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Member Care

Truth In Love 374

How do we care well for our missionaries by shepherding their hearts?

Aug 1, 2022

Dale Johnson: I’m so thrilled to be here today with Mark Tatlock. Maybe introducing many of you, many of our listeners to Mark Tatlock and his work, but I want to tell you a little bit about him. Dr. Tatlock served as Executive Vice President and Provost of The Masters University. Mark brings 17 years of executive administration experience to TMAI. TMAI is The Masters Academy International where he is now serving as the president of the work of The Masters Academy International. He’s been active in theological training for cross cultural ministry with urban and international context. He’s eager to invest in strengthening TMAI’s development and academic divisions, and as a graduate of The Master’s Seminary, he’s committed to TMAI’s theological distinctives and the priority of pastoral training. Mark and his wife, Lisa have five children, Jacob, Josiah, Hope, Paul, and Olivia. Care for orphans and foster children is an area of personal concern for both of them believing that God would have his people model this amazing picture of the gospel and of His love that is found in adoption.

I am so grateful to have on today to talk about this issue of member care, caring for missionaries, and caring for the caregivers. Dr. Tatlock, thank you so much for joining me. 

Mark Tatlock: Thank you, Dale, it’s great to be with you.

Dale Johnson: Now, Mark, I randomly made a phone call year and a half two years ago and started talking to you about the work of TMAI. I was being introduced to what the Lord was doing in so many places. It was such a wonderful phone call, started talking about biblical counseling and the beauty of serving missionaries. The Lord had definitely given me a desire and a passion to serve missionaries in the work that they do, and I found a brother who was so like-minded in that area.

I want to start out introducing our listeners for those who may not realize a little bit about you and particularly your work with TMAI, The Masters Academy International. So, tell us a little bit about the work there.

Mark Tatlock: Sure, 30 years ago when the Soviet Union fell and the Iron Curtain came down, we were sent an invitation from a number of pastors who never had the freedom to train their pastors under Soviet system. And they just said, we understand the threats of liberalism, charismatic movement, cults coming in to our part of the world, and we realize the necessity now to train our pastors. So, it was a simple invitation from them just to join them in a way that we could serve, and so that led to our first training center being established where we sent four graduates of The Masters Seminary to develop really the first pastoral training seminary in Ukraine that was permissible or allowable in the days of freedom. Since then, others saw that model and extended a similar invitation.

Today, we have 18 training centers around the world that are members of The Masters Academy International. We have an increasing number of invitations as churches see the benefit of having their pastors trained to rightly divide the Word of God to implement a biblical philosophy of ministry in their church and then be effective in evangelism and outreach. So, today, prayerfully, we’re trying to step into opportunities to develop as many as 50 new training centers around the world. So, it’s an exciting work for us. It’s the work we give the Lord the credit. He opens up the door just as Paul prays in Colossians 4 that God would open up a door for the gospel and communication of the mystery of Christ, but he says something important there in the text, he says when the door opens and you go to proclaim the Word, you need to conduct yourself in a manner that’s worthy or consistent with the character of Christ and that deals with being a sanctified missionary means you have to be a sanctified pastor. So, now we’re getting to the heart issues that lead to a transformed life. So, that’s why it’s important to me what we talked about.

Dale Johnson: I love that vision. I think it’s so important and I could go off on a tangent here talking about the beauty of the training that you guys do. Anybody can jump on an airplane Mark, right? And go and do some training, get a translator and we think we’re doing some wonderful things you guys are investing in the long term, doing it with diligence, doing it with character, doing it with purity and faithfulness and fidelity to the Gospel of Jesus. And you’re trying to build leaders who will carry that work out faithfully. What a vision. Every time I talk about this is just so encouraging.

You work with a lot of people cross-culturally, okay? A lot of teachers, trainers, nationals, missionaries who go and serve. It’s an issue to learn how to care for them well, and to be honest, can I just say that from the West, we send a lot of missionaries often we don’t care for them well, whether through lost connection distance, creating problems and relationships, and that sort of thing. But this is something that’s at the center of your heart. Now, I want to just skip the hypothetical stuff. We’re going to get right down to some of the nitty-gritty. Right now, there are some things happening, certainly in Europe, particularly Ukraine, the war between Russia and Ukraine. And tthat’s one of the first places that you guys were initially, and there are legitimate cares and concerns going on now. Talk a little bit about that situation, and how you guys are carrying well for the people there. 

Mark Tatlock: Sure. Thank you, Dale. Well, first of all, my primary role as an elder in our church overseeing the sending process. And so, we’re tasked with the New Testament responsibility, not only to send but to shepherd our missionaries, and we take that responsibility seriously, and so, we want our missionaries know that we know them and we love them, and we are there for them. So, specific to the Ukraine, just to, talk about the immediacy of our topic and its importance, our two key missionary families who are part of the original team are still there. Both of them are leaders in our training center, they’re trained up a number of pastors, we have actually nine hundred graduates of their program over the 30-year. So, when you see a map of Ukraine on the news today, every city that you see that’s under assault or affected by the movement of refugees from other cities. We know of men there, we know of churches that are trying to respond and be responsive in those moments.

But our two missionaries they’ve been there for 30 years, and they made a decision early on with the announcement or what we saw happening with the buildup of troops along the border from Russia that they were going to stay because they both also pastor churches and they said this is our home, these are our people God’s entrusted to us, whatever they face, we’re going to face it with them and they showed that in their newsletters and we commended them. And that was a great source of encouragement to their people. But when the invasion began and they begin to mobilize their church to gather supplies and respond to people who are in need and prepare what might be fighting right in their own backyards. I got a phone call one night from one of them and he said, “You know, things are really busy right now and I haven’t had time just to stop and focus.” He said, “could you send me just 10 Bible verses on fear?” And I just thanked him, one, I was really glad, he was honest enough to tell me that when he lays his head on his pillow at night, he has to work through the truth that he’s been preaching and that he’s shepherding other people through in his own heart. I thanked him, I just went to a Google site, I copied and pasted a hundred verses on fear and I sent them to him right away and I said, you know what? God must know that we need this because he has a lot to say about fear.

As I begin to think about that, you consider men like Joshua and you consider men like Gideon and David, even men like Peter who didn’t respond initially to defending Christ, but kind of buckled to the fear that he faced. So, these are these great heroes that we see in Scripture and just like our missionaries to us or our wonderful heroes and examples of faith. They still have to contend with the application of biblical truth and the depth of their heart when they’re facing really life-threatening situations. And as I thought about particularly the example of Joshua over and over again right in chapter 1, God tells them be strong and courageous and that wasn’t the first time, He had communicated that to him earlier in his life, and the principle is your circumstances might be those that provoke fear, but you have a God who is going to be faithful to His promises and His loving commitment to you. So when he says to Joshua, “Meditate on the Scriptures day and night to feed your soul and your mind with reminders of the character of God and the promises of God,” that’s what provides courage. It’s not that your circumstances change, or even that fear itself goes away. You’re gifted with a spiritual courage to face the fear, and to face the circumstances. Isn’t that the testimony of the church, men who gave their life for the truth, men and women who gave their life in defense of the Gospel?

But it has been brought home to me, just personally last week, to say in our generation, it’s the same need to fill our hearts and minds with the promises of God, meditate on the character of God so that we might be strong and courageous. I mean, imagine Joshua, okay, He sent in, they crossed the river Jordan, they stand outside the walls of Jericho. What did God say to him? Here’s your battle plan. March around the city seven times. Blow some trumpets. Crack some clay pots. And then trust me. From a human perspective is that we’re dead, there’s no way we’re going to meet the enemy on these terms. So, what enabled Joshua to lead his people? And today, just like a missionary or pastor has to lead their people to face the enemy.

Maybe one last thought in that regard the greater battle isn’t the physical battle, right? It’s the spiritual battle and it’s the same principle, it’s the one offensive weapon that we’re given is the sword of the Spirit. That’s what assures victory, and God’s entrusted that weapon to us. And so, we go forward with confidence. 

Dale Johnson: Amen. That’s so helpful. I think you mentioned the issue of fear and worry and over 160 times, we see in the Scriptures where we’re encouraged, we’re commanded not to fear, do not be afraid or always reminded that the Lord is with us. There’s a constant press toward His character, His faithfulness, the work that He’s done in the past, and that tells me we’re going to have lots of opportunities to fear. If the Lord is telling us that we need not fear, don’t be afraid, you’re going to be opportunities that present itself circumstances, just like this issue in Ukraine.

We talked about cross cultural missions. These are real human beings who are going into these places. Yes, they are heroes. They’re giving up a lot. We don’t need to take away from that, but they’re real human beings, and often the things that you and I struggle with in our cultural context that we’re accustomed to, it’s interesting to me that we face same battles, but in cross-culturally, those things are emphasized and exacerbated to a greater degree. And these are the types of people who need intimate, detailed care to continue strong faithfully in the work. And what a great way, Mark to minister to your brother in that way because these are not fake risks, these are real risks that people are taking. And the situation that you mentioned, safety is on the line. And so, these people are facing that in reality, in real-time, I know in our country, we feel like that somewhat distant, we’re impacted very little by some of those things, but this is in their faces and they’re facing this reality.

I want you to talk for a second about this issue of safety and some of the risks that are being taken because I think for us in order to care well, we need to understand what some of that’s like for people on the field. 

Mark Tatlock: Well, I think there are a few issues that are inherent in our work with missionaries that prevents us from ministering to their souls at this level when they face issues of fear. One of that is you know, we tend to celebrate their accomplishments. You know, we expect newsletters to talk about recent conversions and baptisms and growth in church numbers or projects in our case, training center projects and students and what they’re doing in their churches, translation projects, and so we celebrate those things. But sometimes it’s like our own children, if we only celebrate their successes and their victories, what we reinforces this idea that love only is received when you perform well, and that’s not the kind of love that we see that comes from God through Christ to us.

He died for us, Romans 5:8, while we were yet sinners, there’s nothing we did to accomplish, or earn, or merit His love. And so unintentionally, we can reinforce kind of relationship with missionaries. Now, you add to that, that when they come home they are only given a few minutes to talk. So, they’re not going to open up their hearts, and talk about their deepest struggles, they’re going to again celebrate the successes and we compound that because their financial support comes from most us. People give to, and particularly Americans, we’re oriented to give to things that win, that are successful. So, think about what a missionary faces to have the courage to admit to their elders, or to those who are supporting them, their own struggles and issues. In this case, with fear, I say to our missionaries, all the time, “I want you to know it’s safe to talk to us.” I purposely use that word because at a distance they may be afraid that they would lose our respect, our confidence, our financial support, or even maybe bring them off the field just because they’re struggling with the same things that I struggle with when I get out of bed every day. So, I say to them, you need to know it’s safe to talk to us and until they know it’s safe they’re not going to trust it to share what their struggles are, and we’re not able to move into their hearts in a meaningful way.

You know, the word “encourage” that we use a lot in ministry and counseling, if you just study the word in Scripture that just means to set courage in the heart. Well, if you’re not talking about the reality of what is going on in the heart, you can’t bring truth to bear and the love and affection that you have for your brother or sister who’s a missionary and set that courage deeply that will allow them to press in to the battle, both spiritual and even physical that they face. So, to me, creating a safe environment and what that requires, Dale, we have to climb down off of our pedestals, as pastors and elders, and we need to make it acceptable to let them know we understand, we can empathize with them. And sometimes we’re not allowed to be honest and to be safe, so, we’ve got to come out at this with a greater measure of just humility and integrity, and the reality is Christ knows us that way, and I believe genuine fellowship in the Church requires that we know each other that way, and when we do then we get to experience the wonderful grace, truth, and fellowship that girds us for the battle. 

Dale Johnson: I think that’s so, it was so critical is you’re not excusing sin, that’s not what you’re talking about but you are giving people space to be human, and it’s theologically rooted because you understand that they’re not fully sanctified in the practical sense, so that means there are going to be struggles. That’s a healthy theological expectation when you think about ourselves personally and what we struggle with, and then also those who serve on the field. I really appreciate that sort of outlook and I think a lot about what things ACBC can do in serving missionaries whether they’re stateside or whether they’re overseas and ways that we can encourage and I’m going to be thinking and talking a lot more about this issue of member care. And I want us to be considering some of that.

Mark, I want you to talk just for a second about, you know, practical ways that you’ve seen Grace Community Church of which you are a member here in Sun Valley, California. I want you to help me to understand a little bit of the ways that you guys if you were talking to a, you know, a missions pastor or senior pastor who’s out there and ways that they can think well about caring for missionaries that they send out. What are some of the ways that they can tangibly encourage their missionaries? 

Mark Tatlock: Let me say first of all, we enjoy a great partnership with ACBC. So, many of our training centers are providing biblical counseling, even working through extending the opportunities to receive certification. So, having good, sound biblical resources that they’re able to bring into their churches is something that we’re really grateful for. So, I wanted to mention that first of all.

When it comes to just loving people, you have to start with, I think your own perspective which requires honesty. We are imperfect people, praise the Lord we’re in process, Paul tells us in Philippians that God’s going to complete that wonderful work that He began in us. So, let’s just be honest first of all. We haven’t arrived. We’re not perfect. And I think we all understand that we minister more powerfully when we empathize. So, that honesty first requires of us to look at where we have to apply the truth of God’s Word and where others have aided us to grow in our own holiness, and our own faith in our own just confidence in God.

So, I think you got to start with your own leaders first, and I am so grateful for the men I get to share with who modeled that alongside me. We talked about you know, the hardship and the challenges in our own lives and ministry. So, that when we sit down with the missionary and we pursue them, which by the way I think, is important, we talk about gospel ministry is predicated on a kind of love from God that is rooted in His character. He is the one who pursues, He is the one who initiates. So, practically speaking, do you purpose to pursue an initiate this kind of relationship with your missionaries? That means knowing them and it can be a phone call, certainly if you’re on the field, when they’re back in town spending more time with them. But again it’s not just celebrating the victories, it’s asking meaningful questions. It’s the power of good questions, right? And you ask not just what you’ve done or even just generally what your needs are not just how I can pray for you, but tell me how your heart is, tell me where you’re struggling, tell me what the challenges are in leadership that test unity, and how are you contending with that and how you leading through that? I want you to know it’s safe to talk about your marriage and we’re committed to you and your wife. So, where are the areas that you need to grow in, and your kids, parenting? Listen, you can all empathize with that, we have kids. And so, let’s just come together as a family of God and care for one another in really the most intimate and the most personal aspects of our life. If we’re whole and healthy there, then we’ll be able to sustain the work for the long haul and be usable by the Lord.

So, in essence it’s really short-sighted to just talk about projects and task and strategic plans with missionaries, if you’re not equally invested in the care of their soul and minister to their hearts. So, you know, it looks different in the moment and I think that’s just being spirit filled. 

Dale Johnson: I love that. I love the connection to the church. One of the things that I see as I work with missionaries around the world, is those who are thriving are the ones who are intimately connected to a church that is actively caring on multiple levels and we make it often much more complex than it has to be. You’re talking about basic biblical care and how much we need that. I think this work is so critical so important because that care is an investment in the future of the Gospel in those places. It allows people to stay long-term and allows them to thrive in situations like that long term because this is not a battle against flesh and blood, the enemy is certainly against the work that they’re doing.

Brother, this has been such an encouraging conversation, and hopefully opening the world up to the people who listen to this podcast and even who know about ACBC and biblical counseling, but to hear some of the needs that are beyond our borders and ways that we can minister counsel, do soul care well from the Scriptures. Thank you, brother for being with us.

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