By Greg Petrie, District Representative, Northwest District
A Reason for Writing
This winter seemed as if an inordinate number of Village Missionaries in our Northwest District had been facing struggles these past few months and needed some encouragement. We visit each of them twice a year, but it would still be 1-3 months before we would see them face to face. So, I found it necessary to send out a word of encouragement to them right away rather than wait until we could see them in person. I suspect many other Village Missionaries, and just ordinary people, are facing their own challenges. You don’t have to function as a missionary to face some of the struggles and trials of life, so I thought that maybe some of you could use the same reminder to stand firm in your calling.
Village Missionaries of the Northwest,
Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love.” (1 Cor.16:13-14 NLT)
Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing side by side, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. We are in this struggle together.” (Phil. 1:27-30a NLT)
But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stay true to the Lord. I love you and long to see you, dear friends, for you are my joy and the crown I receive for my work.” (Phil. 3:20-4:1 NLT)
Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him and be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are.” (1 Pet. 5:8-9 NLT)
A Season of Struggle
This seems to be one of those seasons in which many of you have been and are facing struggles and challenges beyond the norm–for several some of the darkest and most challenging times of your life and ministry.
Some of you are going through health and physical issues, even to the point that you question if you can continue in ministry. Some face situations in your family that drain and distract you. A number of you deal with conflict in your church that leaves you frustrated and discouraged. Yet others experience consistent decline in attendance and participation or are up against a wall of chronic apathy as people just don’t seem to care. Some not only feel rejected by those to whom you have devoted your lives to but are experiencing rejection.
As a result, I know a number of you are tired, exhausted, frustrated, discouraged and even disheartened. I suspect there are others I’m not aware of.
In light of this current plague of adversity, let me remind you of a couple of thoughts. You’ve likely shared these concepts with others; they may be things you need to hear from someone else.
You Are Not Alone
First, remember that you are not alone. You do not face your struggles and adversities alone. Jesus makes it clear that such is part and parcel with our calling to follow and serve him. It is in no way indicative that God might be displeased or that we are out of his will. It very well indicates that we are exactly in his will. One of the quotes I have taped in the front of my Bible says, “We will be entrusted with special difficulties that provide golden opportunities to pray . . .” (Bill Thrasher, A Journey to Victorious Praying, p. 15)
You are not alone in your struggles and adversities. We all know this. We all know God’s promises of his presence and care and provision. We give that counsel to others over and over–yet sometimes we need to be reminded of it ourselves.
Do Not Lose Heart
Second, you are not judged on your results. Not by Village Missions. Yes, you must report attendances and offerings and visits, but when was the last time any of that was brought up to you in any way other than “Is there something going on that we can help with?” Note the fields that have been highlighted in my fall Power Point presentation the past 3 years; Chesaw, Cusick, Four Lakes, Juliaetta, Kettle Falls, Lummi Island, Machias, Mazama, Nenana, Ocean Park, Skokomish, Skykomish, Starbuck, Wishram, Worley, and Yale. Not exactly a list of the largest attendance numbers, budgets, or growth rates in the district, but all places where I can say “This Village Missionary couple is doing a great job there!” (Yeah, I’ll get to the rest of you eventually!)
More importantly, God does not judge you on your results. I recently read somewhere an insight on the parable of the sower (unfortunately I can’t remember where). The author wrote “Our reward is based on abundance of sowing, not the harvest.” He noted that the harvest and fruitfulness are God’s work and responsibility. Ours is to sow. God just expects us to keep sowing. Some of you serve on fields that are currently failing to produce visible fruit, and may even be in decline. But your faithfulness and diligence in sowing as important as those on fields seeing an increase–often times even more. Do not lose heart.
Stand Firm in Your Calling
Others find themselves at a point where health or other issues prevent them from doing their normal and desired work of sowing. This could cause you to conclude, “therefore I’m failing at my calling.” Yet, I believe our sharing of gospel truth and power involves not only our proclamation of the Word of Christ, but also how we demonstrate it with our actions toward others and how we illustrate it with our lives. In other words, your response to the adversity of failing health or falling attendance speaks louder than any sermon you have preached.
Another quote I wrote in my Bible at the beginning of Job says, “It often takes more faith to suffer than it does to be healed.” (Paul Van Gorder). I would add, “it often takes more faith to pastor a congregation of 12 than it does to pastor a congregation of 100.” Or maybe more accurately, “It takes the same amount of faith to pastor a church of 12 as it does to pastor a church of 100 as it does to pastor a church of 700–100% in each case!” It’s not like one is a 100% faith-needed church while the next is a 70%er and a few are fortunate to have the 30% faith-needed congregations.
So again, stand firm in fulfilling your calling, trusting that God will provide you the grace necessary for whatever you are facing.