When I was pastoring a church on the Navajo reservation, I asked a retired Navajo interpreter to prepare a sermon. He looked at me funny and asked if it was legal for him to preach in the church. I replied to him, “It is OK with me.”
Then he proceeded to tell me when he was working with an Anglo missionary, it did not work out well when he drafted a sermon. He submitted a draft of his sermon to the missionary. After reading a few sentences, the missionary then tore up his sermon and threw it in the trash can. The interpreter was told this is not good.
The interpreter also told me that one had to make an appointment with the missionary to even talk with or pray with him.
Cross cultural ministry challenges us to put on the attitude of Christ. It moves us beyond our comfort zones. I believe every church leader must put on these three principles that I have found in Matthew 15:29-39.
As a Navajo pastor serving a predominantly Navajo congregation, I put these principles in front of me periodically.
“Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.
Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.”
His disciples answered, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?”
“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked. “Seven,” they replied, “and a few small fish.”
He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was four thousand men, besides women and children. After Jesus had sent the crowd away, he got into the boat and went to the vicinity of Magadan.”
(Matthew 15:29–39 NIV11)
The first thing that I see is approachability. The crowds came to Jesus and Jesus did not turn and walk away. Every kind of illness and sickness were impacted by the crowd that came to him. People (wanting to touch him, to be healed, to be heard, to be counseled, to be delivered, etc.) came to Jesus. Jesus allowed them to come to him. The son of God was approachable.
In today’s world we have individuals and groups of people that are struggling with alcohol, drugs, promiscuous living, greed, cheating, dishonesty, and every type of social ills in our communities. In the midst of all that, our congregations are planted. They will always be coming to us.
As ministers, we need to develop the principle of approachability.
The second thing that I see is compassion. This principle moves the heart and the soul and identifies with those who are hurting. Jesus, the almighty God, has come to us and identified himself with us who are sinners. He identifies our sufferings for he suffered even on to the cross.
In our ministries, we must be deeply moved by the sufferings around us. Developing this principle at times can be hard and many misunderstandings can take place. However, if we are in step with Christ and see with his eyes, we will begin to have deep compassion for those who are suffering.
The third thing is flexibility. What I have come to realize in the work that I do as pastor is that being approachable and compassionate helps you to be flexible.
The missionary that I mentioned was neither keen on the needs of the people nor was he approachable. He did not understand the people he served in a Navajo community that he was situated in.
I imagine the interpreter addressed the needs of the people in his own language. This servant was most likely filled with compassion for the people. Being unapproachable and lacking a sense of compassion eliminated being flexible for the missionary. His rigid approach drove people away.
In Jesus’ case, flexibility was in providing food ,i.e. sustenance for the crowd. We know that this was a miraculous act of God; but the fact that there was no store open, he did what he had to do on the spur of the moment. My work with this Navajo congregation requires much flexibility.
Let us then ask the Lord to help us become approachable, compassionate and flexible in our ministries.
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