by Daniel W. Bacon
Suggestions for practical steps churches can take to cooperate with agencies to facilitate and improve the deputation system.
The word deputation connotes a host of images and feelings. Reactions from the missionary candidate, or even missionary on furlough, may vary from mild panic, anxiety, and exhaustion to keen anticipation and excitement. From the church side, some view the missions deputation process with sympathy for the travel-worn missionary, but question also a system that puts such hardship on people and creates competition among agencies for church speaking time. Unfortunately, the picture of a missionary with tin-cup-in-hand has become a major barrier to many young people contemplating career missions.
Winds of change are blowing in the right direction, however, and many agencies and local churches are rethinking the deputation process. In the meantime, how can the candidate or missionary facing deputation come to terms with the situation and make the best of it? What practical steps can churches take, as well, to cooperate with agencies to facilitate and improve the deputation system? The following are some suggestions:
GETTING THE RIGHT PERSPECTIVE
It is difficult to shake off the image of a missionary on deputation as a kind of parasite or beggar. Missionaries themselves struggle with a self-perception of being a super salesperson trying to sell a product no one really wants. But a correct biblical perspective of the missionary’s relationship to the local church at home can help considerably. I see the missionary’s role in the deputation process as:
1. A model for missions. The missionary Paul frequently used his own experience as a role model to others (e.g., Rom. 15:14), to challenge and stimulate commitment to God’s work. The presence of a missionary is a living illustration of obedience to the Great Commission.
The missionary on deputation has a unique prophetic function to the churches, to keep the evangelistic task before us and to teach the partnership between church and mission. He or she need never apologize for that role and should realize that the main task in deputation is to help believers become missions-minded Christians.
2. A mobilizer for missions. The apostle Paul was a busy man. Even though he describes himself primarily as an evangelist and church planter (Rom. 15:20), yet he always sought to include others in the missionary task (Rom. 15:24). This pattern of partnership is a very helpful guideline for today’s missionary. Partnership, however, goes further than raising financial support. The need and legitimacy of mobilizing prayer and personnel should be clear from Paul’s example.
Thus, today’s missionary in deputation should realize that he or she is offering churches and individuals an opportunity for meaningful participation in God’s work. There is a rightful sense in which the missionary is extending a favor to the supporter and not just the opposite.
3. A minister for missions. Another critical role is to be a facilitator for the local church. Paul was willing to invest weeks and months just to transport support funds to needy Christians in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 8:19-21). The missionary needs to come with a willingness to serve the church and effect any connections that will help to bring together the mission agency and the local church.
GETTING THE RIGHT MESSAGE
What should be the message of the missionary on deputation? Some come to present their "work" or to present "themselves" as worthy of financial support. At times the host church sets the parameters or conditions and the missionary may be restricted. How often churches suggest that missionaries should stick to "stories" and leave preaching to the pastor.
I’m convinced, however, that the best starting point is to begin with the reality of God’s working in your own life. Coupled with that should be a clear biblical framework for your sense of call, commitment, preparation, and response to world need. How ably this was expressed in the example of that pioneer missionary to China and father of the faith missions movement, Hudson Taylor:
"The chief need, as he saw it, was faith in God for such an increase of spiritual life among His people as to produce the missionary spirit. Not money, not the collection, was to him the object of a meeting, but to get people under the power of the Word and into fellowship with God. We do not need to say much about the China Inland Mission. Let people see God working, let God be glorified, let believers be made holier, happier, brought nearer to Him and they will not need to be asked to help" (Hudson Taylor: God’s Man In China, p. 175, by Mrs. Howard Taylor).
GETTING THE RIGHT RELATIONSHIPS
The Bible speaks clearly of the interdependence of believers in the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12). Ideally, we need team spirit or partnership between the missionary and a supporting church. This joint relationship entails accountability, reporting, and interdependence.
The missionary obviously needs the church for support, but the church needs the missionary to extend, in obedience to the Great Commission, its ministry worldwide. When this pattern emerges, most of the frustrations that relate to deputation begin to dissolve. Deputation should be seen as the raising up of a support team and not just support dollars. When the missionary is viewed as an extension of the church in partnership, and not just as a hired agent, then deputation can truly be a joyful ministry and not just a gauntlet to be endured.
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