SEND U blog

Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

restart
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Planning to Restart

Recently I mentioned to a friend that my wife and I will begin our retirement with a sabbatical. He looked at me oddly saying that sabbaticals are usually followed by a return to work. My response was that Christ still has good works for us to do in our retirement (Eph 2:10). In other words, a retirement sabbatical is a time to rest, reflect on past ministry, and discern God’s calling for our remaining years. Indeed, we are called to be a people zealous for good works (Titus 2:13-14). And there is no expiration date on that calling!

Essentially, a retirement sabbatical prepares us for a restart. The nine practices mentioned in the previous post can launch us into a fulfilling retirement. Moreover, they help us find meaning and purpose in our later years. A retirement sabbatical is an antidote to the boredom of endless vacation.1 See my first blog post in this series.

Restart

Restarting after our retirement sabbatical is a renewed expression of our identity and calling as we seek to finish well. Indeed, “calling is central to the challenge and privilege of finishing well in life (Os Guinness, The Call, p. 227). Guinness defines calling as:

transformed by the Scriptures
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Mentoring: Transformed by the Scriptures

Editor’s note: We are continuing our blog series on mentoring using the Mentoring Pillars written by the late Jim Feiker, a former member of SEND International. This twelfth and last pillar talks about how the Scriptures transform the mentees and how important the Scriptures are in the mentoring process.

Three men in Scripture stand out as being known for their devotion to and their use of Scripture. They are Timothy (2 Timothy 3:15-17), Apollos (Acts 18: 24), and Ezra (Ezra 7:10). All were characterized by being “mighty in the Scriptures,” or “well versed and learned in the Scripture.”

Ezra’s example

Ezra is my favorite Old Testament character with this noteworthy distinction. As a priest, scribe, and teacher, Ezra was sent by the king of Babylon to Jerusalem to teach God’s laws to Israel. One verse in Ezra summarizes it all:

For Ezra had devoted himself to the study, and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.

Ezra 7:10

Let’s make a few observations to unpack his heart and commitment to Scripture.

“For” is referring back to Ezra 7:9. God’s hand was upon him because he devoted himself to the Scriptures. Three times in the book of Ezra it says of him “for the hand of the Lord his God is upon him.” His spiritual authority to lead emerged from God anointing him and in his manifesting God’s presence.

retirement sabbatical
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Retirement Sabbatical: Identity and Calling

In a previous post, I mentioned starting retirement with a sabbatical. In this post and the next, I will explore the benefits a sabbatical brings at the start of retirement. Specifically, I want to describe the anatomy of a sabbatical resulting in discerning identity and calling in retirement. Then, the following post will explore coaching and mentoring in retirement. In other words, this post deals with our self-awareness, and the next post our relationship to others.

Anatomy of a Retirement Sabbatical

I have a confession to make. I’ve never taken a sabbatical. Furthermore, I’m not retired yet (that comes on January 1, 2022). Yet there are helpful guides for taking a sabbatical. In chapter two of An Uncommon Guide to RetirementJeff Haanen outlines nine practices to consider as we plan our retirement sabbatical.

1. Prepare

A retirement sabbatical needs to be intentional. Notably, Haanen suggests taking two to three weeks just to structure our sabbatical (p. 43). Likewise, C. J. Cagle emphasizes planning:

reimagined retirement is one that is planned, structured, lived, and continually reexamined in the light of sound biblical doctrine, principles, and practices. It is a retirement lived for the glory of God, his kingdom, and the good of his people.

C. J. Cagle, Reimagine Retirement, kindle loc. 814.
receptivity
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Should we go to the most receptive?

As a young missionary candidate about 40 years ago, I considered various countries as possible destinations for my future ministry. One of the main criteria I used was receptivity. I wanted to go to a place where the church was growing rapidly. I was attracted to the harvest. In a harvest field, I reasoned, there would be a greater need for training of national workers, which was the area of missions I was most interested in. So, I chose the Philippines and the lowland work among Roman Catholics in particular.

Experiencing the harvest

Given that I was still in my early 20’s when I arrived in the Philippines, I realized that I first needed some experience and credibility before I could begin training others. My wife and I enjoyed ten years of wonderfully fruitful years in church planting and training in the Philippines. We were part of the harvest. The Filipino people are amazingly hospitable and very receptive to the Gospel. The evangelical churches were growing so quickly that within a few years, I realized that the percentage of evangelicals in this country was going to surpass the percentage of evangelicals in my home country of Canada. I also came to understand that the Filipino church in the lowlands soon might not need expatriate trainers like myself.

In this journey, I came to understand the urgency and importance of going to those that are least reached. But it also became apparent to me that those who were least-reached were also most often the people groups that were not as receptive to the Gospel, at least not initially. It would not be as rewarding or fulfilling to serve in the places where the harvest had not yet begun. Working in places where there is limited receptivity can be very wearying and discouraging. Although our next ten years of serving in Far East Russia were also fulfilling in many ways, I experienced discouragement and a loss of heart there that was quite different from what I experienced in the Philippines.

retirement and vacation
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Is retirement an endless vacation?

In my previous blog series, I talked about finishing well in a ministry assignment. But finishing well can also refer to finishing a career, and in our case, finishing a missionary career. Does retirement have a place in finishing well? Various voices answer the question differently. Some reject retirement. Others embrace it. Yet, many wish to modify the popular image of retirement as an endless vacation.

In this post, I will explore some realities and perspectives on retirement. In so doing, I will make a case that retirement has a place in finishing well.

Energy Levels Decline

In the series on finishing well in a ministry assignment, I used the illustration of a relay race. Interestingly, relay teams do not stay together very long. There comes a time when a runner cannot keep the pace of the rest of the team. So the runner retires from the team.

In a similar way, as we age we find our energy levels declining. This is a reality of aging that indicates retirement may be appropriate. D. A. Carson points out the most important lesson passed on to him by a few senior saints:

Provided one does not succumb to cancer, Alzheimer’s, or any other seriously debilitating disease, the first thing we have to confront as we get older is declining energy levels. Moreover, by “declining energy levels” I am referring not only to the kind of declining physical reserves that demand more rest and fewer hours of labor each week, but also to declining emotional energy without which it is difficult to cope with a full panoply of pastoral pressures. When those energy levels begin to fall is hugely variable (at age 45? 65? 75?), as is also how fast they fall. But fall they will! It follows that as one attempts at age 85 to do what one managed to accomplish at age 45, a lot will be done badly.

D. A. Carson, “On Knowing When to Resign,” Themelios 42.2 (2017) p. 255.
effective organizational cultures
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What makes an organizational culture effective?

Cross-cultural workers spend a lot of time thinking about, discussing, and examining cultures. Ethnography is a foundational skill for missionaries. But I have found that we are much less adept at understanding and describing organizational cultures, even the cultures of the organizations in which we serve. What does an effective organizational culture look like? What kind of organizational culture would lead to greater fruitfulness and well-being of our members? Even more mysterious is how leaders can nurture the organizational culture they would like to prevail. Or can we even change or develop our organizational culture?

I have just finished “The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups” by Daniel Coyle. I believe that this book begins to answer some of these questions, at least for me. Coyle set out to discover the reasons why some groups, teams, or organizations accomplish far more than what we would expect of them if we only looked at the sum total of the individual talents of their members. His research has resulted in an excellent and fascinating book about group culture. Coyle believes that these cultures don’t just “happen” but are intentionally created by learning and practicing a specific set of skills.

In his book, the author describes 3 essential “skills” of highly effective groups:

effective organizational culture
  1. Build safety
  2. Share vulnerability
  3. Establish purpose

Coyle devotes a section of his book to describing each skill. Each section includes multiple stories about great teams and organizations. Then it concludes with a set of suggested action steps for developing that skill.

Build safety

The first skill is all about the value of belonging. As cross-cultural workers, we are very familiar with the feeling of not belonging. Thus, we are often not able to contribute fully to the discussions and decisions in the cultures and communities in which we live. We long to belong, to be accepted, to be valued for our contribution. Even as we recognize that we will always be outsiders, we want to become “acceptable outsiders.”1 See Joann Pittman’s article “Learning to Be an Acceptable Outsider” for a better understanding of this term. We want to feel that it is not only safe to live in these communities but also safe to contribute meaningfully to its well-being.

Teaching and Learning: a review of two great books

Two great books on teaching and learning have been published in the last two years. They complement each other well. In 2020, Duane and Muriel Elmer’s The Learning Cycle: Insights for Faithful Teaching from Neuroscience and the Social Sciences was published by IVP. And this year (2021), Baker published Craig Ott’s Teaching and Learning Across Cultures: A Guide to Theory and Practice. The authors bring both extensive research and experience to the discussion of teaching and learning.

The Learning Cycle by Duane and Muriel Elmer

The Learning Cycle book

In a sense, this book is a capstone of Duane and Muriel Elmer’s writings and ministry.1 Many of Duane Elmer’s books have been foundational training materials for cross-cultural missionary service. See a review on this blog of one of his books, Cross-Cultural Servanthood. Duane created “the learning cycle” as part of his doctoral research at Michigan State University (p. 6). Subsequently, Muriel added the “barriers to change” to the cycle. Furthermore, they have both practiced the model throughout their teaching careers in various contexts. The insights from neuroscience do not dominate the text and come from “the more stable insights from the brain literature.” (p.11)

The Learning Cycle Model

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