I wrote an article based on a series of four sermons I did back in 2012 that became four posts on this blog. If that was not enough, I am considering utilizing the article to develop a chapter of a book that looks at Acts 1:8, particularly structured on the four locations mentioned (Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, Ends of the Earth). If I do that, the goal would be practical for churches to think about missions from a local church perspective. Anyway, feel free to read the article, and tell me what you think. (If you are looking for a very deep article, this is not it, as might be determined by the complete lack of footnoting.)
Thom Rainer’s blogsite had a podcast on why it is important for churches to ensure that the missionaries they support have commonality of doctrine, vision, and focus. Associated with that post was a comment by a listener that appeared to be asking (paraphrasing and reading into it): “Why should churches select and support individual missionaries when they can (and should) be giving to the Cooperative Program?” After all, the International Mission Board is more competent to select and oversee missionaries than any one church. For those not in the know, the Cooperative Program is a collection from Southern Baptist churches for common support of international missions, regional missions, seminaries, and more.
i thought about responding to that comment on Rainer’s site, but decided to do it here instead. I don’t normally focus on denominational missions, but I will this once.
Disclosure #1. My wife and I are Southern Baptist missionaries who are not tied to the Cooperative Program of the SBC. Relatedly, a lot of our support comes from non-Southern Baptist churches and individuals.
Disclosure #2. I believe that if your church is Southern Baptist, you really SHOULD be supporting the Cooperative Program. I really believe that. It is a good system, and the legacy of Luther Rice, Lottie Moon, and others, is worthy of admiration and continuation. Many of the best missionaries I know (or knew) are/were funded by the CP. That being said, I believe that every Southern Baptist church should directly support missionaries or mission organizations beyond the cooperative program.
Here are a few reasons.
- Churches that don’t directly support missionaries become disconnected from missions. The Cooperative Program, as good as it is in so many ways, insulates churches from missions decisions, missions partnering, and missionaries. When churches are taken out of the loop… except as a money source, it is hardly surprising if it is difficult for church members to feel connected to missions or motivated to see themselves as part of the mission movement. Churches, ultimately, don’t want to “Just Send Money.” And rightly so.
- Churches that don’t directly support missionaries or missions don’t understand missions. I remember talking to a missionary who came home on furlough. He was invited to speak at a church that has no connection to cross-cultural missions. He noted that he was presented to the church much like one might present a novel archaeological discovery. That’s understandable since they did not know much about missionaries except images of missionaries trekking through jungles and mountains in the 1800s. When a church doesn’t understand missions, they have trouble being effective if they decide to be involved in missions. I have seen churches all over the world who have repositioned their missions giving to short-term missions teams and projects. Unfortunately, they commonly don’t understand that short-term work is made effective through integration with long-term plans and connections. Few things are more frustrating than talking to church leaders who really don’t understand Christian missions (though most will mouth support for the concept of Christian missions).
- Sometimes the big organization is wrong. Sometimes, the individual church may have a clearer vision for missions that the top people don’t. A few years ago, the IMB decided to make drastic cuts of resources to the Philippines… especially in areas of theological education. This was horribly misguided. The Philippines has the potential to be one of the great missionary sending countries in the world. They need proper training, and empowerment. To remove Western missionaries from the role of training and empowering this potential mission force (something they are especially competent to do) and moving them mostly to cross-cultural pioneering (something they are less competent than locals in doing) was hugely flawed (yes… in my opinion). It was often other individual SB churches and groups that recognized this “error” and provided a well-needed corrective. A few years ago the IMB was “encouraging” missionaries to step aside who believe that women can be pastors. Since Biblically this is an uncertain (at best) issue… and the SB has a long history of “Bible women,” women serving in a pastoring capacity even if not embracing the title, it seems like a disturbingly arbitrary method of selection, and deselection, of missionaries. Ultimately, individual churches can SOMETIMES do things better.
- SB missions is able to leverage the dual benefits of collaboration and autonomy. Some denominations (and religious sects) tightly control and allocate resources for missions. This gives greater focus and ensures resources for priorities, but it also leaves a lot of gaps… areas that are not seen because those making decisions see the big picture, but not the smaller details such as local opportunities, and threats. Autonomy greatly broadens the vision by adding more people and perspectives to the mixture. However, it also can lead to a wasteful lack of cooperation, and failure to leverage the scale of the denomination. Ideally, bringing together both the cooperative program as well as state convention, local church and NGO missions brings the strengths of each, and compensates for each’s weaknesses.
In the end, SB churches do need to seek out missionary candidates and mission agencies in which they share doctrine, vision, and focus. They also need to collaborate through the Cooperative Program. Both are needed and neither should be ignored.
According to the North American Society for Church Growth: Church growth is that discipline which investigates the nature, expansion, planting, multiplication, function, and health of Christian churches as they relate to the effective implementation of God’s commission to “make disciples of all peoples”
I taught a class in “Principles of Church Growth and Multiplication” here at Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary (PBTS). The title of the course is actually a bit… not really deceiving… but open to confusion. The course is centered on the Church Growth Movement, CGM, founded by Donald MacGavran. However, ‘Church Growth” as the term is used by CGM is different from the way it is used in the course title. “Church Growth and (Church) Multiplication” is redundant, since Church Multiplication is a form of church growth. Does this matter? Not really. However, things can get confusing when one says that he wants church growth, since others may not be sure what that means.
One of my students was doing a book critique on “Church Growth: A Mighty River” by Delos Miles. Although a somewhat old book (1981) it had a nice way of looking at church growth in four different dimensions:
- Internal Church Growth. This is church growth that does not demonstrate itself in numbers. It involves the growing of the local church in faith and grace, in spiritual fruit and spiritual disciplines. It is the church moving towards “healthiness,” becoming closer to what God intended.
- Expansion Church Growth. This is church growth of the local church through conversion. People are led to Christ and join that local church.
- Extension Church Growth. This is the local church planting daughter churches.
- Bridging Church Growth. This is classic Kingdom expansion through missional church planting.
Miles separates Extension and Bridging based on people group and geography. If it is local and to the same people group, it is Extension. If it is distant or cross-cultural, it is bridging.
These four do not describe all of the ways a church can grow. The most popular way to grow is through transfer growth (pulling people away from competing churches). But of course, if a local church grows through another local church shrinking, there is no real church growth. Additionally, the designations presume that multicultural local churches don’t exist. (Sadly, they are rare, even today.)
Valid or real church growth assumes expansion of the Kingdom of God. Kingdom of God essentially means the reign or rulership of God, so
#1 expands the obedience of God’s children to His rulership.
#2, 3, and 4 expands the number of God’s children
Another way of looking at this:
#1 and 2 involves growth within a local church
#3 and 4 involves growth through multiplication of local churches
Or yet another way:
#1, 2, and 3 involves intracultural growth of the church
#4 involves intercultural growth of the church
For me, however, I like to divide local church’s ministry into “Member Care.” “Local Church Growth,” and “Missions.” With those in mind, one gets:
#1 (Internal growth) is an aspect of Member Care
#2 (Expansion growth) is a component of Local Church Growth
#3 and #4 (Extension and Bridging) are aspects of Missions.
I don’t like to separate missions based on culture. In my mind, whenever a church reaches out beyond itself to expand the Kingdom of God, without the explicit goal of increasing its own local numbers, that is missions. But that is just me. Other ways are at least as valid, and I see the value of dividing missions in terms of Extension and Bridging.
Ultimately, I believe a healthy church grows in all four dimensions: Internal, Expansion, Extension, and Bridging.
I like to take the idea of church impact as related to what I think of as “surface area”. In chemical reactions and heat transfer (to name two things) the rate is proportional to surface area of the relevant bodies (warm versus cold bodies, or reacting chemicals). This goes back to the organic idea. If the boundaries of an organism is its membrane, that is where it interacts with the outside environment. One might say that the church also has such a membrane. Take a fairly extreme case. Case A might be a communal closed society which interacts with the outside environment only through goods and services.
Case A, Church Building Focused Ministry
Case B. Church with Modest Local Outreach
Church Building Focused Ministry Moderate Interaction with outside World
Case B may be a more typical church. It meets at one place and has members that have a certain amount of interaction with neighbors and businesses. They may send money to local ministries or mission boards and such (as shown by the greater surface area).
Case C. Multisite or Cell Group Church
Local church with outlying sites 1, 2, 3, and 4
Case C may be a multisite church or a cell group church or a church with members doing ministry work at a distance from the church.Church Multiple Local Points of Ministry Work Greater Involvement with Local Community
Case D. Church with Multiple-Levels of Outreach, Local, Regional, International
Which case has more effective interaction with the community and world? All else being equal, it would be the one with the greater “surface area”. One can, of course, imagine exceptions, but Case D is set up to have more impact wherever it is.
<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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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).
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.
I have been teaching Missions History this term in Seminary. Since I live and teach in Asia, I like to focus on missions history in Asia. Frankly, there is a lot more missions history in the East than the West anyway. In the first millennium, the churches of Jerusalem, Antioch, and Edessa spread the faith throughout Mesopotamia, Arabia, India and Persia. Later the “Nestorians” spread it through Central Asia to China, Korea, and beyond. The second millennium has the Russian Orthodox sweep across northern Asia, and the Protestant and Roman Catholic moves into Southern and Eastern Asia. Finally, with the dawn of the third millenium is the incredible reversal with 2/3 world (global) missions going into Asia and coming from Asia. But a good question came up as I was talking about the “Nestorian” (or Church of the East) missions in the first millennium.
Why did the greatest missionary effort (prior to the 1800s perhaps) result in so little long-term gain?
Of course, it is popular to blame Islam, or xenophobic Chinese emperors. But neither truly answer the question. The Coptic church in Egypt has survived (and often thrived) with persecution (of varying degrees). The church has even grown miraculously under persecution (such as in 20th century Maoist China, and in the 3rd century Roman Empire). Some argue that the outreach never really went beyond the Trading centers (perhaps a valid point). Some argue that there was a lack of contextualization and indiginization of the faith regionally (perhaps true in some locations… but not in others). I don’t have a good answer… but always willing to suggest a good theory. I would like to think that there may be a wee bit of truth tucked away in it. Nestorian missions at its height, such as from 628-643 under Patriarchate of Yeshuyab II, was quite organized with a wholistic outreach at cities along the overland route of the silk road. Among the structures that would be set up include:
- Monastery (meet sociospiritual needs)
- Church (meet sociospiritual needs)
- Trading post (meet economic needs)
- Hospital (meet physical needs)
- School (meet educational needs)
The Nestorian missions points were, so I am led to understand, centered on the monastery: The Nestorians were not the only ones to do this. The Celtic missions movement of the first millenium was also centered on the monastery. But of course, they did not have to do it this way. They could have had the church as the center point. If one looks at these diamonds, one sees a nice wholistic support system… educational, economic, physical, and sociospiritual. But one might wonder at the apparent redundancy of having two entities that were sociospiritual… the church and the monastery. But the two are very different. Some would describe the church as a modality structure and a monastery as a sodality structure. I guess, to avoid more fancy words, one could say that:
Church is centered on People
Monastery is centered on Purpose
A church exists as an assembly (and assembling) of local Christians. It exists for believers to worship, fellowship, support each other. A monastery is a handpicked group of Christians who have joined together for a specific purpose. For Nestorian missions… the monastery was a missional structure. What do we see when a missional sodality (or purpose centered) structure is the key? Very rapid growth of missions… a nice thing. We saw it in Nestorian missions and in Celtic missions. In fact, most missional movements were driven by sodality (purpose-centered) structures… at least at first. What do we see long-term when sodality structures remain the center? With the Nestorian movement, it eventually lost its missional vigor… and the movement faded (not disappeared… but faded). With the Celtic movement, it was swallowed up by the Roman structure (which was centered, ultimately, on the church, not the monastery).
So if this observation has any merit, what would that suggest?
Missions is driven (at least on the frontier) by sodality (missional purpose-centered) structures. However, to endure, the center should transfer to the church. The people (local people) are the key to longevity.