The need for missions reform...

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(Tim) Pastor Doug Wilson wrote comparing the limitations on risk that missionaries are provided through our present missions support system maximizing the number of supporting churches and individuals to that same limitation of risk provided investors through diversified mutual funds. Doug wisely points out that this system leads to diffusion of responsibility, and that's bad for both missions and their sending churches. I'd add it may also be intentional.

Anyhow, I commented under Doug's post and sent the link on to several friends who are missionaries. In response, I received the following comments from a brother who's a thirty-year missionary to an Eastern African country where he's focused on training church officers. My friend's Dad also gave his life to planting churches in that same country, so there's a lot of missions experience behind his response.

My brother, David, and I have often talked about the tragic condition of missions, today. It would take a book, but as one instance, Operation Mobilization has turned its back on the Word of God, intentionally promoting the leadership of women over men. And this promotion of feminism is rife within Evangelical missions agencies. Sadly, the PCA's Mission to the World is moving in this direction, also. It's more obvious in the European fields, but like all viruses, it will spread.

This betrayal of God's Order of Creation by missions is simply one indication of the rejection of Biblical doctrine that is pervasive within the American church, herself, and therefore exported around the world through our American missionaries. We're not talking about nitpickey details, either. It's central doctrines of Scripture like whether churches even matter at all, whether Jesus is the Only Way, whether the Sacraments are too divisive to be administered, and so on. These commitments are being jettisoned after 2,000 years of universal affirmation by the Church.

But getting at these issues is almost impossible given the view held by most believers that missionaries have piety and have made sacrifices that pastors and elders haven't, and therefore are above questions or review, let alone admonition or accountability.

Not only are many, many missionaries bad, doctrinally, but they're also overwhelmingly committed...

to the parachurch rather than the Church. They are linguists and computer programmers and professors and pilots and mechanics and well-drillers and AIDS educationists and doctors and extreme sports paraglider friendship evangelisits (I'm not making this up) and health care workers.

Men who preach the Gospel and pastors planting churches are almost nonexistent, today. But certainly, everyone has an excuse for it--mostly related to the danger and opposition preaching the Gospel would cause. But men, would you want to explain this to the Apostle Paul?

Then, there's home missions within these United States. That's an even bigger mess.

In a former church, one church leader would miss Sunday morning worship so he could attend his children's sports events. In four years I served with him, I never heard him speak of any ministry he did as a fulfillment of his being supported by the missions budgets of churches around the country. Mary Lee and I have been serving within this community of 70,000 for twenty years, now, and I've still never heard of any work he's done or soul who has been influenced by his "ministry." I wish I could say he's the exception to the rule. He's not.

Count up the number of full-time "missionaries" with Navigators and Campus Crusade and Inter-Varsity and Fellowship of Christian Athletes and International Students, Incorporated and all the other parachurch organizations that camp out in college towns and university communities, then do a count of the number of people involved in their combined ministries. It's absolutely appalling how much PR is carried by how very, very, few souls being cared for. Yet people feel spiritual when they give money to their friends who tell them they've been "called" to mission work, so the money pours through the coffers of these Christian NGOs and pastors and elders better not ask questions. Or get in the way.

Yes, clearly we're not going to reform American missions agencies and the parachurch betrayal of the Church with one or two blog posts. Maybe what we need is 95 theses on the Church and the parachurch to be nailed to the door of the Billy Graham Center in Wheaton?

As promised, here are my friend's thoughts in response to Pastor Doug Wilson's post. And yes, I agree with his comment about pastors.

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Thanks for sending on this article to us. I do not like to ‘post’ responses--guess I am too much of a private person. I won’t go into my perspective in detail, so will keep my answers brief.
1. As one who is supported by many churches and individuals, there are pros and cons to both systems. One of the pros of having many churches support us is the increased chance of having people pray for us. Unfortunately, the various responses on the blog only looked at things from a financial perspective. But the major backing every missionary needs is prayer backing- and sadly many of the churches who are in a financial position to donate more money often spend little time standing behind their missionaries in prayer whereas smaller, country churches often are more interested in their missionaries personally and pray for them. The greatest advantage of having individual supporters is the fact that there is a more personal interest and more prayer support. Part of the discussion about supporting missionaries should be how can churches become more deeply involved in standing behind their missionaries in prayer, personal friendship, as well as support. (My wife) and I travelled two days to visit one of our largest supporting churches--and they were only willing to give us a three minute interview--imagine what this communicates to missionaries about how they are valued by a church!

2. (My wife) and I usually spend three out of our six months in the US on the road visiting churches and individual supporters. We enjoy meeting a lot of people. However, if we had a choice, we would much rather be supported by a few churches. Not only does this limit the amount of time spent traveling, but it would allow missionaries to spend more quality time in their supporting churches getting to know the members of the church and developing relationships. One of our richest home assignments was when we were in one area for an extended period of time and could join a cell group and really get to know the members of the church--they have remained close friends up to today. There is a danger of one church taking on all of the support of a missionary--both because church splits can leave the missionary without any support, but also because it limits the prayer support for the missionary. What if a group of churches in a community banded together to take on a missionary--that way if one church split or faced financial support, the others could perhaps cover the extra cost.

3. We would value more input from church elders about our ministry. And I personally do not think most mission agencies would react against elders or pastors having more input into the shepherding and ministry of missionaries. It all becomes a matter of developing and maintaining relationships. There is a danger of elders not understanding cross cultural ministry dictating how things should go with the missionary, and there is also a danger of the mission organization not allowing the church input into the ministry of the missionaries. A healthy relationship will always be one where the church elders/pastor, the mission organization, and the missionary all work together for effective ministry and pastoral care.

4. I disagree about the comments that hint that many college people become missionaries because they don’t know what else to do. No doubt there are some who do this just like there are some who become pastors or teachers for the same reason. I don’t think it fair and wise to hold missionaries to a different standard than churches hold their own people to. However, I think it proper and wise for churches who are planning to invest in a missionary to ask for evidences of calling and adequate training for the ministry the new missionary seeks to do. Have they spent time in a local church involved in ministry? Do they have a strong understanding of God’s view of the church, or are they individualistic? Do they seek just to relieve physical needs, or do they have a clear understanding of how lost people are without Christ? Perhaps churches should take more responsibility in helping perspective missionaries gain ministry skills before they support them for overseas ministries. Perhaps relationships between supporting churches and missionaries needs to be seen as much more than financial or accountability- to helping in preparation, training, and even providing pastoral care for them on the field and when they are back home. There are a lot of ‘wounded soldier’ missionaries--and often churches take little responsibility to help them.

5. As a field, long term missionary, I believe churches must seriously look at the issue of short term missionaries and mission teams. What happens when mission trips and short term trips use the majority of the church budget? How much impact at the field end are these actually making for the kingdom of God? Does it allow people enough time to get to know culture, to understand church dynamics, to plant churches and disciple believers? It fits the American culture of quick, visible, exciting experiences- but how about long term impact? Are churches listening to their long term missionaries for input in how they as a church can be more effective in kingdom work? Are churches allowing people of another culture (Christians from overseas) to speak into their churches and challenge them on how to live in a pluralistic society? Should missions be more two way communication rather than one way?