This is an article from the May-June 2005 issue: Churches and Agencies

Church-Based Missionaries

Has It Ever Worked?

Church-Based Missionaries

This is one of the most delicate issues today, and no doubt will continue to be into the near future. Some church traditions have emphasized the sole validity of the local church structure so strongly that any kind of denominational or mission agency type of collaboration is seen as extra-biblical. (Even family structure is seen as secondary – instead of family elders making up the church eldership.)

For different reasons many large congregations in the United States with thousands of members have established their own mission boards. These congregations add to the number within the long-standing traditions, such as the Churches of Christ and the Plymouth Brethren, which have all along emphasized the idea of missionaries being under the authority and support of only one congregation. The same emphasis is common, too, in the case of thousands of new congregations in the independent Charismatic Center movement, and among similarly independent Chinese congregations all over the world.

Unfortunately, the nature of cross-cultural mission is much too complicated, as well as often geographically too distant from a supporting congregation, for home congregations to be solely responsible for the field strategy and supervision of effective mission work. If each missionary or small mission team on the field is directed by a different congregation back home, coordination on the field between missionaries and/or mission teams is that much more difficult.

The direct interest of congregations in a particular missionary certainly needs to be maintained, but it is patently obvious from the historical record that direct congregational supervision is a rather unlikely method for the effective deployment of missionaries when compared to the work of standard mission agencies. But if that is the only way some missionaries will get to the field, so be it. Missionaries under that kind of direction are not as likely to be as well cared for or as effective in the long run. Very likely what is being called “synergistic” collaboration between local sending congregations and existing mission agencies is a far superior way to surmount this problem.

Yet, many brand-new local churches are bursting into glories which they feel may be almost unique to themselves. They cannot see entrusting their missionaries to standard agencies which may not appear to have the same special insights and emphases. Thus, far too many new congregations are struggling and perhaps lagging with the mission challenge.

Many are simply making amateurish forays into foreign lands that often accomplish little, and often repeat mistakes mission boards have long since learned to avoid. Some accomplish overseas a kind of renewal of existing churches planted by someone else. This kind of “supercharging” ministry is not without value in some circumstances, but just because it is foreign does not make it mission in the classical Pauline sense of not building on anyone else’s foundation, or of going where Christ is not named.

Such congregation-based outreach rarely delves into pioneer tribal work, for example. When the Assemblies of God decided to go into that kind of work, they wisely sent such workers out under Wycliffe Bible Translators. If a major mission entity like the Assemblies of God could not effectively direct specialized outreach in pioneer areas, how in the world is a local congregation likely to be successful at such a task? International “renewal” of existing congregations, yes; cross-cultural pioneer mission, not so likely.


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