by Philip Armstrong
Let’s find out what God wants for the future, then do it even if our obedience means radical changes.
Let’s take a look at the future. Many faith missions have had a glorious past. Are we big enough to meet the demands ahead? We ask ourselves, "Are we wanted overseas?" "Can we conscientiously recruit candidates?" "Can we justify any claim to support of home churches?" "Has God given us some biblical principles?"
Let’s find out what God wants for the future, then do it even if our obedience means radical changes.
One mission executive says, "The faith mission of the future must provide a vehicle which by its structure and personnel is capable of interacting with its ever-changing environment." Here then are the questions we must answer.
WHAT KIND OF MISSIONARIES IN THE FUTURE?
You ask, "With growing nationalism overseas, is there a place for a foreigner?" Apart from situations gone sour, the answer of the church at large is Yes, for several reasons:
The presence of foreigners reminds them of the fact that they too are foreigners, heavenly citizens, pilgrims and strangers on earth. Foreigners often complement the native gift of the church in temperament, in skills and in ministry. Foreigners can break down the difference between sending and receiving countries; our presence is a constant reminder that biblically there is no such thing as a national church or even an international church – only the church universal. Foreigners recognize the danger that Christianity in any country can tend to be absorbed by its culture rather than speak to it. The presence of foreigners can serve as a catalyst to keep the Christian community constantly aware of its message to the world.
What problems will face the Americans serving overseas in the future? First, the nationalism we must be concerned about is our own. Aware of this, we can be foreigners and be free to admit it. Young missionaries tend to succumb to two extremes in regard to nationalism overseas, fear or favor. Both are wrong. Even the unconverted can sense when the foreigner is fearful, holding back, unable to give himself with his message. But patronage is just as hard to take. A Japanese Christian studying in the United States was asked her reaction to Christians she had met here. Her reply was, "They are wonderful. If only they would pat me on the back instead of on the head."
The missionary of tomorrow must be able to play contradictory roles. He is simultaneously a guest, a servant, an apostle, and a disciple. He must be able to find his place of service with every appearance of stability and contentment, yet hold lightly to his position so he can build up others and back off at the same time.
The young missionary must learn that even among those he has led to Christ any paternal relationship must become fraternal if it is to last. The missionary of tomorrow must be able to maintain consecutively the relationship of mother, father, or brother. More frequently, however, he must discern that almost indistinguishable line that separates infancy from adolescence and adolescence from adulthood. He must have some experience in group dynamics, some ability to live at the level of the community which he seeks to serve, and some capacity to identify himself wholly, without imposing himself or his service on the culture or the church.
So much for the missionary personally. What about his ministry? Educational standards in young nations are going up. The missionary of tomorrow must be able to make "full proof of his ministry" overseas. In some ways he must be more gifted than ever before. But this puts him in a peculiar position. Normally, he comes from an older Western church to a younger church overseas. His sound theological training and experience in Christian service is not available to nationals with whom he will work. He has the wealth and affluence of America behind him. Will this background of maturity, training, and affluence not kill any camaraderie between him and his fellow Christian workers overseas?
If so, how can we assure a really gifted missionary candidate of success? He must have gifts himself. But he must also be able to discern them and impart them to others. General Motors puts it this way in a pamphlet: "Unless a leader derives his chief compensation from the progress and accomplishment of his followers, he had better step down and proceed as an individual or as a follower."
Tomorrow’s missionary may find himself needed but not wanted. Methods and machines from America are the things most admired by people overseas today. The day may come when the church will say, "Give us your money and equipment and. keep your men." The preparation of technical skills as well as the recognition of spiritual gifts may be necessary to make the missionary acceptable as a servant of God. But the missionary technician had better have something besides a materialistic, technical outlook if he wants to be wanted as well as needed. The missionary specialist must set a continuing example of personal witness in his own home, his social life, his partnership with fellow Christians, and his training of future staff. This will place him at the growing edge of the church.
A missionary in Japan put it this way: "We need missionaries who can tap heaven’s resources through prayer, witness and preach, live and work with others, take both the back seat and front seat (sometimes both at the same time), bounce back when knocked down, manage a day’s schedule with little or no supervision, whose call is so sure that they can persevere in spite of conflict."
WHERE WILL WE FIND SUCH RECRUITS?
Today missions usually recruit candidates in our educational institutions. The candidate goes home after graduation and tells his church that he has applied to the "Greater Global Missionary Society," which the church never knew existed, and he is puzzled because the church will not support him. He has had only an extracurricular relationship to his home church.
We must restore to the local church its prerogative to set apart the Paul and Barnabas of today. Faith missions are in a unique position to do this. One characteristic of faith missions most admired is the close personal tie between the missionary and his supporting church. Let’s build on this. But the church must be allowed more role than simply support. The mission must provide missionary education aimed at recruitment for every age level in the local church.
The trend has been the other direction. Mail-order promotion of missions has almost saturated the Christian public. The day may come when high-pressure fund-raising organizations and relief projects may well jeopardize the future missionary program of the local church. Missions promotion and deputation should be bent on building the church’s own sense of responsibility. The missionary candidate and those on furlough in the future must learn to minister if they expect to be ministered unto; they must give of themselves, at home as well as on the field, if they are to get.
WHAT ABOUT MISSION STRUCTURES?
What about the mission structure of the future? Constant tension on the international scene and the rapid rate of change in underdeveloped countries pose peculiar problems for the mission leaders of tomorrow. The self-hood of new nations and of the young churches means they will increasingly object to the establishment of any permanent organization from the West. One missionary put it to me this way: "They don’t object to me because I am an American, or because I am white; they object to me because I represent a source of authority over which they have no control."
Reverse the picture. Would you tolerate a mission board next door to the church in your town? Particularly if they had unlimited facilities, professionally- trained personnel, and a budget that would make the budget of your church look like it was playing sandlot baseball beside a major league ball team?
Let’s look for some answers. How can we make the mission as unobtrusive as possible? Are we willing to structure the mission so that authority does not rest in North America? Would we consider such complete decentralization of authority that all work overseas is directed by the workers? Is the mission willing to function in complete harmony and fellowship with the church?
ARE NEW KINDS OF LEADERS NEEDED?
We may face demands of changes in leadership as well as structure. Population explosion and urbanization demand a creativity we have not yet seen. Does the mission of today have the capacity to prepare itself for such leadership tomorrow? If it does not have the leadership in its ranks now, is it prepared to accept candidates whose gifts and training far exceed those of its present membership? If so, is the mission willing to appoint future leadership on the basis of gifts rather than the basis of seniority? I predict that the creativity of the mission tomorrow will be determined by the caliber of candidates we attract today.
Can mission leadership recognize gifts without race or nationality? Has the organization become such an end in itself that it can only recognize gifts from within its membership? Or, will we work under those who are more gifted who may be outside the mission organization? If not, we are destined to operate overseas as permanent outsiders. The mission of the future will have to go one of two ways: either become a tightly knit, selfsufficient organization which can offer its workers security in itself in an unsettled world, or identify itself and its work so completely with the evangelical church overseas that the missionary finds his security in bonds of fellowship that far outstrip any organization entity.
WHAT ABOUT FINANCIAL AID OVERSEAS?
The inter-relationship we have been describing will put the mission of the future under many watchful eyes. It will demand a discipline in our attitude toward funds, for example, that most of us have never known. I am afraid that in the past the so-called faith principle has worked on a basis of supply rather than demand. That is, if the mission received the funds, it alone was custodian, cashier, and disbursing officer. Many a project has been approved because of the popularity of the individual with his donors rather than in response to strategic consultation with national brethren as to its actual need. In the future, indigenous principles will hold little water if a mission’s access to funds gives it the right to regulate their use.
Any mission operation overseas must avoid two financial pitfalls in the coming generation- foreign capital investment and so-called Christian charity, handouts to the underprivileged.
Foreign investment overseas cannot help but be labeled imperialistic. In the past we have thought in terms of mission property and mission schools, mission programs and institutions. In the future we must invest in skills and tools. We can give instruments of self-help that will build the self-respect of the national worker and the self-sufficiency of the national church.
When provision of property is necessary, can we make it our goal that capital investment will be made only when the church is ready to receive it and in its name? Even then mutual responsibility for distribution of funds is not enough. If the overseas church is to function alongside the mission without a sense of inferiority, it must share the responsibility for both providing and disbursing of funds.
The U.S. government is a rather recent participant in poverty programs overseas; missions have been doing it for years. But we cannot continue to look upon younger nations as the "white man’s burden." Hand-outs from the well-meaning wealthy are just as hard to accept overseas as they are here at home. Biblically, we are ordered to share (II Corinthians 8:13-14), but can we give out of a sense of stewardship, not ownership? Can we, one of the most prosperous churches in history, rack our brains to find creative ways of giving so the blessing, instead of the burden, is on the recipient?
Every Oriental country has a word for this sense of burden. Filipinos refer to it as "utang na lamb;" Japanese call it "giri;" meaning "inner obligation" or " debt." Culturally, if we give what they cannot repay, we build up that embarrassing indebtedness of feudal memory. Today young churches in young republics want to know, or at least to feel, that they are not only self-sufficient but have something to contribute to Christians world-over. We must not only find creative ways to give without increasing that sense of obligation, but also find contributions the church overseas can make to fulfill its sense of mission. This is the basis of church growth.
WHAT ABOUT THE CHURCH THAT EMERGES?
Imagine yourself as a member of a church on the mission field. You find yourself a part of a minority group, defending the faith, possibly preparing yourself for persecution, and content with self-containment. You would be admonished to take responsibility by a missionary who prefaced his pleas with, "If we have to leave…" The young church of the future cannot find its security in foreigners. Where can it? Four things must mark the church we bring into being. Otherwise, it will never outlast our lifetime or extend itself beyond our outreach.
As a minority movement in a country, the church must have a sense of community. People must belong. Each convert must feel a part of a new family if he is not to end up as a "sociological island. " He must be conscious of some world-wide context and historical continuity for his faith,
The church must have a sense of authority to which people can submit. "No man finds his freedom until he finds his master." Base his Christian experience on a new authority if you expect to replace the other lords he has served in his old life. Total surrender to Jesus Christ and by the absolute authority of the Scriptures provide this.
The church must have a sense of security . Cults, Christian as well as non-Christian, have taken every country by storm. They come and they go. A brand-new missionary in Japan was asked, "Do you want to start a church? Buy a lot and put up a sign, ‘Cemetery.’ If people know that you have provided a place for their bones, they will believe." In countries torn with revolution there is little to hold on to. Eternal security is not enough. A man’s relationship with Christ must provide a very present help in time of need.
The church must provide a sense of responsibility to call forth every ounce of commitment. Community, authority, and security are not enough, men respond to need. In the Little Flock Movement, with which Watchman Nee is associated, the teaching-elder in a group of believers has as one of his responsibilities to discern the gift of every new convert. We have waited for maturity before giving responsibility. Instead, responsibility produces maturity. Only some sense of mission will take the new convert in a non-Christian culture off the defensive. Give the church all four qualities and it will be self-propagating.
IS THE TASK TOO DIFFICULT?
Yes and no. Hazards, yes. But depth and breadth of breakthrough with the gospel is possible in ways never available to another generation. The mission that will be selective in personnel, creative in leadership, committed to the church in the land where it serves, and stewards of any material or technical trust God puts upon us, has glorious days ahead. We have a- message and means of communicating it at our disposal, without which the church in any given country would be disastrously limited in its ability to complete the task of world evangelism. The missionary of the future who gives himself to the development of others and places these mass communication skills at every level of the church, will find himself a happy man, long needed and much appreciated by the church of the future.
Faith missions, under the guidance of God, could become some of the most creative agencies overseas a generation from now. Our mission structure is such that, if we are open to serious self-examination, we could be most capable of change. Change we must. The next era may be the most important in history. It could be consummation! Let us explore every known need and exploit every means of communication; then find capable men to make the most of it.
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