by C. Peter Wagner
Much more conscious effort needs to be dedicated to clarifying today’s missionary objectives than missionary strategists have been willing to invest in the past. To consider the church as an end in itself rather than an instrument for making disciples in the “fourth world,” is to adopt a stunted objective.
Much more conscious effort needs to be dedicated to clarifying today’s missionary objectives than missionary strategists have been willing to invest in the past. To consider the church as an end in itself rather than an instrument for making disciples in the "fourth world," is to adopt a stunted objective.1 Stunted objectives will sooner or later stunt the fulfillment of the great commission.
The primary objective of missions needs to be distinguished from secondary or intermediate objectives. What are some of these intermediate objectives? As we list them, let us state clearly that just because they are intermediate, they are neither bad, inferior nor superfluous. If you live in New York City and want to drive to Pennsylvania, for example, you have to go through New Jersey. While you are moving through New Jersey you are glad to be there, but you are not satisfied with staying there if your goal is Pennsylvania. New Jersey is only an intermediate objective.
Some common intermediate missionary objectives include a larger number of workers, an increased budget, more activity in sending and receiving churches, excellence in ministerial training, spiritual revival, culturally-relevant liturgy and music, translation of the Scriptures, distribution of certain quantities of Christian literature, wide dissemination of the gospel message through the mass media, the manifestation of social concern, and so on. As intermediate objectives, all the above and many more good things that missionaries and churchmen do can be very useful in accomplishing the ultimate objective of making disciples. Missions, if they are true to their nature and calling, must keep the fourth world as their objective. This must be the starting point of church-mission policies.
Effective evangelism of the fourth world will result in multitudes of disciples and church members. But as long as there are more people to win in the fourth world, new churches that have been planted do not constitute the final objective. If the whitened field holds ten thousand bushels of wheat, a five-thousand bushel harvest is not enough. The harvesters would be foolish to allow the fascination of five thousand harvested bushels tempt them to shut down their combines and begin to manufacture bread, spaghetti and breakfast food before the harvest is completed. The Lord of the harvest would call them "wicked and slothful servants."
This is why missions that turn from evangelism to church development do poorly. True, the church needs some help. The wheat that has been harvested needs to be stored in elevators if it is to be preserved. The new-born infant needs milk. Missions that neglect this basic nurture are irresponsible. But missions that allow the emerging church to absorb so much attention and energy that the push into the fourth world is slowed down or stalled are worse than irresponsible. They are unfaithful to their calling from God.
"LET THE NATIVES EVANGELIZE"
"We now have a national church," some missionaries say, "let the natives do the evangelism. We will now teach the Bible to the Christians, help them raise better crops, improve their hygiene, train their pastors, and teach them modern evangelistic methods. Since they speak the language better than we do, since they know the culture, since they are the right color, they now become responsible for the fourth world. We have done our job." In other writings I have called this fallacy in missionary strategy the "syndrome of church development." I would not keep stressing it if my experience had not confirmed that it is such a widespread and devastating error in the thinking of both contemporary missions and national churches.
Missionaries who fall into the syndrome of church development are often rather deluded. They unthinkingly operate under the false assumption that they can do almost everything better than national Christians. They feel they can preach better sermons, organize more active church programs, lead choirs and play instruments better, teach Sunday school classes better, build better buildings, write better tracts, teach better seminary classes, start youth camps and youth centers, write constitutions and administer denominational offices with supreme efficiency. On top of all this, they are free the church doesn’t have to pay a cent for all this service. Sometimes, in fact, the missionaries are able to obtain sums of outside money that enlarge the church treasury rather than take from it.
But missionaries, somehow, don’t feel they can evangelize better than nationals!
The above may border on a caricature, but it is close enough to much current missionary mentality to raise a warning flag for discerning missionaries. All the different activities involved in the syndrome of church development are good in themselves, and at one time or another a missionary may help the church by participating in them. But they are only temporary. A mature church can handle all of them. As men like Roland Allen and Henry Venn saw years ago, the less the mission gets involved in these internal affairs of the church, and the quicker the church itself assumes responsibility for these things under the Holy Spirit rather than under the missionary, the better for both mission and church. But even when the ideal is reached and the new church fully and effectively handles all its own internal affairs, neither the church nor the mission is relieved of its responsibility toward the fourth world.
Whereas for a time this concept was neither articulated nor accepted in evangelical missions, some hopeful signs of progress are appearing. In a remarkable editorial entitled "Our First Priority," Joseph McCullough of the Andes Evangelical Mission reflects the trend in his own group. McCullough writes:
Evangelism, once again, will be the primary thrust of the Andes Evangelical Mission. Reaching the unreached has always been our objective as a pioneer mission. But somehow with the growth of a strong national church, we began to think that the responsibility for evangelizing belonged to this church . . . In a new way, however, we believe the Lord would have us direct our attention and efforts to direct evangelistic opportunities.2
One might ask whether missions like the Andes Evangelical Mission have the right to establish such priorities. Should they not have asked the national church to make the policy statement? Should not the nationals decide whether they want doctors, radio broadcasters, seminary professors, primary school teachers, chicken farmers, basketball evangelists, Bible translators, airplane pilots, printers – or (perhaps) evangelists and church planters? Are not missions that seem to go above the head of the national church in setting their priorities arrogant and domineering?
No more so than the Jesus People movement that moved unto the West Coast fourth world without seeking the advice and consent of the established churches. Nor than the horseback circuit eiders of the Wesleyan movement who perhaps "arrogantly" penetrated the British fourth world without the approval of the national church. The fact that some of our present-day missionary organizations do the same thing cross-culturally dogs not alter the principle that when God raises up a group of his servants and gives them the missionary vision of making disciples in the fourth world, this vision is never required to be brought under the control of the established church. Having said this, however, it is necessary to point out immediately that the best of all possible situations is complete harmony both in thought anal action between church and mission.
ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTION
Is the day of the missionary over? Now that there is a strong indigenous church in "Upper Zax," are any more missionaries needed there? Do the "Upper Zaxonian" Christians want any more missionaries? The bulk of this article has been dedicated to the second question. The existence of a strong national church in "Upper Zax," in the United States, or in West Africa does not regulate the need for more or fewer missionaries, unless the missionaries have fallen into the syndrome of church development. We will not labor that any further.
The third question, however, needs clarification. Some overseas churchmen are visiting the United States and setting up qualifications for the kind of missionaries they would like, and they are getting the ear of sending churches. For example, one from Latin America has said that the church he represents wants only those missionaries who are willing to participate in the changing of Latin American social structures and in the liberation of the Latin American man. He wants social revolutionaries, not evangelists.
I do not want to give the impression that I oppose the Latin American social revolution. In other writings I have declared myself a supporter of it. Nor do I want to give the impression that it is in any way wrong for this man and other Latin churchmen to participate in the revolution to the degree their consciences direct them. I do contend, however, that neither he, nor his church has any right to say that a Spirit-filled missionary, called of God to preach the gospel of Christ to the fourth world should not fulfill his calling.
If he is talking about the kind of missionary who has felt led to "help the church," in that case he and his colleagues have a perfect right to tell any missionary to go home or stay home. Let the members of any church or denomination decide what is right for the internal functioning of their church. Let them set up personnel requirements and accept only workers they desire and approve. But suppose an overseas church leader is more burdened for the salvation of society than the salvation of souls? Is he qualified to decide whether evangelistic missionaries should fulfill Christ’s command to make disciples in the fourth world, even when that part of the fourth world is in his own country? No. The source of the missionary mandate is the triune God, not the church. The final accounting will be given before the judgment seat of Christ, not before some ministerial council or ecclesiastical assembly.
This is why asking whether the "Upper Zaxonians" want any more missionaries is not the right question. The right question is: Are there any men and women in the fourth world in "Upper Zax" who need Christ, who are receptive to the gospel, and to whom missionaries from "Lower Bovima" (the hypothetical sending country in this case) can effectively communicate? If the answer is yes, missionaries must go, unless, of course, there is a high degree of assurance that the "Upper Zax" church will indeed take care of that fourth world in terms of reaping all the harvest there before it as too late. This doesn’t mean that missions should not try to work harmoniously with national churches in evangelism. In fact, I believe the goal of reaching the fourth world can better be attained if the following recommendations are kept in mind.
1. Maintain as the guiding principle for mission policy effective discipling of the fourth world. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, and missions must not deviate from that. Although constantly tempted to stay behind with the ninety-nine, missions may not do this as long as there is one more lost sheep to find and fold.
2. Do all possible to transmit the vision for the lost to the emerging church. From the very beginning, teach the new-born babes in Christ that dart of their commitment to the Lord is to use their gifts in the effective fulfillment of the great commission.
3. Avoid the syndrome of church development. Do not become unduly involved in the, internal development of the church. Entrust the new believers to the Holy Spirit; give them responsibility early in their Christian experience; allow them to develop their own relevant patterns of church organization, liturgy, leadership, finances, and training.
4. When structures need to be developed, choose the structure of mission-church relationship on pragmatic grounds. Make whatever arrangement will best make disciples in the fourth world. The ideal structure combines resources from mission and church in a concerted effort to win the fourth world for Christ, together discipling peoples and multiplying churches for God’s glory. The second best situation occurs when the church has no resources to offer, but gives the mission her moral support as the mission continues to move into the fourth world with the gospel. The last resort is necessary only when the church is obstinate and opposes the mission’s ministry to the fourth world. In this case "we must obey God rather than man" as long as people in the fourth world are waiting for Christ.
5. Help each emerging church or denomination develop a missionary sending program of its own. This, when successful, completes the cycle of world evangelism. The new church spawns a new mission. No mission should feel that its task is accomplished, even as far as the emerging church is concerned, until that church has become an active, missionary church. Some missions have stated that their goal has been to plant churches, indigenous churches if you will. It is the contention of this article that this stated goal, while perhaps innocuous an the surface, is nevertheless in the find analysis truncated. It is good as far as it does, but it does not go far enough. By articulating the goal in terms of the church alone, missions may end up betraying their owns nature.
1. The "fourth world" embraces ail those peoples who, regardless of where they may be located geographically, have yet to come to Christ. In that sense, the fourth world is the top-priority objective of missions.
2. The Andean Outlook Plainfield, N.J., Fall, 1971, p. 7.
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