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Pastor, Missionary, or Follower of Jesus?

Updated: Nov 23, 2019



Captain Sardine and the Many Dinghies

"We're gonna need a bigger boat!" I announce in my best Roy Scheider voice.

Brad chuckles at the Jaws reference as he squeezes tightly into the last remaining seat in the salon.

I'm wondering what we are going to do for seats if anyone else shows up when I hear another dinghy motoring slowly up to Born Again. Amy scurries up to the cockpit to help the new arrivals aboard and try to find a place to tie off their dinghy where there's not already one tied.

Last week we held our service on the beach which was great, but a couple hours later the constable motored out to our boat and told us we couldn't do that any more. His English was not great, and my French is non-existent, so I was unable to ascertain why it was a problem, but apparently it was, so here we are.

"This is gonna be tight today folks," I declare apologetically to the sardine-like gathering before me. Besides Amy and myself, there are four men, five women, and two fidgety, junior-high age boys. Some of them are believers thrilled to have the opportunity to gather in worship. Some are just curious. Some simply never miss an opportunity to socialize with their fellow cruisers regardless of the event. Most of them know each other. All of them seem un-phased by the cramped conditions.

The last two arrivals find a spot to stand by the doorway to the forward berth. Amy sits on the bottom step of the companionway and I squeeze into the galley and tune my guitar. The words to Glorious Day are displayed on a little 20 inch monitor mounted by the navigation station. I silently thank God for this opportunity and ask him to help me lead this time of worship in a way that brings Him much glory. The service begins...

For those of you keeping up with my posts,

you have already recognized this as another of my semi-fictitious flash forwards. I hope and imagine that God will be doing something like this through our efforts in the next 15 to 18 months, and I'm excited about that vision and want to share it with you. But as mentioned previously, I am aware of the importance of allowing God to change the plan should He desire to do so. I have a loose grip on my expectations.

I would like to ponder two questions today that have been asked of me recently. "So, you're going to go be a pastor huh?" and "So, you're going to be missionaries huh?"

I've been giving those questions some thought, and frankly, I'm having trouble answering them. Maybe you can help me with this.

Am I a Pastor?

I recently looked up the definition of "pastor" in four different dictionaries, and read four different definitions. They weren't saying the same thing but wording it a little differently - they actually contradicted one another. One said a pastor must be ordained, another said a pastor could be a layperson. One specifically said you're not a pastor unless you're leading church services. One said you could call yourself a pastor if you have spiritual charge over a person or group. A person? One person? By that definition, any believer who is a parent is a pastor. Any believer who is mentoring someone is a pastor. That seems to cheapen the word "pastor" a little bit doesn't it? Ultimately, which definition I use determines whether or not I'm a pastor in the above scenario.

I believe the bible trumps the dictionary in defining what a pastor is or isn't, and while I'm not a bible scholar by any stretch of the imagination, in 20 years of reading and studying my bible, I believe I have a pretty good handle on what God's word says a pastor is.

First, I believe there are a few words, depending on the translation you are reading, that are used interchangeably but all refer to a pastor. They are: pastor, elder, bishop, and overseer. Second, I believe that a pastor is more than a role, it is an office of the local church. Third, I believe that the primary role of a pastor is that of a shepherd, (feeding, protecting, and caring for the flock) but also includes: teaching/preaching, and decision-making in the affairs of the church. Fourth, I believe that the qualifications for a pastor are clearly outlined for us in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9.

About four years ago,

I was meeting with my current pastor for about the second time ever. We barely knew each other, but something in the conversation made him say, "Wow! You really have the heart of a pastor." Up until that point, no one had ever said that to me, and I was taken aback. My gut reaction was to swear that I was not pastor material, didn't meet the qualifications set forth in God's word, and not to ever use my name and pastor in the same sentence again. We both laughed it off and continued the conversation in another direction.

Over time, the subject continued to come up. I'd handle some delicate situation in a particular way and he would say , "How pastoral of you!" I would proceed to write it off as what any reasonable person would have done. It became this thing we did - both of us half joking and half serious. Him saying I was a pastor at heart, and me denying there was any possibility of it. But underneath the light-hearted banter there was some truth being uncovered. When I started leading the recovery ministry, it didn't take too long before I was feeling a very protective love over the little flock God had entrusted to me. I began to admit to myself privately, that perhaps there was a pastor's heart beating within me.

By this time I was teaching from God's word regularly, I was making all the decisions for the direction of the recovery ministry, I was feeding, protecting, and caring for the flock, and I had come to admit that maybe God had given me a pastor's heart. If all this was true, then why did I not consider myself a pastor? And why wasn't anyone calling me pastor? It's very simple really: I was missing the part where the office of Pastor had been conferred upon me by the church. And that, I felt certain, would never happen.

Fast forward to about 6 weeks ago.

Amy and I have made our decision to voyage into this Caribbean ministry and we feel like we should tell our pastor as soon as possible. In addition to the recovery ministry, we lead worship on Sunday mornings three weeks a month, and we want to make sure there's plenty of time to transition us out of our roles smoothly. Upon laying out our plans for the future, without missing a beat, the first thing he says is, "I told you you were a pastor."

At the time I didn't think much about it. It just seemed like his way of getting a little jab in at me. But now I'm wondering: Is sailing away to this ministry somehow going to make me a pastor? Is this really even a church we're starting? Is any ministry that has worship services necessarily a church? Even if it's on a boat that's not even anchored in the same place every week? If it is a church, do I simply declare myself pastor of it because I'm initiating it?

Pastor Russ? No. That can't be right.

Wait! I know! Maybe we're missionaries!

Are We Missionaries?

This is a difficult question for me too.

Matthew 28:18-20 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

"And Jesus came and said to them..." Who's them? Was it the Greater Judea Missionary Board? Nope. It was disciples. It was you and me. If a missionary is someone sent on a mission, then every follower of Jesus is a missionary, right!?

Amy and I are going to the Caribbean to build relationships, share the gospel, lead people in worship, teach God's word, and love people with the love of Jesus wherever God gives us that opportunity. Sounds like a missionary right? Except that we're already doing those things now in Monmouth, IL and we're not considered missionaries here. Amy moved here from Toulon. Is she a missionary? How far do you have to go to be a missionary? What's the difference between "leaving for the mission field" and just moving, but continuing to serve God? Is it motive? Is it calling? Is it vocation? Is it support?

Maybe that's it. Maybe it's support. Maybe it all comes down to money, or at least where the money comes from. If you're supporting yourself and your ministry efforts by working a 9 to 5 job, you're just a Christian. But if for whatever reason, you and your ministry are not in a position to financially sustain themselves, then you call yourself a missionary and ask other believers to support the work you're doing.

If that's it - sign us up! We're missionaries! Because if the vision I currently have for our ministry comes to pass, I don't believe it's going to financially sustain itself. Not entirely anyway. And opportunities for either Amy or I to work legally are going to few and far between. The long-term survival of this ministry will depend on at least some amount of outside support.

In the end, Amy and I are going to continue doing what we've been doing together for the past 5+ years: following Jesus as best we can, ministering to others in His name, and living sensitively to the Holy Spirit. God is calling us to do this in a different location using some different methods. Does this mean we should have some new Christian labels? I don't know. Maybe it does.

Pastor, Missionary, follower of Jesus? I'm still unsure about the first two, but rock solid on the last...for all my days...wherever He leads.

What do you think?

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