by Joseph McCullough
Scripture tells us that we must look out to the harvest fields, but before doing that, it is often most helpful to take an inward look. The inward look should signify a frank, honest, realistic appraisal of our missions – including past accomplishments, present program and work – and then whether plans for the future are adequate for our part in completing the Great Commission.
Scripture tells us that we must look out to the harvest fields, but before doing that, it is often most helpful to take an inward look. The inward look should signify a frank, honest, realistic appraisal of our missions— including past accomplishments, present program and work— and then whether plans for the future are adequate for our part in completing the Great Commission.
The Lord raised up faith missons in a time of historic need to stimulate the church to fulfill its divine calling. The history and accomplishments of these missions during the past century constitute a glorious and thrilling record, paralleling in many ways that of the heroes of faith in Hebrews eleven. However, times have changed, with prospects that even greater changes may yet be in store. We are forced to reappraise our effectiveness now in the light of the new conditions surrounding us. We can no longer indulge in the luxury of independent missionary activity with little concern about other groups, their activities and their success. The growth of nationalism, Communism, a resurgent Catholicism, cults, and materialism, as manifested in social, economic, educational and industrial revolution, require us to look up and beyond our immediate circle, our limited sphere of ministry, in order that these conditions might be honestly and squarely faced by us. General questions immediately arise. Do we have the answer to today’s need? Can we really stand in the conflict and accomplish that for which we are here? Or, are we just marking time, retrenching, or losing ground in this life and death battle to which we are called?
This new day with its new circumstances and conditions, fearful in many respects, yet wonderful in others, has brought wide open doors, hungry hearts, unparalled opportunities, and modern inventions as well as technological developments whereby we may hasten our task to its fulfillment. Conventional methods and programs of the past generation will hardly suffice today. New approaches, new methods, and a better equipped type of missionary are needed.
As we look inward we would do well to appraise our achievements, then face up to our failures.
1. Growth. The numerical growth of missions and missionaries in Latin America since World War 11 has been phenomenal. Dr. Eugene L. Smith has written in Ecumenical Review, "The number of foreign missionaries of all agencies related to the Division of Foreign Missions of the National Council increased from 1952 to 1960 by 4.5 percent; those of the conservative evangelicals, by 149.5 percent. Foreign missionaries of the DFM in 1960, were 10,324; of the latter, 16,166 (North America)." About 75 percent of the missionary force in Latin America belongs to the non-historic missions. Growth was 60 percent in the last five years. This group includes the Pentecostal movement, which constitutes a large proportion of believers in Latin America.
Evangelical missions are in a position to exercise much influence and to give definite direction to the evangelical church in Latin America. The initiative should be taken in dividually as a mission, and unitedly as a group of missions, with definite, well thought, Spirit-directed plans, implemented by a program that includes the needed personnel, equipment, and finances.
2. National churches and church organizations have been established. It would be fair to assume that the churches we have established have had an equal growth, or even better, than that of our missions. The picture is most encouraging when one looks at the development of the national church, for example, in Central American republics, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and Bolivia. Many of the larger missions have been successful in setting up strong national church organizations that are standing on their own feet. A zeal and intiative in evangelization have been imparted to these nationals that characteize their present ministry.
3. Training institutes. Mention should be made of the extraordinary number of Bible schools and seminaries of varying standards that have been established with untold blessing and good coming from them in preparing pastors, evangelists, and workers for the church. This would seem to be one of the most important ministries we have today.
4. Continent-wide ministries. Much credit must be given to conservative missions for setting up and developing continent-wide ministries in the field of literature, communications, and evangelism, through such organizations as Literatura Evangelica de America Latina (LEAL), Difusones InterAmericanas (DIA) and the Evangelical Committee on Latin America (ECLA). Evangelism in Depth, sponsored by the Latin America Mission, is perhaps the greatest evangelistic program in modern missions. Now it has spread to virtually all other missions and denominations, and very rapidly its principles are being adopted in other parts of the world.
5. Pioneering and translation. With some notable exceptions, we may say that the task of pioneering and translation among primitive tribes has been carried largely by faith missions. According to Scripture, we recognize that every tribe will be reached with the Gospel, but it does seem that the responsibility for this difficult, unsung, slow and often unrewarding work has been left to our groups. Naturally, church growth and influence is slow and will seldom show great statistics such as in city work.
No doubt there are other achievements that can be mentioned, but these cover the major contributions made -by faith missions. Now let us turn our attention to the second part of the subject.
In some cases, a matter of weakness rather than outright failure may be involved, but let us nevertheless seek to describe the situation.
1. Lack of trained leaders. First and foremost, we have failed to produce well-prepared, fully trained leaders for the national church. While we have many churches, they are often weak and struggling because of poorly, prepared leaders who are limited in their ministry. This in turn has limited the outreach of the church and usually our work has been among the lower and poorer classes, whereas denominations have made a greater appeal to the higher classes. For the most part, the upper middle and professional classes in most Latin American countries have not been reached by our mission or our national workers. This is particularly true with regard to the university students who compose one of the more important segments of society.
2. Lack of deeper scriptural teaching. Because our primary emphasis has been on evangelistic effort and the establishment of churches, we have often failed to give deeper teaching of the Scriptures. Cults and isms have often made havoc of our groups because of this weakness.
There has been a distinct lack in many areas in teaching the grace of giving and the accompanying blessings promised. Because missionaries have been a minority group in Latin America, faced with persecution and pressure by the Roman Catholic Church, they have often been remiss in failing to teach along this and other lines.
While there have been many professions of faith, and many genuine conversions, the relatively small number who have followed through with baptism and church membership indicates a weakness in our teaching. Some missionaries are not trained to do much more than evangelize, and thus many of the converts seldom go beyond them in this. Limited preparation on the part of missionaries inevitably results in limited accomplishments in the work. It is not to our credit that often there is not a plan and program extending beyond the stage of evangelism in some missions. The real weakness of this becomes apparent as the church grows, but is not able to cope with the development in today’s society.
3. Isolationist outlook or position. One veteran missionary of forty years experience said, "We were taught to be separatists by our very training in Bible schools, and it is difficult now to assume a different approach." I know from personal experience just what he meant, and while I agree with the problem, I feel that we must be realistic about the task before us. If our present methods will not really get the job done, then we can hardly feel justified in continuing as we are.
We stand for biblical separation, and practice it personally and in the work in virtually all of our missions, but often there is a failure to work with others, even those of like mind and doctrine. Our separation from denominations in the homelands, at least in North America, for various and valid reasons, has often been carried over in our thinking, relationships, and ministries on the mission fields. Our objective has been to create a pure church, separated from modernism and worldliness, a worthy goal, but often this has involved a negative approach and teaching. Not infrequently there has been a growing inward, producing self-satisfaction, self-righteousness and complacency, instead of an outward development and outlook that recognizes how feeble and circumscribed our efforts have been in the light of the tremendous task yet to be done. Then, too, our desire to avoid anything that might resemble a hierarchy of organizational development that might affect our message and ministry has tended to cause us to lean away from proper relationships. Concentration has generally been on our own field and program.
All of this produced certain weaknesses: lack of fellowship among believers, resulting in a limited concept of the church universal; small, struggling groups open to false teaching, extremes, and to the generous offers of scholarships, conferences, youth congresses, and other enticements that are being made to them on a wide scale; divisions that further weakened the church, limiting its testimony, effectiveness, and outreach.
This self-centeredness has been particularly manifest in the establishment of so many Bible institutes, whereby every group must have its own, or several of its own. There has been a distrust of other groups on various grounds, but it might also be pride that we want our own set-up, and cost what it will, we intend to have it. This has been done at times regardless of whether a more effective program might be carried out by cooperation with a sister mission or missions.
4. Finances. Here we might have some of our strongest and some of our weakest points, but we must face this realistically also. More often than not, finances are so limited as to prevent any really worthwhile forward progress. This is in spite of the fact that we faith missions claim to be depending upon the promises of the Word of God, which assure us the supply for every need. We have frequently been characterized by limited projects, limited vision, and limited horizons.
There has been a basic concern for the needed passage, outfit, and support of the worker, but little or no concern for the national church, its development, and its needed equipment. Even where local churches could support their pastors and put up their own buildings, they could never go far in setting up their own nationally founded and directed training institutes, colleges, universities, orphanages and homes for the aged.
On many fields the church has developed and we rejoice in this, but it is limited in its outreach. Is it because of limited faith on our part that we planned only for the mission and the missionary? The church has now reached the stage of partnership with the mission. Nationals cry’ out for advice, suggestions, workable ideas, equipment, and for opportunities never before thought of by most pioneer and self-sacrificing missionaries of yesteryear.
5. Social action. We aimed well in planning our ministries for the souls of men and their spiritual good, but we have given too little thought to man’s social development, especially in the midst of the social, educational, industrial, and political revolution such as we now face. We have been some what unprepared to meet the needs of our believers today, by and large. Here the Ecumenical Movement and even the Roman Catholic Church have a wide edge on us, with well thought out programs and the wherewithal to carry them out. Surely the proper emphasis can be given to the spiritual, while still looking out for man’s temporal needs.
Governments are involved, urging us to face social revolution and all its accompanying results. Our Bible schools must have proper buildings and equipment that will be approved by government educational inspectors. The Bolivian government is moving thousands of Indians to the lowlands, giving them lands and new opportunities. The outlook for these Indians has changed, and we must meet them in their new environment.
Institutional work really wasn’t part of the program of faith missions for many years, but again changes have come to pass. One of the strongest faith missions in Africa, with a large national church organization, also has the finest institutional program, all geared for its primary task. This mission moved with the times and God has greatly blessed. Some of us even thought it was unspiritual to work along such lines, and that real spirituality was manifested in only such ministries as soul winning and teaching the Word. Now we must reevaluate our programs and meet the needs of today if we are to stay in the work.
If we take these failures seriously, we can nevertheless build on a foundation that will allow us to meet today’s conditions and needs, and permit us to be in the mainstream of Latin American thought and development. We can advance and take the initiative in the conflict, with well-defined goals that can be accomplished in a given time. We can give attention to all areas of ministry, rural, pioneering, towns, and cities, and all levels of society. We can cooperate with other groups without compromise or loss of identity. Our ministry can be relevant to people where they are today.
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