15. Church Partnership in Missions (Part II)

Proactive Churches in Missions

Field, Candidate and Church oriented Missions Agencies

Field Oriented Agencies

It may be possible to trace an historical development among North American sending agencies from being "field oriented" to becoming "candidate oriented" and now shifting to a "church oriented" initiative. A traditionally field oriented sending agency actively looks for new fields of involvement, but does not involve candidates or churches at a partnership level in decision making.  Through this efficient but top-down process the sending agency arranges all the details concerning the missions opportunity. The vision, the evaluation of resources, strategizing and ministry emphases are solely the domain of the agency and representatives are sent to the churches to promote the project as a worthy of their finances and to recruit candidates so that the vision can be fulfilled. Although the churches may be called to "partner" with the sending agency through prayer and financial support, this is not a true partnership because the agency monopolizes the decision making process. The role of the church is to support the program of the sending agency.

Candidate Oriented Agencies

A candidate oriented approach focuses on the desire and vision of individuals who wish to be involved in missions. Candidates are evaluated primarily on the basis of their call to missions, and only secondarily to their ability to fulfill a need in a specific field.  The sending agency’s recruitment strategy is individualistic and relies on a number of institutions (e.g. Bible Colleges) and programs (e.g. Urbana) outside the church to locate potential candidates.  The enterprise may be initiated by a church which desires to send a particular member into missions. The sending agency accommodates this desire by considering the vision of the church and candidate as an indication of the Spirit’s guidance for the mission.  Nonetheless the church’s role remains one of recommending candidates to the agency, which accepts them according to the agency’s own criteria and agenda. The vision and gifts of the candidate along with the needs of the field are given high priority in forming the missions strategy.  This comes closer to a true partnership with the candidate because the priority is to place them where they can find ministry fulfillment and thus the overall ministry focus is developed cooperatively with the candidate.  However, the church maintains a supporting rather than a partnership role in the process.  The sending agency serves the churches by accepting their members as missions personnel and by providing the system and organization to place them successfully on the field.

In both these scenarios churches can be compared to stockholders who have made an investment of resources.  The agency, like a secular company, is dependent for its solvency upon the stockholders, but maintains its sovereignty over the purpose, direction and decision making process.

Church Oriented Agencies

A church oriented sending agency, on the other hand, will seek to enter into a true missions partnership with individual churches.  Rather than presenting a project or proposing a candidate to be supported, the agency works with the church so that the church moves beyond awareness and support to ownership and active involvement. The church is brought into the process of developing the vision, evaluating the resources, strategizing and ministry emphases.  The missions program belongs to the church which participates with the agency in the decision making progress rather than being limited to an evaluative and responsive role. Instead of helping churches understand how to be aware of, pray for and contact the agency’s missionaries, the agency becomes a resource so that the church can responsibly fulfill its missions mandateand the church’s missionaries can be effective.  From beginning to end the churches are assisted in making those informed decisions which will impact the direction towards which that missions effort will unfold.

The Design Your Impact Workshop is a seminar designed to help people "shape a strategic missions focus to fit your church’s DNA." (1) The goal is for churches to recognize that partnership in what God is doing in the world can be more than prayer and financial support.  "A strategic focus will use gifts a church never knew it had.  Over time, such churches develop a growing core of people who have been on site, or hosted visitors here, or got excited as they watched their children or friends return from on-site [sic] visits.  And now they pray for individuals by name.  They send gifts with the next team.  They look for additional ways to help.  Missions is no longer a program or an offering.  It’s God’s call to this church to make an eternal impact on one particular corner of the world for His glory." (2)

In the next article creative ways for the church to work in partnership with a sending agency for the purpose of being actively missional in a global sense are explored.


  • (1) Camp, B.K. & Livingood, E. 2002. Design Your Impact Workshop. Dana Point: Dual Reach. subtitle.
  • (2) ibid. p. 25.
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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