Not Your “Normal” Missions Strategy

The last 5 months of ministry has been a bit of a whirlwind. Have there been hardships? Yes. Have there been blessings? Absolutely! Amidst the ups and downs of ministry throughout the past few months, God has been teaching my family a few lessons that I would like to pass along for those who may need to be reminded or encouraged in their own ministry context during this time.

My family ministers along the Garden Route of South Africa as church planting missionaries in the city of Knysna. We had originally planned to be in the States for a family wedding during the month of April with the intention of arriving back in South Africa around June/July. Those plans were drastically changed! Due to my wife’s pregnancy, it looks as if we will be here through October (at the least). We now find ourselves thousands of miles away from our ministry, home, and young church plant. While we are incredibly thankful and grateful to have ministry partners who have labored well in our absence, the reality of ministering from afar was not what we had on the church planting agenda for this year. Read any book on church planting strategy, and I guarantee it will not advise you to leave the city/country for an extended period of time after your first year together. Yet, this is exactly where God has us right now, in His providence, and according to His good and perfect plan. As we embrace this season of ministry life, here are five lessons that I am learning that I hope will encourage others to do the same.

Pray Constantly

Prayer is often assumed and rarely administered. I confess, one of my greatest spiritual challenges is consistent prayer, and sometimes, simply praying. But prayer is the ammunition by which the Great Commission battle is won. Yes, Gospel workers must go and the Word of God must be proclaimed, but these works done apart from a God-dependent spirit are futile and vain. We must seek to reflect the heart and practice of the Apostle Paul when he writes to the church in Philippi,

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel form the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who begun a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of of Jesus Christ (Phil.1:3-6 ESV).

Rely on the Spirit

This second lesson goes hand-in-hand with the first. If we are truly relying on the Spirit, we will pray. But along with our prayers, it is good for us to be reminded that God’s Spirit is the only One who can change a heart. The Holy Spirit possesses the power and grace to open the eyes of blinded hearts (2 Cor. 4:6), not our personalities or ministry strategies. It is such a great comfort to know that Christ did not give us this task to accomplish on our own; He gave us His Spirit. So as you worry about a struggling member or face discouragement from a wayward disciple, remember, God’s Spirit is at work. Trust Him. Rely on Him.

Embrace Limitation

This lesson is not particularly fun, especially for a Western American. Innovation and change are our battle cry. We have been taught by the culture form an early age, “You can do anything,” and, “Follow your dreams!” In case you are wondering, this is not how life works. One of the realities and privileges of man in God’s creation is that he is finite. We cannot do anything we desire. Our “dreams” are vain apart from Christ. We were created with limits and that is a good thing (Gen. 1). As you seek to be creative in ministry for the glory of God during this time, don’t become anxious regarding your limitations. Embrace your limitations and look to Christ. Let your limitations drive you to your knees and before the throne of grace. We may be limited, but our God has no limits!

Utilize Technology

If you were a technological skeptic before COVID-19, chances are that you have at least softened over the past few months. God has been good to give us technological advances that have sustained some form of ministry in our current global situation. In our own ministry, we benefit from weekly Sunday gatherings online. I am able to tune into our South African church service, and even preach, because of technology. Is this preferred? No. Is it helpful? Yes. Other technologies such as blog posts, podcasts, and other various forms can be utilized for God’s kingdom work. This is a blessing from God.

Claim Matthew 16:18

The final lesson is to remember what Christ has promised in His Word and anchor yourself in His truth. Matthew 16:18 says, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Christ promises to build His Church. Do we really believe that? Have we become so self-dependent that we have forgotten that Christ WILL build His Church. We labor in our church planting with the hope that Christ has already promised to do it. The work of Christ is bigger than you and me. We are but a tiny part of it, yet He is pleased to use us. This is marvelous grace!

Conclusion

My family still is unsure as to when we will be able to return to South Africa (although we hope it is soon), but we labor from a distance until we can. We are still learning these lessons and seeking to implement them, but I pray that all of us will remember during this time of uncertainty that we serve a God of certainty. He has promised to “build His Church,” and neither the “gates of hell” or COVID-19 will stop that!

Seek First the Kingdom of God

At first glance, the title of this post would seem a bit strange for an article written about worry and anxiety. One may think, “What does the kingdom have to do with my current daily struggle and fear?” Another might say, “That sounds great but how does ‘kingdom-seeking’ put food on my table?” These are legitimate cares and concerns for many right now.

Matthew 5-7 are what many refer to as the “Sermon on the Mount.” In these chapters, Christ is addressing the crowds that were gathered around him to hear His teaching (Matt. 5:1-2). His popularity was growing and many were interested in what this “Rabbi” had to say. One of the topics that Christ addressed in His sermon was anxiety (Matt. 6:25-34). In these verses, there are at least three takeaways for us as we seek to find victory over our fear and anxiety in this present time.

Don’t Be Anxious

This phrase is repeated three times in verses 25-34. In these verses, Christ provides supportive reasons as to why one should not be anxious. Before these reasons are addressed, it would be wise for us to stop and consider these three words, “Don’t be anxious.” How is this even possible? How is one not to be anxious when they are locked in their house all day long? How are they to put away worry when they don’t know how the bills will be payed next week? How can they possibly not worry when they won’t have a job next month? These are real struggles and questions that are on many hearts.

Before me move on to the answer Jesus gives as to how someone can actually live out this command, we need to remember the word of the LORD to Abraham in Genesis 18:14, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?”. The God who commands, “Don’t be anxious,” is the God who gives the grace to obey this command. He is all powerful. He is all good! Nothing is too hard for Him.

God’s Care for His Creation

As Christ commands his followers with the words, “Don’t be anxious,” He reminds them of His repeated provision for His creation. This is meant to encourage His disciples. He reminds them, in verse 26, that He provides food for the birds of the air. He reassures His followers that they are worth so much more than the birds; therefore, God will provide for them also.

Christ goes on to ask a pointed question that is meant to stir the hearts of those listening to him. In verse 27, He says, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” In a basic sense, Christ was getting the point across that He is in control, man is not, and worry does nothing to change this. He does not make this point to discourage his listeners, because He goes on to assure them of His love in verses 28-30 by directing their focus to His care for His creation.

Then, in verse 32, Christ summarizes His words to His listeners by reminding them that their Heavenly Father knows everything that they need. God is fully aware of the fact that you need to eat. Your Heavenly Father knows that you need clothes, nourishment, and shelter. At certain times, He may be calling His children to endure struggle, heartache, and pain, but He knows their needs. He assures them that He will take care of them. Knowing this truth, we can then live out God’s command in verse 33.

Seek First the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness

What does it mean to seek the kingdom of God? What does “kingdom-seeking” have to do with your current struggle or trial? R. Kent Hughes answers this well when he says:

…we are to be in a continual quest for God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness. When you and I do this, our focus is no longer on what we wear, eat, and drink, and we are thus liberated from the blight of anxiety. If we constantly seek him, there will be no room for lesser matters. If we seek his kingdom and his righteousness, the cares of the day will flee.1

God’s kingdom is not here, yet, in it’s totality. It is a kingdom to come. But those who have been born again by the Spirit of God are citizens of that kingdom…now. Paul says in Philippians 3:20, “But our citizenship is in heaven…”. In 1 Peter 2:9-10, Peter states, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Throughout the New Testament, we see that Christians are an expectant people. We await a Savior and a kingdom where that Savior, Jesus Christ, will reign forever.

But although we await a future kingdom, we are citizens of that kingdom now (although “out of country”). As Jesus declares to us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” He is telling us to live our lives, in our current context, as citizens of His kingdom. Citizens of Christ’s kingdom do not worry and become anxious over things such as food, clothes, and life circumstances, because they know that their King reigns over all. He loves them. He provides for them.

Conclusion

In conclusion, what does Matthew 6:25-34 have to teach us during this current trial? It carries us above the worry and fear of the present circumstances to hear our Savior King say, “Live as those with a greater calling than food and clothing.” So we seek His kingdom as we trust His gracious and loving hand to provide. If He cares about the birds and plants enough to provide for them, how much more will He care for His redeemed and blood-bought saints whom He purchased with His own blood?

  1. R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001), 323. Scribd.

How Should I Respond to a Global Pandemic?

I remember a conversation that I had a few months ago about “some virus” that was going around China. At that time, it was barely even a thought. Four months later, it’s a global pandemic. Much uncertainty and confusion exists in the minds and hearts of everyone around us. Many here in South Africa are not sure how they will provide for their families today, tomorrow, or next week. Many, at this point, have no idea what their future holds regarding their job or employment.

Over the past month, there have been many who have written solid, biblically doctrinal perspectives on how to deal with this current situation (or at least how to think about it). This post is not meant to be one of those, although I hope it is grounded in doctrine! This post is meant to provide a few practical responses that we should have, as believers in Christ, to our current situation.

  1. Don’t try to discern God’s purpose for this pandemic.

One of the greatest dangers in any trial, tragedy, or hardship is spending time trying to discern God’s purpose for the trial. We must remember that God’s ways are far higher than our ways (Isa. 55:8-9). He does not owe us an explanation. Even if God did reveal His ways to us, we would still respond with pride and selfishness, because our problem is not found in our circumstances; it is within our hearts (Jer. 17:9). So although it hurts, use this current trial to learn to trust God resting in His goodness and sovereignty. Job would be an excellent book of the Bible to study right now!

  1. Be reminded of the brevity of life.

James 4:14 states, “…What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes (ESV).” The King James Version uses the word “vapor” in this verse. Both of these provide excellent imagery into the substance of our lives on this earth. We tend to think we are invincible (until we are not). We go through life doing the next thing without ever stopping to meditate on the brevity of our lives. We are finite, needy creatures. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that we, as human beings, do not call the shots. God is in control of all, and we control nothing. Our time on earth can be taken from us in an instant. Our lives are truly “a vapor.”

  1. Entrust yourself to Jesus Christ.

The fact that our lives are short and God is sovereign over all should not cause us to worry. If we know the beginning of the story then we realize that man sinned against God. All that man is worthy of is death and judgment. This means that life is a gracious blessing of God. We are not entitled to life. We are entitled to God’s wrath in hell for our sin. But, God provided a substitute for sinful rebels. He gave His Son, Jesus, so that we could be restored in a right relationship with God. Therefore, do not worry about a virus. Do not fear the brevity of your life. For those who know Jesus, this life is but a stepping stone to eternity with God, in His kingdom, forever! So, rest in Him.

  1. Look for Gospel opportunities.

At this time, many are scared and afraid. This is reasonable. To some level, everyone has been affected by the recent trial. But while many are afraid, they do not know what to do with this fear. They will run to alcohol, drugs, food, entertainment, friends, relationships, pornography, etc. We, as believers, have the only answer to fear and hope of satisfaction and comfort. This answer is Christ. Hope is only found in the Gospel. So we must declare it. Let us keep our eyes open for opportunities to share this Gospel.

  1. Serve where you can.

This one may seem difficult right now. In fact, I don’t even have specifics to give, but let us be looking for ways in which we can serve and bless others. There are numerous needs during this time. Some may need food. Some may need medical care. Some may simply need a WhatsApp message. May we serve others, especially those of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10).

  1. Honor the authorities God has given you.

We may not agree with everything our government does or says, but we are called to submit to them. Unless government is restricting clear biblical commands, we are to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s (Matt. 22:21).” Will there be a point where government infringes on biblical commands? Potentially! But that is not now. May we encourage, pray for, and cheer on those who have been ordained by God to watch out for our care and protection. Read Romans 13:1-7 and meditate on what it means to honor our authorities during this time.

  1. Don’t waste it!

If we are not intentional, something will take our time. Whether it be kids, games, social media, Netflix, or something else. Our default is to waste time. If we can move past the fear, worry, and anxiety of this current situation, we can begin to see great opportunities. If you have ever had an excuse to stay home and work, it is now! So ask yourself, “How can I use this time to work on my prayer life? How can I take that class I have been wanting to take? Could I use this time to read those books that have been on my shelf for years? How can our family take time to simply enjoy each other?” Many opportunities can be found amidst a global pandemic. Don’t let your worry and fear cause you to miss these opportunities.

Many more encouragements and challenges could be given, but I hope and pray that these will at least encourage us to lift our heads and gaze on Christ while we work mightily with our hands (even at home) for His kingdom as we await His return!