Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Category: Self-Feeding Page 1 of 2

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”.

What does the Bible say about self-feeding?

In my last post, I asked the question, “Who feeds the missionaries spiritually?”  My simple answer to that question:  We expect our missionaries to feed themselves!”

But can self-feeding be biblically supported?  Some have questioned this concept.   After all Jesus told Peter to “feed my sheep”, not “teach my sheep to feed themselves.”   There are several direct references to self-feeding which are decidedly negative (see Ezekiel 34:2, 8, 10 and Jude 1:12 which all refer to shepherds who feed themselves, preying on the flock to enrich themselves).  Isn’t the concept of self-feeding just following the individualistic worldview and culture so prevalent in the West?  Isn’t the spiritual development of every believer dependent on the Body life of the church (Eph 4:16)?

Who feeds the missionaries spiritually?

The simple answer to that question: for the most part, we expect our missionaries to feed themselves!

One of our goals throughout the pre-field preparation process in SEND International is to help our new missionaries become adept at feeding themselves spiritually. We emphasize the importance of a personal daily “Quiet Time.  We encourage them to be like Mary, who sat at the feet of Jesus, rather than becoming distracted by a multitude of opportunities to serve Jesus, like her sister Martha (Luke 10:38-42).   We practice various spiritual disciplines right during the training.  We provide structure and some accountability for implementing what they are learning.  In our last Member Orientation Program, we distributed to each new missionary appointee a copy of the Life Journal and practiced the S.O.A.P. method of journaling on several mornings.  Then near the end of the two weeks of training, everyone spends a whole day alone with God, a day with no classes, when each person goes off to spend a whole day talking to God.   This Day Alone with God has been a regular part of the SEND pre-field training for many years.

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

%d bloggers like this: