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Your Path to Missions: Preparation

This is the second post in a series about understanding what a path to missions is like. Last week we looked at “calling,” or God’s leading toward cross-cultural ministry. This week, we are looking at how to prepare for living and working in ministry.

Preparing to live and work cross-culturally is one of the most important things you can do along the path to impact. Even the best preparation will not guarantee a trouble-free experience, but dealing with the inevitable challenges will be easier if you have prepared well.

So how should you prepare? Consider the following suggestions as a starting place:

  • Look for confirmation of God’s leading to go. Start with your home church leadership. Do they agree that God has called you to go? What do they think you should do to equip yourself, and to be sent well?
  • If you aren’t already, get involved in the local ministry of your church. Be part of the outreach or the supportive structure. The more involved you are, the better the church will be at supporting you when you are gone, and the better prepared you will be to get involved in ministry in your new culture.
  • Communicate early and well with your network of family, friends, and acquaintances. Bring them along for the adventure. You will want them with you in prayer and support (both emotional and financial) while you are in your country of service, so begin that process now. The more invested they are in your early steps along the path, the more invested they will be in the work ahead.
  • Get your financial affairs in order. Pay down your debt – eliminate it if possible. Have a savings account. Unexpected things happen, and having some cash in reserve may save the day. Put together a will. In fact, many agencies require one before you get on an airplane. Make sure that any assets left in the US are being well managed. For example, if you are keeping and renting your house, make sure that you have a plan in place for when it may no longer be rented.
  • Perfect feeding yourself spiritually. When you get to a new culture, you may not know the language well enough to be fed at church. On top of that, you may not have the community you are used to in worship and growth. All of this will be new, and knowing how to guide your own spiritual formation will be important.
  • Have all the certifications you need to do the ministry you project doing. For example, if you plan to teach English as a second language, get the certification to show that you have been properly trained to do that work. It may make the difference between getting a visa or not. If you plan to teach, make sure you have your credentials up to date.
  • Start engaging other cultures in your community now. Learn some phrases in another language. Observe how their culture is different than yours, and eat food that is different than what you’re used to. If you are going to Ethiopia, for example, visit an Ethiopian church in your city. Make friends with people of other cultures, and spend time with them.

This list is not exhaustive, but it is a good place to start. Talk to missionaries you know about what they wish they had done to prepare. If you don’t know any missionaries, shoot us a note. We would be happy to share what we know.

Don’t let preparation overwhelm you. Just take one step at a time.

Your Path to Missions: Calling

Everyone involved in mission’s work is in it because at some point in their lives God interrupted their “normal” existence and directed them to do something different. Think of Abram, later Abraham, going about life there in Ur, everything routine, day after day. Then one day, God said to him, “I have a plan for you, to make you into a great nation and bless the whole world through you, so leave here and go to a place I will show you.” Similar interruptions happened for Noah, Moses, Gideon – the list could go on and on.

Such callings are not limited to missions. God may interrupt for a variety of reasons, because he has a plan for that moment. Maybe you’ve had an experience being delayed in doing what you had planned, which is frustrating at first, only to find out later that God used the delay because he had someone he wanted you to meet, or something he wanted you to do, right where you were. God is constantly trying to get our attention to be involved in his plans, but so often we are too busy to listen.

What does a call to missions look like?

Our experience has shown us that God is creative in his ways of calling people, but we can filter them into two major categories.

  • Sometimes God’s call on our lives is striking and undeniable. It is as if he speaks directly to us through thoughts, dreams, or other people, and the message is clear. “I want you to serve me in Asia.”
  • Sometimes God uses a much longer process, a discerning over time, to lead us toward a decision. This is more of a step by step leading, where the light for the next step appears only after you’ve taken the previous step.

Since God is creative in how he leads and calls us, how do we know that he is wanting us to go?

Trust that God’s leading will be consistent. The messages he sends, whether direct or indirect in nature, will all be pointing to the same decision. If the messages you are getting are not consistent, then it is probably not a leading of God.

Trust that God’s leading will be constant. God does not give up easily if you miss the first message. He will keep at it. If you ignore the message at church through your pastor, you will hear the same basic “call” from a mentor or friend. If missions is in front of you on the path and you turn the other way… missions will still, somehow, be in front of you.

Trust that God’s leading will be clear. If you do not have peace, or assurance that this is what God wants of you for this time, keep waiting. When God does want you to get involved, the messages will be clear and you will know that if you choose not to follow, that you will be disobeying. If God can direct the decisions of people who do not follow or even know him (think Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar), he can certainly clearly direct us.

If you feel that God may be leading you to be involved in cross-cultural ministry, talk to your church leadership, talk to missionaries you know, talk to spiritual mentors in your life. God will be consistent, constant and clear.

The Easter Kingdom

Have you ever thought about what the early church gospel was like? There was no communication beyond word of mouth, carried by travelers from one part of the world to another, and even that was rare. Most people never left their region, though the Jews would occasionally travel to and from Jerusalem to go to the temple.

Rumors may have spread around Judea and Galilee about Jesus, but he was not the first out there claiming to be the Messiah. Others had come and gone. Certainly, even more would follow. He may have been the only one said to do miracles, but people were likely skeptical. They knew stories can be wildly exaggerated.

So, what was the message of the early gospel? What power did it possess that it wouln’t die out like all the other stories of would-be Messiahs? Why has this message changed the world?

Because it was so simple. Jesus was the Messiah, as demonstrated by the fulfilment of prophesy and the works he performed. He was killed, but God raised him from the dead. Repent of your sin and be baptized.

That was it.

For those who had heard of Jesus, this had tremendous impact. Peter preached that message at Pentecost, and 3000 made commitments. To Gentiles in the surrounding countries, some history was missing, but the heart of the message lay in Jesus, sent from God, killed by men, and raised up to appear to witnesses who then spread the news.

The resurrected Jesus is the gospel. Easter is the gospel! The kingdom of God is an Easter kingdom!

But that is not all. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is the power behind the story, and the power working in the hearts of those who hear it. The reason Easter is celebrated around the world is the power of God. It is God, behind the words, that give them impact.

Rejoice, friends, for the power that has changed the world through the simple story of Easter is still at work in and through us today.

He is risen!

Be the Kingdom

Our culture is all about getting things done. You can see it all through society. We set sales and profit goals, we keep score in athletic contests, we want lots of people following us on social media. The bottom line is what matters.

This drive to be the “best” is even visible in the church. There are posts listing the top 50 megachurches in the US, and clicking on that article proves we actually do want to know who’s at the top. Those kinds of numbers and results draw us in because it is easier to define success with something so quantifiable.

But Jesus points us in a different direction. The push to get ahead was alive and well in his time, too, and there was even good reason for it. The Jewish people believed that if you were living righteously, God would bless you. That blessing, then, would demonstrate to others how righteously you were living. For many of us, our actions might show that we still believe that today.

So what was Jesus’ push back? He said that in the Kingdom the last would be first. The weak would lead the strong, the poor would be rich. Jesus demonstrated this kind of living, and put an exclamation point on it by dying to win the spiritual battle with the enemy. Check out the book, “Upside Down Kingdom” by Donald Kraybill for more on this. (You can find it on Amazon here.)

Our focus should be on who we are in Christ, not what we do for him. Our actions are important, yes; but they should flow out of who we are, not define us. Regardless of “winning” or “losing,” God’s concern is how we lived along the way.

Jesus pointed at the Pharisees, those who focused on doing everything exactly right and were culturally considering the most righteous, and called them “white-washed tombs.” Pretty on the outside… nothing but death on the inside.

How do we “be” the Kingdom and avoid that description? Allow your focus to be on these things:

Love… Joy… Peace… Patience… Kindness… Goodness… Faithfulness… Gentleness… Self-Control…

As we follow Jesus into the “fruit of the Spirit,” results will take care of themselves.

Be the fruit!

The Value of the Kingdom of God

Have you ever noticed how you occupy your time with things that are of great value to you?

Maybe you are a fan of a sports team. You know the players. You watch the draft and the games. You get emotional about the wins and the losses. Much of your free time is invested in that interest.

Maybe your focus is on social media. You are active on multiple platforms. Your phone is an extension of your hand and you post the details of your life so that others can live them with you. You follow others in the same way, reacting to their posts and participating in their lives.

Maybe you are in a relationship that is the real thing. You spend hours together, and hours on the phone when you aren’t together. Hardly an hour goes by when you have not thought about that person. They are the center of your attention. You plan your day around being with them.

None of these things, or anything else we value, are wrong in and of themselves, but what value do you place on the Kingdom of God? How much of your being is focused on following Jesus? How does this balance out for you?

Jesus told a story about the value of the Kingdom (Matthew 13:45-46). A man, while walking through a field one day, finds a pearl of a size and value he has never seen before. He immediately finds out who owns the field, goes to them and asks to buy it. The price is high. He sells everything he has to make the deal because he knows that it is nothing compared to the value of that pearl.

Jesus says that is the value of the Kingdom, and then he backed up those words with his actions. He came to establish the Kingdom. He died to make a way for us into the Kingdom. He rose to make us heirs with him to the Kingdom. It is our Kingdom. We are seated at the right hand of God in Christ.

How would thinking about this during the day change how you live? How would it affect your attitude, your thoughts, and your conversation? How would it affect how you use your resources – your time and your money?

These decisions are for you to make, not us, but we all need to consider our lives in light of the Kingdom and its value. What are you willing to sacrifice for a pearl of that kind of value?