Church-Minded Missions: Taking the Local Church Seriously
by Dick McClain
The problem comes when a “missions-minded” church is not counterbalanced with the corresponding recognition that mission agencies need to recognize the God-ordained place of the local church.
Is your church missions-minded?” “Our church is really missions-minded.” “If only that pastor were more missions-minded!” If the mission agency I serve had a dollar for every time the “missions-minded church” mantra has been repeated, we’d have solved our funding challenges for years to come. It’s time for us to talk instead about “church-minded missions.” Mission agencies need to take the church seriously. I don’t mean the Church universal. That’s easy to affirm. I’m talking about the local church. The little one on the corner of Walnut and Main.
The mega one overlooking the I-44/I-555 junction. The house one that meets in your apartment complex. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a card-carrying offspring of twentieth-century “foreign missions.” I am the grandson, son, and father of missionaries. I never intended to remain in the United States. So when God interrupted my journey to “the mission field” by calling me to become a pastor in the U.S., it rocked my world. Once I reconciled myself to that unexpected turn of events, I purposed to at least develop “missions-minded churches,” and proceeded to do just that for more than a decade. For more than twenty years I have served in various staff capacities with a young mission agency focused primarily on sending cross-cultural witnesses internationally.
So what’s my problem with the idea of “missions-minded churches?” Nothing, really. The problem comes when it is not counterbalanced with the corresponding recognition that mission agencies need to recognize the God-ordained place of the local church. Having been on both the receiving and giving end of mission mobilization efforts, I’ve come to the uncomfortable conviction that, although we who are agency mobilizers have said our aim was to “mobilize the church for missions,” our real aim has too often been to mobilize the church for “our mission.” Our efforts have been both utilitarian and self-serving. In recent years, help not only for congregations, but also for mission agencies, has come from the growing “missional church” movement. In the preface to a pivotal work on the subject, authors Alan J. Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk write:
Just as its Lord is a mission-shaped God, so the community of God’s people exists, not for themselves, but for the sake of the work. Mission is therefore not a program or project some people in the church do from time to time (as in “mission trip,” “mission budget,” and so on); the church’s very nature is to be God’s missionary people. (2006, xv)
When congregations and agencies alike begin to embrace this vision, both are rescued from a minimalist understanding of and perfunctory engagement in the missio dei. Mission agencies must recognize that a truly “missional church” is one that has embraced the whole mission of God in the whole world (including the church’s own community) that God loves. As such, mission agencies serve the kingdom purposes even more powerfully when we come alongside local congregations, equipping them to more effectively engage their communities and the world. And congregations serve kingdom purposes more powerfully when they serve in tandem with mission agencies and other members of the Body of Christ to accomplish his mission.
Moving toward the kind of church/agency collaboration that is both biblically faithful and practically effective will involve: (1) acknowledging and ditching some unwanted baggage and (2) embracing more healthy attitudes and moving toward more effective collaboration.
As mission agencies, our goal can easily become to mobilize the Church for our mission, not for God’s mission. Church ministries staff can begin to correct this as we help congregations embrace a biblically-balanced, holistic mission approach that reaches beyond the particular ministries our agency can personally resource.1
For their part, local churches should admit that they have often been seduced into a “go-it-alone” mentality or a “Jerusalem-only” (local missions only) ministry. Recognizing that mission agencies have typically developed special competencies in cross-cultural ministry, church mission leaders should seek the collaboration of agencies both in outreach to unreached or under-reached population segments in their own communities as well as globally.
A more healthy church/agency relationship will be based on serving one another for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Remembering that great things can be accomplished for God when we don’t care who gets the credit, churches and agencies should pursue more effective collaborative efforts, minimizing concerns for ownership and recognition while placing ultimate value on God’s glory and the extension of God’s kingdom.
1. The Mission Society’s Global Outreach Seminar and related advanced training tools are an example of such an approach to mobilizing churches for mission (http://themissionsociety.org/go/for_my_church/).
Roxburgh, Alan J. and Fred Romanuk. 2006. The Missional Leader. Hoboken, N.J.: Jossey-Bass
Unhelpful Mission Agency Attitudes toward Local Churches
→ Congregations should “support” the agency’s work. After all,
the Great Commission is the agency’s to fulfill.
→ The local church is primarily a source of recruits and finances for
→ Congregations are difficult to deal with, slow to make decisions,
inwardly-focused, and often not interested in reaching the wider world.
Unhealthy Local Church Attitudes toward Mission Agencies
→ Indifference: churches, in fact, have often failed to embrace
“missions” as its mission.
→ Independence: other churches are committed to cross-cultural
missions, but feel they can do the job without the help of agencies.
→ Resistance: churches hold mission agencies at bay, fearing that
agencies have only come for their people and money.
The Rev. Dick McClain is the president and CEO of The Mission Society, an Atlanta-based missionary sending agency whose missionaries serve in thirty-five countries. McClain is the son and grandson of missionaries and is an ordained United Methodist minister.
EMQ, Vol. 46, No. 2, pp. 136-137. Copyright © 2010 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.