Love-forged Missionary Strategies


When an older person sees my wife and I out with our daughter, almost without exception they tell us, ‘Enjoy her… it goes by so fast.’ Why do they feel the need to tell us that? It’s the voice of experience. They don’t know where their own time went. They can’t help but remind us to not let the days slip away without cherishing the childhood of our baby girl.

I try to remind myself of that as a missionary, as well. My wife and I have been in China over six years. I can’t hardly believe that. The time just blew right by. And I have no doubt that the next 40 years (if the Lord allows) will feel much the same. So what? What are we supposed to do about that? Well, we ought to cherish the time, just as we do with our kids. Missionary brothers, it is no dull task to which the Lord has sent us! Savor the glory of Gospel ministry every day.

But go back to the child-raising thing for a second. What does my cherishing of my time with my daughter lead me to do? Does it only lead me to reflect each day on the wonder of being a father? No! It leads me to go pick my child up, to play with her, to read to her, and to teach her. Because my days are numbered, I want to use my time as wisely as possible to build her and strengthen her.

So what does time-redemption look like for a missionary? It is not only rejoicing that God has given us a ministry to China. It is seeking the most strategic thing that we can do with our short time in China that will build God’s kingdom and strengthen believers.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes too much talk about ministry strategy can turn my stomach. It can sound suspiciously like our considerations aren’t significantly different than a corporation’s or a political campaign’s. But when taken in this sense, strategy can become a holy and loving sort of thing. Love-forged strategies keep marriages from ruin! Love-forged strategies keep children out of parent-run orphanages! And love-forged strategies keep missionary endeavors from sinking. Failure to plan is failure to love.

So, as I love China, I want to plan well. I want to plan for the time when I won’t be there. For the day I’m too sick to be of any use, or the day that China gives me the boot. Here’s my strategy. I know there are others, some of which have much to commend them. This post isn’t about defending this strategy over against other strategies. This post is about defending having a strategy over against letting the time trickle by without a strategy.

My strategy is to disciple Chinese pastors from scratch. ‘From scratch’ meaning they weren’t pastors before I discipled them. But again, that’s not the subject of this post. I want to focus on the discipling part. When we remember that a missionary’s days are numbered, the most pressing concern instantly becomes, what will happen to the work when the missionary is gone? Will there be anything of our work left in China when we leave for the last time? This leads me to a conclusion reached by many other missionaries before me: the discipling of local leaders is of primary importance. Men and women who will continue serving Christ and proclaiming the Gospel in China long after I’m forgotten.

I can’t pretend that I have always been the best at sticking to this strategy. Just like I haven’t been the best at sticking to my strategy for being a good dad. Or that I have been ever been a particularly gifted discipler. But that’s the fascinating thing about discipleship, and one of the primary reasons I will strive to hold on to this strategy. Discipleship is simultaneously the easiest and hardest kind of ministry we can do. It’s the easiest, because all it takes is loving someone and teaching them everything you know. And it’s the hardest for… well, the same reason! Just as raising children (in which I have all of one year’s worth of experience!) is both the easiest and hardest job a person can do. What could be easier than loving a child and feeding them and giving to them and teaching them and living with them and caring for them? And what could be harder?

Probably the reason that it’s easiest for me to believe in this strategy is that I am a product of it. I was adopted as a son in the faith. Someone loved me and taught me to serve Christ when I was a lost cause. That changed me. And that father in the faith told me to go to China and adopt some guys myself. So we’ve tried to do that. And we have been so blessed to see the results. God has given us a family there. So when we adopted our baby girl last year (you know, the regular kind of adoption) there was something oddly familiar about the feelings that came with that! I may not be the most gifted of Gospel ministers. But I can be a loving, invested, intentional father, both to our adopted baby girl, and to our adopted spiritual sons in China. And I believe that’s something that will endure beyond my last day in China.

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