by Gene Pickard
Churches must not depend on clever presentations to stimulate their interest in missions.
Jim Reapsome, editor of World Pulse, has urged missionary support personnel to find ways to make their presentations more interesting. He warns that supporting churches and pastors are bored with hearing from missionary support people. One pastor wrote to him, “Forgive me, but the amount of correspondence courses being printed and mailed out doesn’t excite most people. We no longer feel the bond to the souls being reached through the missionary. It is hard even for myself, a pastor, to get very excited about missionaries working in colleges and offices.”1
Along the same line, Paul Borthwick, minister of missions at a large U.S. church, also wrote how the local church can help the missionary spruce up her or his act (my paraphrase).2 Sprucing up one’s appearance, presentation, and rapport will help create more effectiveness in the local church. I think that means it will make missions more marketable.
We who work in support ministries, like teaching in a Bible institute, recognize that our lives are routine, and that we have few thrilling tales to recount. Unfortunately, we must sometimes plead guilty to the charge of being boring. A standard joke at the Bible college where I taught in the U.S. was, “What’s more boring than a missionary?” Answer: “A missionary with slides.”
Both of these writers are right. We do need to do something about our presentations. As Reapsome points out, “We can still ask the Holy Spirit to make us interesting storytellers.” And, as Borthwick makes clear, a better appearance, presentation, and rapport would bring greater effectiveness (marketability?). We shouldn’t look like slobs and talk like drones.
But I do confess to being a bit defensive about the clothes bit. Some of us are a little behind the current styles, not because we’re poor, but because of our consciences. Living where many of us do, in poverty, we begin to find the North American Christian’s materialism and consumerism not only undesirable, but unconscionable.
I also feel defensive when I read comments like those made by the pastor quoted above. The boredom issue cuts both ways. Many times on furlough I’ve been bored listening to pastors talk about their new building programs, the Sunday school enrollment numbers, and the problems with their elders.
On one occasion we were invited to lunch after church by a very missions-minded pastor. Other members of his family were there, and, frankly, I was bored stiff listening to them babble on and on about the mundane details of their daily lives. Not only were we ignored, but where were the pastor’s exciting stories about front-line soul-winning, of engaging and defeating the enemy?
Then there are all those wonderfully enlightening conversations with our supporters. They tell us about their kids making the varsity teams, school musicals, and so on. Or, they talk about their favorite pro sports teams, their new house, their car, their recent trip to Europe, their jobs, and so on. Sometimes they spend hours bringing us up to date on the hottest new TV program (some of which are too hot for me), or the latest computers and software programs.
This reminds me of a cartoon I saw once, in which the husband comments to his wife on the way to visit friends: “First we had to watch their slides. Then came home movies. Then their videos. Now it’s their computer.”
One woman told me that she finds it hard to get interested in missions, because what does the life of a missionary in Africa have to do with her life in middle America? Many times we have been disappointed by people who visit us on the field and hardly ask a single question about our work and the advancement of the national church. Instead, they seem more interested in catching us up on their many activities at home.
Of course, our churches should help us with our presentations. But it would be good if pastors would realize that missionary advancement depends as much on them as on our presentations. They are responsible to lay a biblical foundation for missions, whether they have missionary speakers ornot, and whether they are boring or not. God’s global work depends not so much on sympathy for missionaries and their presentations as it does on consistently strong biblical preaching about missions.
Reapsome is right in urging us to be more interesting storytellers and better communicators. But the churches should also pray that the Holy Spirit will anoint them with a greater interest in missions.
Many years ago Roland Allen wrote, “We have been taught that the Spirit of Christ is the Spirit of holiness. We have all been taught to recognize the signs of his presence in terms of virtuous conduct. We have not been taught that the Spirit of Christ is the Spirit that embraces the world and desires the salvation of all men. We have not been taught to recognize the signs of his presence in ourselves in terms of missionary activity.”3
In other words, the sign of the Spirit-filled church is its interest in missions, regardless of the missionary’s presentations. Let’s all pray for the Spirit’s help and infilling, and quit boring each other.
1. Jim Reapsome, “What do we do for ‘war’ stories?” Pulse, Aug. 24, 1990, p. 8.
2. Paul Borthwick, “Helping missionaries do their best at home,” Evangelical Missions Quarterly, April, 1990, pp. 156-161.
3. Roland Allen, Missionary Principles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), p. 43.
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