COMPARTMENTALIZING, categorization, and silo making. You may not realize it, but if you are a North American or a church in North America, you are good at these.
COMPARTMENTALIZING, categorization, and silo making. You may not realize it, but if you are a North American or a church in North America, you are good at these. We have our local community projects and funds here, our international projects and funds there. Our city activists are here, our global people are out there (somewhere). Our ‘missional’ philosophy and efforts are here in our neighborhoods, our global ‘missions’ are far away from here.
The language and understanding of what’s called ‘missional living’ has been with us for over a decade. This is a mandate that calls each of us, as well as our churches, to reckon with the idea that as Christ-followers we all have the opportunity and responsibility to partner with God in his missio Dei. Being on mission with God is an acknowledgement of who we have been called to be in this world, and none of us are exempt!
Wherever God has us (our homes, communities, or places of worship), Jesus calls us to see ourselves as his missionaries. So the Church has considered ‘missional living’ for a significant amount of time now. We have looked at ourselves differently and we have looked at our homes, communities, and churches differently. And it has been a good thing. But a further question is this: In what way does missional living and partnering with God in the missio Dei affect our global missions efforts?
For quite some time the answer to this question for many churches (and many other North American ministries) has been the idea of personal involvement in short-term missions (which has also been a good thing). Many followers of Jesus, along with their churches, have seen short-term mission as a healthy move away from just supporting missions in the traditional sense to being involved personally in God’s global work in the world. It has even been seen as a closer way to partner with God in the missio Dei.
But is this good enough? Does short-term missions, in the sense that many have experienced it, provide the best answer to the question that missional living is asking of us? Is short-term missions a logical step of continuity for ourselves and our churches in how missional living affects our global missions efforts?
Although short-term missions has been with us for at least thirty years with millions of people going each year, one of its biggest shortcomings is contained in its name: SHORT-term missions. One of the main characteristics of a missional lifestyle, where one considers themselves (and/or their church) to be on mission or partnering with God (missio Dei) is found in the re-education (for many of us as North Americans) on the importance of relationships. If you look at your home, neighborhood, community, etc., living out a missional life means living out a life of long-term, integral relationships, and most often, this is the aspect of short-term mission that fails to reflect one of the most important characteristics of the missional lifestyle.
Is there a way that we as churches can be true to our emerging missional lifestyle emphasis on vital relationships when it comes to what we do globally through short-term missions?
So how do we address this disparity? Is there a way that we as churches can be true to our emerging missional lifestyle emphasis on vital relationships when it comes to what we do globally through short-term missions? The answer is to go about our global efforts with the same long-term, relationship-driven missional emphasis that we apply to our efforts closer to home. This is where a push toward relationship-driven Sister Church Partnerships (SCPs) looks to develop a missional philosophy where short-term mission efforts are done in the context of long-term mutual relationships.
SCPs provide a context for churches to consistently apply all that they’re seeking to do in partnering with God through missional living on the global scale as well as at home. A number of critical issues are addressed in these partnerships: long-term relationships; short-term mission projects; support raising efforts; and connection, communication, coordination, and collaboration between the two partnering churches.
When looking at Jesus’ words in Acts 1:8 (“you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth…”) and seeing the fleshing out of his words throughout the rest of the book, we follow this progression that churches were founded, developed, and continued in relationship to each other, even as “the ends of the earth” approached. Long-term relationships between the churches of the first century became the key to an emerging network of congregations across the known world, and we seek to continue that networking/expansion on the basis of those same types of long-term relationships.
Our context for a global missional lifestyle is to be found not in independent, single church efforts (short term and otherwise), but in partnering, even Sister Church Partnering, in each others’ communities and networks globally for the long haul.
Defined in this way, with their intended focus on long-term relationships first and foremost, Sister Church Partnerships present churches with a consistent way to apply missional living on a global scale. If you are a pastor or church leader who is passionate about giving your church opportunities to live missionally in your own community, think about how a relationship-based approach may be a consistent answer to what missional living looks like in our global efforts.
As these relationship-based partnerships are formed again and again across the Global Church, imagine the presence that such a relational network could be in this world. Can we conceive a kingdom community that reflects and exemplifies the very heart of our Trinitarian God, who himself exists in the vital relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Can we imagine multiple examples of relationship-based Sister Church Partnerships networking together across the globe, all with the intention of partnering with that same Trinitarian God in the missio Dei? Now THAT would be a good thing.
. . . .
Randy Schmor and his wife, Shelly, direct Gateway Teams and is on the board of SOE (Standards of Excellence in Short-term Mission). He has led and trained numerous short-term mission teams over the past two decades.
EMQ, Vol. 52, No. 2 pp. 190-193. Copyright © 2016 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.
Questions for Reflection
1. Have you observed the ‘missional conversation’ to be primarily a domestic affair for churches? In what ways?
2. How have you experienced global missions to be different when its focus has been on ‘relationships first’ rather than ‘projects first,’ ‘outreach first,’ etc.?
3. Does short-term mission make more sense within the context of connecting congregations of believers with each other? What are the downsides of emphasizing (admitting?) that this is the best focus for mission trips?