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Checkpoint

Will you go?

Until recently, CMS NSW & ACT Executive Director John Lovell, together with Jodi, served with CMS in a church in Valencia, Spain. Here he asks four challenging questions to help others considering the challenge to GO.

In Matthew 28:16-20 Jesus speaks of receiving “all authority in heaven and on earth.”

This is a far reaching and all-encompassing authority. Because of Jesus’ victorious resurrection, he can say “therefore go and make disciples of all nations”.

I heard these words of Jesus during my years in Sunday School and youth group. I remember CMS missionaries visiting and saying why they had chosen to give up the comforts of life in Australia to go and serve elsewhere. We prayed for them and I learned how the church financially supported them. I came to understand that mission was a team effort.

I was very comfortable playing my part as a supporter. We know mission needs supporters. We know mission needs prayer. We know mission needs financial support. Great! I was all sorted and settled that I could obey Jesus’ words and stay where I was.

But how do we discern if we should be the ones to GO (as our family eventually did)? I suggest four questions will help in making this decision:

1. Have you grasped the need?
2. Have you accepted the cost of following Jesus?
3. Are there good reasons you should not go? and
4. Have you sought the wisdom of others?

Have you grasped the need?

There are many things to distract us from grasping the desperate need for the gospel to go to all nations.

Have we perhaps failed to understand the peril of those continuing in rebellion against their creator? As they head towards eternal condemnation, are we all too easily caught up in the busyness of life, inoculated to the need of the millions throughout the world who are lost?

This problem is exacerbated by our human tendency to focus on the immediate circumstances around us. The saying ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is sadly true for many Christians today, and we see it in a lack of concern for the lost.

As we look at churches in Australia, and if we keep our focus narrow enough, some might conclude there is no great need for more gospel workers. Your church may well have several people who can preach and lead Bible studies.

Let me recount how my personal experience changed my perspective. We moved from a large, well-resourced church to serve in a smaller struggling church. The smaller church was only 15 minutes away, but the contrast was massive. Rather than thinking ministry was only for those with extraordinary gifts, I quickly saw that ministry was for all who loved Jesus and were willing and able to serve in response to the many needs. This shift in thinking prepared me well for later cross-cultural service.

One of the many joys of serving in a gospel-poor country like Spain was serving in a place with such need. Our church in Valencia had no pastor for three years before we arrived. We were the only Anglican church in Spain’s third largest city, with a population approaching a million people. The university staff worker I mentored had no formal theological training, and was responsible for ministry at three universities.

Jesus’ words in Matthew 9:37 challenge us: “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few.”

Instead of starting with ‘why go?’, try starting with ‘why not go?’

Have you accepted the cost of following Jesus?

Are we willing to hand over our lives to Jesus, for his purposes, for his glory, without reservation? For me—perhaps for you too—this was an area where I needed to be challenged.

In God’s good timing, this challenge came in my final year of theological training. We were excited about the possibility of church planting in north-west Sydney. However, God unsettled our settled plans!

I had to preach on Luke 14:25-33 at the church where I was serving as a student minister. Here Jesus tells two short parables, the first about a man building a tower and the second about a king going to war. In both situations, you wouldn’t even begin the task without first knowing you can finish successfully. You assess what is required first then act accordingly. Jesus’ conclusion is confronting: “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”

Teaching this passage not long after hearing the need for church planting in Spain was unsettling. I was confronted by the call to costly discipleship. I remembered Jesus’ words in Luke 9:23, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

The call to take up our cross daily reminds us that following Jesus is not a one-off task to complete, then move on from. It is the ongoing shape of the Christian life. In my case, my choice to leave a career in corporate telecommunications management—a ‘dream job’ I was offered just before resigning—to train for gospel ministry did not mark the end of costly discipleship decisions. This type of decision is what followers of Jesus are called to do. And we will continue to do this every day for the rest of our lives or until Jesus returns.

We must be constantly ready for God to unsettle whatever other plans we may have.

Are there good reasons you should not go?

Instead of starting with ‘why go?’ try starting with ‘why not go?’ As we better understand the genuine obstacles some people face, preventing them from serving cross culturally, we might be challenged to re-examine our own reasons.

Many Christians long to be sent as missionaries. But life’s circumstances mean that under God, this does not seem the wisest path to take as they serve Jesus. This can be a very painful realisation, and we ought to stand with those who live with this disappointment and encourage them in the valuable part they play.

It could be that the health of a family member could not be adequately cared for in a cross-cultural context. It could be that there are significant wider family responsibilities or needs, such as caring for an ageing parent. It could be that a child has special needs that could not be well-accommodated.(1) It could be that for several reasons, a person does not have the resilience to thrive in a long-term cross-cultural ministry context.

We can learn from those who are eager and keen to serve cross-culturally, but for one or more of the above reasons need to stay. We can honour their commitment and zeal by supporting their mission partnership and asking ourselves: ‘why shouldn’t I go?’

Have you sought the wisdom of others?

A final question worth asking is this: have you sought the wisdom of others?

In Romans 12, Paul speaks of believers as part of a body, each with different functions and gifts. As we think about the work of mission and discerning who should go, humbly seeking the counsel of others is incredibly important. Our self-assessment is so easily misguided. For many who struggle with self-awareness, this will include a failure to realise we lack self-awareness! Paul gives good advice:

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. (Romans 12:1-5)

CMS deliberately involves many people in the process of discerning the Lord’s will and arriving at a decision to send and support a new long-term missionary. Just as the work of mission is a team effort, so is the process of discerning who should go. Are you ready to ask those who know you well what they think about your suitability to be a long-term cross-cultural worker? In our case we spoke to Christian parents, family, close friends and our minister, all of whom offered thoughtful comments on how God might use us. The decision to GO as a missionary requires careful consideration and wise input from others within the body of Christ.

A challenge for you

Have you been challenged to consider whether you are someone who will GO?

As we consider the need, the cost, the potential obstacles and seek the wisdom of others, remember the joy and privilege it is to serve in God’s plentiful harvest field! Jesus gives us a wonderful promise to remember: “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:29-30)

PRAY

In this article John has made a series of challenges and asked several questions. Ask God for wisdom to reflect on your own situation.

Notes

  1. On this subject, see also CMS SANT Director Mark Peterson’s article.