Some mission organizations are highly controlling, built on a strong hierarchal system with precise policies limiting resources and activities. Some mission organizations are far more relaxed– limited accountability, and opportunities given for missionaries to show their own initiative.
My own mission board, Virginia Baptist Mission Board (VBMB, www.vbmb.org) is somewhat relaxed regarding oversight. They want to know what we are doing periodically. At times they will help with some material or finances, particularly in the area of disaster relief. They also help some with connecting with individuals and groups back home. However, the board is generally non-directive. Part of this is because their philosophy is to work with missionaries who are linked to another organization. In our case it is Bukal Life Care & Counseling Center. However, since my wife and I are co-founders of that organization, in theory we could simply be overseeing ourselves. We chose not to do this, and have placed others over us. We did that because we want Bukal Life to be indigenous, not foreign. But this also provides accountability. Still, we work with Southern Baptists as well as other Baptists. We work with Baptists as well as other Evangelicals. We work with Evangelicals as well as other Protestant Christians. We work with Protestants as well as Catholic groups. Because of the type of ministry we are in, the flexibility is quite beneficial.
Years ago we had applied to be missionaries with the International Mission Board (IMB, http://www.imb.org) of the Southern Baptist Convention. Things were going well, slowed a bit because I was considered to be overweight. Then financial problems occurred at the IMB, and they put a hold on hiring and commissioning. We decided to do missions through our home church as well as the VBMB. If we had been commissioned by the IMB, we would have had our finances fully taken care us, have received free training, and have had many levels of missionary member care taken care of. However, we would not have been allowed to serve in the Philippines (first because the IMB had made policy changes towards focus on “unreached people groups”, and second because my wife was born and raised in the Philippines). We would also be greatly limited in who we can work with (they have or had a six-tiered system for levels of partnership or cooperation with outside groups). Activities are considerably guided by billet and job description. Recent missionaries have to sign a paper agreeing to a specific doctrinal statement (2001 Baptist Faith & Message) that many, including myself, would prefer not to have to affirm.
Which system is better… a flexible system with little support or a more authoritarian system with considerable support?
This is where St. Boniface and the Peregrini (or Peregrinatio) come in. Saint Boniface was the Roman Catholic “Apostle to the Germans.” The Peregrini were missionaries of the Celtic Church who spread out to minister over much of Europe. I have spoken of St. Boniface in a previous post, expressing questions regarding his use of “power encounter” in the form of desecration of pagan religious sites. Of course, he wasn’t the only one to do this, but that is not relevant here. The question is whether St. Boniface and the supporting structure of the Roman Catholic mission effort was a better or worse form of missions than the work of the Peregrini, especially that of St. Columban.
The next two posts will delve into this issue. However, I would like to suggest a conclusion. I believe that the flexible mission organization is SOMEWHAT better than the controlling mission organization. However, solid prior training and screening of missionaries is more critical with a flexible organization than a controlling one. If this is done, missionaries from the flexible organization will be more innovative and effective. If not, it is quite possible that the controlling organization will be the more successful one.