by Harmon Alden Johnson
A few years ago at a student missionary rally an earnest young American Christian rose to his feet to ask several very searching questions of the missionary speaker concerning some of the things he had seen on the field during a visit to Africa.
A few years ago at a student missionary rally an earnest young American Christian rose to his feet to ask several very searching questions of the missionary speaker concerning some of the things he had seen on the field during a visit to Africa. The leaders of the meeting embarrassingly hurried on to other questions. After the session they called him aside to explain that they recognized the validity of his criticisms, but felt that it would be detrimental to the "cause" to publicize the negative aspects of missions.
This unfortunate attitude has, from the beginning of the era of modern missions, prevented the evangelical missionary enterprise from objectively looking at itself. There is certainly no other enterprise on earth involving a comparable investment of men and money that spends less time and effort in self-analysis.
Happily, this situation is changing. Increasingly, we see evidences of a healthy change of attitude that recognizes the need for greater objectivity in mission reporting, for clearer goals in mission, and for that analytical self-measurement which will help us to be faithful stewards.
One reason for the lack of adequate self-measurement has been the nature of mission promotion. Early in the era of modern missions the opposition of ecclesiastical authorities, which resulted in the establishment of mission societies on the principle of free association,1 produced an orientation that emphasized mission as apostolate but did not define the task of the sent one in terms of church. The congregations which developed almost incidentally were understood by the missions as static reproductions of European or American churches as the end result of incorporating believers rather than as the dynamic expression of missions which they were. It is this mentality which develops a strategy that says: (I) Our long range goal is to plant a church in every community. (2) Our immediate goal is to evangelize every creature. The truth is that the growth of the church has reversed the order.
Deliberately or accidentally, the church planters have as an immediate goal the planting of a church in every community as the means to preach the Gospel to every creature. There is no surer way. R. Pierce Beaver has said, ` As God sent His Son, so the Son has sent His body, the Church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to preach the Gospel of reconciliation to the whole world. The Church exists primarily to witness to this good news, and every other function of the Church is subsidiary and contributory to this purpose."2 To find our way back to this biblical position is a difficult task. The "elective" nature of mission as it has been conceived by the church has made fund-raising one of the most important activities of boards and societies. Missions have tended to emphasize those aspects of missionary activity which loosen purse strings. As missions have evolved, so have those aspects of mission which they have emphasized. Present emphases illustrate this.
New attitudes are called for in the minds of members of new churches as well as in the minds of the churches which, for many years, have been the chief supporters of missionary work. We have already noticed how these supporters still too often think of the work in terms of "our missionaries." The Church overseas remains an interesting concept, but lacks for the majority of mission-supporters the compelling emotional appeal of the old-fashioned picture of the pioneer missionary preaching in distant lands to simple folk who had never heard the Gospel before.3
The existence of urban churches on the mission field that may be in need of mission help is somehow less romantic, less adventurous, and therefore less apt to attract contributors than more exotic specialized ministries, such as to unreached tribes or in some types of institutions. By making missions an esoteric craft, missions have created a mentality on the part of home constituency which conceives of mission as something other than church. This phase of mission promotion has tended to play down the true nature of the missionary as churchman.
To measure the effectiveness of church development and mission-church relationships, we must deal with the foremost problems facing social scientists today. Techniques and tools have been developed which will successfully measure social phenomena, but the problem of criteria for evaluation still must be solved. If we are to be successful in our attempt we must begin by establishing criteria.
What do we mean by church development? If there is any aspect of church development which is measurable, it is that expression of church which is recognizable as a social phenomenon. We do not mean to minimize the significance of the truth of the church as a spiritual body that answers to spiritual laws. Our point is that this spiritual dimension is not directly measurable. "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is everyone that is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8).
At the same time we cannot take refuge in generalizations concerning this truth at the expense of an objective analysis of ourselves and our task. God manifests Himself through His Church in this world and it is this social phenomenon which is observable. If we will refrain from attempting to define the undefinable or to measure the infinite, and confine our efforts to evaluating that part of the work of God which a left for us to do, we will avoid that presumption which tries to tell God how to work.
LACK OF STATISTICS
The most easily measured characteristic of church development is numerical growth achieved. In spite of this, adequate statistics do not exist for most mission fields. In part, this is explainable by the historical accident of Protestant missions which we have already mentioned.
Another reason for the lack of statistics has been an imagined antithesis between quantity and quality. There has persisted the idea that quantity diminishes quality. The truth is that each is a kind of measure of the other. If the quantity growth has quality it will continue. If growth does not continue it indicates the possibility of a lack of quality. Only life in God can produce sustained numerical growth year after year. If the quality does not produce quantity commensurate with the growth others are having, it is proven to be lacking in some dimension of true quality. The nature of the church is to grow. "That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us" (1 John 1:3) . It is not self-seeking on the part of the church which prompts her to evangelize, but an unselfish desire to share her life in God with those whom she recognizes as lost and in need of a Savior.
The other major reason for the lack of statistics is the one that concerns us most. It is the lack of statistical methodology on the part of both churches and missions. Any attempt at improving our effectiveness must begin with the development of a statistical methodology for church measurement. Standard categories must be agreed upon for membership, constituents, communicants, community, and so on. Dr. Donald McGavran has pointed out that "different churches assign slightly different theological meanings to the various categories of membership, but the sociological reality all are reporting is quite similar."4 The pioneering effort done in this field by the Institute of Church Growth can provide a base for the necessary research in developing standardized terminology.
Given this terminology we can utilize a series of formulae to compare present membership with total population, with the homogeneous units being reached, with the membership of other churches and missions in the same field, and with the growth of other religions, to compare present growth rates with population, and develop thereby an objective understanding of numerical growth achieved as contrasted with the usual promotional picture on which we have relied too heavily. To understand what we should do we must see what we have done.
There are, as well, some aspects of church which are measurable as an indication of qualitative growth. While it is manifestly impossible to measure spiritual life, an objective careful measurement of such phenomena as church attendance, stewardship, evangelistic effectiveness, the frequency and kind of church activities, the number and quality of candidates to the ministry, the social concern that the church evinces, and the proportion of membership involved in church activities would show something of the qualitative growth achieved.
There is one other aspect of church development which needs to be studied in our analysis of the missionary effort, and that is the organic growth. Besides the numerical growth and the growth in grace and knowledge, the church needs that kind of growth which results in the institutional church. It is significant that this is the aspect of church growth which is presently under the fiercest attack. The church is seen as being too occupied with self-aggrandizement. The cure for this is, as seen by these critics, is to ad hoc everything. Bypassing the structures of the existing church, Christians should move out into the world, become part of historical processes in shaping society and thus, in some undefined way, reveal Christ. This unscriptural view has developed, for the most part, in static churches that are not fulfilling a vital ministry of reconciliation. Since they themselves have not experienced dynamic life in God, they seek a more effective role for the church in secular activity. Too long, for them, the church has concerned itself with its own affairs. We confess that too many times the organic development of the church has become an end in itself, to the detriment of all concerned. Having said this, though, we maintain that the organic growth of the church can and should result in that level of maturity and effectiveness of ministry which Beyerhaus and Lefever have called the responsible selfhood of the church. This would include the development of functional organization, autonomy, and the emergence of indigenous worship norms, church architecture, music, literature, leadership, and so on.
The responsible selfhood of the Church is a much deeper thing than mere independence we may perhaps define it as the Church’s power, readiness and freedom to follow its divine call within its sphere of life. In this definition three ideas are joined together. First, there is the thought of the Church’s real power and freedom to follow its divine call. Foreign help, whether in money or personal service, must always promote this power and freedom if it is not to injure the integrity and responsibility of the Church. Secondly, the definition reminds us that every church exists in a particular environment. Its members belong to this environment, at least as far as their physical existence is concerned, as citizens of this world, and it is in this environment first of all that the Church is called to exercise its missionary vocation. A missionary church must be an indigenous church related to the soil and permeating society. Thirdly, the concept of responsibility, with its close association with autonomy and independence, implies freedom from outside influences and control which would hinder the Church from exercising its vocation. These influences may come from the parent churches or from secular powers.5
The first step in the establishing of guidelines for measuring mission-church relationships must be the outlining of the functional patterns involved. For the purposes of this article, I will attempt a preliminary classification which may prove helpful. This is not a description of formal organization but of functional relationships.
Generally, the beginning of a mission’s work in a field is pioneer. The functional relationship may be outlined as follows: (F=funds, P=personnel, I=institutions, C=local churches.)
F, P, I, C
No organizational structure is necessarily implied by the diagram, although such a structure may exist. The idea is that the mission administers, officially or unofficially, funds, personnel, institutions, and local churches.
Eventually, as the national church evolves, it begins have a part in administration. This may be an almost immediate step (ideally), or may come at the end of a long struggle between church and mission in which the mission reluctant retreats.
The usual second step is:
F, P, I, C
Again, no organizational structure is necessarily implied. This diagram. would represent a stage at which the national church serves as an adjunct of mission. In the various expressions of this phase, the national church may have authority over some aspects of the work such as responsibility for local churches.
One other common pattern:
F, P, I, C
The mission still administers the work but through the national church. This pattern may or may not involve corresponding organizational structure. The mission may administer some aspects of the work, such as institutions, independently of the church; the church may have sole authority over other aspects, but the essential relationship is a pattern of mission control.
The development of the church toward autonomy may take one of two paths. Under the one pattern, the mission bebecomes an adjunct of the church:
F, P, I, C
Effective control has passed to the hands of the church. This is usually formalized by some change in structure. The various aspects of the church are administered by the national church. The role of the mission is to serve the church in such aspects as are mutually agreed upon by the church and mission. This pattern may evolve to the eventual assimilation of the mission by the church or the withdrawal of the mission in recognition of the church’s maturity:
F, P, I, C
The relationship between church and mission would then be one of sister churches sharing cooperative ministries.
The other pattern would be the simultaneous development of church and mission in the same field:
F, P, I, C
F, P, I, C
Each may be responsible for similar, even overlapping or conflicting ministries. This can come as the result of an explosion stemming from unresolved missionary tensions.
On the other hand, this simultaneous development may result in complimentary ministries in which church and mission cooperate in their joint task:
F, P, I, C
F, P, I, C
By whatever patterns these relationships evolve, our goal is to see viable, autonomous churches which themselves have a sense of mission:
F, P, I, C
On the basis of this preliminary classification, we may analyze the effectiveness of our own mission-church relationships. The only adequate basis of evaluation of mission is the church that is produced on the field. If this development can only come at the expense of mission prerogatives, or even at the expense of our careers, God give us grace to do His will. The question of polity or formal organizational structure is not nearly as important as the functional interaction of mission-church relationships.
What will we do to explore the significance of these guidelines? New approaches are needed. To answer this, let us look briefly at what has been done and what is being done. This will help us to see which way to go.
What has been done in the scientific research of missions? The great early missionary leaders of modern missions all felt the need for serious study of missions.’ It appears that their major concern was not the study of the theology of missions but rather the study of strategy. It was only as missions evolved that it became necessary to develop a theological framework for what was already a sociological reality. The problem was seen to be much more complex than originally conceived.
It was Gustav Warneck and the men who worked with him who first defined the study of missions as an unique discipline.7 The great missionary conferences all built upon the systematic studies that were being done and, in turn, called for yet other studies. The results of the Edinburgh, Jerusalem, and Tambaram conferences are required reading even today for all serious students of missions. Out of this growing interest emerged the International Review of Missions following the Edinburgh Conference. The Review has proved to be an unexcelled means for sharing missionary ideas.
The series of research studies sponsored by the International Missionary Council, and later by the World Council of Churches; the publications of the World Dominion Movement; and the various denominational, national, and continental research ventures have provided us with serious studies of mission theory, theology, and strategy. Whether or not we agree with their conclusions, we must confess that they are asking the questions and raising the problems which must be resolved.
It is impossible to enumerate here the titles of these studies, not even the more important of them. The list, if produced, would be a long and impressive one, including general works (geographical, statistical, encyclopaedic, etc. as well as reports of missionary conferences "at home" and "abroad"), works on the history of missions (general histories and histories of single fields societies, institutions, etc.), works on the lives and times of individual missionaries and younger churchmen, works on the principles and methods of missions, on the relation of Christianity to non-Christian systems of thought and life, and on the political, cultural, and economic backgrounds of the lands of the younger churches, on sociology, linguistics, literacy, education, etc.–and that most important section of missionary literature, the missionary reviews.8
The great missionary research libraries are one more indication of the wealth of resources available.
Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church has taken the lead in missions research. Dynamic periods in tile history of the Catholic Church have always produced vigorous missionary efforts. For centuries, the scope and nature of missionary activity was defined by political and ecclesiastical authority without theoretical considerations of any magnitude. It is a curious fact, perhaps outside the scope of our paper, that the missionary orders that emerged were an exact parallel of Protestant missionary societies.
It was not until the present century that the Catholic Church began to any appreciable extent systematic research in mission theology with the work of Robert Streit and Joseph Schmidlin, who was greatly influenced by Gustav Warneck. At the present time most of the missionary research is being done by Roman Catholic scholars. Besides the very excellent technical journals and the writings of their leading missiologists, there are the institutes of missionary and social research, some as independent entities, and others in connection with other institutions of higher learning such as in Brussels, Madrid, Freiburg, Munster, Santiago de Chile, Cuernavaca, and Washington.9
WHY ME RESEARCH?
In the light, then, of all this research, why should we be concerned with the problem? Does our original statement of the need for objective self-study still hold? If our only answer is that we should engage in research in order not to allow anyone else to get ahead of us, we would be better off to forget it. Such an ignoble motive is not worthy of the Gospel. We need more sincere motivation than mere imitation. Anyway, they are already ahead of us.
1. This research is at best fragmentary. Missions research has been conceived of as a big puzzle into which we must fit all the pieces. If mission fields were static or if we were not concerned with the dynamics of development, such an approach would be adequate. The result of this approach has been the publishing of up-to-date findings that rapidly become only interesting historical records of a situation that has changed so radically that the same circumstances no longer obtain. What is needed is a framework into which these studies can fit in such a way that their up-dating is a continual process that guarantees relevance.
No piecemeal effort on an amateur part-time basis will suffice. Nothing less than a cooperative, systematic global approach to the problem will do.
2. We must be involved in missionary research because our stake in the missionary enterprise is so great. "A breakdown of the affiliation of North American Protestant missionaries shows that 37 percent are sent out by mission boards and agencies related to the Division of Overseas Ministries of the National Council of Churches; 44 percent are sent out by mission boards and agencies related to the three conservative evangelical associations (21 percent by the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association; 19.5 percent by the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association; and 3.5 percent by the Associated Missions of the American Council of Christian Churches); 19 percent are sent out by unaffiliated and independent boards and agencies. It is estimated that approximately one third of the North American Protestant missionaries today come from so-called faith mission sources."10
3. There is research that we cannot count on anyone else to do. The Wheaton Declaration expresses our interest in areas that apparently no longer interest other circles. This is not to suggest that we cannot learn from the research that is being done. Hopefully, we will learn from what others are saying, and more than that, we will find some way, without compromising ourselves and what we believe, to integrate the findings of our researchers into that larger body of material. We owe it to ourselves as well as to others who may be sidetracked from essentials to concern ourselves with the study of those aspects of mission that are most crucial today.
Sixteen years ago Olav Myklebust called for the establishment of an international institute of scientific missionary research, a dream that has never been fulfilled. Several of the functions which he describes for such an institute are applicable to what we are trying to accomplish: to initiate and promote serious research in missionary and related subjects, to coordinate research to prevent gaps or overlapping, to increase the intellectual resources available, to publish research findings, to collect and preserve source materials for the history of Christianity, to draw specialists together, and to enlist for specific tasks the cooperation of non-missionary agencies for research."11
All of this is within our present ability to accomplish. The problems, as I see them, are not impossible of solving. A research center or centers are well within the realm of possibility. All that remains for us is to decide how best to accomplish our aims.
Of necessity, such a research center should be a part of the present missionary enterprise. We cannot hand over to someone else a job that can best be done, by ourselves. The administration and research personnel ought to be drawn from within the ranks of experienced return missionaries. It is a much simpler thing to train missionaries in the methodology and techniques of the social sciences, than to train a social scientist in the nuances of missions. This is more than a casual suggestion. It is a considered opinion based on experience.
The theological and ecclesiological differences which separate evangelicals are no serious hindrance to cooperative effort in this area. We must not hide behind these differences to rationalize inaction. We must coordinate the research we are doing. On the one hand, this will save us from the shallow platitudinous studies with which we have been bombarded. At the same time, it will save us from the waste of time and money that repetitious and overlapping studies create. Best of all, it will help us to concentrate on those areas in which our understanding is least complete. The studies that each mission would continue to do independently could be confined to those special unique areas affecting that mission.
One of our problems will be personnel. The men who are most capable to participate in such a venture are the very men whom missions are least able to lose. We cannot lightly dismiss the reality of this loss. While it is true that the roan who would be engaged in research would be an integral part of missions, his involvement would take him away from his mission at least temporarily. We must think in terms of preparing researchers. To safeguard against introversion, self-seeking, or stagnation, and at the same time provide the missions with trained, experienced researchers, the policy of We center should provide for the periodic infusion of new blood. A specific example which was designed for an existing research project took this form:
A, B, and C are original team members. N-1, N-2, etc. are new men added at the rate of one per year. Each year, one man off the top leaves the research to make room for another. We can insure continuity and at the same time provide evangelicals with the trained men they need.
The center ought also to be designed in such a way as to benefit the researcher in terms of formal academic progress. This has the advantage of attracting the type of man who will be of most profit to the project. Isis own stake in the research will make him more valuable. This policy would also help the constant upgrading of the research which must go on if we wish to keep pace with the information explosion, the sophistication of new techniques, and the rapid changes on the mission field. The future leadership of the center could thus emerge from those who have participated as members of the center.
There are other research facilities that already exist with which we can integrate our efforts. Besides all the missions research, there are secular studies in social anthropology, sociology of religion, and group psychology which directly concern us. There are agencies such as DA’T’A (Development and Technical Assistance) that have volunteered to help us.
The ministry of the center ought to reach beyond the publication of missions surveys, histories, and church growth studies, and the training of researchers and the coordination of research projects. By seminars, consultations, conferences, and conventions, the ministry of a research center could multiply its effectiveness in serving the churches and missions.
Is it possible to find an existent institution or entity to sponsor such a project? I believe it is. The problems of facilities, equipment, supplies, clerical help, and so on would not prove insoluble if the first problem of relationship to the mother institution or institutions and the responsibilities of sponsoring churches and missions had been worked out.
We have left the easiest problem for last-finances. If we are to undertake the task which we have outlined, we will need money. Even with the volunteer assistance of qualified technicians and scientists, we will need money for salaries, overhead, travel allowances, field budgets, and publication subsidies. At this point we cannot skimp. We will get what we pay for and no more.
Fortunately, we are not limited to the financial resources of the churches and missions, although they should certainly help to pay their share. There are several other sources of funds. The most direct source would be from the various foundations, each of which is interested in different kinds of projects. Among their stated interests are the imaginative use of electronic data processing in educational institutions, the mathematical analysis of social phenomena, the development of interdisciplinary techniques for the study of religious institutions, fellowships for professional training, and administrative training for researchers. I can visualize a day when a research center for evangelical missions will provide us with an objective understanding of missions that will free us to devote our attention to the fulfillment of our task.
1.Gustav Warneck, Outline of a History of Protestant Misisons (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1906), p. 82.
2. R. Pierce Beaver, "The Apostolate of the Church" The Theology of the Christian Mission (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961), p. 259.
3. Peter Beyerhaus and Henry Lefever, The Responsible Church and the Foreign Mission (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1964 ), p. 16.
4. Donald McGavran, "A Common Language on Membership, Communicants, Catechumens," Church Growth Bulletin (Pasadena, Calif.: Institute of Church Growth, 1966), Vol. II, No. 4, p. 9.
5. Beyerhaus and Lefever, op, cit., p. 17, 18.
6. William Brown, The History of Missions (Philadelphia: McCarty and Davis, 1820), Vol. 2 p. 204.
7. Olav Myklebust, "And International Institute of Scientific Missionary Research," Occasional Paper No. 1 (Oslo: Egede Institute, 1951), pp. 10, 11.
8. Ibid., p. 17.
9. Ibid., p. 22.
10. Gerald H. Anderson, Christian Mission in Theological Perspective (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1966), p. 262.
11. Myklebust, op. cit., pp. 29-31.
Copyright © 1968 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.