There are many communities in this world that need a church presence. This includes places where Christians are in large numbers. Just because people may call themselves Christians because they were baptized as a child, raised in a Christian home, attended a private school, or attend church on Easter and Christmas, that does not mean that the community in which such people live does not need a church. In the individualized world of today, some people feel secure in their spiritual situation and think that they do not need to go to church. In other situations, there is no evangelical witness to the gospel close by. The town may be small or the people live far out in the farming communities or high in the mountains. People may even live in a large urban center without any nearby church. Basically, what I am saying is that the need is huge for new churches or for tired churches to be given some resurrection strength.
How can a person be a pastor in a mission community like this? Following some basic principles from missiology may be helpful. For example, one of the most basic principles is becoming incarnational. This involves living with people, getting to know them, building trust, and living out our faith in every day ways. The preaching of the gospel is done through how we live. As we have opportunity, we share the reason for our faith. We are authentic without any hidden agenda. Our faith is salt and light and attracts people through our love. To be a pastor in a setting like this will take tremendous sacrifice because such a mission pastor will need to be self-supporting. The pastor gathers people for Bible studies and basically has “church” in a simple setting.
Being a pastor in a mission setting also requires learning the local culture. Even if a person is from the same nation, state, or community, there are unique things about every place. Learning these will help us learn how to communicate. A pastor must be an anthropologist. This would be a worthwhile topic for any pastor to study, but it seems that few even know the basic ideas from anthropology. A good missionary will also be a good study of culture, however that is understood.
Being a pastor in a mission setting is helped by finding ways to connect. There are endless ways to do that. This might include participating in community activities, going to school games, attending community events, becoming involved in community organizations, meeting new friends in local businesses, and so on. A pastor must have a sterling character that is attractive and not repelling. This will require careful nuance and even neutrality when it comes to politics. We represent Christ, not a nation, political view or party, or even sports teams.
A mission pastor will need to find ways of gathering a flock. A church cannot exist without people. Sometimes people think on the popular level that a church must meet in a special building with a steeple and cross. It must have an organ and pews. This concept must be abandoned, and really quickly. It is killing the true church. A church is simple a group of people who gather for worship, prayer, and study of the words of and about Jesus (the Bible). A church can meet just about anywhere people can gather. It can be small, just a few people, or large. We need to change the thinking about what a “church” is. I wish another word could be used, such as “gathering” or “community” or something. I am not smart enough to think of something, but the word “church” has too many connotations for some places.
If we want to make a different in places where there is no “church,” we must rethink our methods. A pastor is essentially the leader of a group of people who call Jesus their Lord and Savior. There are so many communities and places where there is no church. Districts or conferences that have 25 churches in one state or two states with thousands of cities and towns with no church especially need to rethink this. This will require bold steps. It will require people who have a special calling to be a pastor in creative ways, often without compensation or building. The need is great.
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