In the Meantime

This one goes out to all my brother-pastors who find yourselves, for whatever reason, searching for your next ministry assignment. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the author of this post finds himself right there with you. I trust we are good company for one another.

Regardless of where you are in your search (and depending on the circumstances that led to your search), you have likely experienced the full range of emotions, from excited anticipation about what’s next to a gripping fear that you’ll never get there. Personally, these days I’m especially grateful that the Lord gave us the Psalms through which I can share the Psalmist’s praises and his confidence in the Lord, but also in his lament and verbalized uncertainties.

To be caught between what was and what will be grates against our sensibilities, in part because our pride demands that every step of our journey be accompanied by great clarity and confidence. But this is not the way of faith; no, the way of faith brings us low, not necessarily granting us eyes to see what’s around the corner, but to see the One from whom nothing is hidden.

So as you and I wait, what ought we do in the meantime?

Be Patient

Waiting can leave you feeling a bit like a fool—out on a limb, hoping for rescue before the splintering starts. Each time your phone vibrates or a call comes from an unknown number, immediately you wonder if it might be the contact you’ve been waiting for. It leaves you a bit like Charlie Bucket opening up that next Wonka bar in hopes of finding a golden ticket, only to realize the email was just another LinkedIn update. Disappointment and discouragement set in.

Will it ever happen? Is something wrong with me? Did I miss the Lord’s will somewhere along the way? The questions rush in and patience grows thin. Still, be patient; the Lord will not withhold the good He has planned for his children. As Romans 8:32 tells us, “He did not even spare his own Son but offered him up for us all. How will he not also with him grant us everything?” Rest patiently in his good promises.

Be Faithful

Where are you now? I mean, physically, where are you now? Where do you live? What church are you serving—either as a pastor or member? Wherever that is, be faithful there while you wait. In Acts 17, Paul referred to the Lord’s providential work in placing each of us exactly where we are, even at this very moment. “From one man,” Paul preached, “he has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live.” In other words, the Lord knew you would be right where you are and how long you are to be there.

Yes, this may be a season of transition; but honor the Lord by remaining faithful where you are for as long as he would have you wait. Don’t shortchange the people near you by constantly looking over or around them for the next thing.

Be Prayerful

Prayer is an excellent calibrator. In seasons of waiting, we have a tendency to be sillier than usual. Like Abram and Sarai (Gen 16), we attempt to concoct our own solutions in order to help out the Creator of the heavens and earth with his plans. Because He surely needs it, right?

The very nature of prayer focuses our attention upon who we are and who God is. Each prayer serves as a confession that we don’t know all there is to know, can’t do all there is to do, and that we are not in control; our knowledge and power are woefully insufficient. Simultaneously, in prayer we recognize that God does not suffer such limitations. His knowledge and power are inexhaustible, as are his other attributes; and he is faithful and true. Prayer recalibrates and stabilizes us by reminding us that we are the needy dependents, and He is the great Provider.

Be Courageous

A season of waiting can be fertile soil for fear and uncertainty. When there’s no end in sight, doubt creeps in, you grow weary of waiting, and (to borrow a line from King David), you ask, “How long, O Lord? How long?”

But let us not forget the oft-repeated command of Scripture during this time: Don’t be afraid. Oh, how easy it is to look at our seemingly impossible situation and devolve into fear and trepidation. But how gracious our Lord is to us, who “knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14, CSB), and, coupled with the command not to be afraid, he has promised to be with us and never forsake us. May we never believe his apparent silence or assumed inactivity means His absence. He is with us and he is working all things to the pleasure of his good will, so be of good courage.

Conclusion

As much as we might hate it, waiting is good for us. It takes us by the hand and walks us into deeper dependence on and satisfaction in our Lord. The ministry the Lord has next for us is a gracious gift, yet even it cannot satisfy our deepest need. So remember, even now—in the middle, while we wait—you and I have all we need in our Savior, and we will be better pastors for the waiting.

Husband, father, missionary, preacher, coffee drinker.

@SWBTS grad.

Shooting for a PhD in Apologetics at @MBTSDoctoral.

Connect with me on Facebook or Twitter

Mind Your Business, Short-Termers

I recently saw a young man post on The Baptist Review Facebook group requesting tips on how he might make the most of an upcoming short-term mission trip. His post got me thinking about what matters for short-termers, especially as it concerns the long-term effects of short-term trips. After reading through the comment thread (see it here: Mission Trip), I mentioned the need to follow the pattern of the missionaries already on the ground. In this post I want to follow up on that statement to explain why I believe  that to be important for short-term mission trips.

In season five of The Office, Dunder Mifflin has fallen on hard times, yet the Michael Scott-run Scranton branch continues (inexplicably) to turn a profit. To discover the secret of his success, Michael’s boss, David Wallace, invites him to a meeting at the corporate offices in New York City and rather sheepishly inquires of Michael, “What are you doing right?” The response is, of course, vintage Michael Scott:

David, here it is. My philosophy is basically this. And this is something that I live by. And I always have. And I always will. Don’t ever, for any reason, do anything to anyone, for any reason, ever, no matter what. No matter . . . where. Or who, or who you are with, or, or where you are going, or . . . or where you’ve been . . . ever. For any reason, whatsoever.

Now let’s make some sense out of Michael Scott’s harebrained ramblings and hopefully apply some wisdom to our short-term mission trips. In boiling down his incoherence into a logical statement, Michael is saying: “Mind your business.” Short-termers, when we prepare for trips, it is essential to know what our business is—what we are doing when we go. I don’t mean the practical day-to-day functions in which you will participate, but the foundational reasons that undergird the daily activities. That being the case, one of the most important items of business each short-term missionary has is supplementing the work of the long-term missionaries with whom he/she will partner. To do this well and to maximize long-term impact, the short-term missionary needs to follow the established patterns of those already on the ground.

Here’s why.

They were there before you

Maybe you’ve taken courses or read books on missions, or about the people or place you are going, but I promise you (and I mean no offense here), the missionaries who have been on the ground know better than you the cultural nuances of the people and place. If they tell you not to do something, that restriction is not arbitrary; it has significance to the missionary and, just as importantly, significance to the people that missionary is seeking to reach. Perhaps that doesn’t correspond to something you read beforehand, but beware that books simply can’t provide an exhaustive—or readily updated—list of cultural dos and don’ts. Read the books, prepare as much as possible, but trust the missionaries who have worked tirelessly to learn the language and culture of the people with whom they live.

They will be there after you

You will return home not long after you arrive—maybe a week later or maybe a few months later. You will be different, changed by what you’ve seen and done. You will want to talk about it and some people will want to hear about it. But while you’re doing that (and you should do that), remember that there are those who stayed behind and continue the work of serving and seeking to reach the lost. In preparation for a short-term trip, resolve in your heart not to do anything that could negatively impact the long-term efforts of those who remain after you return home. In other words, don’t be a rogue short-term missionary; follow the leadership of the long-termers who are investing their lives, families, and careers in the people and place you will visit.

Short-termers, our work is important and impactful. So let’s go, serve, and return in as positive a way as possible. We are servants and not celebrities, so let’s mind our business and submit to the leadership and patterns of those who have gone before us and who will remain after us, for the sake of the glorious gospel among the nations.

Husband, father, missionary, preacher, coffee drinker.

@SWBTS grad.

Shooting for a PhD in Apologetics at @MBTSDoctoral.

Connect with me on Facebook or Twitter

Why I’m Pursuing a PhD

I have this recurring dream every two months or so that I’m back in school. In this dream I’m not missing any items of clothing (so it’s not that dream), but it’s the dream where roughly two-thirds of the way through a semester I realize I haven’t been to class even once, read a single page, completed any assignments, and there’s no possibility of catching up. I’ve heard of others who have this same dream, so I’m not alone. Today, I’m happy to say that one part—and hopefully it remains only one part—of that dream is coming true as I dive headfirst back into the academic world.

Last Thursday was my first official day as a PhD student and the anxiety level—that nervous energy—seems to be fluctuating somewhere between 9 and 10. Recently, I read about the imposter syndrome—the idea that “I’m a fraud and before long everyone will know it” experienced by many Ph.D. students—and I’ve resonated with that sentiment from the moment I applied for admission into the program. The questions echo in my mind: Am I up to the challenge? Am I smart enough? disciplined enough? What if I fail? Is it even worth it?

So, in effort to combat those questions (which are grounded in fear and doubt), I think it better to answer the more foundational question: Why am I pursuing a PhD? In this post, I offer three main reasons with hope that it might spur each of us in our walk with the Lord.

For the sake of knowledge

Simply put, I’m pursuing a PhD because I have a desire to learn more and I now have the opportunity to do so. I have always enjoyed the classroom—if that makes me a nerd then I don’t want to be cool. I remember in my university years when I was still green when it came to studying theology, a professor said something along the lines of “the more you learn of the Bible, the more you see how much you don’t know.” That remains true; I long to learn more and I have the opportunity to do so in a formal academic setting. I count it a responsibility as a minister of the gospel to be a life-long learner and I want to make the most of any opportunity the Lord brings my way.

For the sake of the church

My research major is apologetics and I did not come to that decision lightly. As the surrounding culture grows increasingly hostile toward Christianity, it becomes all the more necessary that we answer such hostility with a robust gospel message—a message simple in form but with vast cultural implications. Local churches in the US must be ready to give a “defense to anyone who asks . . . for a reason for the hope that is in [us]” (1 Pet 3:15).

For the sake of the nations

As part of my MDiv from Southwestern Seminary, my family and I served with the IMB as missionaries for two years in Madagascar. Despite the fact that we returned to the States afterward, my passion for God’s glory among the nations hasn’t lost any steam. With apologetics as my emphasis, I will study world religions extensively and, Lord willing, use that knowledge by training missionaries headed toward career service on the field, church members preparing for short-term mission trips, and be better equipped for service myself.

But is a PhD really necessary for any of the reasons I give above?

Of course not.

No formal education is ultimately necessary for anyone to learn more, to serve the local church, or to reach the nations for Christ. William Carey, the Father of modern missions, is proof positive. He had no formal education beyond the age of 12, yet he was far more intelligent than I ever hope to be.

For the sake of obedience

There is an underlying motivation that compels me and strengthens my resolve: By the power of the Holy Spirit, I want to be faithful to do what God has called me to do and to maximize each and every gift he has entrusted to me. My reasons for pursuing a PhD are simply that: mine. Perhaps the Lord has called you to the same; perhaps not. But one thing I know for certain: we have all been called to faithfulness in every pursuit we undertake. Let us do that and the church will be strengthened and the nations reached.

Husband, father, missionary, preacher, coffee drinker.

@SWBTS grad.

Shooting for a PhD in Apologetics at @MBTSDoctoral.

Connect with me on Facebook or Twitter