Pastors are expected, even required to wear various hats in ministry. You must be a powerful preacher, a natural communicator who is comfortable and confident speaking in front of others. You need to be well versed in counseling, able to provide helpful advice and scriptural wisdom to people in different walks of life and circumstances needing different levels of care. You are expected to be a natural leader who is competent to mobilize disinterested Christians, utilize and maximize the gifts of church members and convince everyone to follow your lead into uncharted territory. Whether or not you have received sufficient training, you are also assumed to be a natural administrator, gifted to oversee all the moving parts of church life and ministry. I have even heard stories of pastors being criticized for not being more knowledgeable in plumbing, lawn care, and roofing.
Fair or not, as pastors, we are expected to be versatile, flexible, and masters of many different—often unrelated—areas of expertise. Each of the above roles of pastoral ministry are important, even foundational to our calling. Yet, let me suggest another hat that many of us pastors do not currently wear, but one that would greatly benefit our ability to lead our congregations toward reaching the lost and actively participating in the Great Commission through prayer, giving, and going: missiologist.
What Is a Missiologist?
Missiology is the study of the history, foundations, and methodology of missions. While this description of missiology appears simplistic, even a brief glance at the aims and work of a missiologist will reveal how broad, deep and weighty their calling is. The foundation of missiology is the nature of God and the holy Scriptures, which means missiologists must seek to understand, apply and communicate what’s taught in Scripture concerning God, His mission and the mission of the Church. Because God is a missionary God who reveals Himself and His ways throughout His Word, missiologists dedicate themselves to understanding how mission is revealed in the Bible and the practical implications for Christians and the Church. But their work doesn’t stop with the Bible.
Missiologists are not only students of God’s Word; they are students of culture. Missiology focuses on the past, present and future, studying characteristics of previous cultures in history, examining current aspects of culture, and determining potential future trends and shifts in culture. A crucial aspect of a missiologist’s work deals with cultural anthropology and sociology, which helps them understand the various ways culture affects humanity. This work is becoming more and more critical as societies, communication, demographics, and worldviews change rapidly. With their research and analysis of culture, missiologists can provide valuable insights for Christians and churches as they seek to carry out the mission of the Church.
How Missiology Aids Pastoral Ministry
The fruits of missiology can greatly benefit you as a pastor. Consider the emphasis missiologists place on God’s Word. One of the primary tasks of a missiologist is knowing and applying what Scripture teaches regarding humanity, God, and the mission of God. Missiologists recognize the implications of mankind’s sinfulness, Christ’s victory on the cross and the mission of the Church. Similarly, pastors must dedicate themselves to knowing the Bible and how the biblical truths about God, His mission, and humanity need to be applied in ministry. It is only by understanding and applying what the Scriptures teach that you will be able to effectively “preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2, ESV), “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:11–12) and lead the church to fulfill the Great Commission (Matt. 28:16–20). As a pastor, follow the example of missiologists and their emphasis on knowing and applying the Word of God.
Another way the work of missiology benefits pastors is its focus on and interaction with culture. Culture represents the characteristics, social norms, and beliefs of a group of people. Missiologists labor to understand cultures because they recognize that to effectively reach a specific group of people with the gospel, one must first understand the culture of the people. Whether Paul spoke to a Jewish audience in the synagogues, Athenians in the marketplace, or pagan philosophers in the Areopagus, he was able to effectively reason with each group because of his knowledge of Scripture and the various cultures represented in his context. Likewise, for you to be effective in your preaching, counseling, equipping, and discipleship, it helps to learn about the culture of the communities you minister to in your specific context. When a pastor becomes a student of the most important characteristics, social habits, and foundational beliefs of the people in their ministry context, they will be better prepared to carry out their pastoral responsibilities inside and outside the church.
How Pastors Can Become Better Missiologists
1) Study God’s Word
There is no substitute for studying God’s Word. While there are countless books that can aid you in becoming better missiologists, knowing God’s Word above all resources must be your priority. The Scriptures not only provide the foundation for pastoral ministry and the mission of the church. The Scriptures also contain the knowledge and wisdom concerning God and the world He created that pastors need to faithfully lead, feed, and make disciples. Like missiologists, you must commit to being a lifetime student of God’s Word, striving to know and apply the truths of Scripture to yourself and your ministry.
2) Study Culture
The proper question every pastor must ask is not, will the surrounding culture affect the church I pastor? Every church is rooted in a specific context where the culture directly impacts its ability to carry out its mission, for good or bad. Therefore, the correct question for every pastor is, do I have a good grasp of my ministry context, the culture, and how the culture impacts the way people think, act, and believe?
Just as you study the Word of God to properly understand the biblical truths relating to God, His mission, and mankind, you must also study culture to properly understand how to apply those same biblical truths into your ministry context. By becoming a student of your culture, you will better understand different aspects of your culture and will be better equipped to apply biblical truths to the beliefs and actions of the people you pastor and those you are trying to reach with the gospel. When pastors are ignorant of their surrounding culture and the impact it has on their ministry, the various responsibilities of pastoral ministry likely will be extremely difficult and frustrating.
3) Equip Others to Be Missiologists
Pastors must also remember that they are not “lone rangers” who do the work of ministry and participate in the Great Commission alone. A main responsibility of yours is helping the entire church to recognize the importance of doing the work of missiologists. The necessary work of “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry” (Eph. 4:12) involves helping your congregation know the Word of God, understand their culture, and apply the gospel of Jesus Christ to their culture.