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Resolution #9 – Follow Your Pastor…. To The Ends Of The Earth!
We come to the last two of Chuck Lawless’ 10 Mission related New Year’s resolutions. Resolution number 9 states: “I will pray that my church pastors have a strong passion for the Great Commission.” Lawless comments “I’ve never seen a strong mission-minded church without a strong Great Commission pastor and staff. Churches seldom develop a passion that is not exhibited in the pulpit every Sunday. Pray for your pastor, and then follow his lead to the nations.”
I can remember some time ago speaking several times in a large church in Australia. I had met the missions pastor at a conference and I was excited by her enthusiasm to see folks from the church getting engaged in cross-cultural mission – going on mission teams, praying, learning more and so on. However, over a couple of visits I saw her discouragement increasing. She told me how in the Sunday service she would have occasional opportunities to share with the congregation about the latest mission related activities. But the senior pastor never affirmed what she had said. Maybe he would follow on from her sharing by talking about something completely different. Or he would just say nothing. Her point was obvious. The message that was going out to the brothers and sisters in the congregation was a simple one. My friend might have a burden for mission, but it really wasn’t important enough for the senior pastor to support her. So it really was not that important in the church’s activities, it was just the burden of the mission director and a few others. So eventually my friend left the church, realising that it was nearly impossible to get folk involved in mission without clear affirmation from the pastor. What was more extraordinary to me was that the church said that they were having revival around the time of my visits, and that they were sending out tapes (it was a long time ago!) of their meetings to churches around Australia. I guess they had a different definition of revival to mine!
I certainly would agree with Lawless’ 9th resolution to pray for pastors and other leaders to get a vision for cross cultural mission. But honesty forces me to say that I can’t be sure that that kind of prayer will be 100% successful. My book “The Antioch Factor” outlines how difficult it was for Peter and the other Jerusalem leaders to reach beyond their own people to the Gentiles, and points out how Paul was saved away from those leaders, in Damascus and not in Jerusalem (Acts 9), and that many years later he was sent out not from Jerusalem but from Antioch (Acts 13:1-3). Indeed recently reading Acts 9 again I was saddened by the fact that Paul, coming to Jerusalem three years after his salvation and his call to the Gentiles, by now a relatively solid and experienced believer, was sent home to Tarsus instead of being embraced by the Jerusalem church. He was not trained and encouraged by them for the cross-cultural work to which God had clearly called him. They sent him home, not out! It took Barnabas and Antioch to train him and to send him out – ten years later!
We absolutely must pray for leading pastors that they gain a vision for mission. But I wouldn’t commit my future in mission to a certainty that they will go down that path! Having said that if they do see the light (if you will allow me to use the phrase), then it’s absolutely strategic that we should support them in every way, even if that means laying down some of our own immediate plans in order to encourage and support them as they take some early steps in cross-cultural mission.
There are on the other hand some wonderful examples of local church pastors who have involved themselves in cross-cultural mission. J Oswald Smith, one time pastor of the People’s Church in Toronto, was one such. When Smith died on January 25, 1986, Billy Graham said: “I’ve lost a dear friend, the man who had more impact on my life than any other – a great preacher, a great songwriter, a man who stands equal with Moody and Torrey. As a missionary statesman he stands alone. There was no equal.”
Well then, pray that the Lord will work in your pastor so that there will be a new statesman equal to J Oswald Smith! Maybe a few quotes from this remarkable brother would help fuel the fire for missions. His position was very clear: “If God wills the evangelisation of the world, and you refuse to support missions, then you are opposed to the will of God.” He added that “the supreme task of the Church is the evangelisation of the world.”
The options then are limited: “You must go or send a substitute.”
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