At Mississippi College, many students are given the chance to spend a summer abroad in ministry. It is exciting to see a movement in our generation of young believers desiring to do “hard things” for the kingdom of God—I am so impressed by the availability of great gospel literature that we have access to.
Yet, I think that often, our generation sees reality through idealistic lenses and that our perspective is warped by the attitude of selfish ambition that we adopt from our Western culture.
As I consider my past experience, I shudder in shame at the recollection of the many times I have disobeyed God and wonder with joy at being able to see God at work throughout the world.
I have been through multiple airports and I have seen the “missionaries” in their typical chacos and long skirts. I have seen them go off to save the world. I have seen some come back heartbroken. I have seen others devastated to come home.
I have recognized the own evil within my heart, and I have had to re-define my own understanding of missions. Yet, through all the ups and downs, I have learned some very practical lessons for future ministry.
First, I have learned that perspective is important each day; it is necessary for me to have the right understanding of reality for my thoughts, choices, and actions. In other words, if I am to serve God or tell others about Who He is, I must know Him.
This means approaching God’s word with humility (Is. 66:2), and believing the word of God (Matt. 4:4) and “walking by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).
Practically, this means that I have many fears, my emotions often roller coaster, and I have my own opinions about the world, and I have been influenced by my culture and socio-economic background; however, I must lay down my desire to control, to know all the answers, and trust God because His word is truth (John 17:17).
Knowing God and trusting in His word is important because ministry is hard. You can be certain that ministry brings hardship, in fact, that is exactly what God’s word promises. It is easy to develop a system of theology in the mind and memorize Scripture, however, on the field it is a whole new game because obedience is required.
I have encountered questions such as these: “Will I go home when my family member dies or stay and serve?” “I’m in the doctor’s office and I’m very sick. Will I persevere or will I be discouraged and have a bad attitude?” “I can’t keep my regular schedule and everything is unfamiliar. Will I be flexible and rest in God’s sovereignty or will I insist on getting my way?”
“My teammates and I are having conflict. Will I respond in a way that is godly and love them or will I respond that I way I want to by being sarcastic and angry?” “Oh, I see that the missionaries I work with are imperfect people. Will I hold people to an incredibly ridiculous standard and criticize or will I pray for them and serve joyfully?”
Second, in our generation, it is important to strive for integrity. The term “holiness” to the Western world holds a connotation of some prim-and-proper know it all.
To the West, holiness means a stuck-up who judges others. Yet, holiness isn’t defined in comparison to fellow humans, but it is a standard of righteousness that a holy God demands.
Paul often exhorts Timothy to maintain a standard of purity for the guarding of the gospel and of the reputation of the ministry. Many people can cite tons of Scripture and have an idea of sound doctrine, but their lives do not reflect God’s standard of righteousness.
If we are going to have a credible ministry, if we really desire to reach people, then not only should we be competent in the Scriptures, but also we must have impeccable character. This idea of integrity invades my discipline, responsibility, the way I treat people, my thought life, everything.
It is true that to a degree all Christians are hypocrites because no one is perfect—only Christ is fit to be the sacrifice God’s justice requires.
Also, I am not suggesting legalism. I am saying that authentic conversion is always followed by authentic spirituality. The idea of integrity convicts me to my core. How many times have I just done the minimum requirement of certain tasks? I often slack in my physical discipline and spiritual discipline. This reflects in the ministry I represent and the people that I serve.
Both walking by faith and living a life of integrity are impossible tasks. Indeed, ministry is not possible on our own.
However, through all of my failures, through the difficult times on the field-team conflict, sickness, stress, danger, natural disaster-through all of the adventures, through all of the joy, through seeing true transformation in my life and the lives of others, I have learned that God is faithful and that the gospel is necessary for every day.
Each step further and deeper, I am stretched beyond my limits and am forced to rely on God. It is at this moment that true faith begins and I realize that every disappointment, every stress is worth it.
There is nothing better than knowing God and experiencing His grace in the person of Christ; a true understanding of the gospel demands sacrifice and service.
– Mary Kate Barthel, Contributing Writer