GCOWE Mission Executives Meeting
The Dream of William Carey Becomes Reality
The largest global meeting of mission executives in 87 years and the most representative in history.
William Carey, in 1806, thought that it would be a good idea if all of the missionaries in the world were to meet together four years later at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, in 1810. The purpose of such a meeting would have been very simply to plan together to finish the task of world evangelization. His proposal may have been the first time any human being thought in such concrete and planetary terms.
Despite his considerable influence by 1806, his idea of a world-level gathering of missionary strategists in 1810 was dismissed by one of his followers as merely “one of William’s pleasing dreams.”
(From the booklet, “Thy Kingdom Come,” by Ralph Winter)
It took 191 years, but William Carey’s dream of a global missionary meeting in South Africa became a reality at GCOWE ’97 in July.
With high hopes for increased cooperation and coordination in reaching the unreached peoples, 557 mission agency executives from 367 ministries and 65 countries met, July 1-3, at Central Baptist Church in Pretoria, South Africa as part of GCOWE ’97, the Global Consultation On World Evangelization.
This was the largest gathering of mission agency leaders on a global level since Edinburgh 1910 and the most representative in history. The 1910 meeting gathered over one thousand delegates from 150 agencies. Virtually all of these were from the Western world. By contrast over two-thirds of the delegates at this GCOWE meeting were from non-Western organizations, with large representation from Africa, as you would expect.
The focus of this three day meeting was on encouraging the delegates to take responsibility to reach the 579 Joshua Project 2000 unreached peoples that are currently reported to have no church planting work, and to develop agency partnerships to reach them. (See the Luis Bush article on page 29.)
“Unity in Diversity” A common theme of many speakers throughout the consultation was “unity in diversity.” The opening session featured impassioned messages by Panya Baba, leader of the Evangelical Church of West Africa and George Verwer, founder and director of Operation Mobilization and co-chairman of the Mission Executives meeting.
Rev. Baba, honorary co-chairman of the Mission Executives meeting, called the delegates to a new emphasis on a “biblical Gospel.” According to Baba, the church has proclaimed an inadequate gospel that has led to division and conflict. A truly biblical Gospel will bring believers together in humility to proclaim the Gospel. “God is declaring to mission leaders that we must have ‘unity in our diversity,’” says Baba.
Baba pointed the mission executives to Jesus’s prayer in John 17, where He prayed that His disciples and those who would follow would be one in unity so that the world would know that God the Father sent Him.
George Verwer, co-chairman of the mission executives meeting, in his typically passionate style called the delegates to purity and integrity of heart as we humbly work with one another. Quoting Phil. 2:3 he said, “‘Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than himself.’ This means an end to the cheap boasting and exaggeration of evangelistic claims.” In accord with the theme of working together, Verwer called for a new partnership between denominational and para-church agencies and the local church. He warned that this will not be easy; it will take ongoing forgiveness. “The process of bringing unity in diversity requires a long-term commitment to forgive and forgive and to forgive some more,” said Verwer.
Phill Butler, founder and director of Interdev, presented a strong case for agencies working together to eliminate duplication and to work in a coordinated fashion to reach each of the unreached peoples. Known for his tireless efforts in starting Strategic Partnerships among mission agencies, Butler challenged the delegates saying, “If the Boeing Company can bring together millions of parts from 35,000 subcontractors in 25 countries to produce a 777 airplane that flies, then surely we as the Body of Christ can come together to bring the Gospel to every people and every person.”
The first day was capped off by a cutting-edge missiological presentation by Dr. Ralph Winter, founder of the U.S. Center for World Mission in Pasadena, California. The usually optimistic Winter remarked, “The World Christian Movement has largely stalled in relation to the Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist blocks of unreached peoples. We cannot reasonably expect to achieve the goals of the marvelous AD2000 Movement without a significant change in strategy.”
Winter argued for a de-Westernized and contextualized Gospel that would more readily penetrate and spread throughout these resistant spheres to become indigenous to these “resistant” peoples. He argued that the Word of God is the key to a contextualized biblical movement within the unreached peoples that can prevent or transform heretical
beliefs. This man who, at the Lausanne 1974 meeting helped to launch the unreached peoples movement, is still challenging leaders of the global Christian movement to broaden their thinking.
The second day saw specific steps taken toward implementation: moving beyond consideration to commitment. Luis Bush, AD2000 International Director distributed to each delegate two new AD2000 publications, the Global Guide to Unreached Peoples plus a CD with resource information on how to adopt an unreached people group. The Global Guide contains the Joshua Project 2000 List (JP List) of 1,739 priority unreached peoples of the world. This book also includes “work among” information from thousands of mission agencies, the result of a survey that AD2000 sent out.
In commenting on the uniqueness of the JP List, Patrick Johnstone affirmed, “This is the first time we have a list with broad agreement and with clear parameters on what we need to do. As in every list, there are inaccuracies, but ongoing on-field research will clear those up.”
With a vision that every people group on the JP List should have at least a church planting team by December 31, 2000, a special form was then distributed to the mission executives. This form identified the 579 peoples (from the Joshua Project List) which currently have no reported church or church planting team working in their midst.
Luis Bush challenged the agency leaders to commit themselves to take responsibility to target the 579 Joshua Project Peoples that have no church planting movements, so that by the end of the consultation all of the 579 might be covered.
Moving immediately into smaller groups, each mission executive considered prayerfully which of these remaining peoples they might personally challenge their agency to target. The forms were turned in for tabulation.
By the end of the consultation the mission executives made verbal commitments to move their agencies to reach 390 of these 579 unreached peoples. The number of peoples targeted by the mission agencies will likely increase beyond 390 as the leaders go back to consult with others in their agencies.
Tackling Tough Issues The last day of the Mission Executives Consultation seemed to be designated for tackling the toughest issues —missionary attrition, the training and financing of missionaries and an ongoing discussion of contextualization and de-Westernization.
Missionary Attrition Bill Taylor of the Missions Commission of the World Evangelical Fellowship started off the discussion with an introduction of the recently completed 3 1/2 year survey of mission agencies concerning the attrition or decrease in the number of missionaries and its causes. He revealed that the reasons for attrition differ between the older sending countries like the United States and the newer sending countries like Brazil.
In the older countries retirement, problems with children and changes of job are the top three reasons for missionary attrition. In the newer sending countries it’s a lack of a clear call to missions, inadequate field supervision and an inability to maintain a healthy spiritual life without outside help. Ted Limpic of OC International revealed that the agencies with the highest attrition rate were the ones who mentioned the third reason. Those agencies with the lowest attrition rate did not mention this.
Taylor emphasized that the church needs to learn how to prevent unnecessary attrition. “Some people that are on the field shouldn’t be. They should be brought home,” Taylor said that one solution to attrition is better evaluation of candidates before they go. “The churches have a role to play in testing the church planting abilities of their missionary candidates before they go overseas.” For the complete report on attrition, see page 49 for the book, Too Valuable to Lose, just off the press
Money and Dependency The morning was wrapped up with a lively and sometimes passionate discussion of how best to train and finance ongoing church planting efforts. K. P. Yohannan of Gospel for Asia, well known for raising Western funds to support national pastors and evangelists in Asia, explained how their ministry is training thousands to reach the unreached. This led to a lively and animated discussion of dependency and whether the Western churches and agencies should be more or less involved in financially supporting national pastors, evangelists and missionaries. Glenn Schwartz of World Mission Associates had introduced the problem of the dependency created by outside money in a presentation the previous day.
Among those delegates from non-Western agencies, there appeared to be wide support for Yohannan’s approach to financing missionary outreaches with western funds.
In the afternoon session, Luis Bush acknowledged that the delegates have differences of opinions on various subjects and encouraged the delegates to share their views, but not to let their differences keep them from moving forward with what we all agree on—the need to establish a church planting movement among all the peoples of the earth.
The three day Mission Executive meeting ended with a moving message on reconciliation by Cindy Jacobs of Generals of Intercession. After her message, delegate after delegate came forward to publicly confess either his own sins or those of his people or country. There was confession and reconciliation between representatives of South African whites and their black countrymen, and between African Americans and the black Africans whose ancestors sold them into slavery. Many sources of division were healed that night—a necessary spiritual preparation for the tough work that lies ahead.
An Analysis: What Was Accomplished? Where Do We Go From Here?
The AD2000 Movement, Avery Willis, George Verwer and the World Mission Centre in Pretoria should be commended for organizing and pulling off a global level mission executives meeting focused on working together in partnership to reach the unreached peoples. This type of meeting, seeking to divide up the remaining task and making sure all peoples are covered by church planting efforts, was long overdue and should be a regular feature of mission agency interaction on a global level.
The AD2000 International Office should also be commended for surveying mission agencies to produce the Global Guide to Unreached Peoples in preparation for this meeting. This document will be a valuable resource for agencies to use in the future to coordinate their efforts and avoid duplication. The survey results reported that 579 unreached peoples currently have no church planting efforts among them. With this information the mission agency leaders were able to make commitments to reach out to 390 of these peoples. This in itself made the meeting worthwhile. It was a specific, practical outcome.
The real question about this meeting is whether enough of the right people were there to make a significant difference in reaching the unreached peoples. The majority of the delegates were from South African and Third World agencies. This was a wonderful step forward for the agencies from these areas, but only a few of the major Western agencies with thousands of missionaries were represented. Jerry Rankin of the Southern Baptists was one of only a handful of denominational mission sending agencies represented at the meeting. Perhaps if more of these agencies had been present, the other 189 peoples without a church planting movement would have been covered. As you look through the list of “agency” representatives you will notice that there are a number of churches and schools represented. It is not known how many missionaries these organizations send out.
The final question is where do the mission executives go from here? Other tracks at GCOWE ’97, such as the Business Executives and the Presidents and Academic Deans, developed specific plans and structures for ongoing interaction and networking. Although the track leadership was interested in doing so, the mission executives made no such specific plans. Will it be another 17 or 70 years before global mission leaders meet again to coordinate their efforts to reach all peoples? Until the missionary task is completed with a people movement to Christ within every people, there will always be a need for cooperation and coordination of mission agency efforts on a global level. Recently, Ralph Winter has called for a global association of mission agencies to foster this kind of ongoing coordination. If you are interested in supporting such efforts, please contact us.