Monday, January 17, 2011

Thinking About Missions

A close friend who has recently been put on his church's mission committee asked me for some ideas about missions. He knows I have a rather eclectic perspective on missions -- I've been a lay minister since becoming a Christian in 1970; an employee of a para-church organization for almost 30 of those years; an enthusiastic supporter of missions activity in the States and abroad; a person who has made more than 2 dozen short-term mission trips abroad; and a teaching pastor of a missions-minded church for 3 years. The following is what I sent over to my friend. 

Things are changing dramatically in American missions.  Some of these changes reflect good news.  For instance, Christians in other countries have taken over many of the teaching and church leadership roles once performed by Westerners.  Also advances in communication technology have meant great improvements in training, networking, encouragement and more.

But some of the changes in missions are not at all good.  Some of these relate to increased religious intolerance from Muslim, Communist, Hindu and secularist governments.  However, other problems fall on us.  American churches have been terribly affected by lethargy, worldliness, a lack of vision, a lack of generosity and misplaced priorities.

American churches have become more inward, spending more of their time and money on their own programs, staff and buildings and less on global evangelism, less on relief efforts and less in supporting such “home missions” as para-church ministries and Christian higher education.

As is frequently mentioned, the words “mission” and “missionary” do not appear in most English translations of the Bible.  However, the examples of God calling, equipping and sending His people to specific tasks are all over the place.  Therefore, all Christians should take these examples very personally for we are all called to service in the Name of Christ and we all have the opportunity to be equipped to perform that calling well.  In this higher perspective, every Christian is a missionary.

All missionaries must undergo training – training that never stops.  Common to all faithful missionaries is Bible knowledge and practical training in righteous living.  We must all love God, obey Him and remain unstained by the world.  But beyond that is specialized training relevant to our individual mission field.  That could mean linguistics, leadership training, computer skills, agronomy, construction, engineering, medicine, child care and on and on.

The mission program of a local church must reflect this comprehensive, biblically-centered philosophy.  It must 1) emphasize lay missions (“equipping the saints to do the work of the ministry”) while also being sacrificially involved in 2) the testimony of the corporate Church in upholding standards of justice and compassion in the general culture and 3) in proclaiming the gospel and building the Church throughout the world.  In the local church I am involved in, this has meant partnerships with several missionaries serving in other countries, an evangelism/mercy ministry geared to needs in our own neighborhood, a Christ-centered pro-life agency and contributions for our denomination which helps domestic church plants and Christian higher education.

It is natural for a local church to consider the special needs of their community, the unique talents of their membership, and the specific opportunities that are given to them in determining their mission strategy.  But still, keeping the aforementioned philosophy as a foundation is very important.

One more point – the local church should put a priority on developing genuine partnerships with their “formal” missionaries.  Frequent communication is essential for this as is financial and even physical involvement as much as possible.  One of the reasons that American church support to missionaries has dropped off is that the church leadership has not been more proactive, consistent and enthusiastic in connecting the local church to their partners working elsewhere.