Missional Churches and Missionary Churches

Missional churches are churches that are driven to support world-wide missions through resources and manpower. Missionary churches are churches started by missionaries. Are they the same thing?

Protestant churches have only been in the Philippines (where I live) for a little over 100 years. A large number of Protestant churches are 1st generation missionary churches. That is, foreign missionaries started these churches. Once you have added 2nd generation and 3rd generation churches, you have a huge percentage of the churches here.

One might expect that churches started by missionaries should be missional. One would think that a church would in some way fit the mold of the founder. One is reminded of the church in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick”. The church was founded and built by a former whaling ship captain. The building and the sermons was linked to the sea and whaling. This just makes sense.

But, Protestant churches in the Philippines ALMOST without exception, are not missional. They do not support missionaries, except as tentmakers (and do little to nothing to train, empower, and encourage such tentmaker missionaries). Those who want to go into cross-cultural missions are not supported and are, in fact, generally encouraged to stay in the church working on local ministry. (There are exceptions… but so few.)

Why is this? I would like to make a suggestion. This suggestion is consistent with some comments I have heard from other missionaries. Okay… here it is.

Missionaries did not come to the Philippines to create missionaries. They did not want to create missionaries. Missionaries are supposed to come from Western countries (or perhaps South Korea). Missionaries are not supposed to come from the Philippines. The Philippines is supposed to receive missionaries not send them.

So what were the missionaries doing in the Philippines?  They were seeking to create local churches that would create other local churches. They were seeking to create local pastors who would train up other local pastors.

So, in effect, the churches created did develop in the image of their founders. The churches in the Philippines created are focused on local church growth, local church multiplication, and local church leader development.

But sometimes it is best to leave the founders behind and for churches to make their own way. The Philippines is poised to change the world.

There is a “prophecy” given by a self-styled prophet that the Philippines will do great things in sharing the gospel to the world.

The Philippines IS poised to change the world, but they must stop grasping at self-serving quotations, and start making some real changes…. and these changes need to occur regardless of whether foreign missionaries will jump on board.

 

Six Areas of Missions Expectations Dissonance

Some of the following I have personal experience with as pertaining to missionaries and missions. Others I have heard from others. One major challenge in missions is the various expectations that come from others as to what your role and activities should be.  Here are a few (in no particular order):contradiction

1.  Money.  People on the mission field expect or at least strongly desire that the missionary give money without strings attached. On the other hand, those who empower missionaries financially, expect the missionary to be a good steward and overseer of the finances. Missiologists seem to disagree as to whether missionaries should control money, help others without controlling them, or avoid money as much as possible.

2.  Organization.  Many missionaries, locals, and supporters presume that missionaries should create their own organizational edifice. This may be an NGO, evangelistic organization, Bible school, church or other.  On the other hand, there is a growing thought among many locals and missiologists that missionaries should empower without taking over leadership. Is another organization always the answer?  Some local Christians see missionaries getting in the way… as unnecessary and even competition. (Often this is all too true.)

3.  Denomination. Supporters and mission boards expect the missionary to plant churches and/or disciple believers into the same denomination. On the local front, working with Christians of a number of different denominations is often a practical (and desirable) necessity. Missiologists tend to recommend that missionaries develop local Christians and churches in such a way as to allow them to develop their own distinctive characteristics (self-theologizing). This can create a great deal of conflict. Added to this, mass media and competitive religious groups tends to mean that if you do not guide young believers in your own denominational distinctives, the result will NOT be a distinctively local Christian faith. Rather it will be that of a competitive denomination (or cult).

4.  Primary Ministry. There is little agreement as to what a missionary really should do at the core of his/her ministry. Some options are:

  • -Evangelization (often mass evangelization)
  • -Church-planting (often church planting movements)
  • -Mission mobilization (training local leaders)
  • -Church growth
  • -Training
  • -Felt needs (social or wholistic ministry)

This is a short list. There are many more options. Options are not bad, but the problem occurs when supporters and partners do not value or even recognize the area of missional focus that the missionary is involved in.

5.  Information.  Mission boards and supporters love statistics. They want to know how many, how often, and how much. These numbers are often deceptive. The best missions often look bad on paper. Supporters like statistics but often are more moved by tear-jerker stories of tragedy and changed lives. At one time, there may have been little problem with all of this. But today, information flows so well.  A tragic story given to supporters in the US, may become a podcast or youtube broadcast spread around the world. The story becomes embarrassing gossip when it is picked up by people in the mission field. Stats sent by email can be forwarded and rerouted back to partners who could take offense at the self-serving nature of the reports, deceptive numbers, and lack of recognition of the partners.

6.  Spirituality.  Mission supporters expect missionaries to be pious… spiritually guided… and disciplined. Locals on the mission field may do more than expect it… they assume it… at least until they know the missionaries better. Missionaries, on the other hand, rarely are particularly spiritual (as it is commonly defined). Willingness and flexibility define a missionary better than spirituality. They have little personal discipleship.  They often have few that they are able to share fears, concerns, and doubt. This is partly because of distance from potential accountability partners. But it is also because sharing concerns can have negative repercussions vocationally. Missionaries are often expected to work in churches that they are uncomfortable in (because the church meets local needs, not that of the missionary). Missionaries are often expected to attend events or activities that do not meet their own spiritual needs. The disconnect between their outer life and inner life, can lead to crises of faith.

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This is probably a good place to stop. One could go on. Every job has its share of paradox, controversy, multiple leaders, and disagreements about goals, expectations, and procedures.  The importance of recognizing expecation disonnance is that the more that local partners, foreign supporters, mission boards, missiologists, and missionaries themselves understand the conflicts, the better we can grow, function, and prosper as willing servants of God.

 

Missions and Ambitions, Part 2

A friend of mine is a pastor of a church in Mabalacat, Pampanga. His church is going through the book of Joshua and using it as a guide for missional growth and outreach. It got me thinking a bit.

Joshua 5:13-15 has a great scene. Joshua sees a warrior. Joshua asked a very reasonable thing… “Are you for us or our enemies.” The response was, “Neither, I have now come as commander of the Lord’s army.”

Strangely, this reminds me of a Monty Python skit. The scene was in Medieval times… perhaps the 100 year war. Two kings are praying to God, asking Him to be on their side and bring them victory. In the skit… God looks down from on high, appears to be uncertain who to favor. In the end, He flips a coin and then sides with the winner of the coin flip.

As silly as that skit is… it is the way we are. We want God to be on our side. We know that if God is on our side… we have the most powerful, most awesome being in … well in all there is. If God is on our side, we will be successful… surely.

But that is not true, not really. Joshua discovered this. The warrior (or angel or theophany) made it clear… it is not whose side he is on, but who is on his side.

Joshua and the people of Israel were on God’s side in Jericho and were successful. They turned from God’s side to their own soon after at Ai.

What does this have to do with ambition?

1.  We want success… but success needs to be defined by our submitting to God’s work and plan. This sort of success may NOT FEEL like success. It may not impress others. It may not bring fame, wealth, or popularity.

2.  Trying to do things to lure God onto our side and into supporting our plan is foolish. It is pure hubris. It lessens God.

Luring God to be on our side has also been done for millenia. Isaiah 58 describes believers who were fasting to try to get good stuff from God. Isaiah made it clear that this was a foolish and selfish behavior. (This is especially poignant today as fasting has become a particularly popular recently as a way to manipulate God. Curiously, mourning, the partner of fasting, hasn’t gained such recent popularity.) Micah 6 talks about people doing sacrifices to impress God. In both passages they told to love God through caring for the needy and poor.

In other words, the people in Micah and Isaiah need to do what we need to do… stop trying to get God on their side, but move over to God’s side.

 

 

Missions and Ambitions

Missionary Sam was a machine. He could go into a new community, set up an event, form up the respondents, place a pastor in charge, and be onto the next community in a matter of weeks. After a few years of such stunning success, he wrote up his dissertation on his methodology, and “retired” to a life of being a church growth expert and professor.

Sadly, nearly all of his church plants failed within months of their creation. But it doesn’t matter.

Sam was a church planter, it wasn’t his job to maintain a church. His job now is to teach missionaries how to plant churches, not develop viable, self-sustaining, and self-propagating churches.

Missions is not just a ministry… it is also a career. A lot of great missionaries go through life with little that can be used to demonstrate success. Sadly, many mediocre missionaries are extremely competent at the career side of missions. This is true with most jobs. With some effort it is possible to separate the self-promoter from the faithful servant, but the ones most capable of making the judgment are the missionary and those that work the closest with the missionary. If it is about God… if it is about His kingdom… if it is about the people that God misses most… if it is about Jesus and his call for faithful servants— then it is NOT about awesome statistics… it is not about career tracks… it is not about accumulation of positions and awards.

The best missionaries often will live lives of obscurity and (apparent) mediocrity. But God knows the truth, as do many of those closest to them.

 

Courage and Missions

Back in 2001, after the “9-11” incident, US President George W. Bush described the zealots (or terrorists) who flew the airplanes into the world trade center towers as “cowards.” This led to some interesting conversations. After all, people who fought off fear and self-preservation could hardly be called cowardly, right?

Part of the problem lay in the inadequacy of the English language in this area. The term “courage” implies two characteristics.  One of these is a lack of cowardliness or harmavoidance. The other characteristic inherent in the term courage or courageous is morality. What term does one use for a person who overcomes his own fears to do what is morally repugnant?

In English, many characteristics have a greater degree of subtlety. For example, the term “wisdom” or “prudence” also has a moral component. But for someone who is able to think clearly and “wisely” but without morality, could be described as wily or shrewd.  But courage is different. We rightly reject evil behavior as being courageous. In this sense, the President Bush was correct.

The Martial Virtues, courage, duty, and honor, have moral components. I have always liked the follow descriptions of these virtues:

COURAGE.  I DO WHAT IS RIGHT… EVEN WHEN I AM AFRAID.

DUTY.  I DO WHAT IS RIGHT… EVEN WHEN I DON’T WANT TO.

HONOR.  I DO WHAT IS RIGHT… EVEN WHEN NO ONE IS LOOKING.

The morality of the behavior is foundational to these virtues. Within the Christian context, Jesus is thus the foundation of these virtues. We cannot describe courage (as well as duty and honor) outside of the context of Christ.

But what does this have to do with missions?  Well… consider the initial story, the destruction of the World Trade Center towers in New York. The people who did it, left their own people to do something that they believe their god desired them to do, to/for those who are outside of their faith. This, pretty much by definition, is mission work. Obviously, their mission work would only make sense within a very narrow branch of Islam.

But it does add a cautionary story for us. Within Christian missions, we have had Crusades (missions as warfare), gunboat evangelism (missions as armed threat), and Inquisition (missions through enforced conformity). Such work may be described as missions, but those who do this should not be described as courageous, dutiful, and honorable in their “service to God.”

Missions is not inherently good. A missionary that does dangerous, scary things is not necessarily courageous. A missionary who lives a public life conformed to his private life is not necessarily honorable. A missionary who follows orders and “does his job” is not necessarily dutiful.

Missions that is not grounded in the moral, ethical life of Jesus Christ is not really missions at all. Perhaps there is not even a name for it. But I think we need a name for it. So we can better avoid it.

Another Kind of “Power Encounter”

Missionary Tom comes in and wants to start up a new ministry. Where does he go to get manned with the most competent, driven people? To other local ministries, of course. Tom has more money and so can lure the best people away from other local ministries. Maybe Tom’s group is effective, maybe it isn’t. It doesn’t matter. Even if he succeeds, he has done so at the expense of other groups.

A mission strategy used in some parts of the world (useful in some places, a waste of time in others) is power encounter. A missionary goes into an area and shows that God is more powerful than whatever local gods or spirits the people have. (More often, it is really “Volition Encounter”… but that is for a different post.) Sadly, some missionaries go in and employ their own form, a new kind of power encounter with local Christian ministries. They use money, local connections, and international connections to draw away people (or even resources) from local ministries for their own work. Missionaries develop a parasitic relationship to local churches and ministries.

All missionaries can be tempted by this… and I think it would be fair to say I have fallen into this trap at times. It understandable. Capable, trained, and motivated Christian workers are rare in the Philippines and most of these are very busy. Training new people is a gamble. But I have seen some extreme cases here. I have seen some missionaries who are VERY aggressive in trying to draw competent people away from other ministries… or try to slap their own name on the ministry or church that is succeeding. Some missionaries even come back and try to hurt the local ministry or give discouraging words to local Christians who turned down the lure of the missionary’s work.

Missionaries should build up good local ministries. They should encourage their growth and be willing to take on a helping (rather than governing) role in their development. Working with local ministries can build them up. Discipling believers and training them to serve can increase the missionaries own work without drawing down on other’s resources. Missionaries are supposed to fill a need, not try to justify their existence. Hurting other ministries to ensure your personal success is completely without justification.

Indispensable?

Missionary Ron is a great organizer and a great planner. He has a good local network and is discipling them to be effective parts of the team. Good things are happening. The ministry is growing and missionary Ron is fulfilled in leading such a fine group.

But one day, Missionary Ron is gone. The captain has left the ship. Who is ready to take over navigating? No one. The finances are hurt or destroyed. The organization was centered on missionary Ron, and the rest of the group has been given no tools or training to fill the power vacuum. The connections are lost. The authority figure is gone.

A pastor of a church I used to attend believed that any Christian organization grows and succeeds by a single leader, and that same organization is destined to wane and collapse once that leader is gone. And, in truth, many do. Yet I see little evidence that it is destiny. In fact, the same leader whose great drive and vision made the organization great, was the same leader whose hubris and short-sightedness took that same organization down. Many groups have grown, and even thrived, through generational changes of leadership. The Salvation Army is a good example for over 100 years. The fact that it is organized in such a way to train up successors is not unrelated.

But here is the paradox. I worked at a camp where the camp director put up a note that said, “No one is indispensable.”  I know that is true… yet I would have liked to see that note with and addition.  It should say, “No one is indispensable, but no one is replaceable.”  The paradox. God has made us each unique. No one can truly replace us. But when we think that God “can’t do it without us” we are in dangerous territory.

One of the primary jobs of a missionary should be exit strategy. But that exit strategy should come into play from Day 1. Successors must be trained up, and systems need to be oriented to make the missionary eventually unnecessary. Ideally, the missionary should slowly transition from leader to support laborer.

But this is hard. Missionaries look competent when they are in charge of things. It is hard to step back. It is harder to walk away. Yet it is healthy. Ultimately, the missionary will be gone at some point in time. The question is not whether the missionary will be gone, but rather whether the team is ready for that transition or not.