Missionary Roles Doodling

Doodling a bit with the role of Missionaries. I am generally unhappy with most common definitions for missionaries. Many of the definitions seem to do little more than promote a certain bias, rather than inform. Unfortunately, because my way of thinking about missionaries, and missions generally, is rather broad, my view of both terms can apply to pretty much everything. That is a problem, I suppose, so I guess I would like to show missionaries in four stages (or roles) as talked about in Perspectives of the World Christian Movement.

Missions Roles

One option is that missionaries serve where the church IS NOT.  In this case, the missionary role is that of a PIONEER. The goal is then for the church to transition from not existing to being existent in that context.

If the church exists, the question shifts from IS versus IS NOT, to HAS or HAS NOT. The question is one of whether the church has matured to the point that it is a ministering effectively. The missionary is more like a PARENT, and helping to guide the church towards being fully ministering– self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating (and perhaps working towards self-theologizing). The church is moving towards being fully COMPETENT. We see, for example, Paul pioneering the church in Philippi in Acts, and then sending a letter to encourage and guide them towards greater maturity years later.

If the church is fully functioning, there may still be areas of structural concerns that the local church CANNOT handle in terms of ministry. These can include: Bible translation, radio ministry, orphanages, medical services or other things that the local church lacks resources to do. In such a case, the  missionary serves as a PARTNER with local churches, providing structures and services, the local church could benefit from in fulfilling its mission, but at this point CANNOT. However, the goal is that these structures, skills, and resources from the missionaries move over to the local churches so that they have ownership of these structures in doing ministry.

If all of these questions are answered positively, the end result is that the missionary and the church both have a role as PARTICIPANTs in ministry.

Additional thoughts

  • Looking at the diagram a bit more, a few things to note. As one moves towards the right, the role of the missionary gets lower. This doesn’t mean he (or she) becomes less valuable… but DOES become less necessary. Where there is not church, there needs to be a messenger… a sent out one… a missionary. Where a church exists, it may be beneficial to have outside discipling… but not critical. If the church is mature, it may be helped by specialized ministries in parachurch (sodality) structures… but may do fine without them. In the final stage, missionaries and the local churches work together as fully equal partners/participants in God’s work. Ideally, there is gain in the interaction, but of the four roles, it is the least necessary.
  • The process is then of one where the importance of the missionary decreases, as the capacity of the local church increases– reducing the capacity gap between them. Having this happen faster rather than slower is a good thing so as to minimize a stagnation in dependency on the missionary.
  • It is hard to say which missionary should be the most common. Arguments could be made for each one.Consider below.

Pioneers are the most critical so they would seem to need to be the most common. However, there are less and less TRULY unreached locations, and lightly reached locations can often be more effectively reached through young churches with new believers.

Parenting could be argued should be the most common since it still plays a critical role as the muscle of transforming newly pioneered churches into self-replicating churches. Church planting movements are driven by young churches that have been parented/mentored by these missionaries. Since there are many more lightly reached areas that have churches that need to be parented towards self-replication, there should, perhaps be more of these. On the other hand, the process from left right on the diagram should be fairly rapid to avoid stagnation or dependency, so arguably the number of missionaries here should be less because the time in this process should be less.

Partnering could be argued as requiring the most, since it is often a much longer term process. Many local churches cannot handle structures like Christian radio stations, medical ministries, orphanages and the like… and many of them will not be able to do so for many years. As such, as there are potentially many such sodality structures that may have to exist under missionary control for a long time, maybe there should be more missionaries in this category. On the other hand, since they are generally less necessary, perhaps they should be limited to encourage more towards Pioneering and Parenting roles. Additionally, while the partnering stage can last longer than Pioneering and Parenting, there is a tendency for missionaries to be unwilling to let go, so perhaps keeping the numbers down would discourage this.

Finally, Participants could be argued as being the one that should be the most numerous. Since this position should have no inherent time frame, this one can be rather permanent. And as more an more parts of the world now have mature churches that can gain from interaction from other churches of the world (ideally old sending countries can gain as much from missionaries from new sending countries as vice versa), it makes sense that their numbers could be going up. It is also nice to have churches that strengthen each other as equal partners. On the other hand, again, since their role is not truly necessary, it could be argued to be wasteful to have too many who are Participants.

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