bits from bob....
Refreshing our Philosophy of Mission Work
by Bob Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]
Dan Hardin describes three mission philosophies in his book Mission: A Practical Approach. One approach sees missions primarily as helping meet the physical needs of this world--feeding the hungry and clothing the poor; providing child care, medical care, and education or other training; and liberating the oppressed. A second approach believes that as long as there are Christians in an area or region, missions is carried out by their presence and example. A third philosophy, the one that Hardin upholds as biblical and legitimate, is an understanding of missions that "emphasizes winning souls, discipling, baptizing, church planting and nurturing."
Regardless of the approach, the ultimate goals must be seeking and saving souls, and establishing mature indigenous churches. A mature indigenous church is "self-governing, self-sustaining, and self-propagating." Hardin lists eight "indigenous church principles" which provide a primary focus on evangelism and spiritual needs. This article suggests ten concepts, reordering and expanding his list.
- Foreign (inserted) missionaries should interpret mission primarily as church planting in regions where the gospel has not gone. Initial efforts will be heavily focused on church planting and evangelism, but church development should also be in focus from the beginning. Initial church planting efforts must keep in mind the goal of developing healthy, stable, mature congregations. (As a generalization, foreign missionaries are not inserted in areas where the gospel has already gone, because if developed, mature churches already exist in an area, those churches are expected to be the first line of sharing the gospel in their region.)
- The goal is to develop stable, mature churches. Foreign missionaries are often tempted to share the gospel with those easiest to reach because of the emphasis on the number of baptisms that is typical of supporting U.S. churches. This process often leads to small, struggling congregations without natural leadership, and congregations that must be propped up continually with U.S. financial support. (This points to the need for additional, broader evangelism efforts either by different missionaries or through periodic visits and efforts.)
- Foreign missionaries should naturally integrate church planting and evangelism with the initial stages of church development, including the natural development of indigenous teachers and leaders. (If the initial missionary presence is withdrawn too soon, this work can also be done with periodic training visits.)
- Growing, developing, maturing congregations select and support their own leaders and evangelists.
- Leadership is transferred as rapidly as possible from the inserted missionary presence to the indigenous leaders, understanding that leaders of local churches learn by doing. The missionary is not present to protect from every potential mistake, but to facilitate church and leader development.
- The involvement of the entire church in ministry, including evangelism by the entire membership, is facilitated.
- Continued member development, including discipline, is the role of the local church.
- Because the members are active and indigenous leaders are in charge, non-Christians interact primarily with the local members and unpaid indigenous church leaders like themselves (rather than the foreign missionary).
- With the involvement and responsibility of the local members, the work is not limited to the investment or support of U.S. or supporting churches, and the goal is that the local church become independent of outside financial support. (This allows sponsoring churches to focus on supporting evangelists rather than located 'ministers.')
- From the beginning, churches are encouraged to become missionary churches, with the desire and ability to self-propagate, with the result that the church multiplies in extraordinary places.
The contemporary church will do well to consider afresh these concepts. We have developed lots of "mission work" that does very little to expand the borders of the kingdom and to bring the lost into a saved relationship with God. We have inserted a lot of foreign missionaries into mission fields with the primary purpose of meeting physical needs. Of course, we point out that such needs meeting also provides opportunities to bring people to Jesus, but such results are often (usually) fairly limited. At best, one might affirm that our covert and indirect approach primarily helps people with basic needs with a limited secondary focus on eternal salvation. At worst, one might observe that we are not doing what God sends us out to do, the most important thing we can do--to seek and to save the lost.
Go to Mission Index
Last updated April 2, 2013