Wielding the Sword [ARTICLE – Josiah Jones]

Principles of Preaching Cross-Culturally

The engine in your automobile has thousands of parts. It will only run if the parts do their job. It can be argued that a single washer or bolt is less important than a piston or crankshaft; it certainly costs less. However, every part has its purpose; if the engine is going to last 100k, 200k, or even 300k miles, your engine must have its parts in working order. The same is true of the ministry–whether overseas or in the homeland: emphasis should not be given to one area of ministry to the detriment of other areas. In this way, I am burdened that we, as preachers and, particularly, as missionaries, be vigilant against an imbalance where too little emphasis is given to biblical preaching.

Some have said that missionaries “cannot preach themselves out of a wet paper bag.” If this assertion is even slightly true, it is a sad commentary on 21st century missions. Of all men, those who take the Word of God to an unsaved people group and preach the eternal message of salvation should be the gold standard as it relates to handling the Word of God correctly. Sometimes it seems that less emphasis is given by missionaries to their preaching and to sermon preparation because they deem it less important than evangelism. These are not mutually exclusive objectives! Instead, a vibrant preaching ministry is a vital part of evangelism! The lost sheep need the Savior, and the found sheep need fed! Christians of every race and nation need to be fed the Word of God, and this responsibility must not be relegated to the ministry of the national pastor. The missionary must set the example of handling the Word of God correctly, as well as training pastors and church planters how preaching is to be done. Preaching cross-culturally is more complex, requires more time in the study, and can be more taxing; however, it is worth it in order to minister to the people. They deserve nothing less.

As in any preaching ministry, there are many important aspects: sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, sensitivity to the needs of the congregation, ability to relate the message to the people in their culture, diligent study of God’s Word, and methods of homiletics/presentation. There are also dangers to be avoided, such as: taking verses out of context, placing oneself on a pedestal, or allowing every sermon to be a “missions message.”

 

Handle the Word of God Correctly

One of the principal qualities of Heartland Baptist Bible College is its emphasis on biblical preaching. Praise God for leadership that understands the unique roll of preaching in the Lord’s service. Many great preachers were trained at Heartland Baptist Bible College; there are also many great preachers who received training from other Bible colleges, institutes, or seminaries. A sound handling of God’s Word is not exclusive to Heartland alumni, nor does having an exceptional alma mater assure the alumnus that he is handling God’s Word correctly. This is critical to a ministry’s being scriptural, and the preacher alone must examine his preaching to assure it is giving justice to the Holy Scriptures.

The many books, helps, philosophies and other tools acquired in Bible college for the purpose of Biblical preaching are just that–tools. By themselves, tools cannot build, maintain, or improve upon any object–including preaching. The craftsman must develop a keen ability to use well the tools at his disposal. Tragically, there is often a disconnect between homiletics class in Bible college and the missionary’s preaching ministry. While emphasis should be given to prayer, outreach, raising support, and learning a language, the preaching of the Word of God is God’s chosen method for reaching the world. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the missionary to develop his preaching skills. A teacher of culinary arts cannot teach his students to prepare fine cuisine if he is not able to do so himself, nor can a missionary train national pastors to preach if he himself mishandles the Word of God.

 

Feed the Flock of God

The goal of the missionary should be to train a national pastor who can take over the preaching ministry. The work of training takes time, and a key part of pastor-training is the preaching of God’s Word! From the newest convert to the pastor-in-training, God’s sheep must be fed. Each Christian is at a different stage of growth; accordingly, each Christian has a specific need in his “diet” of the Word of God.

We are grateful to God for our newest family member, Jedidiah, to whom my wife gave birth right here in Mexico. The way he eats, I am certain Jedidiah will grow to be a beast of a man some day; but for now, he is on a strict, milk-only diet. Why? Because, as a baby, all he needs is milk. Our other three children drink milk also (cow’s), but they need more. We would be negligent parents if we served nothing to our children but a bowl of milk three times per day. They need bread, vegetables, meat, and fruit; so, we do our best to provide what they need.

The missionary should be equally sensitive to the needs of the listeners. A healthy congregation has baby Christians, recent converts, and new additions to the fellowship. At the same time, a healthy Congregation does not remain baby Christians but are in a continuous pattern of growth. For this reason alone, the missionary absolutely must preach the whole counsel of God, and provide for the sheep to be fed in every stage of growth. By setting this example, the pastor-in-training will not only be better fed himself, but he will have observed the appropriate handling of God’s Word so that he might continue feeding the flock decades after the missionary has departed. The one part of the flock that will continue with the missionary is his own family. Oftentimes, the only preaching his wife and children will hear is his. They also need fed the Word of God! The missionary’s wife needs to hear fresh and scriptural preaching from her husband. If the family is allowed to languish spiritually, the ministry will eventually follow.

 

Be Culturally Sensitive

Virtually every book on missions belabors this point, so I will just give a few reminders. Avoid idioms, colloquialisms, illustrations, and anecdotes that will not make sense to the hearers! There are many slang phrases that are understood in the field, but many are not.

Yesterday, between church services, we celebrated the birthday of a dear lady in the church who turned 77. While standing on the patio eating cake and visiting with one of the men, the intense Mexico sun began burning my ears. I promptly moved over a couple feet into the shade and mentioned to him my ears were burning. I went on to say that in English, one’s ears are “burning” when someone gossips about him. I asked if the phrase is used in Spanish, and sure enough it is. Knowing how this phrase is understood is an example of many others that I might need to avoid, as they might not be well received or well understood.

While it is good to avoid overtly importing American culture into the foreign church, the missionary in preaching the Word of God should not shy away from historic, cultural realities. The culture of the Bible is very different from American culture; it is even different in many ways from modern Israeli culture. The missionary has no right to bend the meaning of scripture in order to make historic reality more palatable to the hearers. He must therefore give due diligence in the study, coming to a full understanding of the culture of the Bible necessary to preach the passage, and then work to convey the cultural differences to the hearers so they might have a good grip on the text. The same Holy Spirit who indwells the missionary also indwells every born again believer in the congregation; if He can help the preacher understand the text, He is able to do the same for them. Watering down the meaning or changing cultural peculiarities is a disservice to the Word of God and to the flock.

 

Be a Student of Language

I have found that being able to study the Bible in multiple languages has definitely helped my understanding of God’s Word. The Textus Receptus is the same message as the King James, and knowledge of Greek syntax has helped me give a more crisp explanation of difficult passages. As a missionary, I have the blessing of preparing sermons in Spanish. Because English is my first language, I study both the King James and the Spanish Bible in sermon preparation. Because Spanish is a Latin language with similar grammatical structure to the Greek, I find it refreshing to reference the Textus Receptus and see the parallels. At times, the King James aids my understanding of the Spanish. It is intriguing to see how two translations of the Scriptures in two separate languages are so closely knit together with the original Greek. I advise any prospective missionary to take advantage of Greek and Hebrew classes, if they are offered. The linguistic rudiments covered in such classes can be applied to any language. It will help on the field in the area of sermon preparation and delivery.

 

Avoid Common Pitfalls

There is probably not a preacher in existence today who has never taken a verse out of context. While this mistake can be avoided with careful study, it is sadly way too common. Sometimes, an entire message is built on a notion that is not actually present in the passage of Scripture. I know that we, as missionaries, may have to preach in an entirely different language, but we must still guard against picking a verse here or there as we please in order to preach our sermon. We should rather study to preach the Lord’s sermon. For this reason, I mostly preach expository sermons. There are times when a topical message is appropriate, but such a message should still be founded on a passage of Scripture that actually covers the topic. The Word of God is powerful, and a sermon built on the meaning of the text will be much more potent and effective than a sermon constructed using any other method.

Both pastors and missionaries face the temptation to place ourselves on a pedestal; but as missionaries, it can be even more tempting if one starts to compare education, time spent studying Scripture, income levels, culture, or even language. It is not hard to develop an attitude of superiority over the people to whom you minister. When a dear fellow Christian corrects your grammar, take it like an adult! Learn from it. Work to become a better missionary without being bitter against those who would dare correct you. They mean well. The people in our congregation are some of the sweetest Christians I know in this world. In order to minister to them and to reach those without, it is imperative that we do as John the Baptist: decrease, while allowing Christ to be increased in our ministry.

One more pitfall is that of allowing every sermon to be a “missions message” exclusively. While on the deputation trail, the job of the missionary is to emphasize the need of missions to the thousands of American Christians whom he will encounter. In the context of deputation and furlough, missions-centered messages are always appropriate! Harking back to an earlier point, the Christians on the field needs to hear more than just missions messages. It is important, but so is every other doctrine taught us in God’s Word. Let me encourage you to be a well-rounded preacher.

Study to shew thyself approved. Feed the flock of God. Be a teacher of preachers. The world needs missionaries who can preach the Word.

 

Bro. Josiah Jones and his wife, Courtney, are both 2008 graduates of Heartland Baptist Bible College. They have been serving as church-planting missionaries in Mexico since 2015 following deputation. God has blessed them with four children: Lily, Obadiah, Chloe and Jedidiah. Both Lily and Obadiah were born in Arkansas while Josiah and Courtney served on staff at the Fellowship Baptist Church in Bearden under Pastor Kevin Stevicks’ leadership. Fellowship Baptist Church became their sending church when the Jones family began deputation in 2012. Chloe was born while on deputation, and Jedidiah was recently born on the field in Mexico. They currently have a church plant in Cuernavaca, Morelos: La Misión Bautista de la Armonía.

Contact Information:       

Cell:  011-52-777-374-3579

Voicemail/MMS: 682-4-MEXICO  (682-463-9426)

Email: JONESES2MEXICO@GMAIL.COM

Web: Http://www.brethrenprayforus.weebly.com /

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