How should we help and enable pastors?

We’re going to speak of pastors in the singular.  Most churches have a senior pastor or primary teaching pastor that also has some responsibility for overall leadership of the church.  Larger churches with multiple staff pastors may have one assigned to missions leadership.  So, we’re talking about working with the senior pastor or the pastor responsible for missions.  The goals of enabling or educating your pastor in missions are:

  • To fuel his biblical vision for world missions
  • To supply him with the best current and relevant information about missions
  • To inform him on the most important news and developments in the lives and ministries of he missionaries you support
  • To facilitate his role in leadership of missions for the whole church

The first step is to become his ally.  Try to understand and sympathize with his position.  Most pastors have little more than a cursory knowledge of missions in general.  They have it even less training and experience in managing the missions ministries and efforts of a local church.  Unless your pastor has had a personal interest in missions, he has probably never studied anything more than the required missions history class in Bible school or seminary.  Preaching, Bible study, and theology fills his mind and priorities.  His congregation continually pushes reading material and outside meetings on his desk.  His stack of books “yet to read” Is growing faster than his stack of books “already read” is reducing.  He doesn’t feel like he needs yet another ministry pushing him to make their ministry his highest priority, much less a ministry he doesn’t really have sufficient training or inclination to understand.  He needs a sympathetic friend, an ally, to help him grow and fulfill his role in missions leadership of the church.

If there is opportunity, take your pastor to a missions training or exposure event.  Meet with him after a missionary speaker has visited the church to process the information, claims, and propositions made.  As you help him develop missions discernment, you may find that you need to study and develop more discernment yourself.  Give or direct him to only the very best missions resources.  Don’t clutter his desk, his mind, and his time with every resource that crosses your path.  Communicate with him using only the shorter, concise version.  Under his time and he will grow to appreciate your support of his role.  Your pastor does not have to be the expert in all things concerning missions.

Find a way to get him in contact with your missionaries.  He will grow in appreciation of their commitment and the difficulties of their cross cultural work through relationship.  If at all possible, develop a plan and an expectation that he would visit each of your church supported missionaries, especially those sent from your congregation, on the field.  Then, when he goes, make sure that he is not the visiting star, in the limelight, doing ministry.  He needs to go as an observer, learner, encourager, not as a visiting superstar.  This is counterintuitive to most pastors.  They feel that they want to be useful and employee their gifts in ministry on the field.  Some may feel that they are expected to be spiritually fruitful among the target population while they are there.  On the contrary, what the missionary needs most is empathy and understanding.  What the congregation needs is a leader that has a sense of personal empathy for their supported missionaries.  The pastor should be more concerned about spiritual shepherding and nurture of their representative worker on the foreign field than “glory stories” of their personal ministry on the field.

Among the key resources that every pastor should be familiar with is John Piper’s book Let The Nations Be Glad.  The story behind the publication of this book is significant.  As the lead pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, John piper was initially disinterested in missions. It was one of those ministries that ran by itself. They had a significant organizational structure for handling that. They had an annual, week-long missions conference. Piper planned to have personal vacation time during that week. However, one year the planned keynote speaker of the conference was unable to come at the last minute. The missions pastor impressed upon John Piper the necessity of his canceling his plans for personal vacation and filling in for the missing speaker. When he reluctantly agreed to do it, he canceled all appointments and locked himself in his study to develop the messages for this missions conference. Never before had he seen or received training in the comprehensive and pervasive passion of God for his glory extending to all nations. This series of messages developed for that missions conference became the basis of this book. The “missions awakening” of John Piper has been providentially used of God through this book to awaken many pastors to the strong biblical support and vision for world missions throughout the Scriptures.

We would also encourage you to point your pastor in the direction of the Church Leadership path of Propempo.com. It is easily accessible, free, and provides many insights and resources to help church pastors in their leadership of world missions in their church.

If your pastor is willing and available, he could accompany you to the Perspectives class. There are a few Perspectives alternatives designed for pastors which distill the 15 week class into one long weekend.   Busy conferences designed for pastors and church leaders include breakout sessions or tracks for missions topics. You might encourage your pastor to utilize that resource at least every few years as a refresher course. You may also need to process that input with him in order to harmonize it with your churches approach and experience.

 In summary:

  •  be your pastor’s ally
  •  supply him with only the best resources, honoring his time
  •  spend time with him to develop his missions IQ and instincts
  •  get him connected in relationships with real missionaries

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