Disillusionment. Discouragement. Doubt. Danger. These are words that for most of us describe the harder grit of pastoral ministry or edge-of-the-world, cross-cultural mission work. I have focused the last few years on taking a good, hard look at these realities and deciding how best a mission sending agency might help their missionaries minister with resilience.
According to Merriam-Webster, Resilience is the “ability to withstand shock without permanent deformation or rupture.” Definition b is this: “tending to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” It can be tricky business, especially if the missionary isn’t really in touch with his or her limits. I have found that quite often the factors in a person’s ministry that stretch them to the breaking point have less to do with the context, language, or people around them and more to do with the expectations they carry around inside. These expectations are usually formed in the secret place of the past, in close relationships gone sideways, and beliefs about God that are not in line with what God says about himself.
We can discover what our true expectations are by asking two questions. First, “Who do I think that I am?” This is a different question than, “Who am I?” The second question may be the better, “What do I believe about God’s thoughts about me?”
These two questions lead to a kaleidoscope of questions, some of which are:
- Whose name is at stake in my ministry: mine or His?
- Who sits in the center of the throne: me or Him?
- Whose name is being magnified and exalted: mine or His?
- Who is to surrender day by day: me or Him?
These are not meant to be guilt-inducing, legalistic questions intended to produce some depth of feeling. They are questions asked to provoke serious reflection on the nature of our relationship with God. They are to help us assess why we do what we do, why we think what we think, why we act and react.
If my answers are ultimately self-serving, then I will find myself hemmed in by my fears of being found out—of being a circus clown spinning plates on sticks or juggling flaming torches: entertaining but ultimately not impactful. Fear-driven, misinformed, and wandering I will live a life and conduct a ministry that has a form of godliness, but lacks power, maybe even leading some astray or away from Him.
What does the alternative look like? “Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Revelation 4:9-11, NIV84)
By His will, in His power, according to His dream, we are set free of fear and self-preservation. When the “impossible” happens, I can therefore bounce back without permanent damage. Resilience. His. Thanks!