Helping Missionaries Finish Well

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The door’s lock echoes in Bob’s ears. He can practically hear his heart beating. There are only two people in the room now. Himself and a police officer. When his phone rang earlier, Bob never expected to hear his friend say the following: “I’ve got a cop here who’s threatening to hurt himself.”

His eyes lock with the officer’s gun. He takes a breath.

Work with Campus Ambassadors

Bob Lehman was raised in a moral home, but not necessarily a Christian home. He didn’t live for the Lord, but he managed to get a full ride sports scholarship to Northern Arizona University. In college, he met a beautiful woman named Janet. When he asked her out on a date, the first thing she asked him was, “Are you a Christian?” Bob lied and said yes.

He could only keep up the lie for so long. Janet took him to church. Before then, Bob had only found himself sitting in a church pew on Christmases and Easters. But at church, he heard the gospel. “God, I’m not sure if I’m a Christian,” he prayed. “But if I am, I’m ashamed of my life. If I’m not, I’m sorry I haven’t asked you before to be my Lord and Savior. I’m asking now.”

In college, he got involved in Campus Ambassadors and was discipled. His plan was to enroll in veterinarian school, but he felt called to go to seminary instead. Before he graduated, he was ordained as a Campus Ambassador missionary in California through Missions Door in December 1975.

Pastoral Burn Out

A lot happened after he was appointed. After working as a Campus Ambassador, Bob planted a church in California. This led to him becoming Mission Door’s national director of church planting. Then he moved back to Arizona and planted another church where he became the senior pastor.

Days off and vacations weren’t in the picture. It was work, work, work. He could feel himself changing. He felt bitter and like no one else could understand how hard ministry was. Most of all, he was exhausted. His flame of passion was dwindling. Finally, that flame burnt out. He was ready to quit, having worked himself to the bone.

But God started convicting him. Not about working harder, but about obeying His law. Was it biblical to never take a day off when the bible clearly says the sabbath is made for rest? Was never taking a vacation a sacrifice for serving God or are sabbaticals a command, not a suggestion? For the first time in years, Bob took time off and rested. He felt completely rejuvenated and realized how much he wasn’t in God’s Word. It’s hard to do personal devotionals when so much of your bible studying is sermon preparation. After counseling, Bob rarely misses a morning devotion now.

Counseling Ministry Leaders

Bob’s life changed after he started taking days off, vacations, and three-month sabbaticals every seven years. He knew he couldn’t be the only who went through this and started doing research. He was heartbroken to read that many missionaries and pastors don’t retire while still in ministry. Often, they burn out or fall into sin and quit ministry altogether. He knew he had to do something about this, so he started Mission Recharge.

Mission Recharge helps ministry leaders learn how to rest and get their passion back. Bob advocates three things he learned from Patrick Lencioni’s Team Player:

  • Ministry leaders should be humble. God doesn’t just dislike the proud; He opposes them, like two people in a boxing ring. Arrogance destroys everything in its path — careers, marriages, etc. It kills ministry.
  • Ministry leaders should be hungry. Burning out makes people lose their edge and they’re no longer excited about God’s kingdom. Bob does exercises with those he counsels that helps them renew their hunger.
  • Ministry leaders should be smart. Not just book smart, but they should know how to relate to be people so they can build a team around them. No one wanting to be around you is a kiss of death in ministry.

Bob reminds ministry leaders that their calling came with a gift. That gift should be honored through emotional and physical care. When a minister is struggling with burn out, the most important thing they can do is restore their relationship with God again.

Helping Missionaries Finish Well

It didn’t take long for Missions Door to support Mission Recharge. Bob’s role is now taking care of missionaries from the beginning of their candidacy until they retire. “So many people don’t make it or cross the finish line stumbling. We want to help them finish well,” he explains. Occasionally, there are times when it’s clear the person should not be in ministry. But even then, it’s an opportunity for them to pursue something else God made them for.

Many people unfortunately feel like they can’t reach out when they’re in pain or hurting. Instead, they’ll do something erratic as a desperate way of showing people they’re going through something difficult and feel helpless. Bob has learned to see the signs and cries for help.

One of his scariest counseling sessions happened with someone who wasn’t in ministry at all. A friend of his called him and said that he was with a police officer who wanted to hurt himself. Bob rushed over and after the officer put his gun away, he was able to talk him down. The officer was going through a heartbreaking divorce. Bob led him to the Lord that night, and since then, he’s been walking with the Lord and is remarried.

Caring for Your Pastor

There are many laymen and church members who love their pastors want to pour into them. Bob has three pieces of advice. One, pray for them intentionally. Intentionally praying for your pastor looks like asking them regularly, in person, text, or email, how you can be praying for them. When you make that a priority, there’s a chance your pastor will call you specifically and ask for prayer because he knows he can count on you. Two, when your pastor is going through something, don’t just say, “Let me know if you need anything.” Go out of your way to find something to do for them, like give them a gift card or babysit their young kids. Lastly, he recommends gifting your pastor books you’ve read. It shows that you’re not interested in always taking something from them but giving something to them.

Bob knows firsthand the struggle of ministry work, both as a missionary and former pastor. There’s no one better to counsel our Missions Door missionaries. We call these types of ministries indigenous missionary work. If you’d like to support indigenous missionaries like Bob, you can do so at his page.

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The Great Commission is what spurs us to do indigenous ministry. Around the world, Christians are making disciples in their hometowns and bringing the gospel to their people. How will you be a part of that?

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