A View from the Pew: ‘Tis the Season for Missionary Speakers

Missionary speakers at church are as much a Christmas tradition as Christmas trees, Advent wreaths, and Nativity scenes.

Because Lottie Moon took up her first Christmas offering in 1888 and Southern Baptists recognized the inherent synergy into raising money for international missions during the Christmas season, this is the time of year when many Baptist churches see and hear real, live missionaries in their churches. During my time working at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the highest demand for field personnel to speak in churches were the Sundays between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

Over the years I’ve been conditioned to anticipate this special opportunity each year because it is such a contrast to the season of consumption that Christmas has become. People who have answered God’s call to serve among the marginalized and neglected inspire me to similarly find ways to serve. That inspiration comes from their stories of seeing God at work in their lives and in the lives of the people among whom they serve.

In a recent conversation with my pastor about sermon preparation, he confessed that one of the greatest challenges of putting together a sermon remains finding compelling stories that drive home a point without feeling false or manipulative. Missionaries have these stories in abundance, and I am moved by them.

Although frustrating to worship planners, missionaries have a refreshing lack of time-boundedness. If you ask them to give a five-minute ministry update, you’d better prepare for 20 minutes. It’s not that they don’t respect the need for organization and planning in worship, it’s that God has given them such a passion for their work, and they can’t stop themselves from sharing it. I think most people don’t mind if they run a little long. If they can hold the congregation’s attention, delaying lunch by a few minutes won’t cause resentment.

Missionaries also have the best objects in their object lessons. Their table displays have wonderful handmade items from the people they serve, and there are great maps and artwork. I used to collect their prayer cards, filling the pages of my Bible with bookmarks containing the smiling faces of families dressed in their Sunday finest serving in some of the most remote and challenging areas on Earth.

Similarly, I enjoy hearing the music missionaries bring from their people groups. It opens my imagination to how God is not bound by my limited cultural experiences and understanding. Hearing great truths expressed in a variety of musical traditions broadens my awareness of how God works in a variety of contexts.

With our advanced audio-visual capabilities in worship centers today, we’ve lost some of the mystery of the missionary slide show. Even kids in elementary school build PowerPoint presentations, embedding music and video to make their talks more interesting. But I remember as a kid being so excited coming into the sanctuary and seeing the slide projector and portable screen set up. The whirring of the projector’s fan and the click and mechanized churning of the advancing slide carousel added to the fascination of their message. I cannot see a missionary’s digital presentation today without reminiscing about the “good ole days” of analog devices.

There is one catch in all of this, though, that I have to warn you about: missionary sermons have a way of challenging you to do something. It is hard to sit through a message or presentation about how the “harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” and not feel a tug on your heart to go yourself. And when the realities of mortgages and responsibilities for caregiving and a thousand other reasons to stay come flooding into your mind, you’re moved to give.

So as you hang the green; light the candles of hope, peace, joy and love; and put baby Jesus in the manger, I hope you have a chance to hear from a real, live missionary this Advent and Christmas season. And may your heart be open to what God is calling you to do.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA. He earns a living in higher education communications.

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