[NOTE: This is the conclusion of Dr. George Robinson’s article from Monday as part of a continuing series on equipping pastors at SEBTS.]
4. Know the language.
It’s pretty obvious that if you go as a missionary to another country that you will be expected to learn the language. Without it communication will be surface at best. I have to admit, I don’t even speak English well. But I applied myself to learning the national language when I served in South Asia and that opened countless doors for the gospel. Rather than expecting my friends to “come all the way to me” in our communication, I sought to meet them as close to their heart as possible through speaking their language as best I could. My wife and I invested hours each day to studying vocabulary and then going out and practicing through speaking in the marketplace. I always carried a little notebook so that when words came up that I wasn’t familiar with I could write it down and have the person define it. I was constantly learning how to better communicate, not just verbally, but in my action and inaction as well. Back in my little local church I was surrounded by other people who were Southern Baptists and most of them were either brought up with the lingo (yes we have one!) or had long since learned it. But outside of the church I had to be careful not to use what some have called “Christianese” – a foreign language to the lost. Rather than expect my lost friend to do the work of figuring out what I was saying, I constantly worked to learn and articulate the message of the gospel in ways that they could understand. Possibly the greatest help in doing this for pastors is to make it a regular practice to interact with young children. When your theological vocabulary is useless, you learn how to communicate in a simple and reproducible manner. One of my dear friends and mentors, Dr. George Patterson, once told me, “It doesn’t take a brilliant person to take a difficult subject and present it as complex. But it does take a bright person to take a complex subject like the gospel and communicate it in a simple and understandable way.” Pastor, do you speak the language of your community?
5. Know your strategy.
Each of these first four lessons combined to help me to formulate my strategy for engagement. It’s not enough to know the area, the worldview, the people and the language. A missionary must have a strategy for gospel engagement. And that strategy needs to be built upon the biblical concept of multiplying disciples. For years now I have consulted with international pastors around the world assisting them in developing a reproducible church planting strategy for their countries. That means that the pastor shouldn’t minister in a way that makes him indispensible. I know this is counterintuitive in that most of us don’t really want to work ourselves out of a job – but in some respects that’s exactly what we must do. Missionaries never know what circumstance may arise necessitating their departure, and thus their strategy mustn’t depend exclusively upon them. I learned that first hand when our evangelistic ministry in South Asia was beginning to take form and then we learned that my single mother-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Within a week, my entire strategy was left in the hands of others. I wish I could say that everything turned out great there. I am encouraged that some of the men who had come to faith in Christ continued passing out bibles and telling people about Jesus in a place where that presence is rare indeed. And then I found myself pastoring as a missionary. My seminary degree was focused in preparing me to be an international missionary, not a pastor. But when I brought that way of thinking and living into my role as a pastor, I was blessed indeed. From the outset I sought to equip lay leaders to be able to do everything that I was doing. I wanted to work my way out of a job and I did so using a model that I learned overseas – Model/Assist/Watch/Love. When my season as associate pastor came to a close, I was able to look around me and see lay leaders doing everything that I had been doing – and most of it was being done better than if I were doing it myself! I’m convinced that when Paul gave the qualifications for a pastor/elder/overseer in 1 Timothy 3 that he wasn’t telling Timothy to call such a person to Ephesus from Corinth. Instead, he was charging the Ephesian interim pastor Timothy to cultivate those characteristics within the churches and then set those men free to lead. It may be that the SBC practice of forming a pastor search committee actually displays that the previous pastor failed at his primary ministry of making disciples in the church. I wrote an earlier blog post to that effect that you can find here.
6. Know Whose mission it is!
When I got off of the airplane for the first time in South Asia, I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. The sights, smells, and sounds never let me forget it. I awoke everyday to the Muslim call to prayer. I was a minority and I knew it. As a result, I never forgot Who had sent me there, nor did I forget to depend upon Him for empowerment. I fear that many pastors in the SBC today have forgotten the God of Mission. John Stott used to refer to the God of the Bible as “The Missionary God”. Pastor, that’s not your church. It belongs to Jesus. And the community that you live in – well, it belongs to Jesus as well. And He has called you not just to shepherd the saved, but to reach the lost. Our missionary God may have called you to be a pastor, but He wants you to be a pastor who thinks and lives like a missionary. Now push back from that desk for a while, go get to know your community, the people, their worldview and language. And use that information to lead to community transformation as you equip your entire church to live life in this Technicolor world – as missionaries.