A gifted leader in the church has a ready smile for everyone. The congregation loves him. He asks the church to pray for his wife, that God will put her heart in the right place. The church prays. A member shares a book on marriage with the couple that has a good chapter on forgiveness for the wife. Later the church learns that this man was physically abusing his wife. She moves far away, hurt and angry that the church sided with her husband.
Another member serves wherever she is needed. She is dependable and does a thorough job. The only problem is that she is temperamental, moody, and critical of everyone else. People tiptoe around her.
Probably we all have a colleague who never says, “Sorry,” or, “I was wrong.” Or we know a man busily serving the church, unaware of his wife’s loneliness at home. Or we know a church member who harbors such bitterness that it oozes into every conversation.
These people often present themselves as spiritually mature, but they act like little children when they don’t get their way. They have no ability to process anger, hurt or sadness. They expect to be taken care of, often treating people as objects to meet their needs.
As our missionaries go through AFM training and prepare to launch to the field, they grapple with what the end product of their efforts should be. In the culture where they will be working, what does it look like to have a healthy, mature church that correctly represents the character of Christ?
To effectively model a Christ-centered culture, our missionaries must first be spiritually mature. Biblical truth must replace the “stinking thinking” that sin has planted. Once that transformation has occurred, God shapes a community of believers into a church that perpetuates discipleship and growth.
As new believers identify practices in their own culture that seem to conflict with the Bible, they must grapple with the hard issue of how to stay true to Biblical truth. If the missionaries have done their job well, the new believers won’t rely upon what the missionaries think but will instead search the Word for their own answers.
Here are some examples of thorny cultural issues that new believers around the world currently face:
• Before becoming a Christian, a man has four wives. Now that he has found Christ, what should he do? Divorce all but one? Who will protect and provide for the other wives and children?
• In another culture, a man beats his wife to show that he cares. If he treats her with kindness as the Bible says, she feels neglected.
• In an animist culture there is an elaborate ritual to celebrate children transitioning to adulthood. What rites of passage does Christianity offer?
When dealing with the difficult issues, sometimes new believers arrive at conclusions that are culturally repugnant to their Western missionaries. When this happens, missionaries need to search their own hearts as well as the scriptures. Everyone’s world is influenced by their own culture. Non-biblical thought patterns can lie undetected for years until a clash between worldviews arises. Mature believers work through the difficulty, studying Scripture and examining their own assumptions before coming to a decision. It is hard to swallow cultural prejudice, but ultimately we want to seek a Kingdom culture that speaks to everyone’s hearts, not just our own.
A church built on a Christ-centered culture with spiritually mature believers nurturing new believers is the best offering a missionary can bring the King of the universe.
By supporting AFM with your gifts and prayers, you are making this difficult but crucial work possible. No believer, no missionary is perfect, but we look to Him who is perfect to grow and mature us. What He reveals to us through His word we want to share with others. AFM has a dream not only to plant churches but also to help our new believers grow into mature believers who build a Christ-centered culture within their church. Thank you for being part of the AFM team.
As our missionaries work with their unreached people and struggle with difficult issues, I leave you with this question: What work needs to be done in your life so that you can help grow your church into a healthy body of mature believers who correctly represent the character of Christ?”