There are a few core convictions that separate Pathmakers Church from the vast majority of churches in America. One of those convictions is that the best person to reach your office, your school, your family, your friends, your neighbors, and the people you interact with on a regular basis… well, it’s YOU.
You see, the prevailing opinion among pastors and church planters (whether they realize it or not) is an opinion of personality driven ministry… the idea that the best person to present the Gospel, train new Christians, and equip the next generation of leaders is the pastor or church planter. At best, I think this crowd is only 1/3 right…
1. Is the pastor the best person to equip the next generation of leaders? Possibly, but only if they recognize that they are not the only one in their church who can AND only if they get the next two questions right.
2. Is the pastor the best person to train new Christians? No… new Christians need a certain level of personal attention and care, much like newborns. One term we use for people who just come to Christ is “new birth” or “being born-again.” Those images are more than Christian poetry. Often, the best person to train a new Christian is the Christian that helped them come to Christ in the first place. And generally, the pastor doesn’t have the time to care for the needs of these “newborns” (in the same way the supervising doctor in a maternity doesn’t have more than two arms). Which leads us to…
3. Is the pastor the best person to present the Gospel? ABSOLUTELY NOT! I realize that may run counter to what you’ve long believed, but it’s true. The pastor is NOT the best person to present the Gospel. Here’s why…
Your pastor does not speak the unique “language” or “dialect” that you speak in your major spheres of influence. If you think of your life as circles (much like the new Google Plus social network service), you speak different languages depending on your circle. Your work or school has a technical language that others don’t use in the same way. For example, when I worked in retail at Walmart, we had whole terms and systems we used in order to accomplish our work. For example, when the Holiday shopping season rolled around, what customers called “Black Friday” we called “Blitz.” What you might call “organizing the shelves” we called “zoning.” What you would call “the main aisle” we knew as “the racetrack” and what you called the Toy Section was actually “Department 7.” And if someone called out “Code Adam” over the intercom while I was helping you pick a toy, you might presume me to be extremely rude as I broke away mid-sentence and left you alone… not realizing that I was proceeding to the nearest emergency exit to make sure nobody tried to escape with a missing child.
(You’re thinking… “Okay, Joe, that’s nice, what does this have to do with me being the best missionary and not my pastor…?” Just stay with me, you’ll see.)
The thing about school or work is this…in order to be able to speak into people’s lives in our larger American culture, you usually need to establish some kind of relationship. In a work or school setting, you generally need to move from the point of “potential acquaintance” to “actual colleague.” But before the people in your work or school are going to start liking you enough to consider you a colleague, you must become proficient at your job, maybe even on the better side of proficient in some cases. And in order to become proficient, you have to speak the language in order to know how to do the work right. And in order to speak the language, you have to learn the language in the first place.
And that’s what makes you a better missionary than your pastor. Your pastor is probably NEVER going to speak the language you use with your co-workers. There is no reason for your pastor to. They don’t need that language in order to perform their duties. But the mistake we often make is thinking that if your pastor speaks English like your coworker, then your pastor can communicate the Gospel better than you. On the contrary, you can communicate the Gospel better because God can give you examples from work that your pastor wouldn’t be able to use.
For example… using the “Blitz” term I learned at Walmart. I remember a conversation I had with a coworker once where I was able to help a coworker verbalize how turbulent their life was by asking them if they felt like they were in their “own personal Blitz.” Not only did that elicit a very “wall-removing” laugh (don’t underestimate the power of humor to open the door for the Gospel), it allowed me the opportunity to explain that in spite of the “Blitz” that was happening in my own life, my relationship with God brought me a lot of peace.
My pastor wouldn’t have any idea how to talk like that with my co-workers. And neither does yours.
Scholar and professor, Craig Blomberg, has a great article on the growth (or non-growth) rates of ministries in foreign countries based on whether or not those ministries are led by nationals (people from the country) vs. American missionaries. The underlying issue is the question of culture… because nationals understand the nuances of their culture in ways American missionaries cannot (and may never) understand, the nationals are better equipped (naturally) to present Christ to their own people. In the end, it’s always easier to give someone a theological education than a cultural one.
That’s the reason why YOU are better equipped to reach your coworkers, family, neighbors, friends, and others in your life. You LIVE there. You are a part of the CULTURE of your work place, your apartment complex, your family gatherings in a way that your pastor probably NEVER will be. And that gives YOU the advantage in sharing the Gospel.
So, the next time your pastor says “Remember to invite your neighbor to our special service… we’ll be presenting the Gospel to them,” I hope you wince a little… or a lot. Because that’s not your pastor’s job. That’s your job. YOU are the better missionary. What your pastor should be doing is teaching the truth of Scripture to you and everyone else that is there. He should be challenging you with insights from the Bible and you should be taking those insights and asking God for opportunities to share those with the people you live, work, and play among… because you are the best prepared. And if you feel like you don’t really know how to do that, you should ask your pastor to train you. And… if your pastor responds by saying something along the lines of “Why don’t you just bring your friend to church where they’ll hear the Gospel…”
… well, it might be time to find a new church.
Anyway, here’s that seminary article that speaks to this concept on an international level. Just keep thinking “My pastor is the American missionary, I am the national” as you read and you’ll see the correlation, too.