Missionary Crutches

broken leg

I was back home in China this past week. Still fighting some final skirmishes with jet lag. But a great trip – got to spend lots of time with the pastors and with the good group of young men who are preparing for pastoral ministry. Taught through 2 Timothy a couple hours a night over the week, preached at all four churches at least once, discussed plans for the seminary training, and just did my best to get to know these young men better. Several of them were just not in the picture at all before we left for furlough a year ago, so I have keenly felt the need to deepen my relationship with them. Please pray for these young men – they are counting the cost…

As I was in 2 Timothy last week, the theme of guarding the deposit is especially fresh in my mind. Paul is passing off the scene, so he reminds Timothy of how the ‘file transfer’ from his life to Timothy’s life was completed. Paul has copied over the truth which was entrusted to him by the Lord. And as he is approaching death, he charges Timothy to hold on tightly to the Gospel and to be ready to suffer joyfully for it, even as Paul before him did. But that’s not all Paul expects of Timothy. He expects Timothy to copy the Gospel files over to other people as well! He is to not only to guard the deposit in his lifetime, he is to concern himself with future generations’ possession of the Gospel. The take-away for modern preachers of the Gospel is that it is not enough for us to be faithful to the Gospel in our lifetimes. We must ask who is going to run with the ball after we’ve been tackled?

I guess it’s normal for preachers to think of being taken down finally by death. But for missionaries, the reality of the impending end of our ministry is perhaps more clear. We have extended times when we’re back in our home countries. We are trying to turn churches over to local leadership so we can go plant some more. We face the threat of expulsion from the place we serve. And then there’s the whole death thing, too… My missionary mentor has always challenged us to visualize a countdown – our time for ministry in an area is limited – we’ve got to get the Gospel deposit passed on to the next generation.

Unfortunately, there’s plenty of crutches that we can lean on to temporarily avoid the need to train new Gospel preachers…

1) We can find replacements from outside our ministry. Harder to do as a missionary than as a pastor in the states (where there are teeming hordes of fresh seminary grads), but not impossible. When I have to leave the field, I could just look for a seminary student who’s eager to serve, or I could ask a nearby missionary to come babysit the work. This seems clever and resourceful, but it reveals a breakdown in the chain of Gospel-ministry transfer!

2) We can utilize media to magnify our own influence. I’m not a media-hater. This is a blog, after all. And I am like the newest Twitter user on the planet (@jaketaube). So this isn’t an attempt to steal the Amish playbook. Just saying that the incredible advances in technology allow us to do more ourselves – things that in the past would have to be delegated to other Gospel ministers. Thanks to technology, one guy could feasibly preach to the whole world. Thanks to the Bible, that’s not the goal.

3. We can throw around our financial weight. Especially when planting churches in contexts on a lower economic plane. There’s plenty of problems in ministry that can be solved one of two ways: you can train men, or you can buy your way out of it. I have been guilty of the latter in China. But a good dose of wise counsel has pushed me to take the harder path. For instance, I can bolster the offerings at all the churches we start in China, or we can train men to be givers and to use resources strategically. (Since I’ve been gone, two of the Chinese churches have cut their rent in half!)

4. We can work overtime. I’m all for the grueling work week. Our work is the most important on the earth, so let’s go all out. But very often the reason we’re working so hard isn’t because we’re doing things that only we can do, but because we haven’t trained people to do the things that anyone could do! When you’re starting a church on the mission field, and all your church members have been believers for a combine total of like six months, it’s obvious that you can do everything in church better than them! (If you think there’s not a wrong way to pass out song-books, I assure you there is!) This leads many to the conclusion that they should do everything.

5. We can delegate training to others. Again, I’m all for seminaries and legit Bible education. But not as a way for a minister to abdicate his own responsibility to pass the Gospel deposit on to the next generation! By all means, make sure your guys have access to all the best channels of theological education. But what those young men need to understand the outworking of that theology is the indelible imprint of your life on theirs!

So, anyway, these are a few of the crutches that I find myself wanting to pull out of the closet. They’re so much easier than transferring all I’ve learned about the Gospel doctrine into the hearts of a bunch of punks! But the thing to remember about all of these crutches is, one day the crutch will give way. Eventually, we’ll all be taken down. Our money will stop coming, our health will break, the guy we found to replace us will make a mess of what we built. Not to mention the fact that we are in ministry because of our desire for divine commendation, not ostensible ministry success. The God of the Gospel sends us into the playing field to pass the Gospel-deposit a little further down the field before we get sacked! We got to get rid of the ball in a hurry!

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