Missions, Pastors, and Fame

I write this simple post today after having read my friend Will’s post about churches and short-term missions again. Any time I think about missions, I’m reminded of the pastor’s role in leading his church to be Great Commission-minded.  In all my years of pastoring and studying churches, I have never seen a Great Commission church that is not led by a Great Commission pastor.

I wonder, though, why so many pastors don’t have a heartbeat for missions. We struggle to get some able-bodied pastors to take a short-term trip, much less consider a long-term commitment to the nations.

May I suggest one reason why I believe this is the case? I have no desire to be offensive here – and please forgive me if my writing suggests otherwise – but here is my thought: too many of us fear that missions work will cost us our opportunity for fame. To put it simply, it’s tough to be a denominational powerhouse when you live in a place where only God knows you’re there. 

To be sure, it’s possible to be a Great Commission pastor and an influential leader. All of us know someone who meets both criteria, but those aren’t the leaders I’m addressing here. I’m writing to the other hundreds of thousands of church leaders who may never be a denominational leader – but who live in evangelical world where recognition on earth is sometimes more promoted than the blessings of obedience . . . where it’s almost hard not to fall into the traps. To those leaders, I say, “Don’t let the fleeting nature of fame keep you from the eternity-affecting global work of the gospel.”  

To be honest, it might be that some of my current re-reading has convicted me here. Check out these words that have caught my attention:

“The depth of my pride is seemingly infinite . . . . And not unlike cancer, what I think is full recovery from pride is oftentimes only remission. Given the right conditions – perhaps a bit of success, a dash of praise, a flattering ‘friend,’ or a lack of accountability – the cancer returns.”[1]

“Pastoral-ministry celebrity is a dangerous thing . . . . it is still tempting to listen to too much of your own press.”[2]

“How do you carry a cross professionally?”[3]

These words slice into my soul, I’m afraid. As long as I want to make a name for myself, I will not want to be hidden among the masses of the lost in a faraway place. Even a short-term trip that might begin to move my heart in the direction of the nations is simply too much risk.

Beginning with me, may God help us get over ourselves.  

[1] Anonymous, Embracing Obscurity

[2] Paul Tripp, Dangerous Calling

[3] John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals


  • Josiah Dodson says:

    Very interesting. We had the IMB commissioning service with David Platt at my church last night and it was very convicting. Sometimes we forget who the “Me” is that said Follow Me.

  • Tom says:

    On the other hand, sometimes those in missions are treated like “rock stars” and given way too much adulation.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      That does happen, but I think that’s often more the church’s choice than the missionary’s desire. Thanks, Tom. 

  • Ann says:

    Praise the Lord for this!! Also, could we get some more of those people (seminary-trained people) to the field before they start looking for a job as a pastor in the States. Those jobs are becoming few and far between because we have too many seminary-trained people for the amount of jobs that are available for you in the States. Come out to the areas of lost people. – from someone tucked in the netherlands of the world.

  • Gerald Greenlee says:

    Interesting thoughts. I suppose I have never thought of it from this angle. I figured the majority of pastors who did not go were just extremely busy (not a good reason) or maybe lazy or passive in regards to missions. It seems to me that most who go on short term trips where I live get praise for their efforts. I don’t think that’s why they do it, but it does ae to bring recognition. Blessings

  • Chuck Lawless says:

    Thanks for your thoughts, Gerald. Blessings to you.

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