by Lud Golz
After visiting missionaries on a number of fields over the past few years, I’ve come away dismayed because far too many of them have only a vague idea about what they’re supposed to be doing.
After visiting missionaries on a number of fields over the past few years, I’ve come away dismayed because far too many of them have only a vague idea about what they’re supposed to be doing. They don’t understand how what they are doing fits in with what their team is doing, or with what the church is doing. This produces frustration and tension between veteran and newer missionaries, and short-circuits the essential development of church leaders.
The more I have considered this problem, both in the light of my own ministry goals and objectives, and in the light of Scripture, the more convinced I am that all of us can learn much from the apostle Paul, who at the end of his life declared, "I have finished the race." In his mind, Paul had done what God had called him to do. He could share with humble confidence, "There is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day" (2 Tim. 4:7, 8).
This is not to say that he did not struggle with many of the same issues missionaries face today. But he did have a clear perception of why God had saved and called him into his service. He knew how to manage his life and ministry with a view toward finishing the race. He knew how what he did fit into God’s purposes for the church. What was Paul’s management secret? He gives us a glimpse of it in Romans 15:14-33.
Paul gained and maintained perspective in his work by knowing clearly where he had been, where he was, and where he was going. In other words, he knew what he had accomplished, what he was presently doing, and what he still intended to do in the future.
1. Where he had been. Paul’s accomplishments were noteworthy (vv. 18, 19), through the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Gentiles, all the way from Jerusalem to Illyricum, had come to Christ through what he had said and done. In fact, he said there wasn’t a place for any more of his work in these regions (v. 23).
When you get discouraged, it’s good to be able to look back and review and reflect on what God has enabled you to accomplish. Some people keep a file of letters of affirmation and thanksgiving from those whom they have helped. When discouraged, they get out those letters and read them for encouragement.
2. Where he was. Paul did not suffer from any lack of certainty about his present task. He was on his way to Jerusalem to serve the church there with an offering from believers in Macedonia and Achaia (vv. 25, 26). This was not a "Priority One" task with him, but it was part of the big picture of building Christ’s kingdom. He was committed to finishing it and making sure the poor among the saints in Jerusalem got what had been raised (v. 28).
You can’t live on your past accomplishments. When the going gets tough and confusion sets in, it’s okay to read your appreciation letters, but don’t spend too much time on it. Look to the past for perspective, but don’t live in the past. If you do, you may never complete your present assignment, especially if it’s not "Priority One" with you. Complete your present task as soon as you get your batteries charged from your memory file of affirmation and accomplishment.
3. Where he was going. While you are completing your present task, begin thinking about where you will go and what you will do next. Paul carefully wove his future plans into his report on what he had done and was doing. He planned to go to Spain and hoped to visit the Roman believers on the way (vv. 23-29). He looked forward to their assistance and fellowship. Immediately, however, he was en route to Jerusalem.
Your future might look more exciting than your present, and in the scheme of things it might be more important. What you are now doing might have its negative side. Paul’s did. Be careful that you don’t start living in the future so much that you never complete your present assignment. Use your futureplans to motivate you in your present task and help you maintain perspective.
As you plan for the future, try to reach far enough so that it will take God’s involvement to accomplish it. But be careful not to reach out so far that your future becomes unreachable.
Paul not only maintained perspective on his life and ministry, he also found a way to maintain discipline to do what God wanted him to do. He established a purpose statement, goal statements, and a list of measurable objectives.
1. Purpose statement. Paul’s purpose statement was actually taken from Isaiah 52:15 (cf. v. 21). In preaching the gospel of Christ where his name was not known, he was fulfilling Old Testament prophecy. Can you state your purpose as clearly as Paul did? If you don’t know what it is, you will have a hard time maintaining discipline in your life and work.
My purpose statement for ministry is based on Colossians 1:28, Ephesians 4:11-13, and 1 Corinthians 9:19. Put in my own words, it is: to equip and encourage others to be and do all that God wants, especially those with potential for leadership and those already in positions of leadership.
2. Goal statements. Having established his purpose, Paul broke it down into goal statements, so that he could rank his activities. First, he wanted to preach where Christ was not known (v. 20). That was such a priority in his life that he put off other desirable tasks, such as visiting the church at Rome (v. 22). Reminding himself of his top goal drove Paul when the going got rough. It helped him to maintain discipline in fulfilling his calling.
Paul also wanted to help new Christians grow, so that they could advance God’s kingdom. He knew the Roman believers were "full of goodness, complete in knowledge, and competent to instruct one another" (v. 14). Nevertheless, they needed some reminders (vv. 15, 16). He wanted them to be capable of helping him in reaching the unreached.
I have two primary goals in ministry that are similar to Paul’s second goal. I want to equip, encourage, and empower the believers in our church to do the work of ministry that God has called and gifted them to do. In addition, I look for opportunities to encourage those already in ministry in the church to stir up their gifts and sharpen them for the work God has called them to do.
Paul’s third goal was to see the body of Christ function as it should, with each member doing what it was designed to do. In context, this meant that Gentile believers who had shared the Jews’ spiritual blessings should share their material blessings with the Jews (v. 27).
Paul’s goals, therefore, were (1) to reach the unreached; (2) to establish and equip the believers so they could help in the evangelistic task; and (3) to see the Christians working together in harmony and mutual support.
3. Measurable objectives. With his purpose and goals in mind, Paul established some measurable objectives. They were precise enough so that when they were completed he could check them off as having been done. In this part of his letter, note what they were:
- Equip believers to be able to do the work of ministry. Write a letter to accomplish this (vv. 14, 15). As he sent this letter, he could check off that objective.
- Saturate one area with the gospel before reaching out to another (v. 19). Since that was finished, he set his sights on Spain (vv. 23, 24). When he arrived, he could check that one off.
- Reach Spain until there was a church there. Once established, that objective could be checked off.
- Deliver the famine relief to Jerusalem (vv. 25, 26). Again, check it off when he arrived and delivered the offering.
- Be delivered from unbelievers in Judea (v. 31). When he left Judea alive he could mark it off.
- Visit Rome and get assistance from the church to go to Spain (v. 24). When these were accomplished, he could check them off.
I’ve been with missionary teams that say their purpose is to plant a church among the unreached. However, team members had notidentified goals to make that happen. Nor had they written out measurable objectives that had to be reached if they were to realize their goals. This is not to say that they could not plant a church, but I found that it was hard for the team to maintain discipline and stay on target. Short term, this leads to frustration and indecisiveness; long term, it takes its toll on effectiveness and fruitfulness.
Furthermore, it’s very difficult to write a progress report if you don’t have measurable steps you intend to take toward achieving your goals. It is also difficult to encourage yourself if you can’t see your objectives realized.
The apostle Paul knew how to maintain spiritual dynamic in his life and work. How can you do it?
1. Make sure that what you do is biblical. Paul used Scripture to state his purpose (v. 21). What he was seeking to do grew out of the Old Testament promise. Always ask yourself, What biblical reason do I have for considering a project or activity? You will find inner strength from God if what you do has a biblical foundation.
2. Make sure that what you do is prayerfully undergirded. Paul pleaded for his brothers to join his prayer struggle (v. 30). Paul knew prayer support was crucial to accomplishing his task. Ask yourself, Have I prayed over this matter sufficiently? Do I have prayer support from other believers to expect God’s blessing?
I have sensed the prayer support of our church people more when I am overseas on short-term mission assignments than during my regular church ministry. Likely, this is because I ask for it specifically when I go on those trips.
3. You must be a team player. Paul knew that he could not do what had to be done without the help of others. "Join me," he asked (v. 30). He wanted to be refreshed in their company (v. 32). Look at the list of names of people who helped him (Rom. 16). They were part of his team. They were strategic to him and his work. They were either part of a sending church, a receiving church, or a team sent.
His network of people included men and women, older and younger Christians, and represented multiple cultures. Mutual respect, confidence, and dependence between all parts of the international church are increasingly important if the church is to fulfill its mission.
Paul worked deliberately. Clearly, he knew where he had been and what he had done. He knew where he was and where he was going. He had a strong, motivating purpose. He had some clear goals as he moved from place to place. And he worked hard to complete the tasks and objectives to enable him to achieve his goals. No wonder he could say, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (2 Tim. 4:7).
I have observed some missionaries who are doing all of the above. They are working so hard at it that they have become workaholics. Paul explained in his letter that one reason he was planning to visit Rome was to be refreshed (vv. 24, 32). In organizing your life and ministry, make sure to include rest time, recreational time, refreshing time, and flex time. All of us need this balance to be productive.
I would encourage administrators and field missionaries to work together to develop disciplines similar to Paul’s, to manage their lives and ministries. If they would do this, I believe the result would be less frustration and failure, and more faithfulness, fervency, and fruitfulness, to the glory of God and the building of his church.
EMQ, Vol. 27, No. 3, pp. 268-273. Copyright © 1991 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.