Symposium Response 2: Looking at the Decentralization of Missions

by Kärin Butler Primuth

Reflecting on Marv Newell’s article, I see two primary causes for the shift in “missions” vocabulary that he describes.

REFLECTING ON MARV NEWELL’S ARTICLE, I see two primary causes for the shift in “missions” vocabulary that he describes. Both causes relate to the decentralization of missions: de-institutionalization (the decentralization of process) and globalization (the decentralization of place).

De-institutionalization: The Decentralization of Process

The three domains described by Newell are all related to institutions: the assembly (specifically, church mission committees), the academy (seminaries), and the agency (mission agencies). These entities are part of a traditional mission-sending paradigm in which individuals called to full-time missions are approved by church missions committees, formally trained in seminaries, and sent by professional mission agencies.

As a result, words like “missions” and “missionary” have become associated with this selective, formalized, institutional process in which a minority have been mobilized to participate in the Great Commission.

Today, that paradigm is changing as many local churches in North America are reclaiming their missional identity, calling all believers to be on mission, locally and globally. A number of larger churches have even begun operating as independent sending agencies.

Perhaps one reason our language is changing is because the mission movement is widening. “Missions” is not only for the few who can navigate the institutional process, but is for everyone.

Missions is for stay-at-home moms reaching their Ethiopian neighbors. It is for students reaching Muslims on campus. It is for professionals relocating to another country to share Christ within their work setting. It is for successful Christian business owners providing resources to national believers to reach near-culture communities. De-institutionalization is reshaping our vocabulary as missions is now for everyone.

Globalization: The Decentralization of Place

There is no longer a dominant center of mission sending like there was a hundred years ago. As the historical mission fields of Africa, Asia, and Latin America have become powerful sending bases, we must reshape our mental maps of the mission landscape. In this globalized world, we must think of missions in terms of partnerships, and not simply in terms of sending missionaries from “here” to “there.”

The decentralization of missions has been accelerated by massive migrations of unreached peoples and the rapid expansion of communications technologies. Today’s missionaries are just as likely to reach out through the Internet or around the corner to the immigrant community in their own cities. Globalization is reshaping our vocabulary as missions is everywhere. So when “missions” is everywhere and for everyone, what do we call it?


Kärin Butler Primuth is CEO of visionSynergy, an organization that specializes in the development of partnerships and networks focused on reaching the unreached. Kärin has lived in South Africa, India, and China, and has traveled to more than twenty-five countries.

EMQ, Vol. 51, No. 1 pp. 53-54. Copyright  © 2015 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism.  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.

Related Articles

Welcoming the Stranger

Presenter: Matthew Soerens, US Director of Church Mobilization, World Relief Description: Refugee and immigration issues have dominated headlines globally recently. While many American Christians view these…

Upcoming Events