The Uncomfortable Missionary in Church


Church

Image by slack12 via Flickr

I have to confess this a bit. I really enjoy missions work much more than church work.  I am not alone in this.

<I will put my confession in a follow-up post.>

The Monastic movement in the early churches (Orthodox, Coptic, Nestorian, Roman Catholic, Celtic and Abyssinian… at least) was a rejection, in part, of the spirituality of churchlife. Although Monasticism sounds selfish, a majority of missions was done by monasteries sending their people into the world. Many of these monks would refuse, or accept most grudgingly, positions in the church because of its lack of spirituality and lack of mission.

In recent times, there is still a lot of tension between church structures (a “modality” structure) and mission organizations (a “sodality” structure). Some church denominations even started as a parachurch mission movement. Some missionaries/missiologists have chosen to reject churches in their work. Some parachurch organizations discourage their staff and disciples from being active involvement in churches.  This includes J.C. Hoekendijk, a missiologist who sees the secularization of missions, or the removal of missions from the church (an entity not capable of being missional).

I am not against parachurch or missions organizations. I feel like those who believe that such organizations are wrong or ungodly are simply expressing a bias that is not Biblically grounded. The Old Testament had the school of prophets. Jesus formed a group of at least 70 who worked outside of the temple, synagogue, and (obviously) church structure. Paul, Barnabbas, Apollos, and others served God sent out by the church but working generally independently of the church. So to consider parachurch organizations as “man-made” and the church as “God made” seems to be without justification.

HOWEVER… unrighteous antagonism exists between local churches and missions groups.  Evidences:

1.  The common definitions for missions (such as in Perspectives of the World Christian Movement) pretty much deny that local churches can do missions in any substantive way. More inclusive definitions of missions (such as that used in the Missional Church movement) tend to be rejected, and even attacked.

2.  Mission groups most often interact with local churches only through fund-raising (using church resources) and people-raising (using church people).

I understand and, on a certain level, even agree with the mission group problem with local churches.

a.  Most local churches are not missional. Most have little interest in missions (on any level). Why waste time with a group that does not share your passion, when you can work with a sodality structure that (by its very nature) shares your passion. Churches are a gathering of the faithful, not the gathering of people of common passion. Because of this, the role of the church is broader than missions, and the interests of its membership are broader than missions.

b.  Most local churches are basically… well… selfish. Let’s face it. It is hard to get a local church to put money into missions. Even when they do… it is usually for “own church growth”. When one talks about reaching the world, there is an unspoken (and frankly, often spoken) question— “What’s in it for us.”

The time for war between parachurch organizations and churches needs to end. Churches should accept the parachurch as a valid structure (it is). The parachurch must recognize the broader, and yet still valid, calling of the church. The job is too big to be done alone.

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