Ministry is messy. Things are not as black and white as they are in training or in theory. This is not only because we are working with flawed and human people, but because WE ourselves are flawed and human. This is why we desperately go before the Lord in dependent prayer, entrusting this work and our lives to the Lord with confidence knowing that it is God who is sovereign over our lives and Christ who is building His church. It is His work, and it is to His glory that He has chosen to use weak vessels for His honor.
Lately, we have been experiencing some exciting things in our work among the Tigak, and we have also encountered some difficulties as well. The longer we are here, the more we are realizing how insufficient we are to do this work in and of ourselves, and the more we are thrust on the Lord for wisdom in how to proceed. Even with the good, the bad and the ugly, there is no place we would rather be than here among the Tigak.
We have seen some really encouraging things take place in the lives of the believers. One of our female believers has recently been personally going around sharing the gospel with different people throughout our village. She has already led one young married man to faith in Christ and has two ladies she has been getting together with. When Beth asked how she was feeling after God had used her to do His work to save someone she happily blurted, “I’m excited! I’m not scared now, I want to share with all my friends!” Another lady recently showed some leadership potential when she went out on a limb and led the ladies mid-week review time when Beth and Aimee were gone. Our Bible teachers have also taken their role as shepherds seriously as a few weeks back they counseled a new believer through a trial she was facing in her family when we missionaries were out of the village!
These are baby steps, but they ARE steps! We know the reason each of them have done these things is not because they are faking it or trying to please the missionaries, but out of a growing sense of care and concern for the lost and for the body of Christ. Praise God!
Along with all the encouraging things happening, the Tigak church is also experiencing some significant trials. Unfortunately, most of them are self-inflicted as some are struggling with marriage problems and interpersonal conflict within the body. There are a lot of dynamics that go into these trials that I won’t go into here, but suffice to say things are challenging right now. We are in continual dependance on the Lord for wisdom in each situation to know how to best encourage each one to submit to the control of the Spirit in them and handle themselves in a manner pleasing to God in spite of how difficult or hurtful the situation may be. This is hard!
One thing that we have found to be important is knowing where people are at spiritually and determining what our expectations of them should be. It is tempting to expect that once people understand the gospel and place their faith in Christ we should see significant observable change in their lives. However, we try to remember what they have been taught and discipled in versus what they have not yet been taught and discipled in. Though some of them are surprised, we are not surprised to find that the believers continue to struggle with the same sin issues that they had when they were unbelievers.
We want to be careful to encourage them in what they have learned and be patient with them in areas they have not yet wrestled with. Growth is a process and we are seeking the Lord for wisdom to know how to best help them with where they are at. God has raised us with His love, patience and compassion and that is exactly what we need to extend to new believers!
Really, it is the same thing we experience as parents with our children. We know what we can expect from our children at certain ages. We expect them to do age appropriate things and challenge them with age appropriate responsibilities. No one expects their toddler to pay rent and no one expects their teenager to wet the bed.
It would be a mistake at this time for us to point out every area in the believers’ lives that don’t measure up to the Scriptures. It would be too much for them to handle and would probably thrust them into deep depression or outward legalism as they try in their own efforts to conform to what we want them to do. Real growth takes time, instruction and patience.
At the same time, if there are areas that are destructive towards themselves or others in the church, we are handling those situations individually as they arise and seeking the best way to address those issues. Sometimes we may say things like, “I know we haven’t talked about this area yet, but here is what God’s word says, and later we will teach on it more thoroughly.” Our hope is to help them grow where they are at.
Please Pray: Community & Unity
All this so say, please pray for the Tigak church and pray for us as a team. Two of the biggest things we are praying for in the church is that they would continue to commit to community and that they would grow in unity.
We believe that the word of God is living and active and powerful, and we believe that the Spirit of God uses the Word of God to conform us into the image of the Son of God. Because of this we believe it is vital that we do all that we can to encourage the believers to be a part of the community and to come and continue to sit under the clear teaching of God’s word in their own language. When marriage conflicts or interpersonal conflicts have occurred within the body, their knee jerk reaction is to not come to the teaching. We don’t want them to come out of a false sense of religious obligation, but we do want to encourage them that God’s Word is the truth and they need to come and continue to learn and grow in the context of community.
We are also praying for them to be united. This was Christ’s desire and it was something He said would be a testimony to the unbelieving world. Satan would love nothing more than to divide and conquer the Tigak church. We want them to grow towards maturity and we know that God wants to grow them in the context of a community based on unity and love for one another.
Pray for us as a team to have wisdom as we move forward in the days ahead. Pray for us to model unity and community amongst ourselves and together with the Tigak church.
Ellie Ellis says
I found myself encouraged when you compared physical maturity and responsibilities to spiritual maturity and responsibilities. It can be so overwhelming when you see one flaw or sin after another in yourself especially when you’re new to the faith- because there’s a whole lot there. Unlike physical growth where you can clearly judge responsibilities appropriate for the age, it can hardly be done with respect to physical.growth. I may be approaching my late 20’s, but I’ve only 5 1/2 years of faith. It is hard to measure progress. It’s overwhelming to try to meet the expectations of the 40-somethings in every circumstance every time. I’m encouraged, because you’ve beautifully pointed out (in my understanding) that true faith and maturity makes progress, one step at a time whether anyone’s looking or not. I will earnestly continue to pray for the Tigak,and their growth- and being successful in the challenge of how to better use the gifts God has given us, as I attempt the same thing on this side of the ocean.
Great Ellie! I’m so glad you were encouraged. Yes, spiritual growth is a process that takes time. In fact, it will take the rest of our lives! 🙂 Thankfully, God is merciful and patient with us and cares a great deal about our growth into Christlikeness, much more than we do. He loves us and wants us to trust Him in the process.
The best thing we can all can do in our lives, no matter how old we are or how long we have walked with Him, is devote ourselves to knowing Him through His Word. God says that the Scriptures are living and active, powerful to discern our motives, useful to teach us and show us right from wrong (Heb. 4:12 & 2 Tim. 3:16). Not only that, but God uses the Scriptures to transform our thinking so that we can know what His will is (Rom.12:2) and He says studying it prepares us so that we can serve Him (2 Tim. 3:17).
Thanks for the comment!
Dave Lewis says
Exceptionally well-stated. Excellent summary of grace-based ministry. Your message here may be as important as your work there.
Thanks, Dave! That means a lot to us. Of course, its easier to write than live out! Lol. 🙂
Jeff Eagen says
Dear Tom and Beth, Thank you so much for your obedience to God as you faithfully serve Him in the uttermost parts of the earth. I am SO excited by the news of one of the Tigak believers extending the Kingdom through intentional evangelism. WOW, your rejoicing must match that of the heavenly angels! I am also emphathize as you struggle with the gritty side of ministry. The hurdles to Christian maturity are as significant for your young believers as the hurdle faced by your “no longer scared” evangelist as she shared the Gospel with others. As frustrating as it must be, on occassion, God doesn’t call us to effect change in the lives of others – He does that. He has called us to be His hands, His feet, His voice to a lost and perishing world.
I loved the heart and transparency of this update. I am so proud of you both and pray for you regularly. Be strong.
Thanks for the encouragement, Jeff! So true about God changing people, not us. We’re just the messengers! Hope you are doing well!
Thank you for your honest post Beth. So admire your heart for God’s work and it is so encouraging. As someone brand-new to vocational ministry stateside, I’ve already had the thought, “Wouldn’t it be easier to do ministry if I was a missionary overseas where I wouldn’t have to deal with all these relational dynamics?” 🙂 Then I read your post and your struggles which completely reflect the ones our church is dealing with. It is an important reminder that the Church is the Church no matter where the Church is. And that Kingdom growth is not measured by bodies but by amount of heart space controlled by the Spirit…and that is some precious real estate 🙂 Blessings!
So true! Thanks for your encouragement, Cindy! Also- thanks for letting us hang out with your brother for a week! 😉