This interview was recorded live from the exhibit floor of the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Dallas, Texas. Chuck Lawless is a professor and senior associate dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Michael Duduit: Welcome to our Preaching Magazine video interview. I am visiting today with Dr. Chuck Lawless, who was on the faculty at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. And Chuck, thanks for visiting with me today.
Chuck Lawless: I’m glad to be with you, thank you.
Michael Duduit: Now Chuck, you teach a lot in the area of missions, and preaching in missions seem like an area that oughta go together. What’s the role of preaching in missions?
Chuck Lawless: Well, fundamentally, it is as simple as the message we proclaim, is the message that we’re getting to the people, groups of the world. This is a message that God gave us, is the good news, we know that. But it’s a good news that we have to get to people in order that they might believe.
And so, training people to get to the nations to learn how to proclaim the gospel to people, groups around the world, that’s what we’re all about as believers, is preaching the word to the world.
Michael Duduit: Yeah. That’s good. What are some of the particular elements of preaching that are, I don’t know, maybe unique to the mission field, or even of particular importance in a missionary setting.
Chuck Lawless: Well, I don’t know that’s it’s all just unique to the mission field, but certainly we start with the reality that we’ve got to make sure we get the gospel, that we have to know what the gospel is, we have to know how to proclaim the gospel clearly, and to announce it clearly. But then, we have to think about how do I take the gospel from my world view, from my training, for example, to people who hear differently, who learn differently, who think differently.
We think about much of the world, for example, who are oral learners. They don’t read. Either they can’t read, or they choose not to read, and many of those are in the United States. We have to think about, all right, how do I take the gospel to them? How do I preach the gospel to them in such a way that they hear our stories, that they understand our pictures, that we use illustrations that fit their world view rather than ours? Much of what we have to think about is how do I take the gospel from my world view to their world view, and that means I have to understand my audience really well. Missionaries have to learn that they spend much of their life learning how to read their audiences, how to understand their people group, and I think we have to learn how to do the same thing, whether we’re preaching in Africa, or we’re preaching at my church in Wake Forest.
Michael Duduit: Yeah, I was going to say, one of the things we talk about with students in preaching is not only exegeting the text, but exegeting the congregation.
Chuck Lawless: That’s exactly right. Missionaries know that. It’s interesting to me, we will go overseas, and we’ll think about, I have to live with people for a long time. I have to learn their language, I have to learn their religion, learn their history. And all of that makes sense as long as we cross an ocean, but if we’re in a church where people look like us, for some reason we don’t think about that, and I’m arguing that we have to think about that, because if we’re preaching the gospel to people who don’t know Jesus, we’re crossing some kind of culture even in that approach.
Michael Duduit: Yeah. Well, in fact, they say that even in the United States, we’re becoming an increasingly post-literate culture, and that people aren’t … they can read, they just don’t.
Chuck Lawless: No question. And so, we have to think about the importance of illustrations, the importance of telling stories. Even as I preach, I can watch, and we can do this, we can all do this. We can watch and see, when we launch into stories, how people will sit up, they begin to listen a little bit more, they pay more attention. Because even in our culture, stories grab a heart, and so learning how to use the right story, and learning how to tell the story well and clearly is important for us wherever we preach.
Michael Duduit: Yeah. I was going to say … how do you go about helping to train these future missionaries to deal with some of those kind of issues that they’ll be dealing with?
Chuck Lawless: Much of this means you have to connect with people who’ve already done it. You find effective missionaries who’ve been on the field a long time, who’ve learned the hard way, who learned that what they took to the field, they had to adjust, they had to change a little bit, and they’ve learned through experience what not to do when they proclaim the word what to do. And so, you bring them back into classrooms, and the good news is, we can do that now via electronic means to connect with people around the world, so we let them speak to us. Let them teach us.
And then, even for some of our graduates, we can send them out and bring them back in a year later, and say, “Tell us what you learned.” Because the world is changing so rapidly, that even what we teach today, we may have to rethink how we teach it next year.
So, it’s staying connected with people on the field who can help pour into us what they’re learning, so we can teach others.
Michael Duduit: There may be some folks who are listening who they’re serving right now either as pastors or lay leaders in their church, who may be sensing, you know, I think God might be calling me to missions, to go. How would you council them to think through those issues to begin to understand God’s call to mission in their life?
Chuck Lawless: Well, first of all, I thank you for the question. I think it’s a great question. Because we need, we have needs all over the world. We still have thousands of people groups that are unreached. We have, depending on the number, 2.83 billion people who have little or no access to the gospel. We have incredibly equipped and trained people here in the states that we need to think about going.
So, here’s what I would do. I would start by saying, Lord, why would I say? I think that’s a hard question, but it’s an important question. Why would I stay when the needs are elsewhere? Then, I would begin to connect with people either at a mission board, a mission agency like the International Mission Board, and connect with folks, and begin to talk about what are you looking for, what are the needs, how can I best brave out this. I would connect with missionaries on the field to talk to with them. How did you understand your calling? How did the Lord speak to you to help you understand your need?
And then, I would say, because we have opportunity to get to the nations, we can get there now. We hop on a plane, and we can be there quickly. We have little reason not to go and at least try. And so, to take short term mission trips, I think are really important. And say, “Lord, I’m going to put myself in your hands. I just want you to show me. I want you to teach me. If this is something you want me to do more regularly, or give the rest of my life for this, Lord, I’m open.”So, we go, we put our feet on the ground, we get our hands dirty, and see what the Lord does.
Michael Duduit: Yeah, good. Now, for those of us who are pastors and church leaders in the United States, what can we do to help those who are serving in mission fields around the world?
Chuck Lawless: We need to, first of all, recognize that we have a large number of missionaries who are stateside at any given moment, who are hear for a time of rest, a time of relaxation, a time of renewal, recovery. They’re here to help churches learn about what’s happening around the world, and we need to connect with them. Again, I work for the International Mission Board, and all we have to do is call the IMB, and say help me learn where some missionaries are in my area.
We need to be willing to open up our doors to say we want you to come in and talk to our folks, whether it’s a small group, or whether it’s speaking to our church, the whole church. We need to be willing to bring them into our churches to speak to us when they’re stateside.
As our folks get to know them, as they hear voices, they learn names, they see faces, then we can raise up prayer warriors to pray with our missionaries. We want all of our missionaries prayed for. We’re sending them to the front line of the battle, and I think sometimes we talk about praying for them, but we don’t really pray for them. Or we don’t really crank up the praying until after there’s a problem that we hear about.
What I want us to do is connect with missionaries, connect with the people groups they’re trying to reach, and genuinely and intentionally pull ourselves into praying for them, letting them know that we’re praying for them, asking how we can pray for them, walking beside them in prayer, and that can make a big difference. But unless pastors are doing it, unless the person who’s speaking to the people Sunday after Sunday after Sunday, unless those leaders have a brokenness for the nations, it doesn’t happen at our local churches.
And so, soon we’re speaking to a number of pastors here. I want pastors to capture that heart for the nations, and then through their preaching, through their praying, through their leading, they can leave their church to carry that same burden.
Michael Duduit: Great. Thank you, Chuck. I appreciate the opportunity to visit with you today.
Chuck Lawless: Thank you. Good to be with you.