Working in cross-cultural ministry is exciting and so fulfilling, as you get to witness God at work in the lives of those who have never heard the good news of Jesus Christ. You get on the field, become part of a team, work hard to learn the language, and start getting into the nitty-gritty of building relationships and witness.
Then it happens: A teammate leaves, and you’re elected the new leader!
How did that happen? You didn’t go overseas to have to lead a team, you went to be involved in the lives of the people you’ve grown to love. Now you’re stuck supervising others and reporting everything back to the home office.
All the while, you’re asking God, “What were you thinking? I’m not qualified for this! I’m one of the youngest ones on the team!”
I wish I could tell you, friend, that this doesn’t happen often, but oh, no, it does. It happened more than once to my husband and myself on the field, and it recently happened to a dear single friend who’s serving in a closed country.
When I wrote to check in on her, I didn’t receive a short text in reply; instead, I got a sixteen minute voice message. As she got me up to speed on all she’s been through: getting COVID, not being able to go home for the summer, losing her ministry partner, and then her team leader, that’s when she let me know they’d appointed her as head of her team.
I could hear the anguish in her voice, as it carried the weight of the burdens she was bearing. The instant promotion seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
I get that. She’s got enough on her plate without having to switch gears and step into leadership. How’s that fair?
It’s not, but it’s a reality of life on the mission field.
Turnover happens everywhere — even in missions — but there is a much smaller pool to turn to for help when it happens.
This means that sometimes we’re asked to step up and serve in a way we’re not prepared or even qualified, but it doesn’t mean that God won’t give us what we need to lead.
I’m sure Timothy was terrified when Paul sent him out on his own to check on the churches and to carry on the work, along with appointing elders. He was just a young man and nervous about taking up the mantel of leadership, but Paul told him to stand firm, and not to let anyone look down on him because he was young.*
There are some things Paul wrote to Timothy that work with any of us who are faced with instant promotion:
- Train yourself to be godly. Press into Jesus, reminding yourself always of how he would act in each situation.
- Keep your hope in God. He is worthy of our trust.
- Set an example for your team in speech, life, love, faith, and purity.
- Devote yourself to reading Scripture with your team. Rely on God’s Word for direction in all things.
- Don’t neglect your gifts.
None of these require a seminary degree or management training. They require only complete trust in God to help you through whatever leadership throws your way.
As with all of life, even unexpected leadership can be just a season. Humbly take the challenge, knowing that the Lord will equip you with everything you need to serve to his glory. The lessons you learn will not go to waste, but be used by God for years to come.
Life on mission is full of twists and turns, including opportunities to lead. You might be surprised at what God will do in and through you as a result.
Be strong and courageous — and lead!
Grace and Peace
1 Timothy 4:12.