by Ruben Lores
In 1954 Kenneth Strachan of the Latin America Mission advocated international partnership in all aspects of missionary endeavor. He wrote, “Whatever the way, it would seem that some way must be found to bring the national church and its leaders into partnership in the planning and execution of all missionary–not merely church–endeavor in each respective field.”
In 1954 Kenneth Strachan of the Latin America Mission advocated international partnership in all aspects of missionary endeavor. He wrote, "Whatever the way, it would seem that some way must be found to bring the national church and its leaders into partnership in the planning and execution of all missionary–not merely church–endeavor in each respective field."
The implications of such a strategy in terms of world evangelization were clear to him: "And, if, by the grace of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the churches at home, the sending societies, and the outgoing missionaries are enabled to enter into a true partnership with our national brethren abroad, the task of worldwide evangelism will be carried out by greater numbers of missionaries and workers and on a scale never before imagined, as we work together until that day of our Lord’s return."
Some denominational and some faith missionary societies have gone on record recognizing the need and soundness of internationalizing the missionary task force. A small beginning has been made by some societies. But we need a greater sense of urgency, coupled with a holy boldness to be more creative and a willingness to face risks with God.
What I would like to plead for is not "indigenization" or "nationalization," but rather a recognition of the gifts of the Spirit wherever they may be found, and an application of the glorious fact that all believers belong to the one family of God, and therefore all cultural barriers that divide the human family can and must be broken. What else can St. Paul mean when he says, "There cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all and in all"?
Is it too strong to say that until missionary societies are ready to recognize the universality of God’s church by internationalizing their administration, their talk about "identification" is open to suspicion? Some societies by the provision of their charters are not allowed to follow such a course. But their charter cannot be a safe shelter unless it can be demonstrated that there is something more than pragmatic or historic reasons at the base of such provisions. Racial prejudice, national pride, and economic expediency have a clever way of disguising themselves as spiritual principles.
Sometimes a mission is hindered from following the sign of the times by simple stagnation. It rests on its own organizational traditions, holding them too sacred to be changed. But yesterday’s answers may not apply to today’s problems. Yesterday’s missions cannot effectively serve today’s people.
One of the determining factors in mission is finances. The need for large sums of money for every aspect of the missionary task makes anyone concede that this is a very important problem. It has many sides: What proportion of our money should go for foreign mission? How should money be raised? How should it be used?
I should like to deal only with a principle that has to do with the philosophy of stewardship in general.
Whose stewards are we? The obvious answer is that we are God’s stewards. (Matt. 20:8; Luke 16:1; 1 Cor. 4:1; Titus 1:7)
Admitting that we are to exercise our stewardship responsibilities within the limits of our relationships (my church, the missionaries and mission societies I know about, the ministries my church or denomination supports, etc.), there is another factor we have yet to focus on correctly.
One gets the impression that some churches and individuals believe that it is their responsibility to support only their missionaries, that is, those who have gone out from their churches to serve elsewhere. Some will restrict their giving to those who belong to their church or denomination. Others apply the rule in a national sense, saying in effect, "North American churches should support only North American missionaries."
There are at least two reasons for this attitude. The first is personalized giving. As a reaction against "impersonal" giving, that is, against giving to a general fund, faith missions have provided the opportunity for supporters to establish a personal relationship with their missionaries. This is commendable. It is a corrective that prevents a church or individual from supporting the "wrong" kind of missionaries. The history of faith missions is a wonderful testimony to the glory of God and the faithfulness of His people for providing support for the great host of faithful servants who labor on the mission fields of the world. But these positive factors must not prevent us from being perceptive to the weaknesses, as well, of such an approach.
Personalized giving reflects a pioneer outlook. It was the only proper thing to do at the beginning of missions, when the missionary was the only agent of mission. But this stage is almost ancient history in most fields. Personalized giving perpetuates the idea that missionary work centers around the missionary. This is simply not so. Missionary work is largely in the hands of the nationals, whom the Lord has raised up in most cases through the fine work of the missionary.
The second reason has to do with what has been called the principle of the three "selfs": churches should be self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating. This principle was developed as a corrective against the domination of the missionary societies over the churches, which resulted in the enfeeblement of the national churches and their overdependence on the parent missionary societies.
The three-self principle is so universally accepted that it sounds almost sacrilegious to raise any question about it. It sounds so ideal that national churches should achieve such a development, that the pursuit of this principle seems to be the goal in which missionary societies pride themselves most. Yet there is a built-in weakness in this principle.
That weakness is the fact that self-support has become the determining factor, the criterion for measuring maturity. The theory is that if a church achieves self-support then it can govern itself, and we must take for granted that it will propagate itself. That, such an ideal sequence happens in some cases no one can deny. But the fact that in many cases it does not happen is a "professional secret" that no one wants to let out.
Do we have a reason to feel we have achieved our goal when our churches support themselves and govern themselves, although they are not reproducing themselves as they should and could? What is the mission of the missions, anyway? Is it simply to establish an institution called the church in such a way that we may be free from our financial responsibility toward it as soon as possible? What theological basis is there for the idea that a missionary society can lord it over the church of Christ because it helps to support it? And does it concern us that most of the time the churches are unable to support themselves because of the transplanted patterns that have been handed down or even forced upon them (church building, paid clergy, etc.)?
I am not advocating material assistance to support the churches, at the price of their independence or otherwise. What I am trying to emphasize is that establishing an institutionalized church should not be the goal of a missionary society. The correct goal is total, continuous, dynamic, effective evangelism through the establishing of healthy, autochthonous congregations.
When the missionary society severs its vital relationship with the church there is the danger of a double movement toward institutionalization: (1) The missionary society looks to technical ministries such as radio, literature, and hospitals as its special realms of service. (2) The national church begins to major in minors by asserting its newly-acquired freedom in the development of corporationalresources: incorporation, staff, buildings, fringe benefits for the clergy. And the tragedy of it all is that this takes place when the church is still feeble and small. But because it has achieved self-support, even if in a technical sense, the church can freely follow this course. In the meantime, both the missionary society and the national church have relegated evangelism and church growth to a secondary place.
Sometimes we fail to realize that paternalism is both an attitude and a system. As an attitude very few, if any, will defend it. But as a system we may not only be slow in defecting it, but having found, acknowledged and rejected it, we may still be hopelessly caught in its web. C. Peter Wagner of the Andes Evangelical Mission wrote that "paternalism is perhaps the most despised missionary attitude in the eyes of the younger churches." He is right; there is no excuse for missionaries to hold on to this attitude on a personal level. But as the title of his article, "Reshaping Missions" implies, what is needed is a reshaping to do away with paternalism as a system in the missionary society itself. I believe that missionary societies from the cradle to the grave are organized in a paternalistic system. I hasten to add that I am in no way inclined to question divine providence: the modern missionary movement is not only an accomplished fact in God’s economy for our age, but it is also a glorious fact, one with which I feel very privileged to be identified.
But we must not blind ourselves to the fact that organizational structures are historical developments. As such they are subject to God’s judgment and man’s criticism. The movement of history, if nothing else, makes it desirable and imperative to bring our organizational structures under periodic review, not only of their outward forms but also of their basic principles.
What was perhaps ideal at the beginning of the missionary movement, and for the conditions of that day, will not do for the present stage of the movement and for our convulsive world of today.
The results of a study of 153 North American missionary societies conducted by the Missions Advanced Research and Communication Center last fall show that "feeling is mixed about the need for the use of scientific business tools for mission management; planning, or research." The study also uncovered the fact that "in terms of long-range planning, a startling 60 percent of the responding societies seldom or never do any long-range planning on the board level." The number is reduced to 30 percent on the field level, but with a major concentration of planning being done on an annual basis. This is a situation that must be corrected if the missionary movement does want, as it should, to move with the times.
The Roman Catholic Church is taking seriously the spirit of aggiornamento or renewal, at least in Latin America. At a Conference on Intercultural Communication held in Costa Rica last January, the following statement by a Catholic educator was typical of the new approach:
"An important and integral part of the whole picture of social change in Latin America is the challenge to the church itself to change. It must understand anew its place and function in society, its whole relation to the world. It must undergo a basic and radical transformation in order to participate creatively in the new, free, modern pluralistic society which is slowly but irresistibly emerging on the continent. It must offer to the people the message of Christ, or better, His life, instead of a structure and an institution. It must renounce its centuriesold tendency to shape the life of the people from above, and consent to wield only that influence which it can command through its message, its service and its appeal to conscience."
Our motives, methods and objectives may differ widely from those of the Catholic Church, but unless we keep up with the times we may findourselves completely unprepared to make any significant contribution to the work of God.
It would be very naive to speak dogmatically about solutions for the complex problems and challenges missions are facing. My own concern centers not around organizational structure, but around the essential goal of world evangelism and the growth and development of the kind of church that can be Christ’s contemporary instrument.
My personal conviction is that the solution lies in the direction of a philosophy of missions whose guiding principle would be to carry on the worldwide task in the context o f the church universal.
A "national" missionary society (North American, English, German, etc.) is just as much a theological heresy as a "national" church, when any distinction on the basis of race or culture limits, hinders, or distorts the essential character of the Gospel or the essential scope of its task. As James A. Scherer in his book Missionary Go Home has so well put it: "There can be a church for a nation and a church in a nation but not a national church. For the church of Christ is itself the universal nation; its geographical subdivisions are never more than provinces of the whole."
In reviewing the book that came out of the Congress on the Church’s Worldwide Mission, Paul R. Orjala, associate professor of missions at Nazarene Theological Seminary, said: "Perhaps our greatest need is to develop a doctrine of the church which is adequate for a world in which the younger churches are rapidly growing up. We know what the local church is, but we are unsure about the nature of the ecumenical church. The result is a confusing pluralism in missionary aims, methods and relationships, which are now decided largely on the basis of pragmatic rather than theological criteria."
A wholesome concept of missions should make God’s people independent, and thus heal the alienation that sin has brought upon mankind.
The new community of God’s people is the universal nation-supranational, supralingual and supracultural. National identities do not need to be dissolved, but they must not be allowed to assume ultimate significance.
The internationalizing of the world missionary task will provide an answer to basic problems and unprecedented opportunities missions are confronting. Let me mention some of them.
It will disassociate the Gospel from a given nation or culture, thus enhancing its universal character and its divine origin.
It will dispel the notion of geographical centers of mission in favor of the biblical view of every church as a center of mission.
It will provide a strategy that is both theologically sound and pragmatically effective, by matching all the resources that are available against all the needs to be met-each church providing what it has and receiving what it lacks. At a given time, one church may abound in financial resources where another abounds in available manpower. Sound strategy demands that they combine their resources to advance the world task. For example, some denominations in the United States have funds but do not have personnel available for foreign service, while in some other nation there are candidates for service but there are no funds available for their support. This situation provides an opportunity to demonstrate that the whole people of God are engaged in one mission to the world.
Such a strategy will force missionary societies to tackle more creatively and more realistically the problem of higher training for Christian service. A national church limited to its own constituency and scope does not challenge high caliber volunteers, nor demand the provision of higher education for them. The status quo of mediocrity is a vicious circle in which many missions are caught and simply exist.
A world strategy will provide the basis for a demonstration that we are God’s stewards and not simply shareholders of a particular organization we call our own. The statement, "Send us your money but not your missionaries," naturally provokes the reaction, "If you don’t want our missionaries neither do we want to send our money." Both attitudes are wrong. 1 Corinthians 3:21-23 is most relevant here: "All things are yours . . . and you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s."
One cannot rightly speak of "your missionary" or "my money." The opposite is the Christian attitude. One should say: "Your missionary is mine," and "My money is yours." We may as well stop playing with words unless we want to put real meaning to our stewardship.
We must recognize that mission is God’s task, not the church’s or ours. We-all His people-are co-workers with Him. Let us not hinder His work by imposing our limitations on it.
The future of the mission of God is brighter than ever, but only from this perspective. Our generation is recapturing the principle of total mobilization for a total task. The total community of God’s people with its total resources must hear and heed His bidding.
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