Missional “Surface Area”, Part 1


<I wrote this something like 8 years ago. I think I still agree with it.  But I also now see the challenge of maintaining it. The greater the distance the harder it is to maintain connections. Even though we live in a “wired” age, most of us don’t think that way… we don’t feel close emotionally, viscerally, when separated by distance. That separation can lead to drifting apart of church and missionary whether or not there is a mission agency assisting (or getting in the way). Some things are… whether they should be or not. NOTE: The concept of “surface area” gets covered mostlly in Part 2>

I have been a big supporter of the Missional Church Movement. I am disappointed that missional churches have often chosen a path that is often anti-missionary. It seems ridiculous to me that it should be so. Some of the problem, in my mind, is “sociological” or “anthropological”. We have a tendency as humans to decide who is “US” and who is “THEM”. Churches, ideally, identify members serving on 1000, 5000, 10000 miles away as “US”… but the human tendency identify people so far away as “THEM” is powerful. The disconnection starts out subtly, relationally. Eventually, it drifts to financially and organizationally..

Yet Missionaries, historically, have been arms of the church… either being sent out by a church, or an association of churches. Paul and Barnabbas fit this type. Some missionaries have gone out independent of other Christian groups. Bruce Olsen (author of the book “Brushko”) would be one example, as well as tens of thousands of “tentmaker missionaries”. However, most often when we think of missionaries, we think of people who are not sent out either of these ways, but rather sent out by a parachurch organization.

Parachurch organizations are a beneficial alternative for sending missionaries. In some cases it can even be the ideal environment for a missionary, due to their experience and connections. However, I believe that it is ideal for a church to have missionaries who are sent out by the church.

Consider two options.

Option 1. “Local Community Church” (LCC) has 10 mission families that they support at approximately 20% each, sent through a mission agency. These mission families have never been part of LCC. But they get reports back on a regular basis, and they get occasional furlough visits.

Option 2. LCC has 2 mission families supported 100%. These two families are members of LCC. They get reports back and visits as well.

  1. Involvement. In Option 1, LCC has limited direct involvement with missions. Money leaves the church and goes to an external mission agency and goes to people who are not members of the church. In Option 2, LCC has direct involvement. Money does not actually leave the church since it is going to church members. Work done by the mission families is now actually the direct work of the church at a remote site. All members of the church can look at the mission work as their work, and they can be part of the team in a real way.

  2. Accountability. In Option 1, the missionaries are accountable to no one church. As long no single church provides too large of a monthly support, the missionaries are really accountable to the mission board. Likewise, no church is really accountable to missionaries, since they are minority members of the relationship. In Option 2, the missionaries are accountable to the church they are a member of. Likewise, the church is accountable to their missionaries/members. The relationship necessitates prayer and vigilance.

  3. Relevance. What is the church supposed to do. Take the following quote.

The Church in the West has sacrificed so much of what she is supposed to be about that her relevance is lost to the lost. Parachurch organizations, such as seminaries, mission agencies, Christian counseling agencies, and evangelistic ministries, have risen to accomplish so much of what God intended the Church to do. She expects others to do evangelism, leadership development, and social care.”      –by Neil Cole in “Organic Church” (p. xxiv)

I believe it is not just the lost that question the value of a church. Is the church a social club? Is it a fund-raising entity?

  1. Organic Relationship. This requires a bit of explanation. This goes back to Dr. Christian Schwartz and his work in the area of Natural Church Development. It also is related to the work done in small group networks and multisite churches. Consider a church like a living creature (maybe a tree, maybe an amoeba). A living has a surface where interactions take place between the “inside world” of the organism and the outside world. An animal takes in water, food, and air, and excretes various wastes across that interface. Inside that interface, oxygen, sugars, and nutrients are shared throughout the organism for its growth and health. Just as an organism is greatly different in its functions within itself and external to itself, the church is also greatly different in how it (ideally) functions within the body, and external to the body.

    1. Consider church planting. A church starts another church and provides help (money and an initial group of core members, for example). But in the case of multisite, a church starts something that looks like a new church. Its members are still part of the original church, and its leaders are still leaders within the original church. Its budget it part of the greater budget of the original church. Its success or failure is directly related to the success or failure of the church as a whole. With a church plant, often the original church eventually forgets that it had planted a church (the church historian would hopefully know). In that situation, there is not much concern about the long-term viability and growth of the daughter church (after the honeymoon relationship subsides in a few years).

    2. Consider missions. A church pays money to a mission board who supports a missionary. Whether the church recognizes this or not, this is strictly an external relationship. It is like paying the heating bill. One might even look at it like paying a company to come in and go door-to-door sharing the Gospel in the neighborhood of the church. A missionary falls? He can be replaced by another… there are lots of missionaries on deputation, correct? However, as members of the sending church, the missionary has ties that go back to the church that go beyond money. It is relational. It is organic. It is visional.

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