by Lester P. Westlund
nstitutions are those ministries whose intrinsic purpose is not considered to be the preaching of the Word or the building of the body of Christ. Some mission authorities speak of them as “services” while others speak of them as “secondary ministries”: medicine, education, agriculture and numerous others.
Institutions are those ministries whose intrinsic purpose is not considered to be the preaching of the Word or the building of the body of Christ. Some mission authorities speak of them as "services" while others speak of them as "secondary ministries": medicine, education, agriculture and numerous others. By their very nature these ministries cannot be considered primary in the mission of the church. They are basically geared to the betterment of the mind and body rather than the soul. While they may serve as a pulpit from which the Gospel may be preached, they do not in themselves contain that message. In fact, aside from being tools in the hands of the church, they have no basic Christian message. They are one step removed from the inherent goal and purpose of the church in the world, though vitally related to it. With this distinction in mind, let us observe the past.
From even a cursory look one thing becomes immediately evident. In very few cases did the work of missions begin with institutions. The first thrust into a field was directed toward evangelism and the teaching of the Word. The missionary was the central figure. He had no nationals at that stage to help him. He did all of the preaching and all of the teaching. There were no immediate calls for education and medicine. These came later.
However, the history of missions teaches us that in almost every case the institutions did come. The need for them arose slowly. One by one they were added to the work of the mission. New missionaries were called to the field to fill posts in institutional work. Before long the church in the center of the mission compound was circled by buildings housing the institutions. I am not insinuating that these were added without considerable study and prayer°. I am not saying they should not have been added. I am only saying they developed like topsy in most areas of the world. From the smallest beginnings institutional work has grown until almost every type of training to be found in America can also be found on some mission field, sponsored and supported by missions individually or jointly. The versatility of institutional work is seen in some of the types of institutions being sponsored by missions: hospitals, medical training schools, nurses’ training schools, primary schools, secondary schools, colleges, universities, agricultural programs, agricultural schools, special schools for the teaching of art, music and handcraft, boy scout programs, girl scout programs, girls’ schools teaching homemaking and hygiene, schools for mechanics, schools for builders, welfare programs, schools for printers, book stores, presses, business schools, radio ministries and schools for various phases of communications, orphanages, as well as Bible institutes and seminaries.
Almost all missions are agreed that they do have a responsibility in some phases of institutional work. This has been proved by the fact that they are involved in institutional work of one kind or another. At the same time none of them would be ready, I am sure, to give blanket approval to all institutional work as the responsibility of the mission. In some areas of the world the mission has had no choice in the matter. For instance, in parts of Africa it would have been most difficult for the mission to stay out of education. Either the mission taught the young people or they remained illiterate. It is equally true that the provision of medical help grew out of necessity. The problem would be different in areas where institutions of the mission compete with other missions or with the government. However, even where these conditions exist there could be a situation where the mission would find it necessary to enter an institutional program. The above almost contradictory statements lead us to see the need of some well-planned guidelines for the institutional work of missions.
Some mission authorities are at odds over this question. Isthemission’s responsibility based on compassion and love, or do we enter institutional work as a means to an end? Are these two positions irreconcilable?
Bishop Newbigin in One Body, One Gospel, One World, page 22, says, "Our Lord was sent both to preach and to be the servant of all . . . each of these two activities has its proper dignity within the wholeness of the mission, and neither should be subordinated to the other. If service is made merely ancillary to evangelism, then deeds which should be pure acts of love and compassion become suspect as having an ulterior motive. When our Lord stretched forth His hand to heal the leper, there was no evangelistic strategy attached to the act. It was pure outflow of the divine love into the world, and needed no further justification."
Bishop Newbigin seems to place service on a par with evangelism. Some others will disagree with him at that point. He also sees no spiritual impact in our Lord’s healing the leper. It would be my judgment that every act of Christ had a corresponding spiritual witness, whether expressed in words or not.
Roland Allen in Mission Activities in Relation to the Manifestation o f the Spirit, says on page 32: "I believe that we should gain enormously if we could see that missionaries of the Gospel ought to have not many activities, but one activity. I venture to insist that missionaries of the Gospel have only one proper activity, the ministration of the Spirit of Christ. The material, social, political, physical advancement of the nation is not their proper, direct work. Their sole work is to bring to Christ those whom He has called and to establish His Church; and the social, political, physical, material progress of the people must spring out of that, and be the direct fruit of the Spirit in them."
This text and other writings by Roland Allen leads me to suggest that he is not opposed to institutional work, but he feels strongly that institutional work ought to be the responsibility of the church established by the mission. It ought to be a result of their sense of Christian responsibility. To what extent missions today can wash their hands of responsibility in each and all of the institutional areas is one of our problems.
I should like to propose one answer to the question, Why institutional work? It is not the answer given in either quotation above. Neither is it based upon the quality of the institution concerned, or the effectiveness of it. I believe that the Great Commission and kindred Biblical teachings harness the church with the responsibility of preaching the Gospel for the salvation of souls, and ministering for the planting and growth of biblically oriented churches This needs to be the consuming passion of every missionary and every mission executive. If we fail in this, no amount of other exercise will recompense for it.
If this is our propose and our directive, we dare not elevate any other activity either to the same level of responsibility or above it. It is by the "foolishness of preaching" that men and women, boys and girls, will be saved. This must be our goal in every endeavor. In some missions where they have lost their positive witness the institutions continue on an almost total social and cultural basis. My statement that the mission’s responsibility is to preach the Gospel and plant churches forces me to the following conclusion concerning institutions: Any or all institutions sponsored by the mission must be planned and operated with the same basic purposes that guide the mission itself. At this point the question will undoubtedly be raised as to whether or not the mission, like the individual, has a responsibility toward the physical and mental needs of people, aside from or in addition to the spiritual responsibility. Someone will remind us that Jesus Himself spoke of reward for giving a cup of cold water. However, the water was to be given "in His name" according toMark9:41, or "in the name of a disciple" in Matthew 10:42. In either case, there is evidence of a spiritual witness with the service. No one must question our interest in the needs of the whole man. However, by the same token, no one must ever question the purpose for which the mission has been established. There are many organizations in existence through which we can express social and cultural concern. Let us make sure that every institutional work we approve is directly related to our main purpose.
Having established that the church or mission does have a responsibility in those institutions that can help carry out the mission’s God-given responsibility, let us search out some of the dangers to institutional work. We shall set forth the six dangers most frequently expressed:
1. Requirements are Difficult to Control
It is almost impossible to stipulate at the outset what size we are willing to allow any one institution to reach. If our service is not being duplicated in the area, the number of nationals who will want to avail themselves of it is unpredictable. Many institutions have a relationship to government whereby the government will feel free to tell the institution what service they expect them to render. This will place demands upon us in two areas:
a. Personnel. The very nature of most institutions makes it mandatory that the service be rendered on a regular and continuing basis. If a missionary is not available for a service at a given time, we find it necessary to transfer a missionary from another area of work. Usually the pastoral and evangelistic work suffer. In our work (Evangelical Free Church) in the Congo, our home board was forced to declare number one priority on pastoral missionaries to keep the field council from "temporarily" using pastoral personnel in secondary schools and other institutional endeavors to the sacrifice of the pastoral ministry. Only with the utmost care can a full staff of workers be maintained for pastoral work in the midst of institutional services.
(b) Finances. The same condition applies in the case of finances. Usually it is possible to determine the budget for services. However, with the addition of expanded programs the cost rises rapidly. Because it is almost impossible to cut the services budget, the cuts necessary take place in the pastoral and evangelism budgets that are too small already.
2. Spiritual Surveillance is Difficult
While it may be a superhuman task to plant a growing church, it is seldom hard to start a growing institution. When the institution grows more rapidly than the church, the institution will be dealing with a large portion of unsaved people. Often they have no real desire for any spiritual life or maturity. They have come only because of the service offered. As their number grows, a need arises for more workers in the institution. If it is possible to secure Christians for all of these posts, there is some hope of success. However, in so many cases, because the institutions cannot falter or halt, the national staff will be made up of some who are not Christians. When this happens, the institution almost without exception is doomed to spiritual failure. With the least possible number of missionaries involved, and the number ofChristian nationals small, there is great difficulty in maintaining a spiritual atmosphere, and the program of witnessing goes by the board. The missionary becomes bogged down with the mechanics of the institution, and he has no time to maintain a spiritual vigil. Usually this deterioration is a slow process, but if the above conditions persist the end result is almost certain.
3. Super-Nationals are Created
In most areas of the world the nationals who are employed in a mission institution will demand and receive a larger salary than even the local pastor (who is paid by the national church). In fact, he will probably receive a higher salary than most of the people in his village ortown.One does not need much insight to see what this does to the well-paid national. He becomes a community "big-shot." In many cultures he is not able to stand this prosperity. It goes to his head. In fact, in most cultures where the particular service is really needed, the national working in a mission institution will have real difficulty keeping his spiritual and mental equilibrium. If our service did not have a spiritual basis this would not need to concern us, but if our motives are right, it will become a serious impediment.
4. Christian Leaders are not Generally Produced
While there are exceptions to every mile, institutions have not lead the reputation of producing strong Christian leaders in the churches. Let me quote a rather lengthy passage from David M. Paton’s book, Christian Mission and the Judgment o f God, pages 38, 39:
Our schools were started to produce subordinate professional workers for the Church; they expanded to become the principle training grounds from which were recruited those who filled positions in the world of the compradore-the Customs Service, the Salt Gabelle, the Postal Administration, and the foreign firms and the Chinese banks and business houses which were associated with them. Many of the more ardent spirits were stirred by their shame at their country’s weakness and their anger at the wrongs it suffered at the hands of foreigners. They considered that the education they were receiving might possibly be designed for the gradual reform o£ Chinese society but, if so, for reform in the interest of the west in whose bona fides they had lost all trust. They did not believe it could aid the revolution of China in the interest of the Chinese people. They went over in the end to the Communist party, in which there are surprisingly large numbers of people with this close but extremely partial acquaintance with Christian missions. Others, again, became Christians. But the Church has been mainly among the poor and ignorant, and the rank and file of the ministry not such as are able to attract and hold educated young people; moreover, the schools and colleges have been dominated for the most part by a highly liberal version of Protestantism, while the Churches have been mainly fundamentalist. Few educated young people have found a permanent and satisfying home in the Church. They have tended rather to drift into the "Christian Movement." A man retained the Christian name with a steadily decreasing Christian content, because he was outside the corporate life and discipline of the Christian community. In the end, much more often than not, he ceased to be effectively a Christian at all; the larger cities were full of ex-Christians of this kind, among them a large proportion of those Christians in high positions in the Kuomintang Government of Chiang Kai-shek who were so much praised in the west a few years ago.
Whether they are viewed therefore from the angle of their creative contribution to the needs of Chinese society, or their provision of leadership from the Chinese Church, the educational institutions on which we have lavished so much time, money, and loving hard work, seem for the most part to have made a poor return. The case of the hospitals is not substantially different.
Presumably someone will say that the case in China would not necessarily be the case in Africa or Asia. While I believe we are ready to admit that the default of the products of institutional missions in China may have been more serious than other places because of the circumstances that prevailed, yet I am sure that the results, while smaller by percentage, would be noticeable on every field. From our own experience in Africa, I know that we are holding very few secondary school graduates for the work of the mission, and extremely few are entering the ministry.
5. Institutions Tend to Become Top-heavy
Dr. Donald McGavran in the booklet, Flow Churches Grow, states that missions spend92percent of their missionary assistance and 78 percent of their cash assistance in philanthropic enterprises.
This means that an average of 85 percent of their personnel and financial contributions are used in institutional work. This means that only 15 percent of their manpower and money is used in the evangelistic and pastoral ministries. Glancing back at our aim in missions, our purpose in sending missionaries abroad in the first place, and our interpretation of the Great Commission as it applies to us, we are already extremely topheavy. Because most of our personnel and money are involved in these services, the control of the mission can very easily be passed to the institutional workers from the pastoral workers. This is not intended to indicate that the missionaries in insttutional work are not vitally interested in the total program, or that they are less spiritual, but it does indicate that that part of the work which is basically secular could control that which is basically spiritual.
6. Institutions are Failing to Help Build the Church in Proportion to the Investments in There
One needs no statistics to prove this point. If we weigh our institutional work in the balance of souls saved, we will admit that the investment in dollars and personnel has been extremely high for the returns received, compared with the dollars and manpower invested in evangelistic work and the results of that. While this is true and ought to cause us to consider our institutional work carefully, one must also admit that the total program of missions is helped by institutions in ways that cannot be weighed in the balance of souls saved only. By this I refer to the fact that a hospital opens the door of a community to the Gospel and eventually a man so influenced receives Christ in the church, yet the hospital was instrumental in his conversion. The same may be said of other institutions. Thus, the total impact of an institution must be weighed before we condemn it to oblivion.
Can we evaluate a part of our mission endeavor that is so broad in its scope and so different in various parts of the world? To do this with a set of rigid rules that would be applicable in every situation would be impossible. However, we do feel that a set of guidelines for evaluation can be agreed upon that will and can be applicable all over.
1. Does it Maintain a Vibrant Christian Witness? This question can only be asked if the particular mission believes that every activity of the mission must work toward the salvation of the lost and the planting of the church. How does an institution maintain a vibrant Christian witness? I believe the institution does this if those who avail themselves of its service are confronted on a systematic basis by the claims of Jesus Christ upon their lives. Is there a chaplain in the hospital who constantly seeks to lead people to Christ? Are regular spiritual chapel sessions held in the mission school? Are all of the staff members aware that the mission they serve expects them to personally and individually witness for Christ? Is good Christian literature made available to all in the institution? Is the very atmosphere of the institution charged with the excitement of a spiritual ministry? An affirmative response to these questions would indicate to us that the ministry is spiritual.
2. Does it Help Build a Strong Church? I am in full agreement with Dr. Donald McGavran, who insists that institutions belong in a mission-related ministry only if the church is growing. If the local church, or area churches, remains stagnant over a period of time, there is reason to suspect that the institution (or institutions) has lost its purpose for existence as a mission-related service. The extent to which the staff in the institution is involved in the work of tile church is a guide in this regard.
3. Could it be Merged With Another? In recent years we have experienced a new spirit of working together in evangelical missions. If there is an overlapping in any area of services, we ought to give serious study and consideration to mergers. The cost when each mission has its own institution, as compared with one larger one, is phenomenal. The Lord’s money must not be wasted. We must learn to think cooperatively of the total work of Christ. A word of warning here: We ought to be very, very cautious about entering cooperative projects with missions or churches that are not evangelical.
4. Could the Government Take it Over? If we feel that certain services are the responsibility of the government, where they are able to carry them, we ought to be willing to surrender such institutions to the government and use our personnel either in another area or in another type of ministry.
5. Would We be Willing to Close it? This may be easier said than done. Certain missionaries are involved in these ministries. They came to the field for the purpose. Some folks at home are especially interested in supporting these very ministries. Dare we close them when they no longer serve their intended purpose? Will it reflect on the mission and the leadership? Even if it does, are we willing to stop spending the Lord’s money for an unnecessary service?
6. Could the National Church Take it Over? The cost of supporting a missionary at a given task is almost always higher than the cost of supporting a national in the same position. However, sometimes missionaries are not willing to step aside and let the national and/or the national church operate the service. We believe the national has a different responsibility to leis own people in the area of services than we do. He should have the same basic purposes as a Christian, but he has added responsibilities. It is conceivable that a school may no longer serve the basic purpose of the mission, but may still serve the national church in the secular education of its youth. The mission must be ready to turn over institutions to the church as rapidly as the church can govern and support them. To be unwilling to do this makes the institution a barnacle on the back of the mission.
7. Can the Cost be Justified? The cost of operating an institution varies from one to another and from country to country. Each mission must carefully study the cost of its operation. Each mission must also decide if the funds involved in services would be better used in another ministry in keeping with the mission’s purpose. Do the results justify the expenditures? One mistake often made by missions using the personalized system of support is to justify the cost of supporting missionaries in institutional work by saying that the people who support these would probably not dive the money to the mission for anyone else, so the less to the mission is small compared with the cost of the service. This, of course, is a false view. All money spent in missions contributed by Christians at home is the Lord’s money and must be expended with great care. One dollar is as valuable as another.
I am firmly convinced that a great deal of cooperative investigation and study needs to be done on the problem of institutions in missions. There has not been an exhaustive study on this problem in modern times. It is long overdue. This cannot be the work of one man. We need to learn by both the victories and defeats of each other in the area of institutional work.
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