108. Five Transitions to Participate as Senders in God’s Global Mission

Move from where you are to where you want to be

Downloads: powerpoint, handout

In my role of coaching churches to do missions well, five transitions have proven effective for churches to make an impact as missionary sending churches.

From Missionary to Missions

  • Rather than supporting missionaries who have a mission, own the mission so that you can be partners with the missionary. Having a common passion is the best way to care for the missionary since it validates their calling.
  • What is the response of a church when a missionary retires? Is it, “What do we do with the money?” (missionary focus) or “How do we carry on the ministry?” (mission focus)
  • A missions orientation helps the church discover who and what to support. When someone comes up with a missions idea or a young person wants to be supported for a short term missions trip ask, “Is this your idea, or is it a mission vision of the church? Find 5 others who are also passionate about this and are willing to form a team for this initiative.”

From Information to Motivation

  • Traditionally mission committees focus on informing the church about missionaries. However, we live in an age of excess information. The only information absorbed is that which is immediately relevant.
  • A better emphasis is to motivate the church by involving them in a decision making process.
  • Rather than presenting one missions project for people to support, provide three. Then get people to vote on which one will make the greatest impact for God’s global mission and make that one your project.

From Passive receptor to Intentional mentor

  • People often doubt themselves and are unwilling to put themselves forward. Appoint respected believers in the church to identify those who may be called into missions and ask, “What is God’s call on your life?  Have you thought about it?  Do you think God may have a plan for you to work in missions?” That can change the direction of someone’s life.
  • One church I coached was a university church with high turnover of students. They came up with the idea of using the four years as a time to mentor people into discovering God’s call.  They did not wait for students to approach them, but initiated the conversation when students began attending.

From Cooperation to Identifying passion

  • Church leadership often thinks that their role is to decide what to do, cast a vision and then get people to cooperate with their plan.
  • Instead,
    • Pray that God would speak to people. 
    • Assume that God’s Spirit is working in people’s lives.
    • Identify and support the passion that God has given them. 
    • Ask: Where do people already have a passion for missions? Where are they already invested? 
    • Celebrate and support that passion. Such people are already motivated.
  • One church used their map of the world in a unique way. Sticky notes were provided for people to put on the map with their name to show either where they had been, or where they had a missions interest. Conversations began and common concerns were identified.

From Supporting to Investing

  • The traditional way of support raising is VERY intimidating. Nobody wants to do it and it can be an overwhelming burden. We are called to bear each other burdens.
  • If the church is already investing in the mission (transition #1), then partnering means taking on the whole burden with the goer, even to the point of raising funds for the goer. 
  • For example, ask the person going into missions to find 3 other people in the church to become a team for the mission. Together they meet, plan and act as if they were all going out on mission. With that perspective, working together with the missionary they can initiate prayer and financial support for the mission.  That is real investment.

93. Navigational tools for Church missions: A Decision Making Process

NOTE: Articles 90 – 93 on Navigational tools for Church Missions have been revised and incorporated into a single article through Catalyst Services.

The transitions and tools described in this series of articles are used as the framework for missions coaching among Fellowship churches in Canada.  If you are interested in exploring a coaching relationship for your church’s missions efforts, please contact Mark via the contact link below.

In the previous article, a second transition to move the missions team1 in the direction of “owning the task” was considered.  This article elaborates on the third transition for church missions teams introduced in Navigational tools for missions.

Transition 3: From communicating with to motivating the congregation
Navigational tool: Involve people in a decision making process
Biblical foundation: One body, many gifts

“I give up!” said Dave2, a missions chair.  He had faithfully and conscientiously kept the needs of the missionaries before the church. His discouragement was evident, “Every week I have information about our missionaries in the bulletin.  Then this last Sunday while talking to one of the elders I mention one of our missionaries and he asks me who they are!  He didn’t even know we supported them.  What a waste of time.”

I was on the phone recently to one of our churches and spoke to the pastor’s assistant.  I mentioned the name of a missionary who has been supported for years by the church, but she was unaware of who he was.  When faced with the reality that many people in the church lack knowledge about their church’s missionaries, a common response by missions teams is to increase communication.  The assumption seems to be that providing more information to the congregation will result in greater understanding about missions and an increase in commitment to the missions program.

people only retain information that is immediately perceived as relevant

Unfortunately, increased information does not necessarily result in greater involvement by the congregation or even alter people’s awareness of the missionaries’ work.  One reason for this reality is that, in general, people only retain information that is immediately perceived as relevant, the rest is dismissed. In our information saturated age, people have developed extremely efficient filters; any information that does seem relevant is dismissed and forgotten. Increasing communication is, therefore, a waste of time if there is no corresponding increase in personal relevance. Whether watching TV, surfing the internet or scanning the church bulletin, people connect with what interests them, and immediately discard that which does not relate to their lives. Buy-in and ownership are a priori requirements in order for information to be valued and accepted.  Providing more information without also ensuring perceived relevance for the intended hearer results in little or no impact.

This article advocates for a transition from a communication emphasis to a process of motivating the congregation.  Once people are motivated, communication is effective.

How does motivation work?

Motivation follows a distinct pattern:

1. Motivation is the natural orientation of people who have ownership

If your neighbor tells you that their car needs a tune-up, the chances are that you would not receive that information as a call to action.  Because you do not own the car, nor are responsible for it, you listen with only mild interest.  However, if it was your car, the natural response would be to take steps to correct the problem.

2. Ownership is the acceptance of ongoing responsibility initiated by an act of commitment.

When you sign the papers to purchase a house, perform your wedding vows, make a promise or merely hand over money to buy a litre of milk, you have committed yourself to a particular action or relationship.  There is an obligation or expectation that you will follow through on the implications of that commitment.  You will live in the house, care for your spouse, fulfill your promise and take the milk home.

3. Commitment is the end result of a decision making process

Why do people commit? There are a number of steps a person must go through to get to the point of commitment.  A series of decisions precede the act of binding oneself to a particular relationship, whether it is something as simple as purchasing milk, or as life-changing as getting married.  The decision making process leading up to the commitment may be incremental and develop slowly, or it may occur quickly with little hesitation, but it is a necessary prerequisite for a person to make a legitimate and sincere commitment.

A decision making process leads to commitment, which creates ownership, which causes motivation

Information makes sense when (and only when) there is perceived relevance.  Perceived relevance stems from a sense of ownership (buy-in) to a particular issue.  Ownership requires an act of commitment.  Commitment is developed through a process of involvement and decision making. If people are not responding well to communication about missions in the church, the likely cause is a lack of perceived relevance. In that case, the job of the missions team is not more or better communication. Rather the task becomes one of developing commitment by involving people in a decision making process. When people invest in how a project or ministry shaped, there will be perceived relevance.

Biblical foundation: One body, Many gifts (1 Cor 12)

There is an unfortunate tendency with some leaders to assume that their responsibility is to make the decisions, while it is the responsibility of others to cooperate.  That method is efficient and facilitates uncomplicated structural diagrams, but it does not resonate with the way human beings get involved in a common cause.  Making a plan and getting people to cooperate is like pushing a car uphill – those pushing are exhausted, while the passengers are bored.  However, developing a cooperative plan that reflects what is significant and important for all the participants, as expressed and developed by them, is like pushing a car downhill.  There is soon momentum far out of proportion to the initial thrust, and the direction and results are often unexpected. But very few are bored.

This method of engaging all participants so that they are driven by what is significant to and expressed by them is especially important for churches because of the particular dynamic laid out for us by Paul in 1 Cor 12.  Using the analogy of a human body, Paul informs us that all believers have a coordinated role to play in building each other up.  However, an important basis for the unity of the body is found in the individual connection of each person to the Holy Spirit (12:4).  It is God who puts the body together (12:24).  One implication of this teaching is that all believers can make a contribution to the mission and direction of the church based on what they have been given by the Spirit. The ministry task in which they become involved should be according to the concerns that God has placed in their hearts.  When believers work together to shape the vision of the church in a way that is significant for and revealed through each individual, the result is commitment and ownership of the task.

Navigational tool: Involve people in a decision making process

Rather than making decisions for people and asking them to come on board with our plans, good motivators involve the participants in a decision making process. What might this look like for a missions team that wants to involve the church more deeply in the missions efforts of the church?  The following three motivational examples provide gentle, medium and major impacts to the church.

Gentle Impact: The Bucket vote

Some churches have a yearly special project chosen by the missions committee which the congregation supports financially.  This praiseworthy practice can be adjusted so that it becomes a decision making process and draws people deeper into their commitment to missions.

Instead of presenting only one project, promote 5 suitable and worthwhile short term projects out of which the congregation can choose.  In a suitable place, arrange information about each of the projects together with separate donation boxes (the “buckets”).  Hand out, or place in the bulletin, $500 in play money in $100 notes and ask people to put the money towards the projects that they believe are the most impacting and worthwhile. They can spread the money around to as many as they like, or put the whole amount towards one project. The project that collects the most play money will be the one promoted that year.

This is not just a gimmick to draw people’s attention towards missions, but an application of motivational principles:

evaluate and prioritize … active participation … create buy-in

  1. It engages people in a decision making process by encouraging them to evaluate and prioritize.  They need to think through why one particular project may be more strategic and important than another.  This stimulates missiological questions: What values and principles should guide my choices when it comes to missions? Which project will provide the greatest impact for God’s kingdom?
  2. It promotes active participation.  By putting in the play money into a bucket, people act out their commitment to a particular missions project.  Making a decision to be involved in this exercise will likely translate into a level of commitment and ownership to the project itself.
  3. It creates buy-in.  This is not an empty exercise because people’s choices count. Because they have been involved in a decision making process that produces results they have participated in, they will recognize the project chosen as the one that they voted for and will have a sense of ownership (assuming that it was their project that won).  Thus, there is a development of emotional identification with something they have declared as significant and worthy of support.

Medium Impact: Find Advocates

A prayer meeting for missionaries was arranged.  Prayer is significant and believers affirm the need to pray for missionaries.  Yet, very few people participated. Can this be done differently, so that people are committed and involved?  One church thought so.

Using the navigational tool of engaging people to make decisions, the missions committee stopped planning for people and assuming cooperation, and instead moved to planning with people. Rather than providing an opportunity to pray, they created a decision making process through which the nature and arrangement of prayer for missions was accomplished.  First, missionaries were asked if they would be interested in having advocates in the church who would promote their ministry and interests. There was a 100% positive response. Then individuals in the congregation were approached and asked if they would consider becoming advocates for a missionary.  All those willing to consider the possibility were invited to a workshop in which they advised, discussed and individually decided what being an advocate would mean for them.

another motivational principle: manage agreements (not people)

Agreements were then drawn up that corresponded to each advocate’s desire to participate. This step takes advantage of another motivational principle critical for volunteer organizations: it is much more relaxing and effective to manage agreements3, rather than trying to encourage cooperation with a job determined by someone else.  These advocates now look for opportunities and create venues where the missionary’s task can be promoted for prayer according to the plan that they have established.

Major Impact: Follow the interests of the congregation

One pastor took advantage of this decision making dynamic by taking the time to discover where people in the congregation were already committed or interested in missions.  Rather than promoting a missionary supported by the church and assuming people would cooperate, he started by discovering where people’s interest in missions lay.  He took advantage of existing commitments and concerns and provided those people opportunity and encouragement to get others informed and involved.

In a similar vein, another church initiated a decision making process through which teams were assigned who developed their own purpose and direction for missions.  These teams grew out of individuals’ existing interest and involvement and took advantage of the momentum already in place. These teams were guided and challenged to “dream big.”  Impact is now being felt both within the church and around the world.  Two years ago the missions committee consisted of one dedicated man who corresponded with all the missionaries supported by the church.  Recently, he joyfully informed me that there were now 50 people involved in a variety of ways and people are coming up to him asking, “How can I take part?”  During one planning session, the senior pastor declared, “This is changing our church.”

For this level of transition and impact, coaching is recommended.

Getting people involved in a decision making process is not necessarily efficient, but use of this navigational tool can create dramatic changes.  It is important for missions teams to remember that they are not just working on behalf of the church, but are also working to engage the church.  Their role is to get the church involved in and excited about missions. Engaging the congregation in a decision making process whenever possible may be more complex and less controllable than decisions made during a committee meeting, but this process will pay dividends through increased commitment and a greater global impact.

Mark spends part of his time assisting churches in developing effective and impacting missions committees. If you are interested, please contact him via the Contact Me form. If you would like to leave a comment about this article, please use the “comment” link at the bottom of this article.


  • 1 The phrase “missions team” is used here to refer to the group of people within a church who have been assigned the task of overseeing the church’s missions responsibility.
  • 2 Not his real name.
  • 3 Chandler, S Richardson, S 1008. 100 Ways to Motivate Others: How Great Leaders can produce Insane Results without driving people crazy. Franklin Lakes: Career Press, 49-54.

92. Navigational tools for Church Missions: Own the Task

NOTE: Articles 90 – 93 on Navigational tools for Church Missions have been revised and incorporated into a single article through Catalyst Services.

The transitions and tools described in this series of articles are used as the framework for missions coaching among Fellowship churches in Canada.  If you are interested in exploring a coaching relationship for your church’s missions efforts, please contact Mark via the contact link below.

In the previous article, the first transition to align the missions team1 to God’s mission was explored.  This article elaborates on the second transition for church missions teams introduced in Navigational tools for missions.

Transition 2: From a missionary to a mission2 focus
Navigational tool: Own the task
Biblical foundation: Our role within God’s mission

Most missionary sending churches in the past couple of centuries have not traditionally owned the task of missions.  It has been the norm for the missionaries to have the mission, vision and task overseen by mission agencies.  The local church’s role has been primarily to provide support for the fulfillment of the missionaries’ calling.

In stating this I do not wish to devalue in any way the faithfulness of God’s people who have prayed and supported missionaries over the years.  Nor should this be construed as a criticism.  The opportunity for sending churches to be strategically involved in missions was limited in the past and the need to trust those being sent to define their own mission, vision and activities was imperative. Furthermore, this methodology has been validated by the worldwide growth of the church around the world, which is one of the great success stories of Christian history. However, in order to revitalize North American churches in their involvement in missions, this process needs to change.

The transition encouraged in this article moves the congregation in the direction of articulating their own mission and strategy focus.  This becomes the framework used by the church to partner as joint owners of a missions vision with both missionaries and mission agencies.

What is the difference between a missionary focused church and a mission focused church?

Assess your church using the following examples.  Ask if your church is missionary or mission focused.

When an oral report from a missionary is provided, and it is prefaced by
“The latest prayer letter from __________ has come and here is what they are doing…,”
your church is missionary

However, if the report is prefaced by
“The mission of our church has been to establish an orphanage.  Here is a report from ___________ about how our mission is being accomplished…,”
your church is mission focused.

When a missionary leaves their field of service and the missions team asks
“Where should we re-assign our money?”
your church is missionary

However, if the issue becomes
“How will our goals in that area of ministry be fulfilled now?”
your church is mission

When a missionary changes from evangelism among an unreached people group to working in a school for missionary children (a true scenario), and the response by the missions team is
“Let’s inform the congregation so they can pray for our missionaries in their new responsibilities,”
your church is missionary focused.

However, if the question is
“Wait a minute, we have made an investment in this people group. How will our mission be fulfilled now?”
your church is mission focused.

When a short term ministry team goes out from your church, and the primary concern is
“I hope that this will be a good experience for them,”
your church is missionary

However, if the primary concern is
“We need to make sure that what they do strategically advances our missions goals,”
your church is mission

When a missionary’s relationship to the church is described as
“We support _____________ who works for __________ missions agency,”
your church is missionary focused.

However, if the remark is
“We have sent out _____________ with the support of ____________ missions agency,”
your church is mission

Transitioning the church from missionary to mission focused moves the congregation from a passive orientation to becoming strategic as people value and prioritize those activities that they believe are significant for God’s kingdom.  The result is that the church discovers their own missions vision and sees it fulfilled with and through cross-cultural workers, rather than merely supporting a mission and vision that is owned solely by the missionaries.

When a missions team works with their missionaries to discover a common purpose, there is a deepening of the partnership

This concept of the missions team owning the task does not lead to the abandoning of missionaries (a fear expressed by some), but quite the opposite.  When a missions team works with their missionaries to discover a common purpose, there is a deepening of the partnership.  To use a sports metaphor, it is a shift from cheering on the sidelines, to being a part of the team by working together in the locker room and on the sidelines so that there is an effective and impacting game plan.

In order for the missions team to take ownership of the missions task, they first need to gain a perspective of their role in God’s mission, and then discover how that is to be expressed. The biblical basis for the unchanging reference point reveals our role within God’s mission. Owning the task is the navigational tool through which the missions team will discover their place within God’s mission.

Biblical foundation for the unchanging reference point: Our role within God’s mission

We are created, appointed and chosen as God’s people to take an active role within God’s mission.  Supporting and praying for others who are sent to serve is an essential part of this, but it is important that we also own the task, and not pass off that responsibility and level of participation to others.  We have unprecedented opportunity to play a more direct role in the impact of the gospel around the world.  God gives his people an invitation to be involved in his mission.  Owning the task is part of that invitation.

Created to be icons reflecting God’s glory (Gen 1). God did not start out as a missionary God.  He started out as an artist.  All that he created was a reflection of his character (cf. Psalm 19:1). At the end of every day God looked at what he made and said, “This is good.”  Why is it good?  Because it is a reflection of who God is.  But when he created human beings, he said, “This is very good.” The emphatic is important for it tells us that of all creation, we have the ability to reflect the nature of God the best.  We are made as little icons of God.  Our purpose is to reveal the beauty, the goodness, the purity and righteousness of God.  A local church made up of God’s people is, therefore, equipped to play a role in determining the priorities and emphasis for their missions participation.

Appointed as witnesses of God’s redemption. When Jesus went up to heaven he commanded his followers to wait for the Holy Spirit to come. Pentecost is an exclamation point to the reality that the mission to save the world is God’s mission, not ours (Acts 2).  But when the Holy Spirit came, it was the believers who were impacted so that through them the message of redemption within all the languages of the known world was heard.  It is the power of God that will break down the barriers, but it is through his people that God acts.  He appoints us to be the ones to go into all the world.  It is his mission, but we have a role as witnesses to his redemption.  It follows from this that even those of us appointed as “senders” can play a significant role in shaping the missions concerns of the church and those sent.

to be “chosen” of God is … being privileged for others

Chosen for others. In the Bible, to be “chosen” of God is not a matter of being privileged above others.  Rather, it is being privileged for others. The emphasis on being “chosen” is not so that we can be saved, but so that we can serve. Abraham was chosen to be a blessing to the whole world (Gen 12:3), Jesus was known as God’s chosen one (John 1:34) because he came to serve, not to be served (Matt 20:28).  Paul was forced to a stop on the road to Damascus because God had made Paul his “chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15 TNIV).  As God’s chosen ones, we have an obligation to take part in what God is doing in the world, and this includes ensuring effective and impacting participation in global missions.

Navigational tool: Own the task

How does the missions team move to a more active “own the task” stance towards the missions concerns of their church? The key is to involve the missions team in a decision making process.

One of the tools I use to help a church missions team own their task is a “Role and Task” exercise that within 2 hours can bring the team to a unified understanding of their role.  The key to this exercise is that by providing options to the team, they choose, discuss and shape their own reason for being a team.  Out of that articulation of the team’s purpose, a unified mission, vision and action plan can be developed that is shaped by a desire to participate in God’s mission.  Ownership of a common purpose only occurs when people are involved in a decision making process, and each of the steps in this exercise capitalizes on this dynamic and builds towards the goal of owning the task:3


  • Participants (missions team, church leadership, others interested) sit around tables in groups of 5-8
  • A list of possible role and task descriptions is provided for each participant
  • One set of 5×8 cards with each role and task printed out on individual cards
  • Small sticky notes – five per participant


  1. From the suggestions provided in the list, each participant individually chooses and ranks 5 descriptions that best describe the role and task of the church missions team as the participant believes it should be.
  2. Each participant is given 5 sticky notes, which they number sequentially 1 to 5.  In this exercise, “5” will indicate the most important and “1” the least important.
  3. One person then reads out the 5×8 cards (which are the same descriptions as the list from which the participants have chosen) one at a time.  As a description is given that corresponds to a participant’s choice, they put the corresponding sticky note on the card and the card is placed in the middle of the table.  Any card not chosen is set aside.
  4. Together the group discusses and ranks all the selected cards with a view to develop a consensus, choosing no more than 4 as key priorities.
  5. Once there is a consensus, rewrite them in two or three sentences that express the purpose of the team.
  6. If more than one group is involved, the participants at each table write out their sentences on a flip chart. These are discussed and critiqued by all in order to come to a unified consensus concerning the purpose of the team.

This exercise is, of course, only the beginning of a longer process through which the missions team, together with the congregation, will need to move in order to discover its specific passion for missions (eg. church planting, evangelism, humanitarian, a specific people group, etc.). By learning to follow a clear vision in concert with their missionaries, cross-cultural workers sent from the church will become key players in fulfilling the church’s obedience to the Great Commission.

In the next and final article of this series, we will consider the missions team mandate to involve the congregation in the missions program of the church.  This is often one of the most difficult responsibilities of a church missions team. Dedicated missions minded people often express their frustration towards the apparent apathy of other church members.  Although they are diligent in communicating missions concerns, people don’t seem interested.  The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.  In the next article we will discuss an important transition for the missions team from communication to motivation.

Mark spends part of his time assisting churches in developing effective and impacting missions committees. If you are interested, please contact him via the Contact Me form. If you would like to leave a comment about this article, please use the “comment” link at the bottom of this article.


  • 1 The phrase “missions team” is used here to refer to the group of people within a church who have been assigned the task of overseeing the church’s missions responsibility.
  • 2 In these articles “mission” (singular) refers to the expressed purpose or aim for which a group exists.  “Missions” (plural) refers to the fulfillment of the Great Commission within people groups beyond a local church’s immediate area of influence.
  • 3 A powerpoint presentation of this exercise is available for download.

91. Navigational tool for church missions: Identify Significant Activities

NOTE: Articles 90 – 93 on Navigational tools for Church Missions have been revised and incorporated into a single article through Catalyst Services.

The transitions and tools described in this series of articles are used as the framework for missions coaching among Fellowship churches in Canada.  If you are interested in exploring a coaching relationship for your church’s missions efforts, please contact Mark via the contact link below.

This article elaborates on the first transition for church missions teams1 introduced in Navigational tools for missions.

Transition 1: From a geographical to a strategic people group emphasis
Navigational tool:
Identify significant activities
Biblical foundation for the unchanging reference point:
Acts 13 paradigm and the Acts 1:8 portfolio

“My frustration,” said Tom, slamming his hand on the table, “is now that ‘North America is a mission field,’ and ‘missions is from everywhere to everywhere’ and we are ‘all supposed to be missionaries,’ there are no boundaries for what we call missions.  Our task is too broad and undefined. How are we supposed to know what we are responsible for?”

Mariam responded, “But God’s mission includes everything he is accomplishing in the world. Shouldn’t we have a part in whatever God is doing?”

“But we can’t do it all, so how do we decide which part?” Tom countered. “And shouldn’t there be a distinction between missions and local outreach?  Look at the items under the missions portion of our church budget.  We support camps, church planting, chaplaincy, short term missions teams…. We even have a donation to our denomination head office.  It seems to me that Stephen Neill is right, ‘[when] everything is missions, then nothing is missions.’2

“At the same time,” Guljan interjected, “There is a general feeling in the church that you have to travel somewhere else to call it ‘missions.’ It’s not a short term missions trip unless you have to get a visa! I feel like there is a breakdown of the traditional boundaries of missions, but what now? How do we determine the extent of our responsibilities as a church missions team?  What belongs under the ‘missions’ heading and what shouldn’t be considered missions?  How do we know when to say ‘no’?”

some have clung to their traditional role … others … feel overwhelmed

In the past, church missions teams often operated according to a simple pattern.  Their role was to act on behalf of the church to provide a connection with missionaries who went to other countries for years at a time.  Due to a number of impacting global changes –immigration, the rise of third world missions, an increasing awareness that North America is also part of God’s mission, and the rise of “hands-on” local church involvement through short term missions trips, to name a few – the intersection of missions with the church has shifted significantly.  An inability to adjust to these changes has left many missions teams frustrated and confused. In reaction, some have clung to their traditional role defined by geographical boundaries and have failed to take advantage of the new opportunities. Alternatively, others have welcomed the new opportunities and pushed aside the old “maps,” but now feel overwhelmed by the options and the demands being made upon them. They are facing the new and exciting possibilities for participation in missions without adequate parameters to define the limits of their responsibilities.  This reality has paralyzed some missions teams into being reactive, responding to needs presented to them whether or not those tasks should be regarded as missions.

Mary and Joe,3 a retired couple, had a fantastic vacation in a Latin American country.  While there, they fell in love with the children at a local church.  They noticed that there was no Sunday School, and so they offered to teach the children.  They felt so fulfilled with this ministry that they decided to live there for a year and continue teaching the children.  They approached their home church in Canada and asked the missions team for support.  The couple is greatly loved by the congregation, but is this a strategic use of missions funds?  On what basis should the missions team decide if they should respond positively to this request?

A local ministry had initiated a program without adequate funding.  In desperation, the leaders wrote to supporting churches for help since they were now in debt with bills to pay.  The missions chair read the letter to the team.  “Why should we be responsible for their lack of planning?” grumbled one member.  “How about we send a token amount?” suggested another.  An amount was agreed upon, but the dissatisfaction with this reactive way of responding remained.

Church mission teams recognize the challenges brought about by the global changes, but many are unable to respond in a satisfying manner. The tidy framework of support and prayer for missionaries traveling to foreign lands to preach the gospel has become unraveled through the emergence of many other expressions of potential missions activities.  In some cases, these activities are put on the agenda of the missions team without serious consideration of their legitimacy for the missions task.  Very often, the team has neither the authority nor the tools to be appropriately discriminating in facing these challenges. The default mode has been to defer to the appeals of missions agencies or the vision of individuals connected to the church. How can a missions team function effectively in light of these demands?

Sorting the puzzle

Imagine taking 5 different puzzles, mixing them together and then trying to assemble them without using the original photos provided to guide you.  You know that something should make sense, but the pieces don’t fit together properly.  There is no “big picture” to guide your decisions and so you rely on intuition and guesswork, which quickly leads to frustration. Furthermore, sticking with one simple, tried and true method of assembling the pieces doesn’t help because you are presented with a number of different options that just don’t seem to fit together.

In order to resolve this dilemma, two steps are required: a clear vision of the end product and a means to get there.

The vision for the puzzles is found in the original photos. With respect to missions, those “original photos” are a metaphor for a clear understanding of God’s mission (the unchanging reference point). This focus on God’s mission as the unchanging reference point in our missions endeavors is not a new concept and has been examined extensively.4

But further guidance is needed: a means to sort out the puzzle pieces in order to match the original photos is also required. This is equivalent to the “navigational tool” proposed below that will allow missions teams to use God’s mission as their “north star” to establish a discerning, proactive stance towards their ministry.

We will first provide a perspective on God’s mission, followed by a navigational tool that can be used by a missions team to align themselves to God’s purposes.

A Glance at a Biblical Basis of Missions (the unchanging reference point)5

In Acts 13:1-2, the church at Antioch, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, sent Barnabas and Paul away to accomplish a special work.  It is both the “sending” aspect as well as the nature of the “work” that has defined the modern missions movement in the last few centuries.6 Suppose that one week after the departure of Barnabas and Paul, a deacon from the Antioch church happened upon the two men at a cross-roads in Antioch where they had opened a soup kitchen.  He would have been shocked.  “We sent you away,” he would have said. “Your job was to proclaim the gospel where the church cannot.  In this city, it is the church’s job to proclaim the gospel.  We sent you to preach the gospel to those who have not heard.”  Fortunately, this did not happen, and the actions of Paul and Barnabas were in tune with the desire of the church and the moving of the Holy Spirit.  The lessons learned from their ministry formed the basis for the modern missions movement:

  1. They went where the gospel was not being preached (crossing new barriers).
  2. They did the work that the sending church could not do (proclaiming beyond the church’s reach).

These priorities are clear from Paul’s ministry.  He declared that he did not want to “build on someone else’s foundation” (Rom 15:20), and whenever a church was planted in a particular region, he considered his work completed and he moved on.  Why?  Because it is the role of the newly established church to be a witness to Christ in their area.  Paul’s apostolic (= being sent) ministry was to go where the gospel was not being preached and do work that was beyond the reach of the established churches.

Acts 1:8 provides further clarification of the relationship of missions to the local church.  The geographical descriptions of Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of earth have commonly, and helpfully, been understood as a “portfolio” of involvement for the local church.7 Seen as a series of concentric rings, the first two, Jerusalem and Judea, can represent the evangelism work of the local church, and the third and fourth rings, Samaria and the ends of the earth, correspond to the sending work of the church, i.e., missions.  In this scenario, “Samaria” represents people groups in which the church has been established and “Ends of the Earth” refers to unreached people groups.

The discerning reader will remember that this transition was supposed to be away from a geographical focus. Instead the Acts 1:8 and the concentric rings appear to emphasize the geographical. However, even though geography is one barrier, it is not the fundamental concern.  God’s concern for people and the lengths that he is willing to go in order to provide redemption indicates that the issue is not merely geography (an understandable emphasis before the impact of globalization), but any and all barriers that separate people from God’s salvation in Christ.  God is a missionary God who overcomes barriers. Physical distance has been the most obvious barrier in the past, but it not the most significant one.  It was through the leadership of McGavran and Townsend in the first half of the 20th century, that the more important aspects of cultural identity and the heart language of a people group began to be highlighted in missions.  Although recognized throughout history, the need to cross these boundaries in order to engage people on their terms and make a gospel impact did not become a strategic focus in evangelical missions discussions until that time.  It is far more difficult to become competent in these areas than to merely span geographical distance.

Furthermore, the expressed concern in the Bible as it reveals God’s mission is not geographical distance but the separation between the “nations” (e.g., Mt 28:19-20: “make disciples of all nations”).8 The term “nations” refers to distinct people groups, underscoring their unique linguistic, cultural and historical identities. These are the primary barriers irrespective of geographical location. Thus, the sending aspect of missions remains, but with a recognition that the criteria to determine what constitutes “missions” are primarily cultural rather than geographical.

Navigational Tool: Identify Significant Activities

Admittedly, this overview of the basis of missions provides only the broadest of brush strokes, but I have found it sufficient so that churches can refocus their missions efforts with a sense of connecting to God’s purposes. Based on this perspective, the following four part navigational tool can be used by missions teams to identify those significant activities that will align their activities to God’s mission:9

For an activity to be a significant and strategic part of missions (as commonly understood by the modern missions movement), it must include:

  • A clear connection to the establishment of the kingdom of God
  • A “sending” that crosses cultural boundaries
  • A strategic task with a gospel focus that the local believers cannot do.
  • A concern for people groups (the “nations”)

Use this navigational tool to take action –

A clear connection to the establishment of the kingdom of God: Adopt the Acts 1:8 portfolio as a paradigm for the church. The church’s portfolio then becomes a “slice” of God’s mission to the world.  The inner two circles refer to local outreach where the church is directly involved.  The outer sections provide boundaries that limit and clarify the focus of the missions team – cross-cultural activity requiring “sending” beyond normal local involvement of the congregation.  It is paradoxical, but true, that creativity and enthusiasm abounds where there are clear limits to a task, together with freedom within those limits for the participants to choose their own course.

A “sending” that crosses cultural boundaries: Ensure that any missions effort includes a “sending” or commissioning aspect to a task beyond the direct responsibility of the church.  This concern underscores the need for cross-cultural workers to have training that meets the demands of the task and that they develop key relationships so that they may function effectively in another cultural setting.  The importance of taking part in God’s mission is underscored when commitments are taken seriously and are initiated by the church for the benefit of those being sent.

A strategic task with a gospel focus that the local believers cannot do: Establish a clearly articulated task for each missions initiative that focuses on bringing the gospel where it would not otherwise be heard.  This does not limit the task to mere proclamation, as if the gospel was only a message to be heard. There are many important ways the gospel can be communicated. However, the priority of gospel communication through both word and deed needs to be explicit. If the task chosen is truly part of God’s mission as understood biblically, the gospel will be at the heart of the ministry.

A concern for people groups: Identify a people group that would not otherwise be impacted if a particular ministry was not initiated by the sending church.  This restriction helps ensure that the task is strategic and necessary. As noted above, there are two sections of the Acts 1:8 portfolio that are the responsibility of the missions team: (1) establishing and broadening the impact of the gospel where the church has already been established, and (2) bringing the gospel to the unreached.  The latter is obviously a missions focus and fits well within the biblical basis of missions as outlined above.  However, working with a reached people group can be much more delicate.  The danger is that we would take on responsibility that belongs to the local believers in that setting and thus, inadvertently, undermine the growth of the church.  A helpful rule of thumb is to ensure that all work is done in partnership with a local congregation and to remember that partnerships are not one-way.  That is, helping a church among a reached people group so that the church itself can grow is NOT a partnership.  It may be a valid ministry, but it is not a partnership. The beneficiary of any missions partnership should be a third group that is not a member of the partnership team. Partnering within a reached people group should not be for the benefit of either partner, but rather enable them to work synergistically for the benefit of an identified group outside of the partnership.10

A Significant Purpose

In the summer of 2010, the FIFA World Cup was held in South Africa.  With incredible fanfare, expense and determination, 32 teams were vying for the glory of their country.  For them, and for fans worldwide, this was a significant purpose.  God is on mission in this world for a different purpose that is as grand and far reaching as eternity.  With far less fanfare, fewer funds, but no less determination, God’s church is invited to join his mission.  The transition outlined above is one way to help churches comprehend that mission and align themselves to God’s great purpose.  By identifying significant activities through the use of the navigational tool, church missions teams will:

Discover real needs
Existing among identified people groups

That can be met by active involvement
That advances God’s kingdom

And would not occur unless believers from outside those people groups were to intervene

The following two articles build on this initial vision so that church missions teams can own the task and motivate others.

Mark spends part of his time assisting churches in developing effective and impacting missions committees. If you are interested, please contact him via the Contact Me form. If you would like to leave a comment about this article, please use the “comment” link at the bottom of this article.


  • 1 The phrase “missions team” is used here to refer to the group of people within a church who have been assigned the task of overseeing the church’s missions responsibility.
  • 2 Quoted in Bosch, D.J. 1991. Transforming Mission: Paradigm shifts in theology of mission. Maryknoll: Orbis, 115.
  • 3 The examples given here are based on true examples, only the details have been changed.
  • 4 Courses such as Perpectives on the World Christian Movement can provide a biblical and historical basis for the strategic focus on people groups.
  • 5 A powerpoint called Understanding Missions that provides the graphics used in the coaching presentations is available for download.
  • 6 For further description of the eras of modern missions, see Winters, Ralph. 1981. Four Men, Three Eras, Two Transitions: Modern Missions in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: 253-261. Note especially the chart on p. 259.  For a more detailed theological basis for the concept of “sending” as a basis for missions, see Miley, G. Loving the Church…Blessing the Nations, Waynesboro: Gabriel Pub. 2003.  Also see the Cross-Cultural Impact article, Balancing your Missional portfolio.
  • 7 The concept of the “portfolio” along with the concentric rings diagrams are further discussed and developed in the Cross-Cultural Impact article, Balancing your Missional portfolio.
  • 8 The importance of the Hebrew “goiim” and the Greek “ethne” for missions theology have been discussed often.  For example, see John Piper’s discussion of “ethne” in Let the Nations be Glad, 1993. pp. 93-130.
  • 9 My role in coaching missions is to stimulate discussion among the participants leading to unity in a direction of their choosing and conviction.  Therefore, the presentation of a biblical basis for missions as an unchanging reference point, along with the suggested navigational tool, should lead to discussion and evaluation.  Rather than assuming that the participants will accept the navigational tool as authoritative, the coach helps them challenge and think through the concepts until the participants come to “own” them.  Suggested questions to create discussion are: “Can the four parts of the navigational tool be rephrased so that they communicate better?”, “What changes would occur in your church’s missions program if this navigational tool was acted upon?”, or “What would it take to initiate this?”
  • 10 This deliberately narrow definition of partnership is provided as a important guideline that helps prevent wealthy churches, inexperienced with the complexity of cultural dynamics, from providing aid in a way that can hamper, rather than strengthen, the growth of a cross-cultural sister church.

90. Navigational tools for Church Missions

NOTE: Articles 90 – 93 on Navigational tools for Church Missions have been revised and incorporated into a single article through Catalyst Services.

The transitions and tools described in the following articles are used as the framework for coaching Fellowship churches in Canada.  If you are interested in exploring a coaching relationship for your church’s missions efforts, please contact Mark via the contact link below.

I was traveling in a public van from the Toronto airport to Guelph, Ontario on my way to a meeting.  The driver had to drop off a number of people and then it was my turn.  He checked the directions on his GPS, turned a couple of corners, chose the right road and we drove a couple of blocks.  But then the road ended!  His GPS showed the road going straight through, but reality revealed a massive ravine. Imagine if the driver had said, “This is impossible, the map can’t be wrong.  There is supposed to be a road through here.  Everybody close their eyes and I’ll just gun it!”  Fortunately, he didn’t. Instead, he phoned for new directions, turned around and found the destination.  When reality doesn’t match the map, discard the map, not reality.

In his article Navigating Missional Waters, Len Hjalmarson1 argues that the familiar landscape of our cultures and communities has shifted so dramatically that our default patterns of doing church – our “maps” for successful ministry – no longer work.  Due to globalization, the mosaic of nations visible in each major urban center, the explosion of technology and many other changes that come at us hard and fast, the comfortable organizational structures and patterns of the past no longer fit with the new reality. Following an Eddie Gibbs’ metaphor, Hjalmarson suggests that we need to discard the maps and develop navigational skills.

Map readers have the skill of matching corresponding points on a map with the environment. By following the indicated direction and occasionally referring to the map, a traveler can reach their destination.  On the other hand, navigators have a different set of skills.  In an environment where the terrain is constantly shifting, such as on an ocean, navigators rely on unchanging reference points outside of the world.  In a previous era they would rely on the north star; today, the signals from satellites provide the information.  In this scenario, maps are useless, even high density satellite photos from Google!

As I have been learning to coach churches2 for effective missions involvement, I have come to the conclusion that church missions teams3 need to step back from their familiar ways of approaching missions in church (the “maps”) and develop a different approach to missions (“navigational skills”) that will allow them to connect relevantly with God’s global mission and lead their church to significant involvement.  In this series of articles, I will discuss three key transitions that will enable missions teams to serve their churches well.  These include a transition

  • From a geographical to a strategic people group emphasis
  • From a missionary to a mission focus
  • From communicating to the congregation about missions to involving the congregation in missions

To make these transitions, the teams require corresponding navigational tools. These navigational tools are

  • Identify significant activities
  • Own the task
  • Motivate through empowering others

These three navigational tools are used by missions teams to respond to the new reality by aligning their priorities to the one unchanging reference point of God’s mission.  A brief overview of each transition is provided below. An explanation of how the navigational tools facilitate those transitions will be discussed in follow-up articles.

Transition 1: From a geographical to a strategic people group emphasis

As recent as 3 decades ago, the primary concern of many missions committees was support and prayer for missionaries who traveled to other countries to preach the gospel. This relatively simple formula emphasizing geographical distance has given way to a far more complex reality. With global immigration, instant communication and the recognition of the west as a legitimate mission field, missions is now “from everywhere to everywhere.”  Rather than empowering missions committees, the result has often been confusion and frustration.  Some committees have insisted on maintaining their traditional role of promoting and communicating with those who travel to foreign lands.  This has often led to stagnation and limited impact within the church. Others have become overwhelmed with new responsibilities and opportunities, many of which (e.g., camps, marketplace ministries, local outreach, etc.) do not fit the traditional understanding of missions.  A myriad of choices without any guidance to determine legitimate priorities often results in a decrease in missions impact.

a redemptive concern for all the nations

The purpose of this transition is to set parameters that establish a biblical understanding of missions while addressing the new reality.  The biblical narrative of God’s mission reveals a redemptive concern for all the nations (people groups).  To address this desire of God for the nations, missions teams are encouraged to limit their responsibilities to cross-cultural ministry initiatives that occur outside of the normal interactions and relationships of the church body.  Paradoxically, dealing with fewer choices actually empowers missions teams to consider what constitutes legitimate and strategic involvement.

As I walked one church through this transition, the face of one man visibly brightened. He had carried the burden of the missions team for a number of years.  “It is so helpful to know what we don’t have to worry about,” he exclaimed.  “Now we can focus on those ministries that we know constitute missions.”

The following article will describe the navigational tool (identify significant activities) that can be used to develop realistic and clear parameters for missions teams.

Transition 2: From a missionary to a mission4 focus

It has been common practice for churches to support missionaries with only a vague comprehension of the missionaries’ task.  The reason for this is that traditionally it is the missionary who has owned the mission and the vision.  The role of missions committees has been to pass on information from the missionary to the church and to promote prayer among the congregation.  Unfortunately, this process actually deadens missions interest in the church.  As long as it is the missionary who has the mission, vision and task, the congregation will not be motivated to make an emotional investment in either the missionary or the ministry. This lack of interest has been a source of frustration for missions committees.

the missionary becomes a partner with the church

The transition to a mission focus helps to resolve this difficulty through the development of a purpose that is owned by the church.  The missions teams develop a vision of involvement in God’s mission that excites them and provides significant ways for the congregation to participate.  In this scenario, the missionary becomes a partner with the church so that both are working towards a common goal.  A clear understanding of a task that contributes to God’s global purposes provides the church with a greater level of input and responsibility in directing the efforts of their missionaries.  This opens the door to the emotional investment that is necessary for people to develop a deep commitment to missions.

How can you determine if your church is missionary focused or mission focused? One indication is how the work of supported missionaries is reported.  If the description reads, “Missionary couple X working among the Y people recently saw three people come to Christ…, etc.,” then your church is missionary focused.  On the other hand, if the report reads, “One of the goals of our congregation is to see a church planted among the Y people.  We are working towards that goal together with missionary couple X.  This week they reported that God is blessing our efforts.  Three people have come to Christ…,” your church is mission focused.

A further article will explain the navigational tool (own the task) that will move the church to make a significant investment towards “owning” their part in God’s mission.

Transition 3: From communicating to the congregation about missions to involving the congregation in missions

One of the greatest frustrations commonly expressed by missions committees is that, despite their best efforts at communication, people remain unaware of the work that their missionaries are doing.  The answer is not better communication methods.  In this age of an overwhelming flow of information from all directions, people have developed keen filters to identify the small percentage of news that immediately relates to them, while instantly dismissing the rest.  If they do not have a personal investment in a missionary, any incoming information will be filtered out. As a result, mission teams’ need to shift their effort from communication to motivation.  Once a person has invested in an aspect of missions, they will seek out information and welcome it, rather than filtering it out.

motivation is generated through participation in a decision making process

However, motivating others is a skill that needs to be learned.  The bottom-line principle is that motivation is generated through participation in a decision making process.  When the missions team discovers how to empower others to invest in and shape the direction of missions in the church, then the excitement begins to grow. Because God’s heart is for the nations, his Spirit is moving among his people for that purpose. Missions teams who learn how to tap into that reality will see a transformation in how their church responds to missions.  The navigational tool (involve people in a decision making process) to accomplish this will be described in detail in a later article.

Mark spends part of his time assisting churches in developing effective and impacting missions committees. If you are interested, please contact him via the Contact Me form. If you would like to leave a comment about this article, please use the “comment” link at the bottom of this article.


    • 1 Hjalmarson, L. Navigating Missional Waters in Missional Voice, Issue 13, Forge Canada, May 2010.  Gibbs’ metaphor is taken from Leadership Next, p. 66.
    • 2 In order not to overstate my coaching experience, I would like to disclose that at the time of writing I have led 5 one-day workshops on missions for 21 churches (Best Practices for CHURCH MISSIONS) and have coached 2 churches for missions effectiveness.
    • 3 The phrase “missions team” is used here to refer to the group of people within a church who have been assigned the task of overseeing the church’s missions responsibility.
    • 4 In this and the following articles “missions” (plural) refers to the task of the church as it participates in God’s mission.  “Mission” (singular) refers to a declared purpose or task, e.g., “our mission is to mobilize the church for missions.”  For further explanation of missions terminology and a consideration of priorities in missions, see the Cross-Cultural Impact article, If every activity is “missions,” how do we set priorities? http://impact.nbseminary.com/archives/324

    71. Balancing your Missional portfolio

    NOTE: Mark is available to work with our FEBBC/Y churches to coach missions committees in their role in leading their local church in the area of missions.  Please contact Mark via the Contact Me form or view Mark’s Coaching page

    A balanced diet, a balanced economic portfolio, a balanced lifestyle – we are constantly challenged to keep many things in our lives in balance, for the sake of health and sanity!  What about doing missions in the local church?  There are so many options today to be involved in cross-cultural, evangelistic and compassionate ministries – not to mention the demand for missions dollars from hundreds of worthy causes – that missions committees or global missions teams have to make difficult decisions concerning the limit and range of their church’s participation.

    For a variety of reasons, some mentioned in a previous article, the scope of “missions” in our churches today has broadened far beyond the traditional understanding. While affirming the missional thrust of churches who strive to be involved in God’s mission both locally and globally, I would also like to challenge churches to not neglect the task that has defined missions through the centuries: taking the gospel to those who have not heard.  In this article, evidence for this focus in the modern missions movement (from Wm. Carey through to the present) is presented along with the concept of the “Acts 1:8 portfolio,” which is a helpful structure for churches to assist them in fulfilling the mandate God has given to participate in his mission.

    The Modern Missions Movement: to the unreached

    The desire to take the gospel to those who have not heard and who have no access to the gospel except through the initiative of an outsider reflects the apostle Paul’s description of his ministry concern in Rom 15:19-21.1 This perspective has been a defining characteristic of the modern missions movement and played an important role in setting priorities for missionaries and missions agencies.

    Ralph Winters helpfully divides the modern missions movement into three eras:  The first era (1792-1910) he entitles “To the Coastlands”.  Initiated to a large extent by the efforts of Wm. Carey, this was the beginning of mission societies who sent missionaries to lands where the gospel was unknown.  The second era (1856-1980) was characterized by a movement inland to “the unoccupied fields,” again reflecting the desire to contact those who had no previous exposure to the gospel.  The third era (1934-present), which Winters calls “To the Unreached Peoples,” is characterized by an increasing sensitivity to those barriers to the gospel beyond geography and the focus on people groups with distinct ethnic identities.  These groups require an outside source in order to be exposed to the gospel message.2

    10,000 people groups = “final frontier of missions”

    Even though the unreached have been the primary focus of traditional missions, this should not be confused with the comprehensive missional responsibility of the church. At the beginning of the modern missions movement the unreached lived in the majority of the world, the concern for them in the western protestant churches was relatively small and, due to the lack of a missions effort, there were few successes in cross-cultural ministry that needed strengthening.  However, because of God’s gracious actions and the sacrifice of missionaries through the past few centuries, this is no longer true.  Now, with the shift of Christianity to the south and east, it is estimated that there are only 10,000 people groups remaining that are unreached.3 This has been called the “final frontier of missions” and while “there is a great need for thousands of new missionaries to reach them,”4 the vast percentage of people in the world now live within “reached” contexts.  It is the 10,000 people groups that are identified as the concern of traditional missions in order to complete the mandate in accordance with the spirit of the apostle Paul’s ministry and his desire “not to build on another’s foundation.” In this understanding of missions, the end of the task is in sight, the course has been mapped.  For example, Wycliffe has initiated Vision 2025 which states, “By 2025, together with partners worldwide, we envision Bible translation in progress for every language that needs it”5 – a key component towards the completion of the traditional missions mandate to reach the unreached.

    Traditional Missions as one part of the Missional task of the church

    But while the end of traditional missions can be postulated, it is not the only missional responsibility of the church. The apostle Paul consistently completed his task of establishing a group of believers and then moved on, even when the vast majority of people in that area were unsaved. Why? Because with the establishment of a church, an internal witness to carry on the gospel mandate had come into existence. Following this pattern, traditional missions is understood as the initiative of the church on the outside crossing boundaries to those inside a people group. But when that initiative bears fruit, God’s mission6 has only just begun, for then the missional responsibility shifts to the church on the inside of the people group.  In fact, the larger missional task facing the church today is the growth of the kingdom among those people groups who do have a gospel witness, not to mention the needed re-establishment of the gospel in places where people have turned away from their parent’s faith.  Churches and mission agencies rightly consider these tasks as part of their missional responsibility, even though they move beyond the traditional focus of missions.

    This distinction between … missions … and the broader missional task … is not one of importance

    This distinction between the narrowly defined traditional task of missions – the church on the outside reaching across ethnic boundaries – and the broader missional task of the newly formed church on the inside, is not one of importance or even of priority when speaking of participating in God’s mission. God’s concern is for the whole world.  Influencing others locally or globally for God’s kingdom is equally a part of God’s mission, whether or not it is classified as missions.  Affirming the reality that all levels of participation in God’s mission are equally valid and important reflects the spirit of the apostle Paul when he spoke of being called to the Gentiles, while Peter was called to the Jews (Gal. 2:7,8).  Separate ministries, both are equally valid and needed, but it is only the former that is traditionally referred to as “missions.”

    Assessing your Missional Portfolio

    A helpful way to understand these concepts is to use Jesus’ vision of the expanding impact of the gospel in Acts 1:8 as a “portfolio”7 for local church involvement in God’s mission: “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Using this model, the traditional understanding of missions parallels the final element in Acts 1:8, “the ends of the earth,” the pioneer extension of the kingdom to those people who have no access to the gospel.

    “Samaria” can refer to cross-cultural partnerships with established churches who welcome support in needed areas, such as leadership development or ministries of compassion. The people group is “reached” – the believers have taken up their missional task – but the consolidation and expansion of previous missions efforts requires outside involvement.  Both “Samaria” and “the ends of the earth” can also be identified by the boundaries that must be crossed in order to participate in God’s mission, including boundaries of culture, language, identity, geography, misinformation, prejudice, values, and worldview, as well as psychological and socio-economic barriers.

    “Judea” describes regions and people outside of the immediate influence of the local church, but because of a common identity through shared culture, language and history, the primary boundary is geographical.  In order to provide a lasting impact in this area, churches often join forces, e.g., the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Canada (FEBCC), to cooperate in joint ministries such as planting churches.

    “Jerusalem” refers to the local missional task of an established church.  It includes all the ministries, individually and collectively, that affect the people who come in contact with the members of that church.  Even as Paul expected the churches he planted to expand the kingdom where they were, so this is a major responsibility of local church members in their daily relationships.8

    The challenge of the Acts 1:8 portfolio approach for churches today is to play a strategic role in each of these four areas. At the same time, it is neither necessary nor helpful to closely define the borders between these four areas of concern.  The borders will be fuzzy and porous, and some ministries may span more than one area, making it impossible to precisely categorize them. The key is to be involved in what God is doing in the world, while recognizing that God’s mission encompasses the whole world. What is needed is a comprehensive missional agenda with a diversified portfolio, so that each church can participate in God’s mission close to home while not neglecting traditional missions: Jesus’ vision for the ends of the earth.

    Unlike today’s economic portfolios, your missional portfolio is guaranteed to produce eternal dividends!


    Mark spends part of his time coaching churches for effective involvement in missions.  If you are interested in taking advantage of this, please contact him via the Contact Me form.  If you would like to leave a comment, please use the “comment” link at the bottom of this article.


    • 1 For further explanation of how the apostle Paul’s ministry relates to missions see the article, “If every activity is “missions,” how do we set priorities?
    • 2 Winters, Ralph. 1981. Four Men, Three Eras, Two Transitions: Modern Missions in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: 253-261. see especially the chart on p. 259.
    • 3 A 2006 update from Jason Mandryk of Operation world divides the unreached people groups as follows: Muslim 4100, Hindu 2700, Tribal 2000, Buddhist 1000, Others 600. See “State of the Gospel” download at http://www.operationworld.org/index.html
    • 4 Wilson, Nate. Motivations for Missions in http://www.globaltribesoutreach.org/articles.php?id=7. Accessed Dec 21, 2008.
    • 5 http://www.wycliffe.ca/aboutus/vision2025.html. Accessed Dec 21, 2008.
    • 6 As defined in “If every activity is “missions,” how do we set priorities?” God’s mission “refers to his gracious acts within history to bring redemption to the world.”
    • 7 I was introduced to this helpful terminology from 1615 missions coaching material. See http://www.1615.org/about/
    • 8 See Significant Conversations for a helpful way to support believers in this role.

    70. If every activity is “missions,” how do we set priorities?

    NOTE: Mark is available to work with our FEBBC/Y churches to coach missions committees in their role in leading their local church in the area of missions.  Please contact Mark via the Contact Me form or view Mark’s Coaching page

    It is so easy to become distracted! Whenever I come home from my Bible translation trips, I have a number of chores waiting for me.  Unfortunately, I often find myself jumping indiscriminately from one task to another so that a lot of chores are half-done and nothing is properly completed.  For example, if I set out to mow the lawn I will discover that the lawnmower shed is a mess.  So I begin to organize the shed and notice some old plants that should go into the compost. On the way to the compost I see some tools lying outside, so I put down the plants and pick up the tools to put them away.  As I do, I notice that one of the tools belongs to a neighbor and I set off to return it. Walking across the lawn, I see that it is somewhat overgrown and so I make a mental note to mow it….

    Working out the direction and priorities in missions in our churches can feel similarly overwhelming.  A missions program used to be fairly simple for the average church: commission a missionary for overseas ministry, send money to their missions agency and pray.  Today the complexity of the world has changed things.  Global has merged with local, simple relationships have morphed into complex networks, information is ubiquitous and communication instantaneous.  I asked my daughter how many countries she is connected to on Facebook, and she instantly gave me about 10 country names, from South Africa to Germany to Pakistan.  People are involved with other ethnic groups on a daily basis, face to face as well as through the variety of media available today.  When traveling on a city bus, I am amazed by the realization that, ethnically speaking, I am usually in the minority.

    An all-encompassing view of Missions

    Opportunities for involvement in outreach abound.  Short term missions teams travel to many needy places in the world. Churches are often made up of more than one ethnic group, encouraging a network of significant cross-cultural engagement in the broader community.  Moreover, the diverse ways to be involved are more than we can handle, from World vision appeals on television, to feeding the homeless, to supporting the development of water filters in Pakistan. In such a context, the potential for missions includes so many different activities that the diversity and demand is overwhelming.

    Furthermore, if an activity such as constructing a church building in Haiti, or providing a home for the poor in Mexico, is “missions,” isn’t that “missions” status also appropriate for helping out with the construction of a church building in Canada, or even participating in a local Habitat for Humanity project?  In this way of thinking, any service to God that impacts people becomes our involvement in missions.  But if so, what distinguishes missions from other activities of the church?  Is it time, cost, geography, commitment?

    what distinguishes missions from other activities of the church?

    Over the past few decades the common understanding of missions in our churches has broadened dramatically beyond the traditional emphasis to include almost any worthwhile and impacting project that focuses on those who are not yet believers.  Every believer is challenged to “be a missionary right where you are,” and the recognition that missions is now “from everywhere to everywhere” encourages people to consider any activity with an evangelistic or compassionate focus as “missions.”

    In light of this major shift of what constitutes missions, it is important to remind ourselves what missions has been traditionally understood to be and why that task was given priority.  Otherwise, it is possible that we may become so distracted by the many opportunities to do good that we miss out on an important aspect of what God is doing, and fail to continue the work that missionaries have faithfully struggled for through the years. Stephen Neill warns us that “if everything is missions, then nothing is missions.”1 By intentionally maintaining the traditional thrust of missions within the broader and more encompassing missional emphasis we experience today, the danger inherent in that warning can be avoided.

    “What do you mean by that!” – Definitions

    As I will argue below and in a following article, traditionally missions has been primarily understood as the effort to bring the gospel to those who have no access to it within their context.  As noted above, it seems unlikely that the word “missions” can be reserved for this narrow understanding.  My purpose in presenting these articles is not to rescue one particular term, but to ensure that churches have the opportunity to consider the traditional focus of missions as one of the priorities in their overall missions program.

    God’s mission (singular) refers to his gracious acts within history to bring redemption to the world. “A careful reading of both Old and New Testaments reveals that God himself is the subject of mission. We have here to do with Missio Dei, God’s mission.”2

    An unreached people group is an ethnic group with a distinct identity “judged to have inadequate Christian resources to evangelize itself.”3 For example, the Sindhi people of Pakistan, among whom our family lived and worked for 14 years, is one of the largest unreached people groups in the world.

    The missional task of the church is broader than the traditional missions mandate

    Missional refers to the response by the church to partner with God in his mission by bringing the message of salvation to those outside of his kingdom.4 Traditional missions, as I will argue below and in the follow-up article, is a subset of this missional orientation. The missional task of the church is broader than the traditional missions mandate and encompasses all efforts to support, maintain and extend the kingdom of God.

    Although many definitions of missions do not make the distinction that I am proposing,5 I believe that acknowledging traditional missions as one aspect of the missional task of the church will help alleviate some of the frustration and confusion felt by missions committees and global missions teams as they seek to prioritize their missions program.

    Paul’s mission to those who have not heard

    In a previous article, the “apostolic” appointment in the New Testament was proposed as the foundational biblical concept to understand missions – the “sending” of chosen messengers beyond the boundaries of the local church for the purpose of extending the kingdom of God.  In this article some of the distinctives traditionally used to define missions will be examined from the writings of the apostle Paul. As he has been considered the prototypical missionary,6 his perspective on his role provided an important biblical foundation to the modern missions movement.

    As a missionary of the gospel of Christ, Paul provides a description of his responsibility to fulfill the Great Commission (Mt 28:19,20):

    … through the power of the Spirit of God… I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written, “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand” (Rom 15:19-21).

    Paul’s desire was “to call all the Gentiles (Gk. ethne) to faith and obedience for [Christ’s] name’s sake” (Rom 1:5).  That is, his priority to fulfill his calling was to preach the gospel wherever faith in Christ was non-existent among a people group (ethne).  From those who responded, communities of believers were established who, in turn, became witnesses to the gospel within their own context.  Paul also took steps to see that they maintained spiritual vitality by visiting them again and writing to them, and he expected that they would carry on the missional mandate that he had inaugurated.  That is, his work as a “sent one” (apostle) was the beginning of an expansion of the gospel which those new believers would complete.  This is evident in his expressed pleasure in the people of God at Colossae because “the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world- just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace” (Col 1:6).

    [Paul’s] work as a “sent one” (apostle) was the beginning of an expansion of the gospel

    By “his personal example and through his teaching, Paul constantly reminded the churches of their apostolic calling. They had been sent by God into the world to reach beyond their local neighborhoods with the gospel. Their task was to bring into God’s kingdom the nations for which Christ died and which had yet to acknowledge him as their king.”7

    The following article will explore the way Paul’s focus on missions was worked out in the modern missions movement (from Wm. Carey to the present), and then propose a way to maintain this concern within a broader missional portfolio of the local church.


    Mark spends part of his time coaching churches for effective involvement in missions.  If you are interested in taking advantage of this, please contact him via the Contact Me form.  If you would like to leave a comment, please use the “comment” link at the bottom of this article.



    • 1 Quoted in Bosch, D.J. 1991. Transforming Mission: Paradigm shifts in theology of mission. Maryknoll: Orbis, 115.
    • 2 Bosch, David. 1981. Witness to the world in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement,  59.
    • 3 Mays, David. Missions Stuff II, ACMC 2002:7.
    • 4 For a fuller exploration of the missional implications for the local church see the CCI Missional articles.
    • 5 For example David Mays provides the following two definitions: “Mission is the intentional crossing of barriers from Church to non-church in word and deed for the sake of the proclamation of the Gospel”  (Stephen Neill) and “When a person is ‘sent out’ beyond the borders and influence of the local church to make disciples, that is missions”  (Woody Phillips), from Let’s Define Missions in Missions Stuff II, ACMC 2002:5.
    • 6 For example, note the title of Roland Allen’s influential book first published in 1912, “Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?”
    • 7 Glasser, Arthur. 1981. The Apostle Paul and the Missionary Task in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement,  132 (emphasis mine).

    69. The Difference between Missions and Outreach

    NOTE: Mark is available to work with our FEBBC/Y churches to coach missions committees in their role in leading their local church in the area of missions.  Please contact Mark via the Contact Me form or view Mark’s Coaching page

    A fuzzy understanding of Missions

    I have a saying on my screensaver by Joseph Jourbert: “Words, like eyeglasses, blur everything that they do not make clear.”  This is true for Bible translation – which is the reason the quote appeals to me – but it is also true for the word “missions.” For some, the word is loaded with passion and purpose.  Missions, in the plural, refers to God’s mission to bring redemption to the world and a heart for missions is the positive response to Jesus’ invitation to participate in what God is doing (Mt 28:19-20).  Unfortunately, for many in our churches, missions is a word somewhat “fuzzy” in meaning.

    Throughout the first two eras of the modern missionary movement, beginning with William Carey in the 18th century and ending sometime in the latter half of the last century, the definition of missions was clear: missions was the job of missionaries who traveled overseas with a lifetime commitment to bring the gospel message to those who had never heard.  The role of missions committees in the churches was to support the missionaries in their task, and the distinction between missions and other ministries in the church was clear.  However, times have changed.  Short term mission teams abound, the world and its variety of religions has come to our doorstep, and the west has been recognized as a legitimate “mission field.”  In the midst of such change and diversity, churches have become somewhat unclear in distinguishing missions from the other ministries in the church.  Indeed, at times, the distinction has been deliberately downplayed in order to encourage every believer to be a “missionary” wherever they are.

    Is missions one aspect of what the church does, or is it inclusive of all church activities?  Does any and all interaction with those who are not believers constitute missions, or only particular ministries?  Should donations to the denomination headquarters, church planting efforts in our own province, local evangelism efforts or training for teens to reach their peers all be considered legitimate items on the missions budget? Or is there something distinct about the nature and purpose of missions that determines which ministries can be considered missions?  For example, consider the following.  Which do you think should be classified as missions?

    • Youth summer ministry in downtown Vancouver
    • Teaching a class at a seminary in Korea
    • Rescuing girls from prostitution in Bangkok
    • Gospel outreach to local First Nations
    • The Alpha program
    • Billy Graham crusade in Vancouver.
    • Youth for Christ camp ministry in Venezuela
    • Leadership training at Northwest Baptist Seminary
    • Leadership training at a seminary in Singapore
    • Awana
    • Young Life youth ministries
    • Feeding the homeless in the Lower Mainland
    • Church planting in interior BC
    • A Punjabi church plant in Lower Mainland
    • Church planting in Australia
    • Church planting in Japan
    • Community Fun Day at your local church

    If everything is missions, then nothing is missions

    Stephen Neill warned, “If everything is missions, then nothing is missions.”1 If we are unclear concerning the task of missions to which God has called us, it is very easy to lose sight of the primary purpose of missions.  Without insight into the reason for missions, it is impossible to strategize and prioritize effectively.  We can become busy with many things, but miss out on what is essentially missions. So what are the appropriate criteria by which we can determine what is legitimately “missions”?

    Missions is initiated by those who are “sent”

    In his book, Loving the Church, Blessing the Nations, George Miley provides an important biblical distinctive that qualifies missions and distinguishes it from other ministries in the church.  Through an examination of 1 Co. 12:28 he relates missions to the role of apostolic leaders who are to “blaze the trail, to pioneer, to initiate kingdom breakthroughs into new areas, and to lay foundations on which others can build. When it comes to extending the reign of God on earth, they … go first.”2 God has appointed apostles to the church for the purpose of advancing his kingdom.  They are the “sent ones” who to open the way for the gospel.

    This is illustrated in Acts 13:2-4, recounting an incident that occurred in the church at Antioch.

    While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus.

    set apart for a distinct task that is fulfilled beyond the boundaries of the church

    The distinction between other ministries of the church and missions is clear in this passage.  The church at Antioch had a responsibility to be Christ’s witness in their local context, but they are also given the opportunity to affirm with the Holy Spirit that some are set apart for a distinct task that is fulfilled beyond the boundaries of the church.  That is, Paul and Barnabas are sent out to initiate the kingdom in a context where the church has no influence.  The church does not directly benefit or grow numerically through this process.  On the contrary, they sacrifice their “best and brightest” in order to see God’s work become established and grow among a group separate from themselves.

    initiate the kingdom where it would not otherwise occur

    This understanding of missions does not necessarily require geographical distance, but it does require the appointing of individuals to the task of “stepping beyond” the boundaries of the local church’s influence in order to initiate the kingdom where it would not otherwise occur.  Based on this understanding of missions, I believe that is it helpful for churches to make a distinction between their task of local outreach and evangelism, and their role in missions.  Consider the following statements:

    outreach is making an impact where you live
    missions is making an impact by intentionally
    stepping beyond where you live.

    “Evangelism is church growing where it is,
    missions is church going where it isn’t”3

    Outreach is what the church does
    by existing within its context
    Missions is what the church does
    by initiating beyond its context

    This is just one of a number of parameters that are helpful for members of missions committees to keep in mind as they fulfill their responsibilities to lead their church in missions.  In the following article other biblical images and concepts that clarify missions will be explored.


    Mark spends part of his time coaching churches for effective involvement in missions.  If you are interested in taking advantage of this, please contact him via the Contact Me form.  If you would like to leave a comment, please use the “comment” link at the bottom of this article.


    • 1 Quoted in Bosch, D.J. 1991. Transforming Mission: Paradigm shifts in theology of mission. Maryknoll: Orbis, 115.
    • 2 Miley, George. 2003. Loving the Church, Blessing the Nations: Pursuing the Role of Local Churches in Global Mission. Waynesboro: Gabriel, 94.
    • 3 Quoted in Mays, David. Missions Stuff.

    32. When is a Missions Trip REALLY Missions?

    A team of Canadian youth was involved with young people from another culture for an intense two weeks of ministry in children’s camps.  They came back excited and impacted, but apart from relief at their safe return home, the church and parents showed little interest in the effect that experience had on the lives of the participants.  As a result many of the young people fell into a spiritual depression that lasted over half a year.

    A youth pastor expressed his perspective on short term missions, “It is 100% an opportunity to have a time of intensive discipleship with those participating.  Whatever they are involved in, including the people they are serving, is a secondary consideration.”

    Both of these anecdotes indicate a narrow and truncated view of missions that needs correcting.  Important elements of spiritual development in people’s lives are undermined when crucial aspects of missions are neglected.  In the first case, completing and affirming the experience through appropriate debriefing was required.  In the second case, the extreme statement of the youth pastor bypassed the primary reason for any missions effort: the needs of the receptor community.

    Short term missions trips have several positive aspects, not the least of which is hands on exposure to cross-cultural missions work which increases the desire to be involved in what God is doing worldwide.  Nonetheless, there are negative aspects that can result in more harm than good.  This article features advice from FEBInternational personnel about short term missions presented with the desire that our churches’ efforts in short term missions be legitimate, effective and rewarding.

    I.  Support missions, not simply cross-cultural experiences. 

    The aim of Missions is gospel transformation in the lives of individuals and communities.  Cross-cultural experiences that are legitimately “missions” will maintain this as the central goal.  This demands a high level of spiritual commitment and maturity on the part of the participants that will ensure true spiritual love and concern when relating to others. When Jesus sent out his short term mission teams (Luke 9:1-6 and 10:1-12), they were given tasks that demanded a high level of commitment in representing Christ and his message and they were expected to minister in significant ways.

    For those who are not yet ready to represent Christ cross-culturally, there are steps that can be taken to prepare for a cross-cultural encounter.  For example, a good test for young people is to be involved in the SEMP program (Students Equipped to minister to their Peers).  Once that has been successfully completed, involvement in a local or inner city ministry will stretch and prepare the individual for ministry and demonstrate their desire to serve.  Such a process proves the sincerity of the participant and can weed out those who may have ulterior motives of experiencing another culture that outweighs their desire to be involved in missions.

    II. Fewer is better.

    Besides the pragmatic aspects of providing for a large number of people, there are a number of other advantages to limiting the number of those involved.  When people travel individually or in pairs in order to be involved in missions, they fit much more easily into existing missions work.  They are more likely to develop relationships across cultural barriers because they do not have a large “safe” group shielding them from uncomfortable situations.  Individuals who are willing to travel abroad are more likely to consider career missions since they tend to be more open to experiencing the unfamiliar.

    There is a common misunderstanding that all Christians should have cross-cultural missions experience.  Although all are chosen by God to bring about gospel transformation in and through their lives, not all are equipped for or capable of handling the adjustments, stresses and complications of cross-cultural life and ministry.  A goal of the church that wishes to be effective in missions is to discover those few gifted for such relationships and lifestyles and expose them to short term missions so that their ministry skills and passion can be developed.

    It is more feasible for fewer people to stay longer, thus increasing their exposure and effectiveness.  When the focus is on impact in missions rather than on experiencing another culture, those who are less gifted in cross-cultural ministry have an opportunity to sacrifice by remaining home so that others can have a more impacting ministry.

    III. Training and debriefing are Crucial

    If a person merely wants to experience the excitement of a hospital operating room, their presence is sufficient.  However if that person would also like to operate and take a scalpel in their hand, they better have some training first!  Similarly, representing the Lord Jesus Christ cross-culturally is serious business.  Great harm can be done to the gospel through insensitive and incautious comments and actions.  Appropriate training can lead to experiences that not only advance the kingdom, but result in a positive and developing vision of what God can accomplish.  Moreover, an evaluation of the experience from the perspective of those with more insight and understanding can lead to greater personal growth and enhanced ability to serve in the future.

    IV.  Keep Career Missions the preferred option.

    Short term missions continues to play an effective role in the global effort of spreading the gospel worldwide.  However, the cultural and linguistic demands of cross-cultural ministry require the church to maintain a focus on career.  It takes years for missionaries to function effectively in another language and to learn how gospel transformation will result in contextualized churches and theology.  Thus organizers of short term mission trips must ensure that their efforts both promote and enhance career missions efforts. Such an emphasis keeps the challenge of missions at the forefront and contributes to the development of those individuals who may be called to devote their lives to such a task.

    When done right, short term missions trips are not viewed as an end in themselves, but an integral part of the God’s mission to the world.  Lives are changed on both sides of the cultural divide and those called by Christ are encouraged towards further development and missions commitment

    26. An Expanding Definition of Missions

    The Fear of Dilution

    I was recently talking with a colleague who voiced a concern about the expanding understanding of missions in some of our more missional churches.  The missions committee at his church expressed the desire to incorporate local evangelistic and social efforts under the broad umbrella of  “missions.” My colleague was afraid that when local ministries are considered as “missions,” the focus, support and emphasis on foreign missions efforts will be diluted. 

    Is this fear valid? If missions is defined so broadly that it encompasses all the church exists to do and more, will this not result in the demise of missions as traditionally understood?  Will the concept of foreign missions cease to exist?  Is the term “missionary,” as a word describing the international minister of the gospel, in danger of becoming archaic and obsolete?  By describing everything as “missions” are we in danger of undermining support for international missions?  The World Council of Churches removed evangelism as a separate focus because it understood that evangelism was integral to all work done in Christ’s name. However the result, according to some, was that evangelism disappeared for the most part from their efforts.  Could foreign missions face a similar fate in our evangelical churches?

    A New Perspective in Missional Churches

    Foreign missions has traditionally been one of the sacred elements of the evangelical church.  I have heard people quote the percentage of church giving devoted to foreign missions as a significant criterion to measure the spiritual vitality of a congregation.  Missions has been viewed as the responsibility of dedicated individuals who are sent as an extension of the church which limits local involvement to prayer, financial support and accountibility. 

    But now the missional church movement calls congregations to view their setting as a mission field.  A new buzz word, “glocal” (combining “local” and “global” concerns), underlines the validity of all efforts to bring gospel transformation into the world, eliminating geographical distinctions from the definition of missions.  Instead a new definition can be described as aligning ourselves with God’s mission in the world for the sake of his glory.  Chaplaincy, local centers ministering to abused women and Christian soccer camps are all given equal status with foreign missions as participants in God’s mission to the world.  But what are implications for traditional missions agencies?  Is this trend to be welcomed or resisted?

    Benefits of the New Definition for the Church

    I would argue that this move to view local efforts as much a part of missions as the missionary sent overseas is not only appropriate, but should be encouraged.  The benefits will not only be seen in revitalizing the local church in missional thinking, but also can serve to sharpen the focus of missions organizations.

    This trend revitalizes the local church by recognizing that geographical parameters are no longer valid for defining missions. Because God’s mission is global, the local church is situated within a mission field and is required to face that responsibility with the same dedication expected of mission organizations.  Moreover, this view validates all missional efforts no matter the setting.  The visitor to hospital shut-ins is recognized along side of the church planter in Pakistan as being a part of bringing in Christ’s kingdom.

    Furthermore, commitment to missions does not occur without involvement. Limiting the local church’s mission participation to prayer, giving and accountibility – as vital as these have been and will continue to be – undermines the development of the passion to be involved in what God is doing.  People, in general, are not satisfied with following traditional patterns, but require a vision that grips their heart.  Involvement both locally and globally is accessible and is a key factor in developing that vision.

    Benefits of the New Definition for the Mission Organization

    This challenge of competition for church support and resources is actually a healthy environment for those of us involved in mission organizations.  Rather than seeking to maintain foreign mission priority, we would do far better to promote and adapt to this new reality.

    First, it challenges us to define our specific role in being a part of God’s mission.  It encourages a more integrative and holistic perspective of working together with the local church. Significance and transformational impact become the factors which validate our partnership with churches and draw the attention and commitment of those who desire to do God’s will, rather than merely historical or traditional ties.  Rather than competing with local ministries for resources, mission agencies must become a part of the church in ways that enhance those ministries and integrate the focus of international missions with the concerns of the local church.

    Second, it challenges missions organizations towards accountibility.  Local churches sense a responsibility towards their local ministries due to their proximity and involvement.  When cross-cultural ministries are considered a part of the essence of a church’s existence, it will be prepared to take a greater role in overseeing and evaluating the significance of the work of a mission organization.

    Our mission organization, FEBInternational, has much to offer churches nationally and around the world in cross-cultural expertise, organizational support and evangelistic commitment, as well as providing significant models of culturally sensitive church structures and leadership development.  Open partnerships in missional churches with local ministries and concerns will provide a forum to communicate the importance of our ministries as well as opportunity to both benefit from and contribute to local churches’ efforts in being a part of God’s mission to the world.

    16. Church Partnership in Missions (Part III)

    Implications for the Church Oriented Sending Agency

    The Partnership Trend

    Stemming from a college professor’s interest in his international students, members from a local church began to build relationships with families from that people group.  Some of the church members went on to minister full time to these people in their homeland.  While there they facilitated visits from other members of the church who came short term to serve and to pray.  Both at home and in the land of this people group, the church is focused on being part of God’s mission through direct ministry partnership rather than simply remaining supporters of a mission agency’s vision. (1)

    In an article outlining effective missions outreach for churches, Geoff Tunnicliffe (2) notes the trend of many churches to connect to their ministry partners relationally. Rather than focusing on giving to missionaries based on a sense of obligation to missions, commitment is developed through direct contact with those serving cross-culturally and through involvement in their ministry.  Also these churches have a balanced concern for both local and global outreaches, integrating the two as part of one essential vision rather than as two separate enterprises in competition for attention and resources.  In addition, churches and agencies are seeking to develop partnerships for the purpose of fulfilling their mandate for missions and inviting the other to participate with them at fundamental decision making levels.

    Important Adjustments for Agencies

    If this trend is an accurate indication of the direction many churches are headed, then mission agencies must make an important adjustment in order to develop and maintain support from these churches.  Rather than seeking to develop a vision and ministry that is presented to churches for their endorsement, the agency must develop these together with churches in order to ensure commitment.  Rather than convincing churches to support their ministry emphasis and strategy, the agencies must serve churches by providing the tools and means so the individual church’s missions emphasis can be fulfilled. Rather than viewing the agency as the workers and the church as the supporters, both agency and church must be active participants from the inception of the planning to the fruition of the vision on the field.  Unless there is hand ons participation by the church, there will be little buy-in of the ministry.

    The mission organization that seeks to be church oriented will help their churches move from supporters to participants.  They will work with the individual churches to help them develop a vision and strategy so that they actually become part of the missions experience and take part in making ministry decisions that affect the missionaries’ work and the mission agency’s focus.  The goal is to move people from awareness and support to ownership.

    Building Ownership Leads to Commitment

    Denominational loyalty is dying and along with that support for denominational agencies.  Non-denominational agencies struggle even more as people’s willingness to commit to a name or an organization wanes. Approaching a church for support relegates the agency to simply one voice among many and where there is no direct relationship, any sense of obligation on the part of the church member will be limited.

    Rather than despairing of people’s lack of loyalty and concern, it needs to be recognized that this problem may very well result in a greater solution.  A powerful missions vision with the potential of impacting people can only be developed in the context of the church and it is the desire of many agencies to move in this direction.  Such a vision cannot be transplanted from a missions organization to a congregation through a brochure and 10 minute presentation on Sunday morning.  It must be developed through interaction with the church with a focus on the church’s vision and passion and involvement.

    This change requires a greater flexibility within mission agencies than has been evident in the past.  They must subordinate their concerns to the missions vision of the local church and be committed to lend their expertise and organizational system for the benefit of the church’s missions mandate.  Fields and candidates would be evaluated with the church’s participation and input, rather than in the agency’s boardroom.  All promotional materials and contacts with churches would be designed with the view of building ownership rather than soliciting support. 

    Mission Agencies as Educators

    Mission agencies would need to reeducate the church concerning its role in missions so that the congregation can move to the next level of involvement.  For example, when a church approaches an agency concerning candidate they would like to have accepted by that agency, the first step is not to evaluate the candidate, but to meet with church representatives concerning the church’s role in world missions. (3)  The church would be challenged to become participants rather than merely supporters and senders. The agency would present itself as a facilitator of the church’s missions effort, rather than taking sole responsibility for the candidate and requesting support.  The ministry and requirements for the missionary would be worked out according to the perspective and needs of the church.  If the church is unable to financially support the person completely, a strategy of enlisting other churches as partners would be required.  People would be appointed to work with the candidate and the agency throughout the application and support raising process and beyond.  Other church members may need to be sent to the field with the candidate to assess the appropriate ministry and to provide input and support.

    Such a church oriented focus changes the agency’s role from overseeing the field and candidate in place of the church to working with the church in such oversight. This does not lessen the agency’s responsibility, but increases it to proactively and creatively incorporate the church in the process. Agencies can no longer say to the churches, "Help us in our missions efforts." Instead they must say, "Let us partner with you in your missions efforts."


    • (1) Camp, B.K. & Livingood, E. 2002. Design Your Impact Workshop. Dana Point: Dual Reach. p. 7.
    • (2) Tunnicliffe, G. Church Strategies for Missions in Faith Today, July / Aug 2002. p. 29.
    • (3) This is the purpose of the Design Your Impact Workshop.

    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.

    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.

    10. Mission: Fighting Injustice or Personal Spiritual Rebirth?

    During our time in Pakistan the area of the Thar desert was afflicted with a four year drought.  People made destitute from the famine migrated out to more habitable regions only to be met by unscrupulous landlords who took advantage of their impoverished state to hire them for mere pennies a day.  Foreign missions organizations joined with the churches in Pakistan to raise a significant amount of money designated as aid for those affected by the famine.  However the governor of the region heard of the project and informed those responsible for the distribution that unless they gave one half as as "fee" to the governor for his private use, they would not be allowed to distribute the aid.

    Is the Role of Christian Mission to bring Justice?

    Surely part of being heralds of the kingdom of Christ should involve confronting such evil and promoting more just structures.  Some believe that the primary role of Christian mission is to bring justice through transforming social structures.  One missiologist promotes a sociopolitical element in Christian mission which views the affirmation "Christ is Lord" as "both a faith statement and also a political credo which leads inescapably to political choices and tasks" (Saayman 1991:11). He views missions as both proclaiming the news and setting the captives free and there is therefore "no incompatibility between mission and politics" (1991:13).  He further argues that an apolitical or politically neutral perspective is impossible because it "often turns out in practice to be supportive of the status quo" (1991:4).  It is on the basis of this argument that he states "the gospel does not empower only to change people, but [it] empowers the Christian community specifically to change oppressive structures" (1991:114, italics author). 

    This view is partly in reaction to a traditional emphasis on the personal and spiritual aspect of mission which assumes that the essence of missions is the conversion of individuals to Jesus Christ.  Such an emphasis only secondarily or derivatively looks for social change as an aspect of missions.  However, concern for injustice and oppression causes some to express the Christian faith not so much in terms of a personal, spiritual reality, but as a community force that acts politically to initiate those structural changes that bring all of society closer to an ideal community of justice and mercy, that is, closer to the kingdom of God.

    Missions is the Transformation of People

    While a balanced view of missions must take both these concerns seriously, caution must be expressed when the personal element is displaced by an emphasis on impersonal structures.  It is true that individual, personal salvation is only authentic when there is corresponding action on the community level, confronting sin and injustice in all its forms.  However the transformation of temporal social structures is neither the goal nor the means of missions.  The kingdom of God is only advanced through the transforming of people, who are eternal, and their beliefs which are reflected in their actions towards one another.  This does not ignore structures, for structures are a tangible reflection of the legitimacy of the faith of a community, but it recognizes that change begins and ends with people’s personal beliefs.

    The NT is consistent in addressing heart issues first and foremost (e.g. Mt. 22:37-40).  By removing racism from peoples’ hearts, the basis for apartheid crumbles.  By removing sexism from peoples’ hearts, the basis for gender discrimination vanishes.  Jesus did not attack structures or institutions, he did not speak against structures and institutions, and he did not try to establish structures and institutions.  What he was concerned about was the personal relationship of individuals with God and with others (e.g. Mt. 28:21ff).  Although the church in the first century was surrounded by unjust political and social structures, Jesus did not address them (to the chagrin of many of his followers).  This was not because the church was powerless, for that is never an excuse to ignore evil, but because this is not the way of Christ in removing injustice.  Structures only function as people establish and run them.  They are only destroyed when people destroy them.  The means of opposing an unjust system must involve a spiritual change of heart for there to be permanent and effective change.  A change in structure can help curtail the incidence of abuse and promote an environment within which values of justice are reinforced, but there are always ways for the avaricious to circumvent safeguards for selfish and unjust gain.  Therefore the aim of Christian mission is ultimately not to overthrow or replace unjust structures, but to change the hearts of those who desire to profit from injustice.  To try and shortcut this process is to fail.  For example, where liberation theology contributed to revolution, such as in Latin America, the "situation hardly changed.  Repression just took on new forms" (Bosch 1991:445).

    "God’s Terrible Insistence on Human Freedom"

    There is also the danger of overriding personal freedoms for the sake of a social utopia.  We must take G. K. Chesterton’s famous adage seriously of "God’s terrible insistence on human freedom," and be careful that we do not seek justice along any path of injustice.  We cannot fight oppressors using their weapons and forcing people to do things against their will.  Love does not force its will upon another.  We need always to look for "a way of engagement which is motivated by love, compassion and concern rather than hatred for the enemy which must inevitably lead to destruction" (Cochrane et al.1991:78).  This is not ignoring the need for opposing injustice but recognizes the "need for both personal renewal by God’s spirit and resolute commitment to challenging and transforming the structures of society" (Bosch 1991:408).  The Christian praxis of liberation must always be one of working from the inside out so that structures crumble like the Berlin wall in 1989 – because people on both sides were tearing it down.

    In the incident cited above, the decision was made not to pay the "fee" to the governor.  The money was given back to the churches and mission organizations who surreptitiously distributed the funds via their own private channels.  There was no compromise with the wicked and those suffering were helped.  Nonetheless, I wonder if we could have done more to raise a prophetic voice decrying the political and cultural structures that provide the opportunity for such abuse.  "Stop your noisy songs; I do not want to listen to your harps.  Instead, let justice flow like a stream, and righteousness like a river that never goes dry" (Amos 5:23,24)

    7.   Quest for justice in mission

    Even though in our churches, salvation in Christ is primarily described in terms of justice and mercy using the analogy of a celestial court, the focus of justice as a major issue for society is often overshadowed in Evangelical circles by other concerns.  The death of thousands of infants through abortion makes the pro-choice cries of personal "justice and rights for women" seem shallow and immaterial to our ears.  The desire to protect heterosexual marriage within our society as ordained by God (Gen 2) causes us to dismiss the demand for "equality and justice" by the homosexual community as irrelevant. The success of democracy in creating wealth and security for the diligent worker makes us somewhat skeptical of the dependent poor in many countries who need to "take responsibility" for themselves.  Nonetheless these issues of justice need to be dealt with seriously and compassionately if relevant cross-cultural impact is to be made. Societal sensitivities to justice must be acknowledged and be taken into account along with our unwavering commitment to God’s word as a light guiding us to truth. God is just, and our approach in dealing with social issues must not undermine that basic truth.

    Liberation Theology

    One of the most influential theologies of mission in recent times has been liberation theology which is based on a quest for justice.  The theological support for this is very strong, not only in the OT prophets’ stress on social justice, but also in Jesus’ own proclamation concerning his mission of liberation for the oppressed (Lu 4:18-21).  In contrast to a social gospel which preaches a gospel of lifting ourselves up and becoming our own salvation by our own efforts, the cross of Christ "is at the very center of liberation theology" (Bosch 1991:439).  With liberation theology, the "suffering servant" is the rallying cry of oneness and the focal point for seeking liberation from injustice and evil. God’s concern for the poor is well founded in both the OT and NT with an emphasis suggesting "that the poor were an all-embracing category for those who were the victims of society" (ibid.:436, my italics) rather than a simplistic socioeconomic statement concerning relative standards of living. Jesus’ approach to the "poor and needy" (i.e., us) was to enter into our suffering through the incarnation and show solidarity with the oppressed. He delivered us from oppression by taking the evil upon himself.  Liberation theology calls Christians to do the same.

    This perspective is to be commended in its reaction against a comfortable Christianity that can somehow be satisfied with spiritual experience while ignoring the discomfort of others.  Christianity must provide the answer to injustice and evil in order to be ultimately true.  If, instead, the church gives the answer that Christianity cannot deal with this need, or (worse) that Christianity perpetuates an injustice or contributes to the pain, then Christianity is viewed as insufficient to meet the needs of life. 

    Liberation in Christ

    At the same time, deliverance from social oppression does not equal liberation in Christ.  Although the poor do inherit the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom is not to be equated with social structures because it is a reality that can exist in the midst of all societies.  The kingdom is a immanent reality ("the kingdom of God is among you" – Lu 17:21) of which one expression is the transformation of society.  But that one expression is not to be equated with the kingdom.  The kingdom of God was ushered in with evil structures present and has continued to exist and grow in the presence of unjust structures throughout history.

    Our true standing in Christ and our humanity is specifically not dependent upon a standard of living and political rights.  The "good news" is not that people become truly human by being delivered from social oppression, but the truth that in the midst of their suffering they are truly human in Christ.

    When Jesus spoke of the "blessed" state of the poor he referred to those who have had the illusion of wealth, security, independence and status stripped away to reveal the true nakedness of humanity without God.  The kingdom of God does not automatically include those who are disadvantaged socioeconomically or those living under the oppression of racism or patriarchy, but rather all those who have realized that life is only found in God and not in human structures and the illusion of independence.  It is this "impoverishment" of the rich that is to be a focus of mission so that they too can share in the blessing of the poor.  The suffering Christ brings us in contact with reality that transcends the difficulties of this life, whether or not the social ills are alleviated.  While social ills must be addressed by the church, in God’s gracious economy they also serve to lift our focus to new heights.  It is the situation of the poor which promotes humility, dependence and openness to the Spirit along with a desperate hope in God.

    Fighting Injustice

    What the liberationists have contributed is a prophetic call that liberation in Christ must work to bring social transformation.  Spiritual complacency that accepts an unjust status quo can never be God’s intention.  We abuse our standing in Christ and view others as less than human (and so put ourselves "liable to the hell of fire" – Mt 5:22) when we either actively or passively contribute to others’ oppression.  The fact that humanity and reality of life in Christ is possible regardless of one’s sociopolitical situation, does not absolve the church from the mission obligation of fighting injustice.

    On the front wall of our baptist church in Shikarpur, Sindh is a photograph of a Catholic priest. A few years ago he shocked Christians in Pakistan and around the world when he committed suicide in the Pakistan parliament by shooting himself with a pistol. He committed this act – an unforgivable sin in the Catholic church – to protest a law that was condemning innocent Christians to imprisonment and death. His extreme act of solidarity for the Christian community and his commitment to justice as expressed through his death was greeted with awe and admiration by the Christian community. His willingness to take on himself the sin of suicide for the sake of justice for people he loved was a powerful sermon that lives on in the hearts of the Pakistani Christians. While suicide cannot be commended, his sacrifice for others positively impacted the church.

    We must be careful about how injustice is to be fought.  An assumption that justice is achieved through the passing of laws or by socioeconomic development of the poor is naive. While compassion and a commitment to justice drive us to stand by the oppressed, mere deliverance from social oppression or the raising of one’s standard of living is insignificant if the result is a moving away from those attributes that Christ desires in us all.  The liberation the poor fundamentally require is the development of their relationship with the "suffering servant" within their own context.  Only on this foundation can transformation occur in ways that meet their physical, social and spiritual needs in a holistic fashion, without diminishing those attributes that Jesus commended. "Doing justice" (Mic. 6:8) is neither Christian spirituality or a dogmatism that ignores those who are oppressed, nor is it the concept that without liberation from oppression here and now, life cannot be experienced to the full. True enjoyment of life is found in Christ, not in our circumstances, and it is this life in Christ that drives us on to seek liberation for all.


    • Bosch, D.J. 1991. Transforming Mission.  Paradigm shifts in theology of mission.  Maryknoll: Orbis.

    6.   Is "Church" or "Kingdom" the goal of Mission?

    "Don’t plant churches, plant ministries!"

    In our recent BC convention (May, 2003) Dr. Ray Bakke challenged us to reach the city for Christ.  At one point he said "Don’t plant churches, plant ministries!" Focus on meeting the needs of people in practical ways and the transforming power of the cross will be experienced.  By living out the gospel in an intentional, sacrificial manner that results in identification with the people, the gospel message can be heard and understood.  Rather than being the focus or even the aim of mission, "church" emerges as fruit from the initiation and promotion of the kingdom of God through ministry.

    Is "church" the goal or simply one part of missions?

    Is church the goal of missions with "church-planting" the means of missions?  Or is the church simply one part of God’s mission within a multitude of actions and means working towards the establishment of the kingdom of God?  Hesselgrave[1] affirms the former concept stating that "neither a missionless church nor a churchless mission is in accordance with the plan of God" and views the heart of missions as establishing people in congregations of believers.  Conversely others see the purpose of the church fulfilled not in calling people to itself but in being an influence for initiating the kingdom of God in the world.  Is the church to have an "inward focus" of pulling people out of the world into the church?  Or is it to have an "outward focus" of being missionary by acting as an agent of change in the world?  The former perspective views the church as a place of refuge surrounded by enemy territory, sending out rescue parties to bring in those who are dying.  The latter concept is one of gardeners equipped with life giving seed and water who bring renewal to a desperate world.  In both cases the world is desperate, but in one it is the enemy about to be destroyed.  In the other it is the patient, needing to be healed.

    The practical outworkings of missions with a focus on "church" or "kingdom" are enormous.  At one end of the spectrum the church is the sole bearer of a message of salvation.  On the other the church is an "illustration – in word and deed – of what God is doing with the world"[2].  In the one view the church is the sole expression of the kingdom; in the other the church is both an expression of the kingdom and an instrument to bring the kingdom into the world.  The danger of the former is an unhealthy dichotomy between secular and sacred life, whereby our spiritual life is segregated from our involvement in world.  The danger of the latter is compromising spiritual values in relating to the world and undervaluing the impact of an identifiable community of faith.

    The danger of "church-planting" as methodology is that a group of believers meeting in a specific location becomes the mark of success.  The purpose of the church as the instrument of renewal and transformation becomes overshadowed by a sense of completion and fulfillment simply by existing. The problem with ministry as the aim of missions, such as with "para-church" ministries, is the tendency towards a one-dimensional focus (relief work, students, counseling, etc.) that lacks the more comprehensive and holistic expressions that can be found in church.

    Church growing out of ministry

    It seems obvious that an integration of these two concepts is required. But maybe we should question the thinking that makes the church the means whereby the community is reached. Rather than focusing on establishing a community of faith in order to be a transforming influence, perhaps the sequence should be reversed.  Establishing the kingdom through ministry within a community as the initiating priority and as the prerequisite for a church would both confirm the need for a church and provide an internal impetus for its establishment. The church would then grow out of and be shaped according to the needs of the community, rather than limiting the form to the comfort zone of the initiating community. Worshiping groups of believers who begin by impacting the community in the name of Christ, will continue to focus on establishing the kingdom of God in practical ways as an essential part of their identity.

    The Missionary Church

    The Pauline method of missions as described in Acts unmistakably focuses on establishing communities of believers.  However NT teaching does not allow this to translate into a fortress mentality that views the world as the enemy (e.g., Jn 3:16).  It is the world and not the church that is the focus of God’s plan, although the church is the primary means of fulfilling that plan (Mt 28:18-20).  The church is not chosen or elect in order to be granted certain privileges, but called to a task of being the presence of Christ in the world.  The church is "missionary by its very nature"[3].  Any distinction between being the people of God and acting as redeeming agents of God needs to be removed.  By its very existence the church is to be "a sign, instrument and foretaste of God’s redeeming grace for the whole life of society"[4] as it acts out the gospel in loving, sacrificial commitment to others in the world.

    The thrust of missions is that the whole people of God be involved, not just specialists. Missions is not solely evangelism or church planting because people have different gifts and abilities and all are called to use those gifts so that the gospel becomes evident in their daily lives.  Believers need to minister with the community rather than to the community, so that Christ can be revealed along side of and together with those in need of salvation. The church then becomes defined by God’s people as they are active in the world and not just when they are gathered together. The goal of missions can only be "church" when it results in a church in the world and for the world.  Not a fortress church in competition with the community, but a church that is a change agent for the benefit of the community and the whole world.

    Among the unreached people groups of Pakistan where Christianity has only had recent and minimal impact, there is frustration over the inability to establish a viable church of dedicated believers. A lot of thought and discussion takes place in the endeavor to find a form of church that will be successful. But this is probably a misplaced or at least premature concern in that it would be better to create a need for church through the vision of and attempt at relevant Christian living. What is required first is intentional Christians who are noticeably valuable to their community.  Such activity may do more to encourage gatherings of the faithful for worship and encouragement than attempts to discover a right way to structure church.


    • (1) Hesselgrave, D.J.  1980.  Planting Churches Cross-Culturally.  Grand Rapids: Baker. pp 39-41.
    • (2) Newbigin, L. 1989. The gospel in a pluralist society.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. p. 234.
    • (3) Bosch, D.J. 1991. Transforming Mission.  Paradigm shifts in theology of mission.  Maryknoll: Orbis. p. 372.
    • (4) Newbigin,  The gospel in a pluralist society. p. 233.

    2. Measuring Missions

    Can Mission be measured?

    Missions has been defined narrowly as "carrying the gospel across cultural boundaries to those who owe no allegiance to the Jesus Christ," (Glasser & McGavran 1983:26) and more comprehensively as missio Dei – God’s mission in the world.  This contrast of viewpoints is illustrated by attempts, primarily through evangelical missions efforts, to quantify missions. Numerical growth of converts and churches is often used to measure the success of missions.  Others view organic and incarnational growth as having greater importance, with numerical growth considered a byproduct when the church is fulfilling its true role.  When one defines church as an event of believers in communion together, rather than as an institution, missions becomes much more than "planting churches" in the sense of starting visible social organizations. 

    The sole use of quantitative criteria to measure the effectiveness of missions can tend to undermine the essence of church as a spiritual community.  Because "authentic growth is within" some have gone so far as to suggest that missions should be thought of in terms of deepening rather than extension, since conversion is a qualitative change (Amaldoss 1994:70).  While the either-or language may be questioned, the concern is a serious one because true spiritual growth demands both the holistic growth of the believer within the body of Christ as well as a transforming impact by the church upon society.

    Avoiding Arrogance

    Quantitative concerns can cause us to carelessly tread on holy ground as we focus on human accomplishments.  Like David’s arrogance in counting his soldiers, our fondness for numbers may stem from a yearning to control and a desire for numerical assurance that God is truly with us.  When missionaries are the experts who work to fulfill their goal of church planting, the temptation is to glory in numbers rather than in the cross.   However the common experience of missions and thus, perhaps, the proper focus of mission, is to take on the pain of the world without expecting recompense or the satisfaction of "success".

    The mission I work for, FEBInternational, is unabashedly a "church-planting" mission. During our time in Pakistan a controversy over church planting arose.  Because that was the buzz word of the time, every ministry (evangelism, health care, Bible correspondence school, etc.) was described in church planting terms.  Some of those who were trying to gather believers together into worshipping groups were frustrated by this and called for priority for those who were (in their eyes) truly doing church planting.  My wife then pointed out that if church was to be defined this way, then the only ones who could truly be called "church planters" were those who had actually managed to gather together a visible church.  Since we were working among an unresponsive Muslim people group, no one had managed to plant a self-supporting, self-governing and self-propagating church and therefore no one could be labeled a church planter!

    The point is well made: if missions is church planting defined according to the "3-selfs", then the failure to produce a visible church is a failure in missions.  Such a quantitative approach inappropriately dismisses many other aspects of the way God is working through his people in building his kingdom organically and qualitatively.

    Avoiding Carelessness

    But is any and all quantitative evaluation invalid?  Can missions in some sense be measurable?  The opposite inclination of viewing the conversion event of individuals as insignificant compared to organic and incarnational growth must also be rejected.  A lack of concern for numbers may indicate a carelessness of the call to be agents of gospel transformation.  Jesus did call people to a conversion event of following him, and the book of Acts records numbers to demonstrate the impact of the Holy Spirit upon those who heard (e.g. 2:41).  Numbers quoted can reflect a concern that people are becoming true followers of Christ, rather than from a desire for false security and power and so should not be totally dismissed as an indication that God is bringing people to salvation.

    (updated Feb 2009)


    • Amaldoss, M., 1994.  Mission as Prophesy, in New directions in missions and evangelization 2.
    • Theological foundations, edited by J.A.  Scherer & S.B.  Bevans, Mayknoll: Orbis, 64-72.
    • Glasser, A.F. & McGavran, D.A.  1983.  Contemporary Theologies of Mission. Grand Rapids: Baker.

    1.   The Helpless Factor

    Global technological and political developments have changed the face of the world and altered forever the way the church can participate in God’s work of establishing his kingdom. The great gods of science and secularism of the 20th century are making room for the pluralism and skepticism of the postmodern mind. An increasing sense of global interdependence coupled with competition over limited resources serves to emphasize the divide between the "haves" and the "have nots". With the onslaught of 9-11 even North America has become aware, with the rest of the world, of the vulnerable and fragile nature of humanity at the hands of angry people with access to powerful weapons. Within such a setting Christ’s followers must address several crucial issues in order to be relevant and significant participants in transforming lives for God’s kingdom.

    Crucial Questions

    The first challenge is to ask those crucial questions which, although severe, provide that self-examination necessary for correction. "How can the church repent of past mistakes? How can it try to rediscover the essence of its missionary nature and calling?" (Bosch 1991:365) How can it respond creatively to the pressures of a world that has radically changed? How can the people of God maintain a faithful link with their rich and instructive past in a pluralist and shifting environment, while remaining relevant to those people who view life from very different perspectives? How can the followers of Christ bridge the gap between the eternal truth of the gospel and the myriad of cultural identities?

    While this culture gap can be daunting and even frightening for the NA church, it must be remembered that throughout the history of missions these are the very questions that missionaries have had to deal with when travelling to foreign lands.

    At times the resulting answers have been syncretistic in diluting or losing the Christian message, at times the answers have resulted in cultural domination such as in colonialism, but at no time have those who have reached out to others in cross-cultural situations been able to avoid these questions. The common missionary feeling in the face of such challenges is helplessness.


    Helpless in the Essential Task

    During our time of serving in Pakistan, helplessness seemed to be the operative word. I distinctly remember the time a friend brought an illiterate man to my meeting room and I explained the gospel to him. The man smiled and nodded, but I could sense that he was not able to understand or relate to what I was saying. I could have been reciting the Vancouver Canucks roster for all I was able to make an impact. Our worlds of experience, belief and culture were so far apart that I could not even begin to bridge the gap. In fact, when people would respond to the gospel I would all too often be astounded and respond by saying, "Do you know what you are doing?" because suffering is a certainty when a Muslim comes to Christ. However their answer would often be, "Jesus is the way. He died for me. How can I not become his follower?"

    Ultimately the daunting task of cross-cultural ministry teaches us the one lesson that we need to learn above all others: that the only accomplishment that is important is the one thing we are helpless to do – change people’s hearts. "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Almighty Lord." (Zech 4:6)

    References cited:

    Bosch, D.J. 1991. Transforming Mission. Paradigm shifts in theology of mission. Maryknoll: Orbis.