by Larry Sharp
Six suggestions for inhanced effectiveness.
I am an educator and administrator in the foreign missions enterprise. After 21 years in Brazil, I am the U.S.A. director for UFM International. Yet I am committed to the local church and its primary role in world missions. My wife and I serve in the missions advancement program of our large, nondenominational church (with a substantial missions budget) in the Philadelphia area.
Paul Borthwick has challenged me to write about this subject two times in the last year. The final paragraph of his eloquent article, "What local churches are saying to mission agencies," in last July’s EMQ was one. Earlier in 1999 we both contributed papers at the Evangelical Missiological Society meeting in Lancaster, Pa.
I certainly do not claim to represent the agencies. The perspectives here are mine alone, although I believe that these six thoughts will ring true with many other agencies as well. Unfortunately, church-agency cooperation, partnership, and mutual interdependence have not yet become a reality. Hence I take seriously the messages of Paul Borthwick, Tom Telford, ACMC, the U.S. Center for World Mission, and others who challenge those of us in mission leadership to change. I humbly believe that God has started the change process with the agencies.
I submit these six suggestions to local churches so that our symbiotic relationship will allow us to obey God’s last command more quickly and more effectively.
1. Teach the whole counsel of God. God’s Word is a missionary document. From Genesis 12:3 to Revelation 7:9, God makes clear his desire that all mankind worship him. The local church, as God’s primary vehicle for bringing others to worship him, is the starting point for sound, biblical teaching. By teaching the whole counsel of God, preachers and teachers in the church help parishioners to grow spiritually and see God’s heart for the whole world, along with their part in fulfilling the Great Commission.
The pastor is pivotal in church leadership. Search committees therefore must require clear evidence of a candidate’s theology, including the candidateÿs understanding of how God is accomplishing his purposes in the world. The candidate should have a clear vision for, and have some experience in, cross-cultural ministries. Has he traveled abroad? Does he support missionaries himself? Does he help prepare and encourage others to serve God’s mission?
Perhaps an even more basic malady is the postmodern uncertainty about hell and the destiny of the lost without Christ. No church should be uncertain about this issue. A church that does not understand the depth of the gospel will hardly be able to produce quality missionaries. The missionary enterprise desperately needs churches grounded in sound doctrine and with a global vision, equipped with core strategies to reach out not only to local needs but also to people without access to the gospel.
2. Identify and mentor potential world Christian missionaries. Since most missionary endeavors are in some way tied into planting churches in cross-cultural contexts, and this involves evangelism, discipleship, and leadership training, potential missionaries should be involved in some aspects of these ministries. Most of us would not want to fly overseas with a pilot at the controls of the airplane for the very first time. Likewise, missions need candidates who have been actively involved in a legitimate, biblical birthing process in local churches.
I wish churches would identify and mentor all potential missionaries from their congregation by coaching and encouraging them in the important dimensions of character formation, skill development, and biblical knowledge.
Just as church leaders are not produced by a Bible Institute or seminary, so missionaries are not produced by a mission agency or training center. Rather they are produced first by local churches, which train and disciple them, recognize their call, and test them as individuals and as future leaders and missionaries. . . .1
For larger missions-focused churches, nonformal programs directed by the local church may provide some key answers because they will provide better practical learning opportunities than highly structured, theory-based cognitive modes of learning common in colleges and seminaries. Competency-based learning integrates important elements of the affective domain along with the behavioral. Certainly character development is best home grown and evaluated in the local church. As members mature and prove themselves ready for foreign service, the church can partner with agencies and further training programs such as Mission Training International, Agape, and so on to complete the preparation.
God’s missionary enterprise demands young and old mentored, matured, and proven by experience in the local church. The rugged, individualistic approach to recruiting is from the past. Churches, agencies, and training programs must work together. A key strategy in identifying and mentoring world Christians would be to focus on children in the Sunday schools and the Christian day schools. A cursory review of most Christian school curricula and even Sunday school materials reveals a serious lack of focus on the rest of the world, to say nothing of the basic missionary theme of the Bible. Teachers need to be able to connect academic content with a biblical worldview. This will produce young people who see beyond themselves and who are able to apply the gospel of grace.
3. Involve the agency in strategic decisions and evaluation. For an effective partnership, both partners need to consider the other in decision making. It is a rare church that can supervise, strategize, evaluate, and care for missionaries on a faraway field, yet some churches are reinventing the wheel to be innovative in strategy, member care, training, and supervision. An informed decision needs access to all of the information.
Not long ago a valued couple working in Eastern Europe resigned from our agency because the home church, which had a substantial portion of the support, determined that this couple did not fit its new strategic guidelines, which were now directed at the 10/40 Window. True, every church has the right and responsibility to establish criteria for its missionary strategy, but why not involve the agency in the evaluation process?
Another unfortunate contemporary strategy promotes withdrawing support from ministries in "reached" areas, assuming that because a region has access to the gospel that unbelievers don’t need a further clear presentation of the gospel. However, unbelievers in Italy, France, and Argentina are just as lost as anyone if they have not yet appropriated the gospel. Churches need to grasp overseas realities and who really is lost before making strategic decisions.
My wife and I are members of a committee at our church that interviews missionaries and then makes recommendations about support levels. Recently a family was evaluated as not achieving expectations. The committee debated whether their support should be withdrawn. Finally, we asked whether the agency supervisor had been asked for his assessment. No one had thought of that.
Missions is not a solo act. Churches and agencies that network together accomplish more. Networking is particularly important when it comes to accountability. Churches and agencies need to work together so that they do not demand too much from the missionary, or allow him to get caught in power struggles or dragged down with bureaucratic demands. They need to work collegially on appraisals, accountability, and major decision making.
4. Be consistent, vision-driven, and focused. Churches frustrate their missionaries and the agencies when they make hasty decisions. They need to halt radical changes, which sometimes come with committee or pastoral changes. High turnover of mission committee leadership undermines long-range planning.
Some missiological theories today are based on erroneous presuppositions, and unfortunately many churches fall for the latest fad or persuasive presentation. Some churches have disengaged their missionaries and strategies in favor of a "support nationals only" strategy without a clear understanding of the cost and consequences. Agencies don’t have all the answers, either, but they may have some experienced input to help make a focused decision.
Parachurch groups exist to serve the local church and in so doing perform certain roles in the body of Christ that complement the roles of the sending church. Some of these include expertise in cross-cultural ministries; experience in the logistics of international, multilingual, cross-cultural transitions; cost-effective operations; missionary care; contingency planning; research; and fund-raising.
Historically, mobilizing the North American church has not been part of the agencies’ domain. However, today many hours and dollars are being invested in helping North American Christians make kingdom decisions. In the past five years our mission agency home office staff has increased by 30 percent. All but 5 percent are devoting their energies to mobilizing people and funds for missions—not to missionary effectiveness, strategic planning, or financial accountability. Some of us even consider this to be a valid field of ministry, like Amazon people groups, street children, or Muslims. Of course, missions could be more cost effective if churches were self-mobilized, vision-driven, and focused.
5. Remember, it takes a team. Some churches have overreacted to the important call to "focus" and have forgotten that God’s work is a team effort. Constructs such as the 10/40 Window, "unreached peoples," and "synergism" are helpful to our understanding and strategizing but are counterproductive if they encourage churches to ignore the fact that God gives unique gifts to all Christians and therefore needs all such giftedness to achieve the task (Rom. 12: 4-8). The apostle Paul acknowledged more than 70 people in his support team. Paul’s success simply would not have happened without them.
Churches in the 21st century will not be able to accomplish the task alone. Evangelical ecclesiology must include all parts of the body of Christ, both structurally and individually.
One of my most valuable possessions is a Canela language New Testament given to my wife and me by long-term friends and Wycliffe translators Jack and Jo Popjes. Their note thanks us for our part in the education of their daughters at the Amazon Valley Academy, where we served in the 1970s and ’80s. They recognized that without MK teachers, the Canela people group would never have heard the gospel, never would have had the Word in their language, and never would have had a church.
We were saddened to learn some years ago that the home church of one of our appointee couples would not support them because they were not planning to be church planters. Their calling and experience were to teach MKs. Their departure was delayed for two years while they changed home churches. On a recent trip to this couple’s field, I observed Jeff teaching the Word in a small "planted" church and math to MKs so that many "real church planters" could stay on the field. He and Jill are part of an important and necessary team.
Many other examples can be given of prayer warriors, builders, linguists, administrators, technicians, physicians, printers, and givers—and the list goes on. Churches need to know that God’s work needs them all.
Concerning missionary care, neither agency nor church nor family can do it alone. Partnership requires mutual involvement in encouragement, appraisals, logistics, understanding, and love.
6. Support strategic training institutions and programs. Churches commonly support Christian colleges and seminaries, but I am amazed by the amount of funding going into institutions with little apparent vision for the unreached. Somehow traditional or denominational linkages have overpowered the connection between stewardship and the Great Commission.
No one opposes quality engineering, medical, teacher, or archaeology programs, but a weak connection to the billions without a saving knowledge of Christ demonstrates a problem with the vision of the church.
It is no secret that mission agencies have ceased to count on most Bible colleges to completely prepare students for intercultural ministries. No longer do missiological concerns drive the curriculum of the Bible college movement. Though there are clear exceptions, it seems that for most colleges, the curriculum is market-driven, responding to the demands of parents, students, churches, and employers. Great Commission subjects are not very marketable. They have been dwarfed by TEFL, teacher education, aviation, music, and other worthy endeavors. These emphases are important, but where is the missionary training college of bygone eras?
As churches target youth for Great Commission purposes, surely they should encourage and support schools that emphasize character development and the integration of learning with faith and mission. Such youth perhaps will not only be prepared in terms of knowledge and skill but also in passion for the lost.
Praise God for the PAD Declaration,2 which encourages theological schools to consider better ways to further the goal of "a church for every people and the gospel for every person." Churches need to pray for, encourage, and support those schools that actively integrate Great Commission thinking into every fabric of the school and withdraw support from those schools for which missions is an obscure one- to two-person department with a handful of majors and a small office at the end of a dingy hall, totally unrelated to the core ethos of the institution. When churches elevate God’s ultimate desire that all nations worship him to its rightful place, they will allocate resources to institutions that more efficiently prepare their own members for that high calling.
I share these six perspectives with immense gratitude to the supporting churches that have allowed my wife and me the privilege of sharing in their vision, and, in so doing, participating in bringing people to worship God. These perspectives come with the desire that churches, agencies, and schools will listen well to each other and to the Spirit of God in order to develop effective strategies for the 21st century together.
1. Rodolfo Giran, "An Integrated Model of Missions" in Too Valuable to Lose (Pasadena: William Carey Library), p. 27.
2. See July, 1999, EMQ, p. 321.
LARRY SHARP is U.S.A. director for UFM International (Bala-Cynwyd, Pa.). He served for 21 years as a missionary in Brazil with UFM.
EMQ, Vol. 36, No. 1, pp. 78-83. Copyright © 2000 Evangelism and Missions Information Service. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.