Monthly Archives: October 2012

Changing tracks … Practical considerations

On one of my furloughs I briefly thought to change my ministry and become an Evangelist. I was well received in churches and so was my message – I had only one sermon and so that part was easy. God in his mercy convinced me that I am in the right place, the place where he wants me to be. Remembering my kids removed the last shred of this madness.

We reach a certain age and we want to change tracks. It is a common phenomenon.  Visiting a pastor coming to the end of his ministry as pastor, he said, “I want to become a missionary; I want to go to the mission field.”

I am the last person to discourage anybody, young or old, to do what they would like to do, but before considering this new quest should we not consider our motives? Should we not ask ourselves why we would want such a thing? As I said, I have been there myself and asked myself these questions.

Admittedly “mission field” and “missionary” have a romantic ring to it. However,

“Romance is blind;

Working on a mission field is an eye-opener.”

What do people think the mission field is like? What do they think the task of a missionary is? How did he think he would communicate with people whose language, customs and culture he did not know? Learning a new language is difficult for most people but once you are 60 it becomes even more difficult.

What happens after the excitement, the romance dies? Will love for the people he finds himself amongst, carry him through? When boredom creeps in, as it is sure to do, will he quit? Don’t be deceived by exciting reports from missionaries, yours truly included; unreported go a lot of difficulties, tension, fears, problems; to report those  will not do as some saints, considering your place a 21st century Shangri la, might stop their support.

If married, does he think about his wife?  What about her who worked alongside him or even in a secular job to make ends meet and keep food on the table and petrol in the car’s tank and the telephone working and now looks forward to a time of peace and enjoying some of the things she could not afford as a pastor’s wife. Will he now drag her out of the world she knows into a new world where, most likely she will have a very difficult time to make new friends?

Staying with other missionaries for a prolonged time has its own problems. Some of my old missionary friends dreaded visitors who would visit for longer periods of time as they had to be on their best behavior – for a whole month or two. As the saying goes, “Fish and guests begin to smell after three days”. These days with limited facilities and resources makes it even more difficult.

Our home, although in India, is not really India; it is an oasis for kids, a kindergarten – a garden for children – where they grow till they are strong enough to face the outside world.  Even I live a comparatively sheltered life now. As far as preaching the Gospel outside the compound is concerned “I myself am incarcerated” but – as Paul says in Philippians, “the Word of God is not bound!”. In India and no doubt many other places it is proclaimed by those who can move freely among their own people – though some, in some parts of the country, places where you and I cannot go – at a great price.

Furthermore, in my part of the world, South-East Asia, visas are increasingly more difficult to obtain and if then for 6 months; will he be willing to come, set up his ministry, go back for several  months and return for six months – an endless cycle – Indian Government permitting … Then, what kind of ministry would he envision? How would he support it? I have seen people coming and starting a ministry supporting two or three pastors. Then they drop out of the picture and expect the pastors to continue their ministry. With what?

Still, if your heart tells you and you are convinced this is what God wants you to do – Go! But remember the words of Jesus in Luke 14:28-30

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Nobody to nurture …

Some years ago it was fashionable in India to have tree planting programs during a particular time of the year; schools and organizations vied with each other as to the number of trees planted. One gentleman, the director of several schools, claimed to have planted thousands of trees; other groups offered numbers in the hundreds. Prem Sewa not wanting to be left out invited this director and we too had a tree planting program. It was a great affair with the necessary speeches as to the values of tree plantation etc. It was followed by planting a row of tree which Prem Sewa provided having purchased them at bargain prices from the Government. The kids had a lot of fun and of course planting trees is good and beneficial.

I watched the circus and could not help but observe that no sooner a tree planter had planted a tree that he turned his back to it to plant the next tree and the next tree. I love trees; at Prem Sewa we planted many trees – without the circus and – those trees are still here for anybody and everybody to see. The hundred trees planted during that program one by one succumbed to the disease called neglect. We simply could not manage the daily care they needed. The thousands of trees planted across the city and no doubt across the nation suffered the same fate for not many are in evidence. The problem is there is not a second group of people – the nurturers. The Government simply did not have the manpower to look after all these trees and those who planted them are too busy – planting more trees…

What applies to tree planting applies to church planting. The number of churches planted is commendable. But what is lacking is nurturing these churches. To my knowledge there is no group of “church-plant nurturers” who make it their job to see that these churches grow – not just numerically but spiritually and in the knowledge of the Word of God.

The tragedy is that once the man who initiated these church-plants moves on the greener pastures – the churches die or they get embroiled in turf wars and split in a hundred different directions.

Furthermore the often massive expansion – take it with a pinch of salt – out of necessity spreads money received over an even larger area rather thin. Most pastors of these new church-plants receive wages that would make a dog refuse to bark, leave alone a man to preach or teach. The old adage formerly applied to pastors in Canada or the US, applies here, “Lord you keep him humble and we keep him poor.”

Organizations from the West pour in tons of useless literature, which now rots in storerooms or corners of already overcrowded homes.

The material to be used by young or even older pastors must be attractive simple and very brief. They won’t read a book. A detailed Bible outline with some introductory material to each book would be ideal. I prepared outlines for all the books of the Bible which came to 101 double-sided pages. (sample attached) To survive the rigors of village living I laminated each page which makes it expensive for an individual. I am sure publishing houses could come up with a process which is just as durable and cheaper. Translation of the material in different languages should prove no problem. Then even in the absence of nurturers and or church planters these churches can survive spiritually on their own; not only survive but thrive.

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