by Carl Palmer
After years of getting from the churches, mission agencies should now support them.
Recently our Missions Committee interviewed a young couple soon to leave for West Africa. They belonged to an excellent mission board, and we were optimistic about adding them to our missionary family. As the discussion turned to their support, we were shocked to learn that their home church had just raised their financial commitment from $17 to $25 per month. They also had support from four other churches, the largest amount being $50 per month.
Just a week before we had interviewed another couple on their way to North Africa. Their situation was somewhat better. They had several churches supporting them, also. The highest level was $150 per month. Finances are not the only consideration of outgoing missionaries, of course, but these situations indicate that the churches of North America have serious problems when it comes to missions. I would like to address these problems, focusing on what mission agencies must do to help solve them. I’m calling on mission boards to make a new commitment to the sending churches, to make a new commitment to church planting and evangelism, and to make a new commitment to partnership between themselves and the local churches.
My first plea is that sending agencies make a new commitment to the sending churches. No one questions the need to establish new churches where there are none. Certainly no one would reject the validity of strengthening the churches on the mission fields of the world. But my great concern for our missions endeavor is that we might be so focused upon the churches "out there" that we would neglect the health and vitality of the sending church here at home.
But let me hasten to say that I do not mean the need for "more of the same" for churches here at home. We do have an abundance of all good things when compared to the rest of the world. We need the "meat of the Word" and an urgent call to the most important things, a return to the first love. We do not need more emphasis on secondary issues and concerns. Because of an abundance of good things we have grown complacent.
We need renewed recognition by mission agencies that the local churches of North America are building blocks upon which much of their world missionary effort is built. Very few mission agencies can get their personnel and support apart from a dependence on local churches. But the building blocks are beginning to crumble under the pressures of the world, the passing on of saints who held convictions about the world, lack of biblical instruction in our pulpits, and a gradual loss of God’s vision for the true purpose of the church.
Unfortunately, many churches are sick, but God is doing a new thing in our midst. He is raising up many new voices to carry on the call for world evangelization. But these new voices seemingly are very few and far between. And while the number of serious supporters of world missions does not appear to be growing, the requests for missionaries and support are being multiplied through mass mailings and a multitude of missionaries on the deputation trail.
I am alarmed because so many churches perceive mission agencies and missionaries as out only for what they can get from the churches, while seemingly showing little or no concern for the health of the church. Too many look at the church and say, "They would be more healthy if they would give more." The result has been a kind of "bleeding the patient to make him well."
While it is true that the local church’s sending process should probably hurt a little, it is also true that Christ would have his body be strong and vigorous, with the "proper working of each individual part, causing the growth of the body for the building of itself in love."
Therefore, it is vital that mission agencies should renew their commitment to the local churches of North America. This commitment means three things at least: First, a commitment to the overall health of the local church. Not simply that these churches might contribute to the task of global missions, but a recognition that "the light that shines farthest shines brightest at home." The church must be healthy in order to support missions efforts.
Second, a commitment to restore the biblical priorities in the local church, especially worship, nurture, and outreach, for missions is the natural fruit of these things. We need a mission thrust that results from spiritual health and vitality in the local church, rather than from manipulation, emotion, or legalism.
Third, a commitment to call the local churches to a new vision of global missions as a primary purpose. Such a vision is a step of spiritual maturity. That step can be taken only when people begin to know their God as a God of sending and reconciliation.
While this is certainly a difficult task, let me suggest five possible ways that this commitment to local churches might be approached.
1. Mission agencies should analyze how they approach local churches. Do they weaken or strengthen the church? Some approaches should be discontinued in order to focus on those with more positive effects.
2. All home staff should commit themselves to building the health of one local church. Very little of this is being done, because home staff communicate with many congregations. But they have so much to offer the local churches, if only they could focus their time and attention on a specific task. While the return to the mission might not be immediate, it will surely come. Our church, and many others I know, have greatly benefited from the gifts of missionaries working in our midst.
3. Mission boards should promote the exchange of helpful insights between missions-minded churches. Missionaries have gained many valuable ideas that would strengthen churches, if they were passed on.
4. The boards should appoint and assist "missions builders." We need people with the vision of strengthening the church in missions, without asking for help for a particular agency. These local church missions builders could first strengthen the church, then revitalize missionary zeal, and then recruit for the agency. This work might yield little short-range support for the mission, but it would yield long-term results for the Kingdom.
5. One-or-two-year internships for missionary candidates should be established by the agencies. Too often the local church stands by while a young missionary candidate goes overseas before the church leaders believes he or she should go. The pressing need on the field overrules the church’s concern about lack of adequate preparation. The internships would center on:
(a) developing basic ministry skills and spiritual maturity; (b) building strong commitment among the church body to the cause of world missions; (c) establishing a foundation of one worthy of being sent; (d) building strong support commitment: a prayer team, finances, personal involvement.
My second call is for mission agencies to make a new commitment to church planting and evangelism. Churches need to hear a united call about the remaining task of missions. Unfortunately, many churches still ask, "What is missions, anyway?" This is partly due to a lack of understanding of the Scriptures, but it is also partly due to the proliferation of promotional efforts that proclaim the constantly changing "need of the hour."
We must restore the concepts of Christ’s "Lordship" and the lostness of man. Too many people are motivated solely by the needs they see, an emotional appeal, or an opinion that missions might be important as a ministry of the church. Too little is said about the Lordship of Christ and obedience to him. Only a conviction to glorify God and to submit to his commands will carry the church on to obedience in world missions.
Where is the conviction that the lost are really lost? The erosion of that biblical fact has been aided by terms such as "unsaved," and technical terms, such as "unreached," "hidden peoples," and "frontier peoples." These terms are helpful, if clearly understood, but many are unschooled in their technical usage. Consequently, few are gripped by the terrible fact that millions upon millions go into a Christless eternity every year. While this great tragedy is not our only motivation for world missions, it can be used by God to compel the church to action.
Local churches also need help in developing a mission strategy. Many churches desire to be used by God in reaching this world, but they do not know where to begin, or how to sort through the many possibilities. The result is frustration. Decisions made in the early stages do much to help or hinder the church. Who is better equipped to enable the church to be truly effective in missions than the mission agencies? Missionaries can assist the church in developing a strategy that does not heavily favor one agency.
The mission agencies could also develop resources that motivate, challenge, and enable the people in the pews to become involved in world missions. There are many good resources, but they are relatively unused because they emphasize too strongly one particular agency or approach. Could there not be a cooperative effort to produce resources aimed at the hearts of people, rather than to get more money for one group?
Local churches could well use help from the boards in preparing candidates. In many churches the Lord is calling out workers. But pastors must look long and hard to find a way to prepare potential missionaries for pioneer work. They do not know how to counsel, lead and send.
Our church has been working on a "Candidate Preparation Program" for five years, and we are still uncertain about it. Should not the accumulated experience and wisdom of the mission boards be applied to this need? At the least, each mission could publish materials to assist the local church in selecting, equipping, and evaluating new missionaries for that agency’s field.
My third appeal is for a new commitment to partnership between church and mission agency, especially for the development of missions strategies. There is a great need for Christians to see the body of Christ function as one body. While this is a complicated issue, there is much that could be done to multiply our effectiveness as we work together. Too often the churches perceive a lack of cooperation and even a spirit of competition among the agencies, which results in uncertainty and lack of confidence in the ministry on the field.
Some have proposed adopting a people group. Churches would endorse this, if it were done properly. Could not one or more mission agencies cooperate in a plan to reach a people group, and recruit local churches to work toward seeing the plan enacted? The mission could develop the strategy, perhaps in communication with one or more churches. Meetings could be held between church and mission leaders to confirm the plan. Few local churches have the resources to initiate this process, or the expertise to develop a specific strategy.
Related to church-mission partnership is the current practice of deputation to raise support. While some may see deputation as a necessary step, there is a rising cry among churches to re-examine it on biblical grounds and to search for more effective alternatives.
As I have worked with other churches, and as we develop our church’s missions ministry, I am impressed by the importance of significant local church relationships with missionaries and mission agencies. The problem of miniscule support, to which I referred at the beginning of this article, constitutes a threat to the development of a biblical local church missions program, and hampers relationships with mission agencies.
Jesus revealed the connection between man’s "heart" (his priorities, convictions, and confidence) and his treasure. Money is not everything, but it is a vital aspect of global missions. Much more of it is needed if we are to make an impact on this world.
Mission agencies must encourage churches to design their missions programs around relationships with missionaries. That means having support levels that properly reflect the sending relationship. Only then will the system of raising support by deputation be gradually replaced by churches that confirm and send missionaries.
Our church’s relationship with our missionaries enables us to focus on important things: ministering to their personal needs, meeting their financial needs, focusing our prayer support, building up one another, having resident missionaries during furloughs, developing missionary candidate training under experienced missionaries, personalizing missions education, involving our members in missionaries’ lives, and so on.
When churches have superficial relationships with missionaries, reflected in low support levels, there is little true commitment to world missions. Also, the church is cheated out of the good that comes from the proper interworking of the members of the body. The missionary supported by many different churches and individuals is trapped in a system that hinders the beneficial relationship between the missionary and local church.
While the problem of missionary support is a large and complex one, we must start changing the deputation system. For example, I would like to see the development of agency-designed, church-sponsored missionary teams. We must press on to see churches send their missionaries with strong relationships, finances, encouragement, prayer, and personal friendship.
As I consider the relationship of local church and mission agency, it seems right that the churches should be volunteering their money, their people, and their prayers for reaching the lost. When will the day come when the churches cry out to God for a lost world? When will they say, "We must reach this generation"?
God has not given up on the churches of North America. I have a vision of what could be if we were burdened for the state of the sending church. Would not God hear our prayers if we began to seek him and his will for our churches here at home, as well as overseas? I am afraid for the future of missions from North America if we fail to do this.
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