This past Monday, I spoke at the World Mission Initiative dinner at Pittsburgh Seminary. I was asked to give a short talk on how my experience with mission through WMI while in seminary has affected my approach to ministry now that I’ve graduated. It was good to reflect on this; I don’t think I realized just how much mission has changed my sense of call and understanding of ministry. At any rate, this is what I said:
I am working half time as the organizing co-pastor of the Upper Room New Church Development in Squirrel Hill, and also as a campus minister for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Graduate and Faculty Ministry at Carnegie Mellon and University of Pittsburgh.
I have to confess, before coming to seminary, I wanted to be a pastor who was comfortable. I wanted to be the pastor of a nice church in the suburbs that was just like the church I grew up in. Now, as a seminary graduate, I find myself not in such a comfortable position. I don’t live in the suburbs; I’m in the city. I’m pastoring a new church development that meets in a living room and looks nothing like the church I grew up in. And that call is only a half-time call, so it’s supplemented by doing ministry through InterVarsity, where I have to raise my own support.
Something changed in me from the time I started at PTS to the time I graduated from this place. The change is that I was exposed to the mission of God, largely made possible by WMI.
First, I learned that the mission of God was not about me, but about seeing all nations know and worship Jesus Christ. Through WMI, I was able to go on a short term mission trip to Southeast Asia where we worked with an unreached minority ethnic group. This has instilled in me a passion to see all ethnicities worship Christ, and so I’m now working on a new church development that we hope to be multiethnic. On the same trip, we worked with pastors from a housechurch movement, and so being a pastor there usually means giving up your living room or the top floor of your house so that it can be used as a sanctuary. We see no reason why a model like this couldn’t be used in the U.S. and so the church we’re planting is currently meeting in Chris’s living room.
Second, exposure to the mission of God has made prayer a more integral piece of my ministry. Once I returned from Southeast Asia, the sole extent of my involvement with mission there has been prayer, and it’s been a blessing to see how God has answered those prayers. So, I now see how prayer is deeply important for my ministry as a church planter. Our sense of call to plant a church in Squirrel Hill came out of prayer walking that neighborhood. Once we were committed to that neighborhood, the first thing we did was assemble a prayer team of people who have committed to interceding for us and for Squirrel Hill. I’ve also made it my personal goal as a pastor in Squirrel Hill to prayer walk the entire neighborhood, so that I pray over every house and business there. Exposure to the mission of God made me a more passionate pray-er.
Lastly, exposure to mission made me more aware of who God is, and made me to fall in love more deeply with my God. WMI allowed me to attend the Association of Presbyterian Mission Pastors conference. What I remember most about this conference is the worship. It was the most vibrant and heartfelt worship that I had ever been a part of. I realized that I was worshipping with people who were on the front lines of the Kingdom of God. Their involvement in mission meant that they had seen God at work. They weren’t just worshipping an abstract concept, but they were worshipping the real, living God who is at work in the world today. If I had gone through PTS without having been exposed to the mission of God, I would have been very prepared to be a pastor who could talk a lot about a God whom I knew about but whom I had never seen myself. Through WMI, I saw with my own eyes the God I read about in Scriptures and learned about in the classroom. Because I’ve now seen for myself the hand of this God at work, I’m now prepared to be his witness.