to no access to the gospel. That’s nearly 3 billion people who have had no opportunity to even hear the name of Jesus.

If we believe scripture that clearly states that all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved, what is our answer to Paul’s questions?

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent?

Faced with this reality, trusting in the complete authority of the Lord, and confident in the promise of him who goes with us, what is our response?

 

Where are the rubies?

Recently, I came across an article entitled “9 Reasons to do the Journeyman Program.” For those unfamiliar with it, the Journeyman program is a fully subsidized program of the IMB (the world’s largest missions sending agency) – enabling recent college graduates to go to the mission field for two years.

The article, written by a former Journeyman and posted on another church’s missions web site, starts out well enough – “Our ultimate motivation to take the gospel to the nations is the glory of God.” However, the article deteriorates into an inventory of somewhat shallow and self-serving reasons including:

  • It connects you to an international network of young Christians excited about missions. Chances are you don’t know a ton of kids your age that are passionate about international missions. Through the Journeyman program you’ll meet hundreds. Also it’s nice to have couches to crash on when traveling the globe.
  • You’ll get to travel the world.  The world is a big place, but Jesus is Lord of all of it. Spending 2 years immersed in another culture will broaden your perspective and give you new insight into what the new creation will be like (Rev. 7:9).
  • It’s fully funded. Fund raising isn’t a lot of fun. Thanks to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Cooperative Program, Journeymen don’t have to raise their own support, but are salary field personel of the IMB with full benefits. No one becomes an international missionary for the money (salaries are modest), but it’s a blessing to not worry about where your next pay check is coming from.
  • It’s a good first job. Having 2 years of international experience looks great on a resume, and even more so, sharing the gospel with people who have never heard about Jesus beats flipping burgers.
  • It’s a good way to meet your future spouse… well, it worked for me anyway.

Build your network, see the world, get paid, build your resume, and find a spouse!

Really? Is that what its come to? 

Can you picture Paul having this conversation with Timothy before sending him to Thessalonica? 

“OK, Tim. I got this great opportunity for you. Our brothers in Thessalonica are having some trouble right now and I need you to get over there and encourage them. Think of the friends you’ll make and the contacts you’ll build! You never know when those will come in handy. Besides, you’re young — now is the time to travel the world. Our friends back in Jerusalem are covering your expenses. Heck, think of where this could lead for you! Once folks read about how much of an encouragement you are, the sky is the limit!”

Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians that, as new creations, we’ve been entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation — we are ambassadors for Christ. This is both a tremendous privilege as well as a tremendous responsibility.

As followers of Christ, we can’t afford to treat the great commission as a career decision, as “something great you can do for yourself,” or, maybe even worse, something to do since you didn’t find a job after graduation. Joshua Project has  identified over 7,000 people groups around the world that have no access to the gospel. That’s nearly 3 billion people with no opportunity to hear the name of Jesus. Faced with this reality, what is our response?

Want to build your network? Join a fraternity or a sorority. 

Want to travel the world and not have to worry about money or benefits? Join the Navy.

Want to be an ambassador for Christ? Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Him.

I’m reminded of a letter the famous missionary to China, Hudson Taylor, wrote to a friend back in England…

“China is not to be won for Christ by self-seeking, ease-loving men and women. Those not prepared for labour, self-denial and many discouragements will be poor helpers in the work…. The men and women we need are those who will put Jesus, China, souls first and foremost in everything and at all times: life itself must be secondary – nay, even those more precious than life. Of such men, and of such women, do not fear to send us too many. Their price is far above rubies.”