14. Church Partnership in Missions (Part I)

Proactive Churches in Missions

It was only a decade ago that common wisdom for finding support for missionaries said, "Forget the churches and focus on individual contacts."  Some missions organizations even encouraged their members to use the churches as a means for raising individual support.  In this way they sometimes managed, often to the irritation of church leadership, to obtain a commitment from the church budget as well as significant contributions from individual members of the church.

Missions thinking about church and sending agency relationships is experiencing a significant about face on this issue.  Rather than viewing churches as a source from which the resource needs of the sending agency can be met, many agencies are inviting churches into a true partnership of missions. Rather than merely supporting missions through the sending agency, churches are becoming directly involved doing missions with the aid of the agency. Moving beyond participation through prayer and financial support, some churches are becoming proactive and "hands on" in cross-cultural efforts both locally and around the world. 

These churches work with a missions agency to develop a missions vision and strategy, and as a result play a primary role in determining the direction and ongoing focus of the missions effort. They explore ways of becoming involved, ranging from providing full time overseas workers to sending specialists who can meet specific needs to reaching out locally to the same ethnic group.  The church develops a global missions consciousness and responsibility resulting in a partnership within which there is direct involvement in appropriate cross-cultural ministry.  The sending agency facilitates this ministry of the church and through education, organization and expertise ensures that the church’s vision and mission mandate is fulfilled.  In a sense, sending agencies are maturing as they move from being an "arm of the church" to become mentors of the church in providing opportunities for effective cross-cultural ministry according to the expressed vision and desire of the church.

A Bus or a Garage?

To illustrate the significance of this change, consider the following metaphor.  "Candidate oriented" missions agencies are like a company that runs a bus.  The bus runs from house to house (churches) seeking passengers (candidates) who can ride on the bus and thus maintain the purpose of the bus.  The passengers may maintain identity with their houses, but primarily their function is tied in with the direction the bus is going.  Although the passenger may decide whether or not to get on the bus, it is the bus driver (the directors of the mission), who determines the route.  This is a very efficient and effective means of transportation, especially if the bus driver is competent, the passengers are appropriately seated and the residents of the houses support the bus.   The problem comes when the residents no longer relate to the bus and thus lose interest in where the passengers are going.

Church oriented" missions agencies run a garage.  They seek partnership with the residents of the houses in order to assist them in maintaining a well run car (missions program).  They provide the expertise, the tools and the organization whereby the residents may fulfill their goal of having appropriate transportation.  The workers at the garage provide the guidance in knowing where the car should go, but the residents of the house have ownership of the car and direct its course.

Changes Fueling the New Direction

The societal changes facilitating this shift of the church towards true partnership in missions are many:

  1. The ease of travel and the affluence of the west allows people to enter another cultural setting with minimal time and effort.
  2. The popularity of short term missions teams has awakened churches to the possibilities of active involvement.
  3. Opportunities for hands-on involvement that create ownership gain a better response than appeals for commitment to an organization or missionary.
  4. Due to the overwhelming number of legitimate charities and the over saturation of the North American viewer to the needs of the world, the motives prompting generous giving must go beyond compassion and duty to a sense of personal responsibility for a particular missions focus.
  5. The role of the missionary has changed significantly over the years from the uniquely called sacrificing pioneer to being part of team which diminishes the role of the heroes and provides support for the timid yet capable.
  6. Some churches, disgruntled with the "hands-off" approach of some mission agencies, have pioneered their own missions effort.

A New Day?

It may be premature to declare a new day for western missions effort, but this trend has potential to reinvigorate the church’s call to mission.  In the past missions was divided into the "goers" and the "senders".  Now the locus of missions in not only overseas but in every place where people live and work.  The distinction between "goer" and "sender" has diminished in importance as all who are called to Christ are also called to mission. "Going" is not only defined geographically but in terms of involvement – and it begins with the church.

The next two articles will continue to explore this development.  In the second article "church oriented" missions organizations are contrasted with "field oriented" and "candidate oriented" organizations.  In the third article implications for churches and sending agencies are investigated.

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Author: Mark Naylor DTh (missiology)

I have been with Fellowship International since 1984. Karen and I served in Pakistan for 14 years and returned to Canada in 1999. I have continued to be involved in Bible translation traveling twice a year to Pakistan. My current role with Fellowship International and Northwest Baptist Seminary is as Coordinator of International Leadership Development