by Greg Livingstone
Cooperation—if not merger—is needed between various mission organizations.
Not long ago, a distraught Bible college student said, "I don’t know whether God is calling me to the Muslim world or if it’s peer pressure."
Peer pressure to go to the Muslim world? The remark surprised me-and opened my eyes. I remember when God’s people were almost entirely unaware of the existence of Muslims. However, times have changed, and the surging interest of the church to evangelize Muslims continues to astonish me.
At Urbana ’84 there were 29 seminars and workshops on Islam and Muslims, nearly all of them packed and overflowing into hallways.
Missions organizations that do not work among Muslims are increasingly feeling pressure to "get with it." An executive of Worldteam complained that as soon as inquirers learned that Worldteam did not work among Muslims, the inquirer lost interest in talking to them.
Is it possible that in the next two decades God is intending to open the eyes of tens of thousands of Muslims? Is he preparing his church for a great harvest, a harvest never before imagined?
I believe the honor of Jesus Christ is at stake. Missions organizations must prepare for this harvest. I have been warning mission agencies for several years to be prepared for the avalanche of young people God is now calling. We have a one-inch diameter pipe unable to receive the new flow of candidates. Unless we restructure our agencies, many will not get placed in neglected areas.
Cooperation—if not merger—is needed between various mission organizations. For years I was intimidated by laymen who frowningly inquired, "Why can’t Christian missions work together more than they do?" Reluctantly, I rose to the defense, explaining how complicated cooperation is when agencies have their distinctive histories, slants, culture, and seniority systems. Few of these businessmen-who daily witness cooperation in the business world-were satisfied. Neither was I.
Have we lost consciousness that we are indeed battling against principalities and powers? Does our minimal cooperation lie in our loss of wartime mentality? Have we become jaded and therefore no longer bothered by almost 900 million Muslims facing a Christless eternity? Would reflection on 40,000 Muslims passing daily into hell cause us to assign more management problem-solvers into inter-mission management by objectives?
Here on the campus of the U.S. Center for World Mission (USCWM) we live in the shadow, or skeleton, of Ralph Winter’s dream. Perhaps Winter was naive to believe mission agencies would in fact interface and solve problems together by utilizing the gifts and strengths of each agency. Winter’s motive is to accelerate getting pioneer missionaries to people groups still without a church.
But as chairman of the USCWM board, it is my impression that we in Pasadena also tend to fall into the same survival mode as other agencies. We have little creative time left over for the overall task.
Perhaps it is fear that keeps us from going beyond warm smiles, handshakes, and generic slogans at annual retreats.
We fear being controlled by others outside our mission. As Ralph Winter discovered, mission agencies find it difficult to believe another agency really wants to help. We suspect ulterior motives.
We fear the unknown. We set up a "safety zone" around ourselves that consists of the known and tested and are afraid to venture beyond its secure boundaries.
An interesting case study took place in 1978 when North Africa Mission (NAM) approached Sudan Interior Mission (SIM) about a possible merger. A good deal of money and man-hours were spent trying to bring it to pass. However, it was ultimately defeated by a referendum of NAM field missionaries who apparently feared being controlled by a larger mission. Yet to my amazement, many SIM leaders continued to help NAM stand on its own feet. Their actions, in effect, made merger no longer necessary.
I was so moved by their giving spirit and unlikely actions, and so curious, that I asked them point blank, "Why are you helping NAM so much?"
With a genuine smile, one of them asked, "Do you want to know the real reasons?"
"Yes, please," I replied.
His answer came as an unexpected surprise, "Because we suspect God likes it."
That experience was a lesson I’ll never forget. I determined at that moment, by God’s grace, to be a giver, to be a resource to co-workers outside my own mission.
The following suggestions are made in the hope that inter-mission cooperation among missions to Islam can be increased.
Reorganize and reorient our regional representatives. They can be spokesmen for several sister missions in churches and colleges. Ralph Winter has been a prophet crying in the wilderness, asking why we can’t send our most gifted spokesmen to colleges and churches to represent the Muslim work of eight to 10 agencies. Bob Sjogren, who heads up recruiting for Frontiers, has determined to give every inquirer a brochure from North Africa Mission along with the brochure from Frontiers. Inquirers who want a more dispensationally oriented mission are referred to International Missions. People interested in medical work are referred to TEAM or SIM.
Recently, Frontiers has turned its two recruiting vans over to Caleb Project which plans to form student mobilization teams made up of candidates from five different missions in each of five vans.
Let’s be frank-some people are more gifted in motivating people to join missions than others. I see no reason why several missions can’t utilize these gifted recruiters and reassign the nonrecruiting types to minister in areas of their strengths.
Common media. In the past I can remember seeing joint mission pamphlets dealing with the Muslim world. We need more of that. We need to produce and distribute common literature, films, video, and books. The Fellowship of Faith for Muslims has contacted all of us so they could do a larger printing of the booklet, Christianity’s Greatest Opportunity. Why don’t we do a lot more co-publishing?
Computer processing. It will be interesting to see how mission organizations respond to Inter-Varsity’s "fish pond" of recruitable people gleaned from the Urbana decisions. Will the top -"draft choices" feel like All-American high school athletes besieged by coaches from a multitude of colleges? Perhaps the best solution is to develop a screening process that would accelerate applicant placement to field assignments that best fit their individual gifts and sense of calling.
Increased loaning of personnel. In Frontiers we are well aware that we cannot plant churches among Muslims with inexperienced team leaders, unless we have the advantage of circuit-riding resource people from other missions.
When mission executives visit the field we should create an atmosphere where their best thinking would be welcomed by those missionaries from other missions. Inter-mission retreats should not consist of merely a devotional emphasis, but also include critical thinking, evaluation, and strategizing.
I feel deeply that we have not only made a mistake, but have been cruel in "sending ones and twos here and there." This holds especially true of the oppressive, hostile Muslim world. When we have only two or three ready for an area, we can put them on the same team with others from another mission. Later, as personnel increased, two church planting teams in separate areas of the city could be formed. Surely we will see much more accomplished if we can together place eight to 12 persons in a Muslim city or people group where they can serve as mutual enablers in working toward the planting of the same Muslim convert church.
A cooperative journal. It would focus on disciple-making and church planting in the Muslim world. It’s amazing how much in the dark we are as to what other missions are attempting and why. If we’re serious about the Muslim world that accounts for one-fifth of the world’s population, then isn’t it time we expanded NAM’s church growth journal to include serious case studies from across the Muslim world?
Sharing of finances. This is perhaps the touchiest subject of all. We should explore the possibility of creating a "United Fund" approach to the Muslim World. A fund of this type could be administered by our Islamics Committee, for example. Missions would then make proposals to this committee, and the committee in turn would distribute the "United Fund" according to set guidelines.
Many smaller missions dream of having a development department. But it takes finances to develop a department that in turn would concentrate on widening their financial base. Can you dream with me that we could have a cooperative development department for four to eight missions, particularly in the areas of deferred giving, estate planning, direct mail, and working with foundations and corporations? I strongly feel that we will not see a breakthrough in church planting in the Muslim world as long as we’re preoccupied with financial survival.
Only when we get appropriately gifted people in the right places will we see progress. Yet so often in our smaller missions, we have people wearing too many hats – people who do a good job in one area, but mediocre work in three or four other areas. We need to better implement stewardship of ministry skills in our missions.
Subcontracting. Smaller missions could subcontract some functions to larger missions. It has often been said that an efficient home staff can facilitate and serve more missionaries than it has. Meanwhile, other missions do not have enough personnel to properly provide for the missionaries they have. To solve the problem, some missions could do receipting, payroll, and bank transfers for other, smaller missions.
Muslim awareness seminars. Churches across North America want to have Islam featured at their missions conferences. With the help of the Zwemer Institute we could put together a package that would be unforgettably dynamic and yet usable by all those who are involved in Muslim work. A traveling team could be assembled just for this purpose, representing several missions. The churches would love it and our missions would get greater visibility and credibility.
Advertising. Now may be the time to establish the United Missions to Muslim Association (UMMA). The formation of UMMA would serve to deepen our practical cooperation. None of us is interested in more bureaucracy or being controlled by some committee, but should our fear of the worst prevent us from taking bold new steps to get the job done in the Muslim world? Why not start with joint ads regarding possibilities of service in the 44 Muslim countries?
Candidate schools and training. We should all have the best lectures by the most fruitful missionaries to Islam in videotape libraries. By doing so, all could glean from the wisdom of Don McCurry, Phil Parshall, Bill Call, Rose Baer, Dick Corley, and others. Candidate schools could be combined so that those heading to the Muslim world could train with 30 others rather than just a few. Some denominations have been having joint candidate schools for years. The classes could be divided to deal with areas of each mission’s distinctives.
All of the above suggestions will take hard thinking and hard work, all of which is unpalatable to already overworked personnel. However, implementation of some of the suggestions could help to take some of that load off their shoulders. Perhaps God would have us realign our priorities with the result that thousands upon thousands of Muslims would worship him for all eternity.
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