Lean Not on Your Own Understanding

One overseas missionary shares how his trust and dependence on the Lord through the support-raising process prepared him in unexpected ways for the mission field he’s called to.

Read More

Lean Not on Your Own Understanding

Jason Reedy | Oct 27, 2017, 12:00 PM

One overseas missionary shares how his trust and dependence on the Lord through the support-raising process prepared him in unexpected ways for the mission field he’s called to.

I am writing these words today from our apartment in Japan, where we moved to from the United States just under two weeks ago. The better part of the three years prior to our arrival was filled with investigating, applications, exams, training and about 14 months of building a support network. There were many times when I felt that this day would never come and many times I felt I was just not cut out for ministry. Yet as I sit here and see what the Lord has provided, I am blessed with the hindsight to see His hand in all that took place over those years.

Ministry Team Development (MTD) is a wholistic approach to raising support for ministry. Reliant provides a week of training and then continued weekly support through the process so the missionary can not only raise ministry funds and build a prayer team, but also develop and grow themselves. For all those who aspire to missions, raising ministry support is often the biggest barrier that prevents them from getting started.

...we are in the exact same place — in God’s hands and dependent upon Him.

The MTD process is intimidating, but it is also purposeful. When I went through MTD training, I heard trainers say over and over, “MTD is ministry,” “MTD is about inviting other people into mission, not about raising support,” and so forth. All of these sayings felt disingenuous to me. After all, nobody would consider me successful at MTD if I never actually raised the necessary funds to do ministry!

The Bible is filled with paradoxical statements and theologies where we must accept that God is bigger than our understanding. Take the Trinity, for example. God is one being of three separate persons — that math doesn’t function with our normal human understanding, so we trust that God knows what He’s talking about and move on. I am not trying to compare MTD to Christian doctrine, but I have found that it is made partially of that same paradoxical stuff and is more than what it appears to be on the surface.

In Proverbs 3, Solomon writes: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” Now we know that Solomon had greater wisdom than was possessed by anyone — except for Jesus. So if there was any person who had ever lived who could perhaps pull off getting by on their own understanding, it would have to be Solomon.

MTD is more than a means to an end. It is not simply the targeting acquisition of funding so that ministry can be done. MTD is a process by which the participant is forced to enter into a position of weakness and vulnerability where they must rely on God for the provision of their needs. In this time, we learn how to trust and to “lean not.”

From the first day, the only thing that I was aware of was the dollar sign. I was now relying on God for my ministry funding. As time went on, that list grew. I was relying on God for a place to live, a vehicle, a place for my children to go to school, a church family, peace in difficult seasons. The list continued to grow — until at last it was simply, “I am relying on God.”

Though I have been on the mission field for only two weeks, that lesson has helped greatly in the transition. Though there are a mountain of things to worry about, through the MTD process I have gained confidence in the fact that I can rely on the Lord to lead me and provide in all circumstances.

One of the most difficult decisions was to leave my old job to pursue MTD full-time. Following that, we put our home on the market, expecting it to take a long time to sell and not wanting it to be a roadblock for when we were ready to set out for Japan. Instead, by God’s blessing, our house sold for full price in just five days. In the space of a few weeks, I had gone from being a gainfully employed homeowner to having no predictable source of income and no place to live; our entire existence was evaporating rapidly!

After the shock wore off, we came to see that while our situation may appear different from the outside, it was actually the same as it always was. Jobs are lost every day, homes are destroyed, possessions stolen, and cars crashed. What we often perceive as stability is an illusion created to soothe and feed our human need for control. The perception was that I have a job and home and I always will. The reality is that I have these temporary things that can vanish at any moment; it is only the grace and love of God that are permanently mine.

Now that we are in Japan, the temptation is to worry. What if the ministry funding stops? We’ve used up all our resources at home — how will we be able to raise more support in the future? The reality that God showed to us through the MTD process is that whether we have jobs and own a home or if we have nothing to our names save that which is given to us, we are in the exact same place: in God’s hands and dependent upon Him.

Interactions with people during MTD often change. Missionaries sometimes make people uncomfortable as they talk about what the Lord has called them to. Missionaries sometimes even unintentionally offend people when they ask for ministry support. Missionaries may have their motives questioned. Missionaries will have their methods questioned. Missionaries may lose friendships; they will most certainly lose acquaintances. It’s not constant, but it does happen, and we get used to it. On the flip side, as missionaries we build new relationships, we will be an encouragement to others, and we provide others with the joy of participating in ministry with us.

The reality is that topics regarding money are unsettling for many people — especially when we are asking for some of theirs! Jesus is also an unsettling topic. When we enter the mission field, people will react in much the same way as we grew accustomed to during MTD. Through this process, I have already been exposed to, accepted and been shown how to deal with the rejection of myself in reaction to the Gospel that will be encountered on the mission field.

“How old are your girls?” I was standing in line with my girls to get some ice cream, attempting to at least momentarily beat back oppressive summer heat here in Japan. I have gotten so used to speaking a language I cannot understand that it took me a moment to realize that this man was speaking in English. He pointed out his boys in line ahead of us, the same age as my girls. We talked about his time in the U.S. for college and my recent arrival in Nagoya, Japan. As we neared the end of the line to order, it was a natural reaction to share our contact information. So I walked away from getting ice cream with a new friend and plans to get together and play tennis in future.

It was a genuine interaction, and I pray that he and I are able to become friends and that I can share the Gospel with him. All of the skills involved with navigating a conversation spiritually, practically and naturally with a new person and being confident in asking for contact information were things I learned during MTD.

Proverbs 3 continues, “Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding.” Though I am far from wise, there was much wisdom to be found in MTD — in this time of leaning into the Lord and learning to trust Him in new ways, gaining new skills and strengthening old ones. Yes, MTD is about gathering the resources required for ministry, but it is also preparation for life as a missionary. The Bible is quick to tell us that wisdom is worth more than gold, and so the practical, spiritual, and natural lessons learned through MTD are more beneficial to the missionary than even the finances.

It wasn’t quick, it wasn’t easy, but it was most definitely worth it.