[This is part 4 of a 5 part series on seeing God’s glory across the nations.]
“Some want to live within sound of church or chapel bell. I want to run a rescue shop, within a yard of hell”
These are the famous words of CT Studd, England cricketer, and missionary from Cambridge University off to China and then to Africa, pioneering mission in unreached and unengaged places.
These words have inspired thousands to live recklessly for Jesus’ sake, refusing the comfort of where there are many Christians, for the wilds of pioneering life, going where Christ is not know.
But sadly in the individualistic world we live in, quotations and mistakenly applying thinking like this, have also inspired one of the main reasons why unengaged peoples remain unengaged.
Because people love to distinguish between church (the building or the people) and us as those who go to unreached peoples. In this quotation, many will be fed up with church (the people) and use it to justify lone-wolf evangelism, with an organisation that knows more about their mission or understands better their heart. Instead, rightly reading Studd, would give us a heart to go (as the church) beyond our walls (of a building) to those who don’t have the gospel.
And so the world of mission can quite often be divided:
CHURCH (local) vs: MISSION ORGANISATION
The advantages of church based sending:
- This is God’s means of working in the world (His wise means Eph. 3)
- They should know us best (if not, why not?)
- Churches plant churches (who else has Jesus given authority to?)
- Others, who maybe don’t have your heart for mission, are brought with you in your journey, the more you keep them on board
- They are better equipped to partner in encouraging and disciplining us
- They would send unified teams theologically
The advantages of mission organisations:
- They have vastly more experience and expertise in particular cultures/settings
- They have a wider connection base to many round the world, that enables teams to form quickly, without waiting for small church groupings to send people
- They are often there on the ground, far closer to the action that sending churches
- They form teams which allow for great diversity and learning, yet keep the main thing, the main thing
And so often the local church will adopt an agency to partner with, to get the best of both worlds as churches are planted. So far, so good. What’s the problem?
Well the problem comes on the field.
If you’ve gone solely with a denominational church mission (eg. Mission to the World, a reformed and confessional organisation, I believe):
- how that “unity” in theology works out in practice is rarely easy! In fact, sometimes it’s harder to work out, because you come in with expectations that you all are on the same page!
- it is hard enough getting anyone for the unengaged world, never mind those who are theologically on the same page as you and willing/able to go to the same setting.
- there are so few Christians around that what will be your response be to other ex-pat Christians in that area? Often such teams turn inward-looking and are a bizarre witness to new believers, who don’t see why you don’t live out a practical unity beyond reformed and confessional walls
- How quickly do you really expect your new believers (from no background or prior knowledge of the scriptures at all) to be signing the confession, believing what you do about baptism, or seeing why such things are any way important at all? I suggest you’ll be three generations before that is likely. Do you have succession plans on church leadership, so you can pass on to like-minded people after you have to leave? If not, why are you bothering to take a stand on it primarily?
- Similar to the above point, how can you ensure that, in many settings where to see anyone professing faith is incredible, that you don’t prioritise secondary issues?
- it takes great patience to keep your home denomination on board and decisions take far longer
If you’ve gone largely with a mission organisation team having authority on the field (eg: Pioneers):
- who are your Biblical “elders” who you’re submitting to? The mission team? Your sending church? Your international (overground) church elders locally?
- If local people, how are you connecting and submitting to your sending church and seeing them grow in this partnership? If sending church, how are you making decisions locally for things that can’t wait til the sending church understands the situation?
- what are you going to do about secondary issues within your team? Much as folk like to say they’re not important, you have to practice something! Holding unresolved tensions can so often kill a team dynamic and make like hard.
- what are you going to do about secondary issues among those who come to faith in the culture around you? Leaving it to new local believers to decide for the future of that church, will always be a disaster, much as it’s a nice ideal! You’ll need to lead by exampling something to them before they come to decisions themselves.
And added problems have arisen in virtually every mission organisation recently, as they dictate theologically the direction of missions:
- if your seminary and church denomination aren’t shaping the theologically mission direction of your team, then who is and who are they accountable to?
- what are the procedures for not being led astray by pragmatism on the field, which so often result in experimental mission that teaches falsehood (by example) to thousands?
- how can you close the gap between the “ivory towers” of seminaries and the evangelists on the field?
- how can you hold such a high view of ecclesiology that you avoid breeding lone-wolf evangelist pr theologians who care little for the church at large and bringing the church with them (or being corrected by the church)?
I’ve already written of one such major problem on the field, that has supposedly led to thousands of “churches” being planted in rapid multiplication. Yet, few of these “churches” have anything but a group of people who are starting to respond to Jesus’ words, like any evangelistic setting has. To call them “churches” and essentially say there’s revival happening, is a big call to make.
And I could describe far more practices in other settings too. Several missionaries in another major mission organisation have recently decided to leave the field because their organisation had asked them to speak to [x] number of people a day about Jesus or be fired. Such pragmatism and unbiblical requirements end up making a mockery out of sound Biblical teaching, even when the motive is good. And they in turn will teach the next generation of believer in that place, the same thing.
Down the line, you’ll not only have a warped church scene in many places, but you’ll have a bunch of disillusioned missionaries, feeling they need to work miracle-numbers in order to meet modern trends. You’ll also have a bunch of disillusioned supporters of world mission, who were being enthralled by these latest methodologies until the lid was lifted and they see the reality beneath it.
Don’t get me wrong, new ways to contextualise are needed, and great things have been happening, including in some communities that have been pioneering some of these more controversial “techniques”. But let us think longterm of the Church, before we usher in the next pragmatic program for church growth, at home or abroad.
May the gap between our sending churches and seminaries, and the mission field be an increasingly small one. For the sake of unengaged peoples.