Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Category: Self-Feeding Page 1 of 2

preparing sermons

Preparing to Preach as a Missionary

“Missionaries need to be ready to preach, pray, or die at a moment’s notice.” Or so I’ve heard all my life. Though this is often said jokingly, there is a ring of truth to it. In this new blog series, I am focusing on how to prepare a sermon. Missionaries often have opportunity to preach both in their home country and in their host country. Yet, many missionaries do not have formal training in preaching. In this post and four additional posts, I will share my perspective on preparing expository sermons gleaned from teaching homiletics (the art of preaching) at Alaska Bible College for 35 years. In this introductory post, I will define expository preaching, and focus on the preacher’s relationship with the Word and the audience. I will also list the topics for the next four posts.

Expository Preaching

Expository preaching is also known as expositional preaching. It is a form of preaching that focuses its attention on the meaning of a particular passage of Scripture.1See Wikipedia article.

incarnational model

Are missionaries called to be incarnational?

The incarnational model is how we often describe our decision to live among the people to whom we are sent. We learn to speak their language. We immerse ourselves in their culture, eating their foods and building deep friendships within that people group. The term “incarnational ministry” may also refer to adopting a living standard (e.g., the type and size of our house, the transportation we use, the clothes we wear) that does not create social barriers to the common people.

But is “incarnational” the best word to describe our strategy of immersing ourselves in the culture of the people? Is the incarnation of Christ the model we should follow as we engage the unreached people of this world?

Wheat field

Making sure the roots go deep

Deep roots are essential in times of drought

Growing up on a farm in Saskatchewan taught me the importance of roots going deep. In the Prairies, rain is very unpredictable and with dryland farming, rain is also an absolute necessity in summer. If during those hot, dry, dusty summer months, weeks went by without rain, the concern became palpable. Farmers would mention rain as a prayer request at every prayer meeting. My grandfather would call us early in the morning to find out if the latest rainshower had hit our farm or not.

But if the crop had developed deep roots in the early part of the growing season, it could survive even a month or longer without rain. Roots grow toward the water. Even if the top few inches of the ground are dry, the crop can survive by drawing on those resources well below the surface. The roots of wheat can grow to a depth of 1.5 meters, but they can’t grow through bone-dry dirt and their growth is impeded by compacted soil. So during spring seeding, the soil must have sufficient moisture and be loose enough to allow those seeds to germinate and to send their roots down to the level of the moisture.

Shallow roots

A few days ago in my NT Bible reading in Mark 4, I read about the seed that is sown on rocky soil.

Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. – Mark 4:16–17, NIV

If the seed of the Word of God falls on rocky soil, the roots will not go deep. Lack of deep roots evidently means that a person does not have the faith that sustains them through times of hardship, distress, or opposition. When times become difficult and they are criticized for their faith, their commitment to following Jesus quickly wanes.

Spurring on one another - Learning to be disciples and disciple-makers

Who spurs on the missionary to love and good deeds?

Over the last year or so, I have been thinking about what it means for missionaries to be both disciples and disciple-makers. I recognized that we can easily make the mistake of assuming that at some point in our Christian life, we graduate from being disciples to become disciple-makers. But through an in-depth study of the Gospel of Matthew, it became clear to me that we never stop being a disciple of Jesus. We never graduate from his school of discipleship. Just as we need to keep learning how to be better disciple-makers, we also need to continue learning to be better disciples.

Disciples in Disciple-making

In his book, The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard said

First of all, it is clear that, if we would make disciples, we should be disciples. … To plan on making disciples, we need to know what one is and how people become disciples. We need to know these things by personal experience, as did the first generation of Jesus’ people. They had been made disciples. And we need to be standing in the position of Jesus’ students and co-workers, so that our efforts in making disciples will be appropriately guided and strengthened by him. They are, after all, to be his disciples, not ours. So we are, then, disciples in disciple making. We learn from Jesus how to make disciples as he did.”

Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God (p. 328). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

So what we can do practically to help one another continue to learn from Jesus? How do we help one another be diligent students in Jesus’ discipleship school? Does each disciple just have to figure this out on their own? Or can we learn together in some way?

Puritan Meditation: the centerpiece of spiritual formation

In our pre-field training and on-field coaching of missionaries, we emphasize the critical importance of feeding yourself spiritually, or in other words, taking the initiative to regularly nurture your soul in a context where the busyness of ministry and stress of cross-cultural living can make it difficult to keep our hearts and minds set on things above (Col 3:1-2).   Feedback from our missionaries in training suggests that this emphasis is greatly appreciated and desperately needed.    One of those ways that we can feed ourselves spiritually is by learning the spiritual discipline of meditation.   In this area, we have few better teachers than the Puritans.

How do you train others to feed themselves?

This blog series has been sidelined as we have been out of town for most of the past 4 weeks. But I do not want to leave this topic of self-feeding without addressing the question of how we can equip others to become self-feeders. In my first post on this topic, I asked the question, “Who feeds the missionaries spiritually?” Despite the value of various member care initiatives, we cannot avoid the simple conclusion that our missionaries must learn to feed themselves. The second post looked at Biblical examples and Biblical support for the concept of self-feeding. It is not just an outgrowth of Western individualism. In the third post, we clarified what self-feeding actually entails, and talked about taking responsibility for one’s own spiritual nourishment, planning ahead and developing rhythms.

Now as a missionary trainer, I realize that just writing about these concepts or even explaining them clearly in our pre-field training does not automatically translate into life transformation in the lives of our missionaries.  If only it was so easy!

What does it mean to feed yourself spiritually?

What does self-feeding involve?

In my first post on this topic, I asked the question, “Who feeds the missionaries spiritually?” My simple answer to that question:  “We expect our missionaries to feed themselves!”   Then in my second post, I looked at what the Bible has to say about self-feeding. We saw that there was all kinds of Biblical examples and Biblical support for individual believers taking the initiative to nourish their soul outside of what happens in the church meetings.

Now I would like to define more clearly what I mean by self-feeding.   I think there are at least five critical elements:

1. Taking responsibility.

Self-feeding means we take personal responsibility for making sure we are regularly nourished on the Word.   If we feel spiritually under-nourished, we don’t assign primary blame to the church we are attending, but to ourselves.  Responsible people are self-disciplined. Paul reminds Titus that those who will lead and encourage others must be self-controlled, disciplined and “hold firm to the trustworthy word” (Titus 1:8-9).

Self-feeding doesn’t just happen when and if we have time. We must consistently say “no” to other interesting and even good activities to make sure that we spend time in the Word and in prayer on a regular basis. Our natural laziness and forgetfulness must not overcome our good intentions. We set our alarms to get up so we have time for the Word before our first meeting of the day. Days Alone with God are put on our calendar. I have a little alarm that goes off on my phone every morning at 8:00 to remind me to review my memory verses.1By the way, I highly recommend this little free app called “Remember Me”.

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