I love getting to watch Michigan play football AND knock out a few emails at the same time. Sitting by the beach enjoying the ocean and sunshine… while reading a great book at the same time; yep that’s another favorite of mine! We all enjoy the pleasure and efficiency of combining two great things into one effort. With certain projects, this is often very helpful. However, in the case of church planting the scriptures show us that our work is costly by design.
In the missions’ world today, numerous far away locations are visited by God’s people regularly Some even get to participate in real and valuable service projects while overseas. And then the traveler (aka short-term missions participant) goes back home and mainstreams back into their full-time occupation. Great! Because of these more people in our churches have seen, or are at least aware of – in a first-hand sense – the crushing gospel and humanitarian needs outside of North America than ever before.
But meeting those needs is another thing. What can be done to alleviate hunger, disease, natural disasters, slavery and educational imbalances can often be helped by putting large amounts of dollars towards focused, well thought out efforts. Believers and non-believers can be involved in such endeavors. Although the principle of ‘do no harm’ is often easier to say than to accomplish when dispersing North American funds, it’s still true that ‘be warmed and filled’ can’t be the extent of our response to human suffering.
Where the Church of Jesus Christ gets confused is when we carry over methods and values that work for building a house, digging a well, or funding a clinic into gospel propagation ministries. With that intended goal, a whole new set of principles come into play. The principles the scriptures say, and show us, go right along with God’s blessing being upon His messengers.
To experience God’s blessing on our efforts to make Him known there are a few truths that must be kept in mind. David, in 2 Samuel 24, reminds us of one of those. In that chapter, David sinned by counting his soldiers. Judgment came upon Israel and 70,000 people died due to David’s sin. David violated a principle that God says is essential (Hebrews 11:1,2,6) for those that would have His blessing on their life and ministry.
But there is another principle that David DID remember. That principle comes into focus at the end of chapter 24. To stop the plague (2 Samuel 24:22,23) Araunah offers to GIVE to David, for FREE, all the things needed to do a sacrifice right then and there. Araunah also wanted to see the plague stopped. Whether to gain favor with David or to expedite the offering; either way his offer to David was genuine. Yet King David knew something about God that today we often set aside. He knew that for this sacrifice to have any meaning to God it HAD TO COST HIM SOMETHING!! Giving ‘an offering’ to God that was easy, cheap or free was out of the question for David! He knew the offensiveness in offering something ‘on the cheap’ to the God of Israel. Thus David refused that offer with these words, “No, I insist on paying you for it, I will not offer for sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”
Jesus, in John 12:23-26, speaks of another critical principle that those who would be spiritual life givers must submit to. Life comes from death. To confine this to the death of Christ is to not read the whole passage. Yes, Christ’s death provides atonement for us and therefor forgiveness of sins is available to all. But as we read the passage and other similar statements Jesus and Paul make (Jn. 15:18-21,17:18,20:21, Acts 14:22, I Cor. 4:8-16, Phil 1:29) a very clear picture comes into focus. Being his follower in general, and in particular being His gospel messenger, will be accompanied by suffering and loss. “Life comes from death.”
In the case of the kernel of wheat, the separation from the stalk comes first. Then the seed is taken off the husk and into the dark of ground it goes, where the decomposition and breaking down of the seed occurs. That, and much more, precedes the seed bearing its’ fruit. We all understood that seeds can’t ‘save themselves’ for another planting season. They get used up. They don’t return to the seed-bin. Seeds that bring life are not saving themselves for another harvest later on, or trying to ‘do some good in this soil, then moving a few acres away to do it again’! Nope, they are ‘all in’ where they are planted. They are not going back to their prior place on the corn stalk. Useful seeds cannot do that.
For those looking to plant a church, having an eye towards “What is next? I’d like God to really use my life for this amount of time, then I’d like to resume my life or my career in a more understandable pursuit” is a common outlook today. You’ll see a lot of examples of folks doing CP work ‘for a season’. What you don’t see is the outpouring of His blessing on this new way of ‘serving Jesus’ that isn’t costly, and actually plans for the seed to NOT be used up. Planning for the seed to have a ‘next stage’.
I’m well aware that most missionaries actually don’t die overseas. That’s not what I’m addressing here. What MUST be addressed is a mentality that new missionaries are going overseas with – that they actually EXPECT to have a great 2nd or 3rd career! In fact, this expectation is so clear that when realities come to his attention that indicate that this task could take him well into his 40’s or 50’s ‘a reason’ is commonly found that makes it certain that the missionary must move on. Too often such ‘reasons’ only mask another story of a missionary who wasn’t mentally and spiritually prepared to ‘go into the ground and die’.
The principle David demonstrated in II Sam. 24 of costliness and what Jesus speaks of in Jn.12 are nearly interchangeable. SERIOUS COSTLINESS is clearly a large part of being used to be a life giver in God’s economy. There is no way around this.
As John Piper bluntly writes in the introduction of his book, ‘Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ’, “To put it more plainly and specifically, God designs that the suffering of his ambassadors is one essential means in the triumphant spread of the Good News among all the peoples of the world.”
So we see in the New Testament a pattern for those gospel workers. They don’t die in their sleep. We don’t see them retiring or moving towards a more respectable lifestyle once they hit their 40’s and 50’s. We DO SEE loss, stonings, imprisonments… and none of these workers considered this a surprise. It was what they expected. It was what Jesus had promised them. They had no thought of switching careers or retooling so they could re-enter the work force.
If we are to see quality workers raised up, prepared and sent we must take these principles seriously. Just getting folks overseas cannot be allowed to become the primary way in which they are vetted. Neither should their ability to raise financial and emotional support be the litmus for their ability to succeed overseas. That is NOT enough. They must have convictions that will hold them securely in place. If we desire to have God’s blessing on those who head ‘into battle’ they must be prepared for what is ahead or else we really are just rearranging chairs on the Titanic. Throwing bodies at the Great Commission isn’t the answer. We’ve been doing that for long enough.
God’s work must be done in His way… or else it’s just lots of energy expended. Yes, we can point to Balaam’s donkey and at times the gracious God that we walk before does work in spite of our setting aside of His principles. Surely though we don’t want to knowingly set aside principles that allow Him to work freely through us? We cannot relegate the need to ‘prepare for and embrace suffering’ to a 2 hr. seminar in ‘candidate week’ just before the missionary heads overseas.
To read more from Brad and keep up with the daily life of Radius International check out the Radius Report.