by Ken Roundhill
Church-mission integration, like marriage, costs much of both parties to make it work.
EMQ20-2_3 Much has been written about church-mission relationships-paternalism, partnership, and , parallelism are three progressive phases leading to the independence of the national churches. However, there is another significant arrangement that we need to spell out: integration, whereby a foreign-based mission merges into the national church.
Peter Wagner quotes Paul Rees as saying, "Some form of parallelism may serve as a temporary measure, but it is not the wave of the future. It is the gurgle of the past. Neither continuing parallelism nor planned withdrawal is what the Asian or African Christians want from the missionaries. They want integration, membership, the kind of mutual commitment that makes the twain one" (Frontiers in Missionary Strategy, p. 175).
Integration has been defined by a veteran missionary in Indonesia as "divine love in action in the body of Christ." True love calls for togetherness. Integration is a togetherness that envelops cultural thought habits, reactions, manners, prejudices, national pride, and communication.
Integration presumes that both missionaries and nationals want to continue to work together in the closest possible fellowship. It is not forced upon the church and mission bodies by government decree. Neither is it a result of missionary agitation. Rather, the church leaders should request that the missionaries work with them in this union.
For us, this took place in 1969. It was preceded by some 19 years of working with converts until they took leadership. Worldwide Evangelization Crusade in Japan became the Sekai Fukuin Dendo Dan, under Japanese leadership, and registered with the government. We have learned a number of things that might be of help to other missions.
When church and mission are integrated, there is no place for separate working committees or conferences. All communication is in the vernacular; older missionaries sit with new ones to tell them what’s going on. Our team of 12 church leaders and 18 missionaries meets for fellowship once a month. This group has no executive authority: we meet for fellowship. We spend a good deal of the time discussing the placement of missionaries.
The executive committee of five is chosen by the international team, apart from national distinction. The foreigners, in the majority, could dominate the committee, but the Japanese usually have three or four seats. The larger controlling body, which includes laymen, pastors, and missionaries, is also predominately Japanese.
Although the Japanese lead, missionaries are more than observers. In our fellowship there is a frank sharing of weaknesses as well as rejoicing in victories. The discipline of missionaries, the assessment of our ministry, our return or not to the field after furlough, are all discussed by the joint working committee. Applications from new candidates are studied by this committee after being processed by the home board.
In cases of discipline or dismissal of Japanese workers, the missionary committee members are involved.
Our arrangement is not a prostitution of evangelism in the pursuit of oneness, as Donald McGavran has said in his criticism of some forms of integration. Rather, it results in the wisest placement of personnel for further outreach consistent with the gifts of the missionary or the Japanese worker.
Naturally, the sooner the transition to Japanese leaders can take place the better. However, we have found that it is not wise to rush into this because of things like a vacancy caused by a missionary going on furlough. Integration allows for a frank exchange of opinion. It’s to our advantage that the cross-cultural decision-making process takes longer.
The Latin America Mission is one of the few missions that has tackled radical change in mission structure with integration in mind. Speaking of that, Dayton Roberts wrote, "The real test of an integrated organization is in the answer to the question, ‘Who makes the decisions?’ Participation in the decision-making process is the ultimate touchstone of integration…. We had to restructure the mission along lines that would put the decision-making processes in the hands of the Latin Americans… The results-we have seen great growth in the work, the emergence of much new leadership, the reduction of tensions, etc." (personal letter to the author).
With us, decision-making has been enhanced because from the beginning the Japanese and the missionaries met monthly to talk and pray about every major issue. Consensus was sought in frank and open fellowship, although at first we did have a committee composed solely of missionaries to handle sensitive personnel matters. With integration, the committee became international under Japanese leadership.
But even with integration, decisions about property and money have had to be made by the missionaries. Property must be turned over. When the church was registered with the government, a full inventory of all properties to be used for religious purposes was needed. In Japan, registration is impossible without real estate. This was the logical time for all mission properties-including missionary houses-to change hands, to be registered under the name of the church, and to come under the jurisdiction of the combined board.
Giving away property is not easy: "theirs" and "ours" is no longer valid, because all things belong to "us," even if funds for their purchase did come from abroad, or, possibly, out of the pockets of the missionaries themselves. Integration implies trust, and shared property gives tangible evidence of that.
Sharing money is more complex. So often, this is the Achilles heel in any cross-cultural organization, especially where living standards are very low among Christians. In Japan, our work began in the devastation of the immediate post-war period. Missionaries shared their support with young trainees, because there was no other source of funds.
Since then, the changes have been revolutionary. Living standards are higher than in many other countries. Japanese Christians, although still relatively few in numbers, are very generous givers.
However, before the meteoric rise to prosperity, we decided to reduce our contributions gradually for their support, until now it is nil. We took the initiative, though not without the consent of our Japanese brethren, who saw the spiritual principles involved.
The merging of funds would have been a retrograde step. The Japanese believers had to be responsible for the physical welfare and support of their own spiritual leaders. They formed their own finance committee to set support standards. Each congregation gives 10 percent of its offerings to support pioneer workers. Missionaries still give to this fund. Also, missionaries often receive much from the Japanese.
What about theological and doctrinal integration? For us, it does not mean rigid conformity to a creed, although we do have a doctrinal statement acceptable to most evangelical churches in Japan. Our missionaries come from nine different countries (if we separate Scotland and Wales culturally from England). We represent at least five different denominations. The pastors have been and are being trained at seven different Bible schools and seminaries.
That may look like an invitation to chaos, but with a firm conviction about the absolute authority of the Scriptures, a shared longing to know more of Christ as Lord and Savior, and a desire to make him known, we find that variety in training and culture enriches our fellowship. We make room for incidentals; we urge moderation with any sign of extremes; we keep in close touch in case of any personal needs. Because the monthly meeting of the whole cross-cultural team proves too cumbersome for itemized praying at length over personal and local concerns, we also meet once a month in small groups, and pray for hours together.
Is integration the incoming tide? Nonsense, some would say, it is not even desirable. To some missionaries, it means restrictions on fulfilling their special ministry. Certainly, in any integration both parties must appreciate the gifts and the contributions that the missionary can make, either to the local church or to the church in the country as a whole.
In 1976 my wife and I started an inter-mission missionary training course for Japanese. By its very nature and purpose, it had to be independent of all missions and churches, including our own, in order the better to minister to them all. So, although we continue as bona fide members of the church and have some continuing ministry in a local congregation, yet we are not confined to its interests alone. Our colleagues agreed to this and have supported us.
But some missionaries are members of integrated churches where the pastors have left their biblical moorings. They can do little or nothing about it. They are a protesting, grieving minority.
That kind of integration is disastrous. It fits Donald McGavran’s stricture on integration all too neatly- terribly so! It points up the fact that integration in itself without safeguards benefits no one, but can cripple all concerned. A healthy, supportive, biblically based integration is like marriage-a wonderful institution, but the two parties must pay the cost of making it work.
In our case, we seem to have been borne along with the tide. The power of the cross broke down cultural barriers, helped us to die to national pride, and to learn things about ourselves that we would never have learned otherwise.
We cannot take our oneness in Christ for granted. Prayerfully, we must strive for openness, humility, patience, unselfishness, and spiritual discernment that make it possible. The number of Japanese leaders is growing rapidly, so our fellowship will be tested, but they are in no hurry to change.
To make integration work, missionaries need to know more of a glad service without being servile. They must have courage to say no to peripheral and energy-sapping work that negates their essential ministry. They must fight off despair, despite the incredible standards their church workers set for them.
For their part, our Japanese colleagues need to appreciate the enormous barrier of their own culture, language, and thought patterns. They need a vision of the church that is not centered in the four walls of a particular congregation. They need to train disciples for leadership in the church, homes, and society around them.
If it is true that, as Paul Rees says, Asian and African Christian leaders want integration, then the tide is already rolling in. We face an unprecedented challenge to work harmoniously in an international team, and to build the confidence in each other that such an integration demands.
To test the usefulness of Ken Roundhill’s proposal, we asked two veterans of church-mission plans-Dayton Roberts formerly with the Latin America Mission and Harold Fuller with SIM-to send their comments. They are published below. -Ed.
Principles that apply anywhere
by Dayton Roberts
W. Dayton Roberts is editorial director at World Vision International. Previously he has held many posts in the Latin America Mission, including associate general director and vice-president. He was general secretary of the Community of Latin America Evangelical Ministries, the result of LAM’s divestiture of various ministries. He is the author of several books, including Revolution in Evangelism.
Ken Roundhill has spelled out lucidly the issues of church-mission integration. It is more important to grapple with the issues than it is to find a common solution. This is because the solution will differ in each case. The Latin America Mission, with whose experience I am most familiar, probably will not prove to be a model for other organizations to follow without adaptation. The LAM was a family of increasingly self-sufficient parachurch institutions, was serving in a western culture and nominally Christian environment, and set in a fast-growing evangelical community. The Japanese context is quite different.
Regardless of our situation, however, there are a number of important principles to keep in mind:
1. Decisions are best made by the people in the ministry-those closest to the point of action. They know the situation best; they are the most affected. They are usually the most dedicated to the task and most diligent in pursuing it. It is hard to justify decision-making by distant boards, be they in New York, Wheaton, London, or California. There is little biblical support for the exercise of such authority without participation by all concerned.
2. Financing and authority should coincide. Perhaps this sounds like a contradiction of my first point. I do not believe so. Eventually, both the administrative authority and the financial responsibility must rest upon the shoulders of the leaders in ministry.
This means two things: first, growth must be designed to promote both local financial autonomy and local administrative autonomy. Secondly, the foreigner may fully participate in the local ministry, but he is always what the Hebrews would call a "ger"-a resident alien. He is beloved, respected, and involved, but still responsible to promote indigenous leadership.
3. In the integrated church-mission community, cultural differences can become a source of creative insights rather than of communications barriers. I recently visited the Baptist Church of Nairobi, Kenya, and was impressed by the mix of nationalities, denominational creeds, and ethnic groups. The Kenyan pastor appealed for more "white" singers to add "color" to the choir! His welcome to expatriates was particularly warm and fraternal.
In Uruguay, I am told that the Methodist national leaders at one time wanted all missionaries withdrawn from the country because they considered their own leadership to be more than adequate. Not many years later, they were inviting foreign workers to come and "give witness among us to the universality of the Christian gospel."
4. The most important principle is the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit. If he has given birth to a new believer, he can also give him growth. God will always "perfect that which he has begun," says Paul to the Philippians. Local Christians can be filled with the Spirit. Missionaries have no monopoly on his gifts.
What is true in individual Christians is also true in Christian institutions and in the church itself. God deals with each in different ways, but to each he offers the fullness of his love and power. We need to trust the Holy Spirit to complete his perfect work in our national brothers.
Today’s missionary must be sensitive to these important principles. Otherwise, he should stay at home. There are plenty of people whom God can raise up overseas to carry out his missionary purpose.
But with willingness, obedience, and sensitivity a missionary can always make his mark for the Lord among the unreached masses and in the church of Jesus Christ worldwide.
Fellowship, not absorption
by W. Harold Fuller
W. Harold Fuller has been deputy general director for SIM since 1978. He began his missionary career in Africa in 1951 and became editor of "African Challenge" magazine. He founded five other publications. From 1975 to 1977 he led the SIM in Nigeria through turning responsibility over to the Association of Evangelical Churches of West Africa. His most recent book is The Ends of the Earth (SIM).
I’ve had the opportunity to see Ken and Betty Roundhill in action in Japan, when my wife and I stayed with them in their home and attended their local church. In his article, Ken preaches what he practices.
The principle of oneness is scriptural, but we have to be careful not to oversimplify it when applying it to structural relationships, which are affected by context and size. The Roundhills work in a highly sophisticated land, the world’s most literate. Their work, like most Christian work in Japan, is small, and so structural relationships can be very informal and uncomplicated.
But multiply the potential problems Ken lists (unspiritual leadership, lost vision, tensions over property and finance) by large numbers of churches, members, and missionaries in a different context, and you have an exponential increase of problems. In such cases, a form of international partnership rather than "fusion" may prevent greater friction, promote indigenous responsibility, and leave the mission with the flexibility it requires to fulfill its mandate.
I prefer a model of the church assuming leadership, with the mission seconding personnel-for whom the mission nevertheless continues to be responsible. (Even this model depends on the level of leadership in the church.) I give a case study of one country where SIM has done this, in my book, Mission-Church Dynamics (William Carey Library). Yet we don’t feel that model can be followed in all countries at this time.
I agree wholly with Ken Roundhill that foreign missionary domination is out, and that open fellowship between expatriate and national is essential. In fact, our attitudes are the most important factor, because even the best models will fail if there is not the right spirit, the fellowship that Paul describes in Philippians 1:3-11.
But as to structure, even Ken says that "integration in itself without safeguards benefits no one." My personal observation is that the Roundhills have fellowship in the scriptural sense (oneness in a common purpose) rather than the type of organizational fusion which amounts to ecclesiastical absorption at the risk of losing missionary vision.
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