Sunday, January 14, 2018, marked 7 years since we arrived in Italy. At times it seems like just yesterday. At other times it seems like a lifetime ago.
The number 7 is frequently used in the Bible to convey completion or wholeness. Though our work here is not yet complete, I wanted to spend some time at this particular point in our life and ministry to reflect on some of the biggest ministry lessons God has taught me.
For anyone interested here are 7 lessons learned from 7 years on the mission field:
1. YOUR MINISTRY PHILOSOPHY REVEALS YOUR THEOLOGY.
As Tim Chester and Steve Timmis have written, “The theology that matters is not the theology we profess but the theology we practice.”  What you believe about the sufficiency of Scripture, God’s sovereignty, the local church, and much more will shape the way you do ministry.
So often missionaries and church planters feel like they need to be expert sociologists, anthropologists, and “cultural exegetes” in order to be successful in ministry. While those skills are helpful the most important thing we can become are deeper theologians.
I listed this as the number one lesson I have learned because, to some extent, all of the other lessons stem from this.
2. THE GOSPEL CAN BEAR AS MUCH WEIGHT AS YOU DECIDE TO PUT ON IT.
One of the blessings of ministry on the mission field is that all of the cultural (in our case, American) extras that are often seen as invaluable to ministry are stripped away. All that you are armed with is the good news of God’s work through Jesus for your city. And you learn that is enough.
I have seen the simple gospel message cross cultural barriers, call sinners to repentance, heal broken marriages, and build a church family out of people with nothing in common but their common faith in Jesus. Trust wholly in God’s work through the proclamation of the gospel. It can handle it.
3. I AM RESPONSIBLE FOR MY WORK, NOT GOD’S.
The salvation of everyone, or anyone, in my city is a responsibility that I can not bear. Thankfully I wasn’t created for or called to that responsibility. I’m a mere farmer in gospel activity, a worker in God’s field sowing and watering. I am not the Savior who brings the dead to life.
This isn’t a justification for laziness or passivity, but a realization that unhealthy expectations of yourself will crush you.
4. FIND JOY IN THE SOWING OF GOSPEL SEED.
Europe certainly wouldn’t be considered a “harvest field.” At times I have been asked while reporting to supporting churches something like, “How do you stay encouraged without much visible fruit?” To be honest, at times I find myself asking the same question. And I think the answer is though we long for the harvest, enjoy the sowing.
Even if we walk away from a conversation where we share the gospel without the immediate results we might desire, we can still rejoice for a number of reasons: I am able to share the message now because someone once shared it with me. Jesus was exalted as I spoke of his sinless life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection. A seed was sown.
Remember, it is a privilege to speak on behalf of the king.
5. THE ONLY APPROVAL I NEED IS GOD’S, AND I ALREADY HAVE IT IN JESUS.
Admittedly, I can care way too much what people think of me. I enjoy words of praise. I like pats on the back. I want people to see me as “successful.” Added to this is the fact that we are fully supported by individuals and churches which brings with it unspoken (usually) expectations.
But trying to prove myself is just another form of works righteousness and reveals that I am forgetting the very message I am called to share. Because of the righteousness of Christ which was credited to my account I stand justified before God, and that will never, ever change.
6. SACRIFICE, EVEN FOR THE CAUSE OF CHRIST, IS DIFFICULT.
I have to admit that before we moved to Italy, I didn’t see what we were planning to do as much of a sacrifice. And, surely, there are many others who have sacrificed more than I have. But I seemed to think that as long as you were working for a good cause (the greatest even: God’s glory among the nations), that it wouldn’t be difficult at all. How naive I was.
Time apart from family, friends, and the familiar while raising your children in another country knowing what they could have back home is, well, difficult. There is just no other way to describe it.
Thankfully that is not where the lessons end…
7. GOD IS ALWAYS FAITHFUL.
Not necessarily a new lesson, but one that has been proved over and over again. God is always faithful to provide, protect, comfort, guide, and bless.
The Great Commission was given in the context of a great promise: “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”  Cling to this.
This list could go on with lessons about the importance of prayer, strong gospel partnerships, shepherding my family, and more, but I consider these 7 to be the most significant lessons I have learned since arriving on the field. I thank God for them and look forward to the lessons in store for us over the next 7 years.
 Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 18. This book has easily been the most helpful and influential ministry book that I have read to date.
 Matthew 28:18, 20b (ESV)