Missionary Diary: confronting idols and confusing roles

Dave and Beck McIntyre have been serving with the Church Missionary Society in Japan for seven years. Here Dave writes about the challenges of serving at a new church where the expectations are so different.

Transitions make you think. Missionaries do a lot of transitions. Our family returned to Japan last August for our third term (usually a period of three years) serving in Japan. While we came back to the same house and the kids went back to the same schools, we started at a new church. That meant starting relationships from scratch. We also have roles at the church that are being formed over time, rather than defined from the start.

We serve at Crossroad Church in a city called Nishinomiya, about 20 minutes from Osaka in Western Japan (although they would be part of the same metropolitan area in Australian thinking). Beck and I with Alyssa, Natasha and Mitchell, were sent with CMS seven years ago to work with a Japanese church here. We were then led to change churches within the same city about a year ago.

This has meant more than just a change in the location of where we worship on a Sunday. Changing churches means that we have new roles, which are often much less defined than an assistant minister who joins a church in Australia. In particular, we have discovered that our new minister and our previous minister have a different attitude on many things.

The previous church welcomed us as their missionaries and wanted us to serve in all sorts of ways in the church programs. This meant wonderful support from them, particularly in the early years of our time in Japan. It also meant we were sometimes uncomfortably in the spotlight, especially for our kids.

It’s funny how things that make perfect sense when they are stated for people in general can be confronting when applied to yourself.

In contrast, our new minister at Crossroad wanted us to be normal members of the church, at least to start with. This does mean that it has been easier to slip under the radar, sort of, and I think was helpful for our kids as they were allowed to get used to a new church community.

It also better reflects the biblical view of the priesthood of all believers. There is no fundamental difference between us, missionaries sent with the prayers and finances of supporters in Australia, and the expats working in Japan who we go to church with or the Japanese members of the church.

Alyssa celebrates her birthday with the family.

But Beck and I realised early on that we’d got used to being special, especially after our time in Australia, where we had visited churches and talked about what God’s been doing in Japan. We have this sense that we’ve come all this way to Japan to serve God.

It’s funny how things that make perfect sense when they are stated for people in general can be confronting when applied to yourself. It makes sense that a church would want to get to know new people, missionary or otherwise, before giving them responsibilities, let alone preaching or leading a team. Yet when that is applied to me personally it can feel jarring.

In fact, a church that welcomes missionaries or those trained in theology or ministry should be especially careful because of the potential influence they might have.

Crossroad is seeking to place an emphasis on discipleship and whether the leaders at church are valuing their relationship with and among team members over their ministry. The worship team leader said that while it’s important that we do a good job singing and playing music on Sunday, how we treat each other is more important.

This has meant that a theological degree means a lot less to people in church – and rightly so! It was just a bit jarring when applied to me.

Looking back over the past eight months, I’ve been forced to confront my expectations of what I thought I should be doing in ministry and how much satisfaction I gain from doing that work. God has led me to re-evaluate what is important before him.

Not having many specific tasks to do for church has made me wonder whether I am in the right place and whether I’m wasting my and other people’s time and money.

God has led me to re-evaluate what is important before him.

And yet, the time I have been going through has actually been an opportunity to confront the idols and unhealthy habits in my relationship with the Lord Jesus. I’ve been challenged that my whole life is service to him. I have had to think through whether my daily and weekly schedule reflect the importance I say I place on my time with the Lord (it didn’t really).[NJ1]

We have been reading through Acts at church and I was reminded again that the apostles told the believers that the ministry of “the word and prayer” was paramount (Acts 6:4). I keep skimping on the prayer bit, even though I say that it is God who works through me and that he is the one who changes hearts.

The transition back to Japan in August was hard and is still hard. I still have times when I wonder whether I should be somewhere else? But that is precisely what has pushed us to re-evaluate our own place before the Father and what it means to be one of his servants, that we are here to be his people, not just to do the jobs that he’s given us.

As you pray for missionaries and for your minister and for yourself, please remember that we need to be his follower with our whole lives and other things will follow.