by Roger Coon
Missionaries and mission leaders sometimes feel that events have passed them by. Especially in regions where mission has met with great success they are agonizing over the question of whether or not their existence is still justified.
Missionaries and mission leaders sometimes feel that events have passed them by. Especially in regions where mission has met with great success they are agonizing over the question of whether or not their existence is still justified. The church growth movement has rightly challenged the diversion of mission energies into institutional endeavors that aid society (or the Christian segment of society), but do not contribute directly to the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
Some missions are withdrawing people who are still needed to "strengthen the churches." Some are looking, with great justification, to a redirection of focus into the neglected Islamic world. Some see social service and social justice as companions to evangelism in mission, interpreting "discipleship" to require the establishment of new social systems and economic orders.
All of these anxieties arise out of a conscientious concern to be faithful to the mission committed to us by the Lord Jesus Christ. But while mission leaders search their hearts, seeking new directions, some of the national Christian leaders are voicing a different concern.
Dr. Byang Kato, the first African general secretary of the Association of Evangelicals of Africa and Madagascar, said that unless we urgently undertake strong Bible teaching, the Africa that is now Christian could become pagan again. Dr. George Peters has said that missionaries have made converts, but not disciples. These converts are exposed to a cultural tendency to blend traditional religious beliefs with Christianity, and to a simultaneous introduction of nonbiblical theology that comes from radical theologians in the west.
Gottfried Osei-Mensah, executive secretary of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, has said, "I am concerned that unless we find some way of discipling and instructing the new Christians, we might be in danger in a generation or two, when we have a large body of interested people who call themselves Christians but who have not been taught."
How then should we view the commission of our Lord Jesus Christ to his apostles, in the light of these contemporary developments and conflicting concerns? We desire that our engagement should accurately reflect the work that Jesus has given us to do. The chart below is an attempt to envision the changing roles that missions can expect to experience while pursuing the unchanging task committed to us.
The problem is that we feel guilty if we cease to be totally devoted to the activity that characterizes stage one of mission. Even though we recognize that Jesus charged his apostles to edify as well as to evangelize, our "burden" is that we should continue to send people to new places. (Maybe this comes partly from a poor exegesis of Matthew 28:19 in the promotion of missions. Cf. Hesselgrave: "Confusion Concerning the Great Commission," EMQ, October, 1979.)
The point is that stage one, stage two, and stage three are all valid applications of the one task at different stages of development among a given target group. The allocation of resources in the proportions of a stage three situation should not cause us to worry that we have abandoned our calling. At the same time, as long as there are target groups needing stage one ministry we should certainly continue to go to them. But that does not warrant regarding such endeavors as more justifiably our mission than a stage three endeavor.
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I command you (Matt. 28:19, 20).
And he gave some as apostles, and some as prophets and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ (Eph.4:11, 12).
Discipling equals evangelizing plus equipping. Evangelizing: Communicating the scriptural knowledge of God, of man’s need, and of the Good News, so that a person might accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Equipping: Teaching every believer so that he/she might perform his/her role in the Body of Christ-growing "according to the proper working of each individual part." The two tasks are comparable, since every person won is to be equipped.
Evangelization involvement remains constant with reference to the target population, but increasingly it is taken over by the growing church, both in the parishes and beyond them. Mission evangelization will tend to concentrate on the unreached beyond the parishes, once churches have been established.
Missionary activity, which is initially all evangelizing, increasingly shifts to equipping the saints. The equipping task is not constant, since at first there are no believers, while later the growing body of believers surpasses the missionary evangelists in number. As the church matures, it takes responsibility for both evangelizing and equipping. A time comes when the mission invests more in equipping than in evangelizing. Even though the mission contribution to equipping is reduced from its former 100 percent responsibility, the actual investment of the mission may at this latter time be greater.
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