Questions Every Pastor Should Ask A Missionary Candidate

Every pastor knows the routine. Missionaries are seeking prayer and financial support to go where God has directed them. We first get mailings which will include testimonies, facts about where the particular place, and usually a letter of recommendation from the mission agency or sending pastor. It often followed up by a phone call.
Most of the time, the pastor has no idea who they are or how the missionary got the churches address. Often, the missionary is assuming they will get a meeting and some will even suggest a date for a possible presentation for support. Having been a missionary, missions pastor, and lead pastor, I am very familiar with the routine. Some say it is in need of repair and even perhaps a major overhaul of the system could make missions less difficult for the missionary. That is something for a different post.
The purpose here though is to suggest some questions that every pastor needs to ask a candidate long before a missionary ever gets to do a presentation. It is also a reminder for the missionary to perhaps have some things in his own thinking that he needs to consider as well.

1.   What is the Gospel? This is not a question you take for granted. I think in my early years had someone asked me this question, I would not have been able to articulate it well. If a missionary is supposed to be the spokesman for the Gospel he should be very adept to speaking the Gospel from several angles and use several Scriptures rather than recite the “Romans Road.” Their understanding of the smallest points of the Gospel should be clear and precise. Their ability to articulate it should be literally at the tip of their tongue. Their passion for the purity of it should show up in their delight to talk about it. They should have stories about people they have personally dealt with who have been forever changed by it. You should see their love for the Gospel in their eyes.

2.   What is your greatest priority as a follower of Jesus? If anyone should know the Great Commission, it should be a missionary. For the glory of God all believers should make disciples of Jesus. Church planting can certainly be one outcome of the priority of disciple making, but there must be a solid, vigorous, and clear zeal to be personally involved in the lives of people (from all cultures) helping them to become more like Christ and less like themselves. This is the Christian’s greatest priority!

3.  What is your strategy for living out #1 and #2? Many candidates have little to no answer for this. The Gospel and disciple making is often something that is merely “understood” and not strategically planned. Part of a strategy will be to know your immediate culture. However, even knowing your culture is not enough. My good friend and missionary David Hosaflook says his strategy is “Pray, meet people, and tell them about Jesus.”  I love it. However, one may pray and for a myriad of reasons will never make “meeting people” a genuine reality.  If you love people and you love God you will purposefully be with people.  However, talking to some candidates, loving people seems to come with great difficulty. There needs to be a well-thought-out strategy in place that is honed over time that intentionally makes meeting people a reality. Paul suggests a strategy to be in place in Romans 10:14 when he says “…how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” I call it a philosophy of ministry, but it is simply a way that one person lives in such a way that he strategically meets people for the purpose of discipling them with the Gospel. It can vary in methodology but it must be there!

4.   Who are you now discipling? If a candidate is not presently making disciples being in a different country won’t flip on the switch. If they truly believe it, they will be doing it presently. I am often surprised at the answers I get when I ask that question. Take a cursory look at Paul’s epistles and they are littered with names of people he has discipled. Take a quick look backward in your life and see if you can see faces of people who are more like Christ today and less like themselves because of your immediate impact in their lives. A missionary candidate should have many.

5.   What is your timeline for the first 5 years? Knowing how to begin is one thing, but knowing how to plan for the future is another. Having at least a 5 year plan is crucial. A plan is a map, a guide, or a path that you plan even though you know you will need to have adjustments. Even a young, inexperienced missionary should make a plan and outline a timeline that he wishes to pursue and at the same time leave it open for God to make His divine providence known. Set goals, give priorities, and place them in a reasonable time schedule. Then take each step humbly submitting to God’s final and ultimate plan.

6.   What is your exit strategy? This addresses the question of the end. Many start out with much zeal only to find out that there is no end plan. In the past it has been considered noble to promote no end at all–just a desire to be “faithful.” While faithful is indeed noble, God actually desires that we consider the end (see Luke 14:30). Is there a retirement savings plan? But more than that, is there a plan in place to grow up their own replacement from within their own existing ministry? It is important to prepare the next generation and raise up leadership/servants to do the work when one no longer can do the work. Each missionary should seriously consider and plan effectively for their exit.

7.   What is the real level of commitment of your wife and children? I cannot tell you how many missionaries I have met who when speaking to the husband/father really had little to no real understanding of what they were asking of their wife and children. Often, you can see it the eyes of the wife. The family has such a powerful impact on the overall effectiveness of ministry–especially in countries where the family culture is so devastated with the ravages of a self-serving environment and broken relationships are the norm. The missionary’s family should be strong, unified, committed, and joy filled not only around each other, but their love for each other should resonate throughout the ministry.  The bond between the husband and wife should be obvious and unwavering. It will not be perfect and kids will always wrestle with the things of God, but there should be a grace-filled unity that gives space for each other in each step of life.

I am sure there are more questions to ask, but these questions address things that are often assumed and I don’t think we should assume these key elements. Anyone who is seeking to serve the Gospel should have a healthy transparency that welcomes the questions and they should even have reasonable answers for them.

 

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A life…now a legacy.

You know that’s how it goes, don’t you? God gives you your life, you live, and then all is left is your legacy.  A legacy is what you hand down to the next generation.

Last night, our world lost a life, but certainly not a legacy.  Major Ron Brooks passed away due to a stroke he suffered earlier in the day. God took him home. thumb_12417920_10205776196781100_4652109840460545980_n_1024

He was my high school principal and a man I had the privilege of serving along side a church plant in Heidelberg, Germany. The generation he served and the impact of his life is today still being felt.  Thousands of teens sat under his preaching/teaching and many, many were rescued out of the grasp of sin and turned to Christ because of his influence. Countless numbers of men today stand in pulpits across the world because of his faithful influence.  Many today sit at home or at work and quietly live their lives for Christ because Ron at one point in their lives courageously risked his own relationship with them to enter their world and speak the Word of God into it. Many many more young people even today are continuing to be influenced because they are being reared by parents who sat under his influence for Christ and the Gospel.  The legacy is real. The legacy cannot be missed.

His time in the military had an indellible influence upon him.  It showed up in his preaching. There was always a sense of urgency that worked its way out of the text. There was a commanding way to him that spoke with authority.  It was what that generation needed.  There was clarity in his preaching that very often found its way to the heart where like it or not, he addressed your need. His time with his Savior had an indelible influence perhaps even more. It too came out in his preaching. You knew you were loved. You knew you were served with truth. Your life was greatly affected, even changed. Christ was exalted and God was glorified.

He was God’s chosen servant for a particular generation. Good servants of God are like that. They are “wired” and placed in an environment to do a specific task for a specific purpose.  He tended to his purpose with great zeal and tireless effort to bring the truths of God’s Word to bear in lives. It was his passion.  It was his delight.  It was his heart.  Lives were changed. My life was changed.

Thank you, sir!  Thank you principal!  Thank you co-worker and mentor. Thank you servant! Thank you lover of Jesus.

Your legacy is real. Your legacy continues and will do so to the 1000th generation (Deut 5:10).

May God’s sweet grace rest on you, Barbara, Ron Jr., Jeff, Leslie, and Stephen and may in the days ahead you find Christ as rich and satisfying as Ron taught us all that He is!

A life…now a legacy.

“Only one life.  Twill soon be passed.  Only what is done for Christ will last.”

I Want To Be Your Friend

A friend sent this to me recently. Relationships are very difficult to maneuver through but with God’s grace at work in our hearts it should look a lot like this:
Martin Colborn writes,
“Can you criticize me without condemnation, ridicule or condescension? Can you express your convictions without expecting me to immediately adopt them as my own? Can you allow me time to test statements, in order to find out the truth (or error) of them for myself? Will you acknowledge that you, being human, friendship-daycould possibly be wrong, even in your dearest convictions and opinions, allowing me the same? And could we just talk, without cliche, without posturing or intimidating, without seeking to gain the upper hand or to win an argument? And when we must part, can we do so not to hurry to tell others each other’s faults, but to love and pray for one another instead, and look forward with delight to the time when God brings us together again? If you can answer “yes” to these questions, I want to be your friend.”

Christ-lovers and people who intentionally live for God’s glory should be the best at this.

Evidences of a Healthy Church

One of the most important jobs of the elder is monitor his spiritual health.  Paul counseled Timothy to “…watch thou in all things…making full proof of your ministry (1Timothy 4:5 KJV).  This same “watchfulness” is in the elders job description for the church.  Paul instructs the elders at Ephesus to “Take heed…to all the flock…” (Acts 20:28).

I love having a group of men that meet once a month to pray for the flock, plan for the flock, and protect the flock of God.  There are some very sneaky ways in which sin, wrong thinking, wrong philosophy, wrong theology, apathy, or indifference can come into an unsuspecting body of believers and wreak havoc over time.  There are some obvious and observable evidences of health that should quickly help us see if we are headed toward good health or is there a need for an adjustment.  Although not an exhaustible list, here is a list I look at to help me adjust.Perfect-church-2

1.  Is Christ seen preeminent in all areas of church life? (Col 1:18) Christ is the Head and in everything He IS preeminent. We don’t make Him this, He IS this. The question then becomes “Are we keeping in line with what is true?” This would include preaching. We can have a very well though out sermon with our Hebrew/Greek well developed and fully defined and have a profound exegetical outline and well articulated illustrations and never get to Jesus. Children’s ministry, teen ministry, college ministry, men and women’s ministries must all get to Christ and His preeminence.

2.  Is the Word central and authoritative? Pragmatism is slick. It dulls the senses and silently allows things that Scripture would never condone. The words “central” and “authoritative” are key. Central means it is in the middle of our thinking in all areas. Authoritative means we wrestle with our wills and emotions and seek to make sure our motives are submitted to God’s clear directives.

3.  Are there lives changing?  One of the joys of Scripture is to see just how God works His glory out in lives and the profound impact that has on a life.  People who are constantly pursuing God will always be changing from glory to glory (2Corinthians 3:18). Paul wanted His churches to continue to grow in their understanding of Christ and the aroma of Christ to permeate all of life (2Corinthians 2:14).  Growth in Christ is always seen by others and ultimate demonstrates itself in people becoming less like themselves and more like Christ.

4.  Is there ownership of sin? John is very clear, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” (1John 1:8). The sad thing about aging in our organized churches is falling for this trap. Like the church in Sardis, there is a “reputation of being alive” but are really dead (Revelation 3:1). Much deadness can be traced to how the Laodiceans thought of themselves in full denial of what was true (Revelation 3:17). They didn’t own their sin. Let’s say it another way, “They didn’t treasure Christ and His magnificent grace.” Confession and repentance must be an intentional part of individuals and practiced corporately as well.

5.  Is there a growing care for “one-another?”  This spills over into so many areas of the church. People sacrificing themselves to give to each other was a key characteristic of the early church that made an indelible mark in the culture (Acts 2:42-46). We feel sometimes that we have to program our way into the surrounding culture when we should begin with genuine care, “one-another” each other in a way that is in direct contrast to the self-serving life-style of people without Christ.

Why Would You Leave Your Church?

Grace is Flowing

This is a good question. Most likely at some point in your life you may be faced with this question. What would guide you? There is an accompanying question that has to be asked: “What is a healthy church?” or “Why would I choose this church in first place?” There are many good resources today that can help answer these questions and maybe we can discuss them on a later post, but for the sake of this post, let’s assume you have been part of what you enjoyed as a “good” church and it’s not the same today and you are bothered by this. What are the core elements that have to be in place for you to stay?  Here is a list of questions perhaps you should ask about your church. The order isn’t particularly important as all of these are vital.

1.   Is there a genuine Christ-centered…

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Why Would You Leave Your Church?

This is a good question. Most likely at some point in your life you may be faced with this question. What would guide you? There is an accompanying question that has to be asked: “What is a healthy church?” or “Why would I choose this church in first place?” There are many good resources today that can help answer these questions and maybe we can discuss them on a later post, but for the sake of this post, let’s assume you have been part of what you enjoyed as a “good” church and it’s not the same today and you are bothered by this. What are the core elements that have to be in place for you to stay?  Here is a list of questions perhaps you should ask about your church. The order isn’t particularly important as all of these are vital.

1.   Is there a genuine Christ-centered approach to every aspect of ministry?  In other words, what flag is flying? For many, Christ is merely “understood.” Often Christ is not the center, the end, the beginning and everything in between, He is somewhere in the background. Read Colossians 1:17,18 and Romans 11:36 and compare. Is Christ really the reason you exist and meet together or is there another flag flying.

2.  Is there a genuine Gospel-saturation for living? Many have perhaps been brought up with the idea that the Gospel is the power of God unto Salvation (Rom 1:16), which is so very true and precious. But the Gospel doesn’t stop there! The same grace that saves is the same grace that sanctifies us every single moment of our life. We are be being saved daily (1Corinthians 15:2) and are being transformed into the image of Christ from one degree of glory to another which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18). All of the message of the Gospel is true for us for everyday sanctification. If the Gospel is diminished for life the natural result is death, decay, and God’s glory will soon be missing. You can’t manufacture this and you can’t program it into your congregation. It either is or it isn’t.  church

3.  Is there an atmosphere of confession and repentance? Sin is by nature deceptive and so, well, it deceives. Confession and repentance must come from the top. There should be in the “atmosphere” of the leadership an on-going repentance. I have said so often to myself and to many others, “It’s not ‘Once saved, always saved;’ it’s ‘once regenerated, always repenting!'”  This is not just reserved for the leadership, however, the “followship” (my word…) should be a repenting people as well.  Confession and repentance in the heart of people is often exhibited in how people pray and what they pray for. Listen carefully to your own prayers and see if you include both in your own prayers. It is also seen in the church’s practice of the ordinances (The Lord’s Supper and Baptism are perfectly designed to speak of both confession and repentance as well as publicly declare the person and work of Christ).

4.  Is there an atmosphere of genuine growing faith exhibited and celebrated? Since it’s true that faith comes by hearing the Word (Romans 10:17) then theoretically people should be growing in their love, trust, and belief in all that Christ is and all that He has done. God’s Word is about God’s Son! Growth in faith is often exhibited in a strong hunger for the Word by the people, and a tenacious attempt by the leadership to be feeding them God’s Word. The giving of the Word and the receiving of the Word both need to be sought after by both leadership and followship and celebrated by a transformation in hearts that is talked about, and modeled in order to point the next generation to growing faith as well. If growing faith is absent, most likely church discipline will be absent as well.

5.  Is there a growing love for God that is seen in lives becoming more like Christ? It is easy to sit in public worship services and give lip service to loving God. It is yet another thing to see people who humbly admit transparently their own lives need Christ and thus pursue sanctification through accountability, life-on-life discipleship, iron-sharpening-iron relational living that result in a steady change into the image of Jesus. Once again, this is certainly leadership led, but it must be a followship thing as well! This should be what good ol’ fashion Acts 2 type stuff looks like that goes on in genuine fellowship “from house-to-house.”

6.  Is there a love for people that is sacrificial? This is part of God’s two-fold “greatest command” given to us in Scripture (Deuteronomy 6:5,6; Matthew 22:37,38) to love God and love people. Many will “do things” for people but that doesn’t mean there is a love for people. Christ is the model here. He sacrificially gave over and over (Philippians 2:1-11) in a way that met the need for humanity who could not do for themselves. Giving sacrificially as Christ gives means it is not convenient; it won’t fit your model of living; it will mean cleaning up messes, and it means they may not even like you for serving them. Loving people as Christ loved and gave Himself is just difficult. However, it should be a key element in leadership and in followship.

7.  Is there reproduction going on? Discipleship must be happening. Helping people become more like Christ needs to be front and center – the goal of preaching, teaching, activities, fellowship, worship, and evangelism. There should be an intentional outward focus that includes the inward focus. We follow the 2Timothy 2:2 pattern that flows from Christ’s Great Commission (Matthew 20:19,20) that commands that we “teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.” This means there is the constant verbal communication of the Gospel to all as well as the constant visual communication of a life that is being changed by the Gospel.  This should result then in reproduction – people whose life will be changed as they continue to watch other people’s life change. It becomes multiplication rather than addition to the church. (As an aside, I think the ultimate in true reproduction will be in churches that will produce another body of believers–sometimes called “Church-Planting.”)

8.  Is there humble worship going on? Humble worship is often lost somewhere along the way and aberrant worship appears. By aberrant, I mean, is someone or something other than the God of the Bible being worshipped and is the worship acceptable worship? I think God does care how He is worshipped. There are often two extremes: 1. Worship any way you want to as long as you are sincere; and 2. You must only worship this way–a rigid adherence to a prescribed method. Either side is flawed. God is holy and thus He must be worshipped in a way that aligns with His very nature. The story of Cain and Able illustrate this. Numbers 3 also tells of a bitter story of two men whose worship was unauthorized. The One true God is to be feared and worshipped, and His glory must be at the very core of our love and submission to Him. Genuine worship isn’t electronic or non-electronic, fashion or lack of fashion, programmed or not programmed. True worship is the grace-filled heart of a servant whose soul desires to speak of the worth of God and hear His Word with great joy and submit his life to it all!

It has been my experience that if one or two of these eight are lacking, things begin to crumble pretty quickly. Some would look for external signs that are changed and to this I would offer a caution. The external things may or may not be genuine reasons for leaving a church. Be very slow to leave if these eight things are going on but you are uncomfortable simply because your preference isn’t considered. It may be God is working His will into your life and means for you to serve others by not demanding your preference. Many won’t immediately see any of these eight for some time depending on their involvement. Maybe God would have you stay to help model and shape a different direction.  Maybe you sense it is too late for that and you need to quickly move on. Either way, considering these things may just clarify where God has you and what your next step must be.

10 Random Thoughts on Parenting

At Thanksgiving this past year, we had the joy of spending some time with all three of our children together with their families.  More than once, I was just overwhelmed with joy and several times to the point of tears welling up in my eyes as I thought of God’s amazing grace that continues to show God’s kindness to Cindy and me and our family. There are no magic wands or lists to follow that could even come close to orchestrating our family. Each child is so unique with the way God has designed them, and then you add the preciousness of their spouses and we have such a conglomerate of character, “characters,” personalities, physical abilities, and passions that simply cannot be because of any great thing we have done, but an absolutely undeniable gift from God to His great glory.

So, I thought I would jot down some things that I’ve learned, am still learning, forgot, advise, or not advise as the case maybe.  So, here are ten…for what they’re worth. They are not earth shattering thoughts nor are they prioritized in any way.  Just…random thoughts.

1.    Relationships are hard work. From the very beginning, work very, very hard on your relationship with them. You are not their “friend,” you are their parent. Especially at the beginning. As they grow and demonstrate they can discipline themselves this relationship grows and change will occur. Don’t hover over them, but don’t keep them at a distance either. As you change in age, responsibility, and life stages, understand they are changing too. Walk with them and work very hard at it.  It is hard, laborious, rest-stealing work. Nothing comes easy. Wrestle, struggle, weep, pray, and again I say, work!

2.    Keep looking down the road. You are training them for tomorrow, next month, next year, when they leave your home, and ultimately for eternity.  Don’t expect them to be 8 before they are finished being 7. Patiently take each day with the view they won’t probably get it today—but someday they will. We must give them an eternal perspective.  This takes time to form in our own minds so why don’t we give our kids time to “get it?”sipe

3.   Take time to learn them. God made them on purpose.  Do you know that purpose? We are designed to give God glory. Find out the fascinating parts how God made them unique.  Watch them—every part of them.  How do they act or react and to what situations are they really moved? Watch facial expressions, eye movements, bodily reactions and learn to decipher what God is doing in them and through them. It takes times.  Don’t be afraid to spend time.

4.    Teach them very early what “no” means. So many children do not get authority simply because Mom and Dad did not teach them what “no” means. It often means that they also don’t grasp “yes” very well either. This leaves them very insecure.

5.    Be consistent.  Spirit-driven, Christ-centered people are people who are not perfect, but demonstrate consistency. Children who never know what to expect from Dad or Mom because of huge swings of emotions or “moods” are once again raised in an insecure, fearful environment and those insecurities and fears are devastating to them.

6.    Constantly speak truth into their lives.  Everyday presents “Kodak moments” to speak God’s truth into their lives.  Don’t miss them.  They are precious times of relational heart-to-heart times that often do not come around the same away again. Store them in the library of your memory. A consistent focus on what is true keeps them in the realm of God and His glory. Learning to discern what is true in life must begin with the parent. Don’t be fooled by imitations. Satan is a liar. Sin itself lies. Christ, His Word, and the Spirit are all revealers of truth for all of life.  Learn it, live it, model it and speak it into their lives. Truth doesn’t come by osmosis.

7.    Laugh often and hard! Don’t take yourself so seriously. Laugh with your kids often and laugh hard. We have had tears in our eyes and our guts hurt with laughter. We laughed at ourselves, silly things, and even laughed a corny jokes.  Now that they are grown, they are now saying the corny things and we are laughing just as hard…well, most of the time!

8.    Build traditions into your lives. We have many memories that we all share and are now seeking to make more. We have places for vacation, we have holiday traditions, we have many “Sipe-isms” as well as times with extended family that we all cherish together. These are things that are like glue that keep us all coming back for more. As fun, weird, or difficult as family (and extended family) can be, are all opportunities to grow in Christ-like love and reminders of God’s grace to all of us.

9.    Make all of life ministry. Being a pastor meant that my kids were pastor’s kids, but I doubt they knew it much. Cindy and I sought to make ministry a life rather than a ministry. In other words, we got to share life and ministry all the time with our kids so they really couldn’t decipher when we were “ministering” and when we were living life.  It was all one. Loving God and loving people cannot and should not be put in dividers and segmented. I am overwhelmed now to see them doing what they have done all their lives.  They are making a living by it now.  Pure grace!

10.   Cherish every step.  I think Cindy is better at this then me, but learning to love and cherish every step of the way is a must. This demands a certain contentment combined with delighting-in-the-moment way of handling each moment through the years. Each child moves through life in his/her own way that should be cherished, enjoyed and not rushed. The mothers contentment at where she is in life is crucial here. If the mother is always up-in-arms and creating drama for her and everyone else, she is not cherishing the moment. Life moves at break-neck speed and we will miss things that are very dear if we are not alert. Stop and enjoy right where you are in life and where they are.

Just my thoughts…and I’m sure there’s more thoughts out there.