Missionary Insights

In my Theology of Missions class this past week, a missionary came in and spoke to us about his life and missionary work.  He’s from America and he serves in a closed country.  I recorded a few things he said and thought they were worth passing along.  These aren’t direct quotes, and I’m obviously not going to identify the person since he serves in a closely-monitored country, but here are some of his thoughts.  You may disagree, but he’ll at least make you think.  Personally, I think his emphases are all necessary.  Even if they’re not the only perspectives, they’re the emphases that are needed in my context.

Church Size:  Constructing a big church building and making it your mecca for worship is not the way to spread the gospel.  In America we like to build big congregations, get a good preaching pastor, and sit at his feet and learn.  But this is not the way to spread the gospel.  Some churches in _____ are starting to think that this is the best way to spread the gospel because that’s how the American church does it, but they’re mistaken.  Unfortunately it appeals to the _____ culture because they have great respect for their teachers and they’re ready to sit at the feet of a teacher for years until they themselves become the teacher and repeat the process.

Church Growth:  A church isn’t really growing if it’s not active in missions and evangelism.

Expository Preaching:  I believe in expository preaching, but expository preaching often doesn’t send people out to do the Lord’s work.  People sit and soak it up and learn a lot, but they don’t do much.  [I thought this was a very interesting insight.  Personally, I think there’s a problem with the way we usually do expository preaching.  We educate, but we don’t inspire and motivate.  The problem isn’t with expository preaching; the problem is with us.  But that doesn’t make it a smaller problem.]

Knowledge and Evangelism:  In _____ with our people, they become believers and all they know is the gospel and their testimony.  I tell them to go out and share it.  If they have questions, they can come back and ask me and I’ll help them.  Then I continue to train them.  But as I train them, I tell them to go out and share what they’re learning with others.  They must be active in evangelism.  In America, when you become a believer, you become a part of a church and you sit and you learn for years.  The thought is that you can’t do anything yet because you don’t know anything yet.  So we sit and sit and sit and learn and learn and learn and never try to do much until years later when we’re so used to sitting and learning that we aren’t good for much else.

Church:  I want the people to know that they are the church; it’s not a building.  In the ____ language, there are two words for church — one for the place, one for the people.  In America there’s only one word, and we really confuse the two.

Discipleship:  If you take anything away from my time with you, remember to emphasize obedience-based discipleship instead of knowledge-based discipleship.


5 thoughts on “Missionary Insights

  1. John: He believes in expository preaching, but thinks that the way it’s often done in conservative circles just sends people away being more educated but not more obedient. Of course we listeners are to blame, too, since it’s our responsibility to obey. But often there’s not much focus on obedience in expository preaching. I think his point is that if expository preaching is viewed mainly as a way for people to know the Scriptures, you will probably produce people whose knowledge outruns their obedience.

    He didn’t really recommend other preaching styles. The way he does it, he makes his converts immediately apply what they’re learning. If there’s a weakness to his method, it’s that people can get sent out to “apply” the truth before they really understand what they’re doing or why they’re doing it. Then again, the problem in my circles is that we apply very little of what we know because we’ve placed such a high premium on knowledge as an end in and of itself.

    I think one small practical way to encourage obedience in expository preaching is to make your main emphases commands instead of propositional statements or non-verbal phrases with vague words. For instance, if a classic TMS guy were preaching on missional living from the Great Commission, the outline would probably look something like this:

    1. The Authority of the Command
    2. The Content of the Command
    3. The Extent of the Command
    4. The Promise of the Command

    I might be educated by those points but I won’t necessarily be pushed and challenged and confronted and inspired. That’s just one small illustration of how preaching to educate people doesn’t necessarily stir people to obey. Again, not that knowledge and obedience are antithetical; they’re not; they’re complimentary. But if knowledge becomes the main goal (which is normally a subtle shift, not a blatant one), the process will be aborted. I know you’re aware of these things; just working it out and trying to explain what I think the missionary was emphasizing.

    I definitely think that what he’s saying could be taken to an extreme. Some people deemphasize knowledge of Scripture and almost advocate knowing as little as possible so you can “be out there doing ministry and evangelism.” That’s certainly not my stance. But I do think that in strong conservative Bible-teaching circles, we can easily become people who get fat on Scripture because we’re not exercising in application. I don’t think we should get away from expository preaching, but I do think we should examine the weaknesses in the way we’ve learned to do it. We shouldn’t reject it, but we should reform it.

  2. Gunner,
    do you think you could clarify what he said about expository preaching. I agree with him I think but what alternatives in preaching style did he offer that would be more effective in making church members be more missional?

  3. Cierra: He’s basically saying that in our conservative Christian circles, we often view following Christ as an issue of knowledge. The goal is to learn more about the Bible, to know more about God, to understand theology better. But the goal should actually be obedience.

    Knowledge-based discipleship would say that you follow Jesus by learning about Him. Obedience-based discipleship would say that you follow Jesus by obeying Him.

    The missionary isn’t saying that knowledge is bad or that it’s antithetical to obedience. He’s just saying that knowledge is supposed to produce obedience. Knowledge isn’t enough. It’s not the end goal. In terms of discipleship (following Jesus and being like Him), obedience is primary and knowledge is secondary. Obedience is the end and knowledge is the means. Obedience is what Jesus wants. Knowledge is meant to inform and produce that obedience. Hope that helps.

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