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Who are our heroes?

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Several years ago, I had the privilege of speaking to missionaries in Russia, and I commented that they were some of my heroes. With a humility that typifies missionaries, they encouraged me not to see them as heroes. “We’re just doing what God called us to do,” they told me.

I’ve heard the same spirit from pastors of churches that are genuinely reaching non-believers and making disciples of Christ. It seems like the more the church is really making an eternal difference, the more likely it is that the pastor is humble and self-effacing. Rather than make these missionaries and pastors feel uncomfortable, I tried to be more cautious with my words of praise.

I’ve since changed my mind. Ask our children who their heroes are, and I fear they would speak of a cartoon figure, a movie character or a television superhero. I hope they would name their parents, but I’m not persuaded that would always happen. I am fairly certain the children would not name their pastor, and I’m convinced most children would not identify a missionary as their hero. I doubt most could even name a missionary. William Carey and Lottie Moon are often unknowns, and present-day missionaries are equally unfamiliar.

That reality, I think, is tragic. Who of the next generation will take the Gospel to the ends of the earth if they don’t know the stories of missionaries? My wife, who teaches a missions group at our local church, told the children that the guests next month would be missionaries from Africa. With the honesty of a child, a little girl asked her, “Really? Can we touch them?” Maybe her fascination with a missionary was excessive, but she might just have new heroes after she meets the missionaries. At least she will know about a missionary because someone taught her. And who knows? God might call that little girl to follow her new heroes into missionary service.

How many of our boys will be open to a call to ministry because their pastor has been a hero? How many will long to be like their pastor who preaches the Word, lives a holy life, models personal evangelism and loves God’s church? One of my pastoral heroes, Jack Tichenor, preached God’s Word for more than 60 years. Never did I hear him say a negative word about another person, nor did I ever see him miss an opportunity to speak a good word about Jesus. He was a pastoral evangelist until the day he died. If God were to allow me to be even somewhat like “Brother Jack,” I would be honored.

My point is not to rob God of His glory by being anthropocentric. Rather, it is to give God His due glory for the missionaries and pastors He has given the church. It is to praise Him for the leaders who have challenged us to follow God in radical obedience — to take the risks necessary to grow biblical churches by doing the Great Commission at a local, national and international level.

So, to the missionary who is serving in the middle of nowhere, know that you are one of my heroes. To the church planter starting a congregation amid millions of people in your urban setting, you are my hero as well. To the pastor who passionately shares Christ day in and day out, you, too, are numbered among my heroes. I know that makes all of you uncomfortable, but that’s part of what makes you my heroes. You serve persistently and passionately without suffering from spiritual arrogance.

I call you my heroes without apology, knowing that you will deflect any praise to the gracious God who has chosen to call you and use you. I wish my children could know all of you.
Charles E. Lawless Jr. is dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

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  • Charles Lawless