A valuable series on the call, commendation and labor of a missionary is continued.
A straightforward appraisal of the great commission given by our Lord should leave us in no doubt that the preaching and teaching of the Word of God are at the very heart of God’s plan for missionary service. We neglect this at our peril.
Missionaries are often called upon to do many things: kill snakes, service vehicles, pour concrete, give marriage guidance and much else besides. Many have fed the hungry, treated the sick and helped the Poor, just as the Lord did. These activities are most valuable in their place as they demonstrate in a practical way the love of which we so often speak. But let them never displace the ministry of God’s Word to both saint and sinner, for to allow this to happen is tantamount to redrafting the Lord’s commission or ignoring it altogether.
The new missionary must struggle for months and years with the language if he or she is to have some facility in reading, writing and hearing it as well as speaking it. The first message will have been delivered in fear and trembling. Many hours of arduous preparation may have yielded only a few minutes of platform time with every word needing to be read from a script. All this is very humbling.
There are many other pitfalls too. One’s accent may be strange to the listeners, one’s tone completely out, the choice of words grammatically correct but colloquially wrong, the attempts at illustration inappropriate to the culture. Hence, the real need to have the help of others who can tactfully but faithfully help and correct the many mistakes.
It is a wonder that the Lord can use even our initial stumbling efforts to reach the lost. Preaching has been called “truth through personality” and a genuine love for souls has sanctified many an otherwise flawed message. Shoddiness can not be condoned but inexperience can be excused. A growing cultural awareness, however, will begin to control the turn of phrases and way of explaining divine truth. Alliteration and English poetry or hymn quotes may no longer embellish your message but slowly, slowly, you start to get through in a simple and direct way.
The apostles preached in synagogues and temples, in homes and market places, in prisons and palaces – anywhere and everywhere people were found. We can do the same, and opportunities abound on the mission field. No place should be off limits.
We have a splendid example of gospel endeavor in the life of Paul when he went to Corinth. He disclaimed any hint of a preaching based upon human, worldly wisdom or one relying solely upon persuasive oratory (1 Cor 1:17, 2:4,6,13). Rather, his preaching was the uplifting of a crucified Christ (1:23). It was delivered in weakness and godly fear (2:3), but empowered by the Holy Spirit (2:4,13).
This does not imply that Paul’s preaching lacked clarity or intensity. No! He knew that something much more than mere eloquence and erudition was required for a real spiritual work to be done. He had not come to tickle itching ears or entertain with wide-ranging philosophical lectures. The task was more direct and much more serious than that. Souls were perishing. They needed Christ – nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.
After the preaching of the gospel, some listeners will seek spiritual help. There are difficulties understanding anxious souls who might not use the vocabulary to which one has been accustomed. If they use familiar expressions, they may mean something completely different. Also, unless specific enquiry is made, you may remain unaware of serious problems in the life that require attention. You are entirely cast upon God for divine help and wisdom in handling these matters, and undue haste is best resisted. Nevertheless, in God’s time, the blessing comes.
Teaching the new believers becomes a pressing need. Sects and schisms propagating doctrinal error proliferate on the mission field, and one cannot get away simply with telling new believers to keep reading the Bible and coming to the meetings. A new babe needs food urgently and frequently. The food must meet the nutritional needs and be digestible. Personal visits for teaching can complement instruction in the assembly meetings and can help sort out initial problems of understanding, where there has been no Christian background whatsoever.
In Acts 20, certain characteristics of Paul’s teaching at Ephesus are apparent. It was comprehensive. Every house was visited and every soul instructed in his three years with them (20:20,27,35). His counsel to them was the same: take heed unto all the flock, tending and feeding them (20:28).
His instruction was intensive. From the first day, for three years, by night and by day, he had not ceased to warn every one and build them up in the faith (20:18,31). Tears were not unusual (20:19,31,37).
It was also illustrative. His life and teaching stood together and he reminded them that they had known the manner of his living amongst them. He showed them as well as told them all it meant to be a follower of Christ (20:18,20).
Even after teaching the Word, one or two surprises may lie in wait for the new missionary. He may feel that his public teaching on a subject had been simple and systematic. If he is wise, he will later ask a few discreet questions in private. He may discover that his ministry was perfectly understandable, but only to himself! It is back to the drawing-board.