Navigating your onramp – Five lane-markers…
Twenty-five things I’d like to say to missionaries serving their first 3 months of a long-term ministry.
by Mark Morgenstern
Without trying to stretch the metaphor of an onramp too far, piece by piece throughout this course I’m going to unpack for you a long list of ideas that will be helpful to you in the place and time you now find yourself. We’ll package those ideas into 5 lane markers, to line you up with the future-looking tasks and fundamental attitudes that this course is all about. Remember, change represents the circumstances that take place around you, while transition represents the healthy process of adaptation that you choose to work through in the midst of that change.
Lane marker 1 – What is my job?
It has been said that the surest path to success is simply to set your goals as, “do something.” You’ll be guaranteed a 100% accomplishment rate! But for the real life of a called, cross-cultural worker, this isn’t an option. We have a job to which we’ve been called by God. It includes being (and becoming) what He wants us to be and participating with Him in the things that He wants us to be doing. A fundamental help in determining and attaining God-honoring success in cross-cultural ministry is to define, “What is my job?”
A beginning point of intentionality for us should be a crystal-clear understanding of, “what is ministry?” We may be tempted to simplify this answer into a short and neatly bullet-pointed list including mainstays such as preaching, teaching, visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, and serving as a youth pastor. smile But I’d like to challenge your mindset to understand ministry more broadly as being where God wants you to be and doing what He wants you to be doing, for His glory and the joy of those you serve. This definition is big, while still bounded by God’s active involvement. When we embrace a definition of ministry like this, the list can grow much longer and include not just “doing” pieces but also “getting ready” pieces. During the transition stage, getting ready is a major task that is well worth the investment of time, energy and care.
A complicating factor to this fulfillment of calling, is that we all bring expectations to the ministry table — expectations of what I’ll do, the role I’ll play, the results I’ll see, when this will all happen. Then, layered upon that, are the expectations held by my organization, my team, and my sending church and supporters. Inevitably, there will be variations between the expectations of various parties as well as between reality and the expectations themselves. The only remedy for expectation disconnect is communication. Share more, talk more. What do you want? What do you need? What is realistic? What will others do for you?… At the same time entrust your expectations to God. If you are walking with Him, He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4.) Let God mold your heart!
An extremely helpful skill in walking the road of faithfulness to your calling, is to know and to be able to communicate to others the ways in which God has uniquely made you. There are many systems and tests available for getting clarity on your God-given design. Let me suggest that whichever assessment you choose, it ought to take into account multiple dimensions of that design. I like the acronym SHAPE, which I was first exposed to through Erik Rees’ book, Shape. The elements of God’s design of you are the following:
- Spiritual Gifts
While many tools work well for one of these elements, a good reckoning of oneself will include all of the above. It will also be easy to communicate to others. When you and those around you gain a grasp on your unique, God-ordained design, the process of deciding what to do and what not to do can gain much clarity.
God is at work in us. It is an ongoing process involving a lifetime of following Jesus better and better as disciples. The call to serve and the refinement of self that God is accomplishing go hand in hand. Don’t neglect one for the other!
With a firm grasp on “what is my job?”, a new cross-cultural worker can move along to the next parts of the onramp – connecting to the new context, team and ministry/role.
- Know “what is my job?”
- Develop a solid philosophy of “what is ministry?” It is not just doing, but also preparing.
- Lessen the pain of “expectation disconnect” with clear communication and trust in God.
- Know well and communicate well your God-given design. This can help immensely in making wise yes/no decisions for ministry.
- God’s refinement of me as a disciple and my faithful accomplishment of His calling are inseparably linked.