It may have been a while since we’ve seen each other. I live half a world away in a home and on a continent probably much different from yours. I’m ‘your missionary,’ and your church has helped to send me out to distant nations with the good news of the gospel. I love my job, and I’m so thankful for the church’s prayers and support, but I have a favor to ask.
Will you pastor me, too? Even though I’m thousands of miles away; even though you don’t get to see me every week; even though I may be more complicated than your average church member? I know that you have a lot on your plate, because I experience that in my ministry too. And I know you likely struggle with seasons of burnout, because I’ve had plenty of them too. I know this is a big ask, but I think there are some biblical reasons for me to ask it. And when it all works out in the economy of the Kingdom, I have a suspicion that we’ll both be the better for it.
When Paul was sent out as a missionary in Acts, we see many times in those narratives and in his letters that people visited him in prison, or cared for him in illness or need. Some brought him a cloak when he was cold, ministered to him when he was wounded or sick, or took up an offering to send him on his way. Others even came to visit and carried personal messages from him to the churches, and from the churches to him. Though Paul was geographically distant from these churches for much of his missionary work, they still cared for him from afar, and above all held him dear in their prayers.
I need to be shepherded. Some missionaries find groups of believers who pour into them and nurture their spiritual growth, just like Paul had communities of believers in the places he traveled through. Some of us have mentors on the field and people walking beside us in their work and ministry and life. But not all of us do. Whether from lostness in our area, isolation, or cultural differences, many of us lack and crave someone from our passport country who knows us and cares for us like a pastor cares for their church members. I completely believe that above all, the Lord is my shepherd, and he is sufficient for all my needs. But I also believe that he meets those needs through the hands and feet of our Christian communities around us.
Just as you would visit or call people in your congregation when they’re sick or broken-hearted, can you send me an email or give me a call? If your church is good at remembering birthdays or sharing recipes, or meal trains, or however they serve the community, will you do something similar for me? Some things are harder overseas, but if I’m grieving and you can’t send me a meal or sit with me in person, many places overseas have apps for meal delivery systems; there are apps for video chat; and apps that can immediately drop money in an account to cover the extra expense of a meal so I don’t have to prepare for myself. If your Sunday school ladies would prepare a care basket or send a card to someone in my situation, would you check with me about mailing something too? Will you extend your church counseling services or Bible studies or even your streamed or recorded Sunday worship and sermons to me too?
When Paul was originally sent out as a missionary in Acts 11 and 13, he was first mentored by Barnabas, chosen according to the Spirit’s direction, and then sent out with fasting and prayer. The Church knew him—his calling from the Lord, his strengths and gifts, and his weaknesses. And when Peter closed his first letter, he instructed his hearers to ‘greet each other with a kiss of love,’ not far from the “holy kiss” that Paul recommends closing both his second letter to the Corinthians and his first to the Thessalonians. Intimacy is a word we Baptists often shy away from. But the early church modeled it as they met together, shared meals, met each other’s needs, and prayed together. They knew each other closely and counted each other as dear brothers and sisters.
I need to be known. I’m not asking you to greet me with a holy kiss. But I do want us to share the intimacy of dear brothers and sisters. You know me, and you have shepherded me before. You have the ability to help ground me in specific biblical truths you already know I struggle to remember or believe. You remember what I’m like when I’m healthy and unhealthy, when I’m abiding in the Lord and when I’m not. You know my passions and callings, my strengths and spiritual giftings, and you know my weaknesses and thorns in the flesh and perennial temptations. But you also know what I love, what makes me tick or brings me joy, even when my new culture may have crowded out those hobbies. You have the ability to remind me who I am in Christ and what the Lord says of me, even (and especially) when I’m stuck in language learning, or the enemy whispers lies about my ability to be a light in a dark place.
When Peter, Paul, James and others met in Acts 15 and 21, when Paul recounts a disagreement with Peter in Galatians 2, and when Paul and Barnabas did not agree on which members should be on their missionary team, they very clearly challenged each other in love and called each other to account. As church leaders in different regions, they didn’t always have an eye on what the others were doing, but they shared their updates and praised the Lord for his work together. They mutually encouraged each other and mutually called each other out—all for the benefit of the Church at large as well as their own obedience to the Lord.
I need accountability. This one can be tricky, because often you won’t have the context to know my place of work well enough to instruct me or guide and direct my ministry. But you know as well as I do that stepping into a ministry role doesn’t make your walk with the Lord suddenly above question. I’m no ‘hero missionary,’ and my soul didn’t fundamentally change in the move overseas so that it doesn’t need an outside eye on it. Just as you do, I need someone asking if I’m routinely spending time in Bible reading and prayer. Just like you do, I need someone to call out sin in my life, even and especially if I’m in any position of authority or spiritual leadership. I am nowhere near invincible in my spiritual walk because I’m a missionary. In fact, just like you, I can often struggle the most when the Lord is at work in big ways and the Enemy will do anything in his power to derail that work. I can just as easily fall into the trap that my exhaustion and striving will build the Kingdom in my own power and timing instead of the Lord’s. Will you check on me in season and out, to help make sure that I am always ready to give an answer for the hope that I have, that I am continually working out my salvation with fear and trembling?
And this is where I come full circle. We need each other.
We need to sharpen each other. Just as you can sympathize and share many of my struggles in ministry, I can know and share yours; as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. As we both study the Bible and learn to apply it in our different contexts, what the Lord teaches us and what we teach others can help strengthen both our personal walks with the Lord and our ministry. I do not ask you to encourage and speak truth to me when I struggle without being willing to do the same for you. As the body has many parts, so does the Church have many members. Your mentorship and wisdom as a spiritual leader can often strengthen my ministry, and there are times too when my ability to cross cultures and engage people ‘different’ from myself can strengthen your church and ministry too.
Dear Pastor, as we both walk through jobs that don’t have typical ‘office hours,’ that can easily stretch us into thinking too much of our own ability to help others without the power of the Spirit, that can feel lonely or isolated, that give us platforms to teach the Word—we walk very similar roads. We are all one body united by God’s grace, and so we have much to give each other, and many ways to bear each others’ burdens. So, can we encourage each other together? Will you commit to know me and my work as I commit to know you and yours? Will you walk with me, even if it’s to the ends of the earth?