Barriers you may encounter
Any ministry worth doing will have a few barriers which need to be overcome. Sometimes these barriers are inherent to the work. It could be helpful for us to know where these barriers are, in order: 1) to keep from running into them (where possible); and 2) to be able to hurdle them effectively when they can’t be avoided.
Sometimes the barriers you encounter are physical, such as limited funding and/or a need for volunteers, but often the barriers are emotional and conceptual instead. Invisible barriers, though often imperceptible, may be just as intensely limiting, and they can often be more challenging to conquer. It is our hope that by reading of these here, you will know that others have walked a journey similar to yours, and that you will thereby be encouraged.
Where is the Mission Field?
Perhaps there was a time in our past when we could more easily define “missions” as around the world and “evangelism” as across the street. If that time ever did exist, then we can say confidently that it now belongs to our history. The truth is that the foreign mission field has come home. A successful missions endeavor will begin with the premise that “if people aren’t going to come to us, then we must go to them.“ In other words, if despite our best efforts, people can’t be reached for Christ evangelistically, then we extend the church to their setting missionally.
We do this as intentionally as we would if we were foreign missionaries crossing international borders. This does not mean that our mission efforts should not be intentionally and holistically evangelistic, but that the discipleship of those being reached happens in their own setting.
The dangerous game played here is called, “blame the perishing.” It effectively eases our consciences and blames those least able to defend themselves. The presumption is that we have erased all cultural, social, linguistic, generational, traditional and philosophical barriers that keep people from having free access to our church. The doors to our church are open, after all, and it seems that the only thing preventing people from coming is their own sinfulness and disobedience to God. Therefore, it must be their fault that they can’t find God and stumble into our church.
The truth is that we must live as missionaries and take the gospel into a context where people can hear and respond, even if that means taking the church to the people directly across the street.
What do you Call Church?
Most of us have been taught through the years that “the church” is not a building per se, but a gathering of people in God’s name. The church then is not “a place” where we meet God, but “the people” who just happen to be meeting God in a particular place. Yet, as well as we have been taught, it is ever difficult to shake off our common experience of church as a particular place, usually a place with pews and a steeple.
This conventional thinking of church may form a barrier to reaching people for Christ where they are, in that it is difficult to see as “real” any church setting which doesn’t look like the church we grew up in.
The barrier hits us hard, in that those who should be most supporting your work are often the ones who discount what we are doing, because they can’t see it as real. This misconception of “church” makes it difficult for people to get involved, in that they can see the value only as it brings people into the church as they have defined it.
You will hear things like, “That’s a wonderful work you are doing out there, but when are you going to bring them to “the church?“ Implicit in the question is a criticism that what you are doing can’t be real, and therefore has little kingdom value.
Who can Minister?
Somewhere in time, a non biblical idea caught on—that there are two classes of Christians: the laity and the clergy. According to this understanding, before you can be a minister of the gospel, you must graduate from a seminary or at least a Bible college of some kind. The impact of this to the gospel would be the equivalent of a football coach running on to the field to play the game while the players all watched from the sidelines. We believe, on the other hand, that the Lord equips and calls each of his children to be a minister of His good news. The professional ministers become coaches that facilitate and support each of us while we are ministering in the field of play. What this means is that ordinary men and women can fulfill their calling as they teach God’s word and share His love in any and every mission field.
It is our hope that by knowing that these barriers exist and that most of us involved in local missions encounter them at some point will be an encouragement to you. You can realize that these problems don’t center around you or your efforts, but is a common problem (or set of problems) which need to be overcome. We work through these barriers together by praying with and for each other, and by a persistent refusal to quit, just because the going gets tough.