Six Spheres of Mission Overseas
- What are all those thousands of missionares doing?
- What would you do as a missionary?
- Do they try to change peoples’ behavior? Their homes? Their drinking water? Teeth? Understanding of science? Of God? Knowledge of English? Yes, yes, yes—and their income, too.
- But, do missionaries try to change people?
- Do they try to change peoples’ hearts? (Who else is in that business?)
- OK, but how do they do this? Yeah, how in the world do they do all this?What comes first? Second? Etc? Christian missions is the single most powerful movement in history. What do 100,000 missionaries from 2,000 agencies (from most all countries) do?
Each of these Six Spheres of activity (see chart below) has its advantages and disadvantages, its pioneering leaders, strengths and weaknesses. Here we present the bare bones of contrasts and comparisons—a delicate job!
Within each sphere is great diversity but also great vitality and enthusiasm. Standard Missions and Service Missions work closely on the field. But each local church ought not to have to puzzle out all the differences between these Six Spheres. Why are they generally so independent of each other? Do the last four tend to go it alone, to ignore, or even to disparage the first two? And vice versa? Is there anything all these missions are missing? Do secular critiques of mission work have any validity? No “industry” is as complex as the mysterious, and increasingly potent, phenomenon of missions!
Standard Missions Defined
This is the classical type of mission agency. It is expected to “go out there, anywhere, and do whatever is necessary, building on a foundation of evangelism and church planting.” Such mission agencies are generally the older church-planting agencies, including denominational and interdenominational, Presbyterian, Baptist, SIM International, etc.
We have asked a Standard Mission of the interdenominational variety to address the strengths and weaknesses of Standard Mission activity overseas. SIM today works all over the world with nearly 2,000 missionaries delving into almost every good thing you can think of—schools, hospitals, radio, agriculture as well as thousands of churches and, yes, even foreign mission activity on the part of its national churches.
Once, a hundred years ago, SIM was a rambunctious young-people’s mission. It is now a very keen, seasoned organization of enormous impact. Plueddemann has mission-field experience as well as additional background as a Professor of Missions and Christian Education at the Wheaton Graduate School. —RDW
Standard Missions Represented Jim Plueddemann President of SIM—the Society for International Ministries (Formerly: Sudan Interior Mission)
Strengths of Standard Missions
Standard Missions often have a wide scope of ministries, but their focus is on the church. SIM’s purpose statement illustrates this:
“The purpose of SIM is to glorify God by planting, strengthening and partnering with churches around the world as we: * Evangelize the unreached * Minister to human need * Disciple believers into churches * Equip churches to fulfill Christ’s Commission.”
We are like the general practitioner in the medical profession. A general practitioner has the joy of bringing babies to birth and then also helping them to stay healthy and grow strong. Standard Missions are well-positioned to integrate the wide variety of ministries that must be tied together in order to plant and nurture churches in other cultures. Evangelism, development, discipleship and outreach can be closely linked under one umbrella in the case of the Standard Mission.
Evangelism. Pioneer evangelism in unreached areas has been the hallmark of Standard Missions. The amazing spread of Christianity in the last 100 years is in large part a testimony to their effectiveness. Standard Missions may very well continue to be at the cutting edge of moving into unreached people groups.
Human need. Though Standard Missions are not relief and development organizations per se, they have always had strong ministries of compassion. From the very beginning they have led the way in providing health care, community development, and education. They have the unique ability to work through the churches they have planted to integrate physical and spiritual ministries.
Discipleship. SIM and many other Standard Missions have a burden for the saved as well as the unsaved. Carnal Christians are not a fulfillment of Christ’s Commission no matter what they look like in a computer data base. Lukewarm Christians hinder the progress of world evangelism, while believers who are well-taught make the best evangelists and cross-cultural missionaries. It is possible to emphasize unreached people groups to the exclusion of ongoing discipleship. Yet discipleship is the goal of the Great Commission and the key to evangelizing the unreached.
Equipping believers. Standard Missions are not only planting churches; they are also planting mission boards. For example, cross-cultural missionaries sent out by the SIM-related churches of Nigeria and Ethiopia now outnumber all SIM missionaries! Globally, mission agencies springing up from SIM-related national churches are right now in the process of forming the Evangel Fellowship International Missions Association, for purposes of dialogue and partnership in cross-cultural missions.
Weaknesses of Standard Missions
One of the greatest dangers is that those of us in Standard Missions will lose our vision and focus. We engage in hundreds of strategic activities which could all lead in different directions. We have to keep asking, “How does this program help to strengthen the church?”
Another potential weakness is that Standard Missions tend to focus either on expansion or consolidation. Healthy missions must keep both philosophies in fruitful tension. Unfocused expansion drains resources, but a consolidation mentality is deadly.
A third area to watch is the relationship between Standard Missions and the churches they plant. As the planted church matures, missionaries must progressively step out of positions of control. The tension is that missions tend either to control the church and hinder her development, or they become controlled by the church and lose their worldwide outreach focus. We must learn to work as interdependent equals.
Finally, Standard Missions are known for their stability and strong infrastructure, but at times they might be slow to respond to the spontaneous unfolding of God-given opportunities. Sometimes it takes us too long to recognize and participate in new ventures. We all need to step back and ask the question Southern Baptist mission leaders have recently been asking: “What would we do if we were starting all over?”
As I look back on our 104-year history, there is surprisingly little that I’d do differently—but I would hope that we would do it all with more love. Love is the strategy that will draw lost people to Jesus.
Close Links With Other Spheres
I find a delightful openness on the part of many organizations to work together in close cooperation. Younger missions and older missions are exploring ways to learn from one another.
Standard Missions have always appreciated Service Missions like MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship) and Wycliffe Bible Translators. The huge missionary radio station in Ecuador, HCJB (Heralding Christ Jesus’ Blessings) and SIM recently formed a strategic alliance to link radio and church planting more closely.
While many “Congregational-Direct Missions” may prefer not to depend on other organizations, in actual fact they seldom go entirely on their own. They often depend on Standard Missions for MK education, medical care, guest-house facilities, transportation, and crisis management. Standard Missions such as SIM often provide infrastructures that help other types of mission agencies.
Most fulfilling for Standard Missions are the partnerships they form with the churches they have helped to plant. Right now, SIMers Howard and Jo-Ann Brant are helping to equip and lead a team of ten Ethiopian missionaries to minister alongside national workers in India for four months. Living expenses are being paid by the church in Ethiopia and SIM is helping with travel costs. This is cutting-edge missiology.
Never has the world of missions been so exciting!
Editorial Comment on Standard Missions
These agencies represent comprehensive concern. They are listed first because they are the “all-purpose” missions. Their mandate very simply includes whatever is hurting people, whatever the problems are, and this explains why, over the years, they have worked into such an incredible spectrum of activities. They are much more likely to note a missing element of ministry and to find out how to meet it than is a mission specializing in a particular missing element.
Plueddemann rightly emphasizes the fact that the pioneering history of the older Standard Missions has inevitably resulted in the reaching of many unreached people groups—and that the Standard Missions can readily continue to seek out remaining unreached groups.
On this point our comment is about ethnic subtleties. Often we encounter the idealistic assumption that by working in a major tribe the smaller tribes in the same country will readily come along and join in with the same national church. In earlier days this common misunderstanding unintentionally excluded smaller groups or produced minorities within the church movements themselves.
Then—and I take a deep breath lest this give offense—in all my years teaching the history of missions I have heard many criticisms of missions, but there is only one valid criticism, I believe. And it is understandable. While most missions have from the first planned to plant churches, very few of the older missions planned from the first to equip those churches with the vision and practical knowledge to undertake new cross-cultural mission on their own initiative.
Exception: The Christian and Missionary Alliance, in its work in Asia (but not in Latin America), is the only really outstanding example of a mission from America that from the beginning taught its field believers to become involved themselves in the Great Commission.
Yet, once mission efforts on the part of the national churches (often called “Third World Missions”) have finally burst into view (often without the initiative of the expatriate missionaries) truly amazing and wonderful mission structures have often emerged. Certainly that is true for SIM, which Plueddemann rightly points out.
Note that the final appearance of these new missions completes a potent “reproductive cycle.” 1) Expatriate mission agencies plant churches and 2) those churches sprout their own mission agencies, and 3) those new field mission structures then become a new generation of “Standard Missions.”
In the 1920’s people spoke of “the great new fact of our time” as the marvel of national churches planted within hundreds of different languages and cultures all over the world. Today “the great new fact of our time” is the marvel of national mission structures as those same overseas church movements add their own missionaries to an ever increasing world total.
Thus, the mission fields of the world are becoming aries to an ever-increasing world total.
Thus, the mission fields of the world are becoming mission bases, and the remaining by-passed “unreached peoples” are the only pioneer fields or frontiers.
Note, however, a technical point. Jim Plueddemann has a strong background in Christian Education. And that is where he and I have gone around and around for years. For what it may be worth I feel that Christian Education activities and materials in general are lacking in Great Commission content. It is easy to suppose—but questionable—that by “discipling” you get mission vision. The Great Commission in Matthew is not talking about what we today mean by discipleship of individuals nor teaching in the usual sense.
Furthermore, most Standard Missions (which now have seen mission efforts launched from their own overseas churches) have to confess that their earlier discipleship efforts did not properly include missions and literally decades went by before missions became the thing to do. Indeed, Christian Education in the overseas church, if it is not coupled directly to active global outreach will continue to be “a next best.”
This is what underlies his comment: “It is possible to emphasize unreached people groups to the exclusion of ongoing discipleship.”
In my opinion this statement is mostly hypothetical since 95% of the time it is the other way around. The healthiest church movements in recent mission history are those that from the start had a nurture-witness-mission emphasis. (I think of the intrepid Dani missionaries in Irian Jaya.) Indeed, it is not too much to say that true discipleship cannot precede mission outreach but can only exist where that outreach is clearly in the picture from the start. When mission vision is not constantly present “discipleship” just may become little more than a kind of Hindu or Buddhist self-improvement activity.
On the other hand, even missionless discipleship, as we know it, is worth something. If all Christianity did was to produce honest people we would have to be delighted. The fact that there are millions of Christians all over the world today is not the result of the derivative missions (Spheres Two through Six) so much as they are clearly the essential means without which those agencies could not operate. More on this in the editorial.
Sphere Two: Service Missions Defined
These agencies “go out there and give technical support to the Standard agencies and national churches.” These are the Post-Second World War “service agencies” such as Mission Aviation Fellowship and Gospel Recordings, but the category would certainly include some earlier across-the-board helping agencies such as the American Bible Society, Wycliffe Bible Translators, and the huge missionary radio networks.
In view of the great diversity in this category we asked for two responses. One is from what is probably the world’s largest Protestant mission agency, serving in 90 countries and drawing support and workers from 67 countries—Wycliffe Bible Translators. The other is the Mission Aviation Fellowship, which has been helpful to a very large number of other agencies and has accumulated an insight into the larger cause of mission perhaps like no other.
Service Missions Represented Response One Arthur Lightbody, Director, Public Relations, Wycliffe USA
Strengths of Wycliffe
Wycliffe’s mission statement makes it clear that Wycliffe is a Service Mission. The statement reads, “Wycliffe’s mission is to glorify God in obedience to the Great Commission through a unique strategy that integrates Scripture translation, scholarship and service so that people will have access to God’s Word in their own language.”
One of Wycliffe founder William Cameron Townsend’s five principles was, “Accept people as they are. Serve them, friend or foe.” Thus, “Uncle Cam” demonstrated this in his pioneering work in Tetelcingo, learning their Aztec language, eating their food and identifying with their needs. Working with local people, he developed vegetable gardens, a water system, and improved roads. Wycliffe strives to maintain that service mind-set today. Along with translation efforts, translators continue to be involved in such community development efforts as literacy, agricultural and health projects.
Singular purpose. Wycliffe’s members work in close association with its sister organization, the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL). SIL trains Wycliffe members and others in the tools of linguistic analysis in order to document languages and engage in translation and literacy efforts. SIL and Wycliffe have maintained a clear focus in order to accomplish the language-related goals of Bible translation and literacy for minority peoples. This has helped to make Wycliffe successful.
Broad constituency. Because of not looking to one institution to provide financial support for its members but to God to provide financially through individuals and churches across denominational boundaries, Wycliffe is less affected by particular current focuses of any one church or denomination.
Weaknesses of Wycliffe
Although Wycliffe has a high level of credibility among Christians in the United States, Wycliffe is not always understood. Wycliffe sometimes receives criticism because its translators, as part of the academic community, for example, produce linguistic papers for conferences. These types of activities help to strengthen their credibility as academics and with governments, and also provide better quality in the translation of the Bible.
However, translators are sometimes asked, “Shouldn’t you be preaching the Word?” Or, “Why are they working with non-Christians in academic work?” In the academic setting, translators hear the opposite, “Why are you wasting your time translating the Bible?”
Also, being an interdenominational mission there is no automatic, natural, denominational link. Wycliffe is sometimes perceived as not working under the church. Wycliffe is addressing the issue of being neither a Congregational-Direct Mission nor a Standard Mission. Wycliffe is continually reworking its strategies to work in closer cooperation with local congregations and denominations in their sending force and with national congregations and denominations in the mission fields of the world.
Interdependence With Other Spheres
Wycliffe often relates closely with Standard Missions in a field context. As translations are completed, these groups use them as tools for their evangelization and discipleship efforts. In some cases the Standard Mission missionaries have received our (SIL) training to do translation for the language groups with which their Standard Missions work. In many cases, Wycliffe translators also provide on-going consultant help for their efforts.
Wycliffe also relates closely to national churches. Now that many groups are reached, the resulting national churches often are requesting assistance in translation. In many of these cases the translations are being completed by “mother tongue” speakers or other nationals in that country, sometimes with Wycliffe funding. By now, Wycliffe works in cooperation with national Bible translation organizations in 18 countries, providing training, consultant help and encouragement. This is in addition to long-standing relationships with the older, established global-level Bible agencies.
Wycliffe translators have worked with the Short-Term Missions group YWAM. Around the world YWAMers have been involved in encouraging use of Wycliffe translations. Recently, Wycliffe USA developed a relationship with Teen Mania.
Wycliffe is working with Congregational-Direct Missions in providing a Guatemala tour program and is seeking to provide ways of expanding these types of opportunities. Wycliffe Associates, the support ministry of Wycliffe, works closely with church congregations to provide construction and other opportunities.
Service Missions Response Two Max Myers Immediate Past President, MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship)
Strengths of a Service Mission
In 1998 Mission Aviation Fellowship reaches the 52-year mark as an organization. Are we “getting old”? Some 52-year-old people are energetic and entrepreneurial, running fast, bright-eyed with the excitement of significance…at the prime of life. Others have settled into a repetitive routine of status quo. They don’t like change, and are increasingly drifting into the background, hardly noticeable any more. The cutting edge of life has passed them by.
So it can be with Service Missions...and even perhaps with the mission movement as a whole.
Beyond the basic and necessary requirement of its people in respect to godliness, commitment and obedience, a Service Mission is its strongest when the service it is providing is vitally needed and strategic, and is provided efficiently and in warm and close harmony with those who are being served! Repetitive, ongoing work of decreasing strategy will be reflected in a lowered corporate morale. A mediocre status quo is not descriptive of a strong Service Mission.
The strength of a Service Mission, then, is in its staying contemporary, in being like the men of Issachar who understood the times and knew what Israel should do!
Mission agencies are often unaware of the various kinds of services which could be offered to them. In MAF’s case we have found ourselves having to “market” new technologies which have potential to multiply the effectiveness of mission work. In this the Service Mission must be pro-active. It will probably have to research, evaluate and “market” new and vital services. Without this pro-activity, the passing of time can render its product and its modality of decreasing strategic value.
Weaknesses of a Service Mission
Inherent in traditional Service Missions is the fact that, to a significant extent, the work is non-participatory in the primary sense of mission. For example, pilots can see themselves as simply delivering freight and mail, transporting people, evacuating patients, etc. The front line work of mission, to which they felt called, is done by others. The service provider is often far from the front line. The blessing is “vicarious” or indirect and second-hand. When pressures come, the question inevitably comes to mind, “Is it all worth it? Is it worth the cost we are paying?” The generation of today wants (or demands) direct, personal participation, not simply indirect contribution.
It is urgent that we realize what we are really doing. Thus, it was a significant day some years ago when Art Glasser said to me, “Max, you must realize that MAF is not really a ministry in aviation. It is a ministry in technology. It just happens that aviation has been the technology which has been so strategic in the past 40 or so years.”
Another significant day was when one of the country’s major funding personalities said to me, “The flying of expensive foreign missionaries in very expensive airplanes over mission fields which are 100 years old...just doesn’t cut it with us any more.” Such comments, if not altogether correct, have been helpful stimuli for the changes we have initiated in recent years.
Thus, our recent expansion into Information Technology with its E-Mail connectivity, electronic conferencing and web page provision has markedly increased our service to mission agencies.
On this well-established foundation we are now hard at work developing a service to provide a delivery system for “distance” non-formal education and leadership development. These things are new and exciting products in mission. There are more to come.
MAF’s traditional work in aviation has been interestingly described as a “taxi-rank.” We establish a service for people who want it and can afford to use it. Relationships within this type of operation could become more “business/client” than “mission.” Not so the work of today and of tomorrow.
The present day contains for us a move away from pure service to “alliances” and close interdependent co-operation...far from the taxi-rank mode of operation. We are, for instance, in a new formal relationship with Development Associates International and Global Mapping International, an alliance which will make a strategic contribution to leadership development within the church in the majority world. Is this the role of Mission Aviation Fellowship? It is the role of the MAF of today...and tomorrow.
Our aviation programs continue in their vital significance in mission, some of them in a mode not significantly different from past years. Others show marked change. But in our newer work we will lower our flag over the taxi-rank, “business/client” mode of operation to become more a “participant” in strategy-setting, in actual ministry, in the thrill and joy of the first-hand blessing of tomorrow’s mission.
Service Missions should be thinking long thoughts, always researching new “products,” refining old products and methods, closely scrutinizing everything traditional. In a resource-limited arena, they should be prepared to close old doors, to transition out of some programs, to celebrate with wonder what God has allowed us to do over many years and to move on to different, equally challenging, even more strategic things.
We try to keep squarely in the center of our minds that to be in service, to be servants, particularly in a ‘relational’ mode, sounds a lot like the earthly role of the One who called us into the privilege of following Him.
Editorial Comment on Service Missions
I would say that Wycliffe classifies as a Service Mission for reasons in addition to those stated. Sure, it is out to “serve” God and man. But, specifically—especially in its origin—it is and was set up to serve the Standard Missions. Only where the latter have been uninterested in or unaware of the need of Bible translation has Wycliffe gone ahead on its own, hoping that some Standard Mission will come along and make good use of the newly translated Scriptures—which is Wycliffe’s unique contribution to the cause.
The Standard Missions thus can lean on Service Missions whose specialized services aid and abet their all-purpose work. Likewise, local congregations in this country constantly lean on specialized service organizations which offer them new English translations of the Bible, specialized training for their various ministries, Sunday school literature, edifying radio and television programs, etc.
One difference between the home front and the foreign fields is that “the church” on the mission field may start out barren of many of the luxurious features of the U.S. church. I speak of women’s fellowships, youth groups, Sunday Schools—and the essential literature undergirding such acitivities. Few missions, for example, are big enough to do for themselves what the major missionary radio ministries do. SIM is big enough to sponsor its own major radio station, ELWA, which for many years has served many other missions as a Service Mission in its own right. Gradually, however, even interdenominational seminaries have appeared in most mission fields. Gradually, many of the technical aspects of broad-service Standard Missions are being provided by jointly operated institutions or other service entities.
It is worth noting that the Standard Agencies can do their work to some great extent with or without the specialized Service Missions. But it would be unwise for most Service Missions to suppose they could operate without other agencies involved in planting and nurturing churches.
For example, Child Evangelism Fellowship would be wasting its time winning children if other agencies were not making sure that those children—and their parents—were able to join a local church in their area. It is not good enough simply to go out and “feed the children,” whether you are feeding them food or Bible knowledge. Reality is more complicated than that. Sometimes, unfortunately, literature missions or technical services are presented in the light of being “all that is necessary.” Thus, the Standard Missions can often helpfully lean on specialized agencies, while specialized agencies must depend on the existence of church-planting agencies for lasting impact.
One of the greatest “services” being rendered to the mission fields of the world today is the Jesus Film ministry of Campus Crusade. But without the existing local, accountable fellowships of believers there already, or formed afterward, that ministry would have a far less lasting impact. Campus Crusade does not need to be a church to help create small fellowships which grow into churches.
In a similar way the immense missionary radio ministries (which are Service Missions, and not churches in themselves) have become greatly skilled in both planting churches and building existing churches rather than assuming that all you need to do is to preach the Gospel to masses of individuals “out there” in the radio audience. U.S. domestic radio ministries are not as far along in this regard as are HCJB, TWR (Trans World Radio), FEBC (Far East Broadcasting Co.), and ELWA overseas—four highly sophisticated technical ministries which work together as a single global “air force” to accompany the ground troops of the Standard Missions and their related church movements.
Relief and Development Missions Defined
One specific post-2nd World War type of derivative mission is the “let’s go out and deal realistically with the physical needs of people on the field, with or without relationships to the Standard Missions.” This category is highlighted by World Vision, World Concern, Food for the Hungry, Samaritans Purse, etc. Over the years such agencies have tended to add “development” as a major dimension—helping people to solve their own problems. Now, more recently, they have realized that economic development, say, must be accompanied by what is called “community development.” The tendency now to converge at this point with Standard Missions becomes quite fascinating.
Relief and Development Missions Represented Tim Dearborn Chief of Staff, World Vision USA
An integrating theme in Scripture is God’s call that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength and—that we love our neighbor as ourselves! In mission, we participate in this great “love affair” of God for his creation, calling all to be reconciled in Jesus Christ. This reconciliation involves the whole person—heart, soul, body and mind, in a whole community—the Body of Christ.
World Vision is committed to sharing the whole Gospel with whole people.
Because God’s love and reign encompass the whole of life, so must our ministry, as we are used by God to provide people with tangible hope in time and for eternity. Merely to save souls is to focus on “ghosts”—souls without bodies. Merely to care for people’s physical needs is to care for “corpses”—bodies without souls. The Gospel is God’s care for persons in community—heart, soul, body and mind reconciled with God and one another.
Relief and development organizations like World Vision exist to tangibly express God’s love for the whole of people’s lives. Through our ministries, we seek to witness the Gospel in word, deed and life—causing people to ask the questions to which Jesus is the answer. Thus our concern for the whole person propels us to integrate evangelism and Christian witness into all our relief and development activities. In doing this, we are not “church-planting” organizations. Rather, we partner with churches and evangelistic organizations, each bringing our strengths to the manifestation of the Gospel of Christ.
Because of this, World Vision operates through literally 100’s of partnership agreements with other organizations. Each of our 5,000 projects in the 103 countries where we serve are multifaceted joint-ventures with churches, mission organizations, nongovernmental and government organizations.
We find this to be especially important in evangelistic efforts among unreached people groups. Not only can relief and development activities provide a bridge for involvement, they also are essential in sustaining emerging Christian communities in the future. In many places in the 10-40 Window, new Christians experience social ostracism because of their faith, and are discriminated against regarding employment. As a result, while their spiritual stature emerges, their economic opportunities crumble.
This not only produces great hardship, it threatens the future of the Christian movement in these regions. Unemployed young believers have difficulty getting married, which obviously limits the number of Christian families nurturing subsequent generations in the faith. Thus, micro-enterprise and community development activities are vital partners with evangelistic efforts.
I recently returned from several weeks in East Africa, researching future ministry possibilities. Three days were spent in fascinating conversations with the elders of a small unreached people group along with government officials. Because of the credibility of our development programs, both the government and elders are asking us to become involved. In describing their threatened future, one elder said, “It is too late for us to feel shame about asking for help.” God has indeed come to our “help” in Jesus Christ. We feel no shame over admitting our need. What a privilege it is for us to express that help in Word, deed and life, and in so doing enable people to experience fullness of life in Christ’s Kingdom.
Editorial Comment on Relief and Development Missions:
Having already read our comment on Service Missions it may appear that entities specializing in relief and development activities are, in fact, basically (or at least potentially) Service Missions themselves. That is true. One reason for a separate category includes the fact that these organizations now have a separate association, AERDO—Association of Evangelical Relief and Development Organizations—which for the first time met jointly in 1997 with the Evangelical Fellowship of Mission Agencies. A second reason for a separate category is that, especially in the past, there has been far less cooperation between the R and D organizations and the Standard Missions.
The fact that “World Vision operates through literally 100’s of partnership agreements with other organizations” explains that—the way it is presently set up—it actually cannot, in fact, deal with the whole man without the ministry of the Standard Missions and their product: The 100’s of thousands of existing churches and millions of Christians. Service Missions in general, and this sphere in particular, do not concern themselves with the training of pastors, for example, as do the Standard Missions. This is understandable. In some countries they would not be welcome if they were known to be in the church-planting business elsewhere. These agencies have been able to get hundreds of millions of dollars of government surplus food in some cases where an overtly religious agency could not.
Most of these agencies, (World Vision, World Concern, and even World Relief—a department of the National Association of Evangelicals), started out simply offering relief in situations of disaster around the world, and their overseas employees are perhaps mostly but not necessarily Christian believers.
More recently these agencies have realized that for long-term solutions you need what can broadly be called “development,” which often is very similar to that with which the Standard Missions have been involved. It would be embarrassing to tell how much the educational system of Nigeria, for example, owes to SIM. Most overseas schools, hospitals and universities in the non-Western world are there due to the impulse of the Standard Missions.
Last fall, the President of AERDO, at the combined meeting of AERDO and EFMA, told how as a boy he had gone with his missionary father to a distant village no white man had ever entered. Prickly, delicate negotiations with the chief allowed a new well to be built and a whole new attitude toward the missionary—an opening for Christ.
Thus, for example, World Vision has come a long way from the days it was mainly subsidizing orphanages in Korea to being involved now in “5,000 projects.” Quite a few of these involve what is nowadays called “community development,” where both the outlook and the economy of whole villages is lifted. I would hope that World Vision would be willing to be a church-planting organization. Quite often villages are polarized by clans or rival families, and cannot be addressed as a single body, as a single community. The Gospel may create a new group that is friendly to all factions. Dealing sensitively with the realities at the grass-roots level demands that all missions of every kind continue to work closely together or, perhaps, also, add to their range of skills so as to be able to do the whole job.
Indigenous Missions Defined
“Native Missionary” Missions. Another derivative is the “go out there and help the ‘national believer’ who already speaks the language, and don’t waste the Lord’s money on expensive American missionaries who have never done it right and are permanently handicapped by their innate foreignness.” Here is a rapidly growing cluster of agencies, highlighted by Gospel for Asia, Christian Aid Mission, and Partners International, the latter being considerably more sophisticated in its approach.
In this current listing we have now employed the name Indigenous Missions. That is what these organizations are beginning to call their category and a new association of them is beginning to form.
This new name is a bit misleading due to the fact that virtually all of the Six Spheres of mission work are focused on and assisting (and often working under) the vast multitude of national workers which have been successfully produced by the missionary movement from the West. The differences between Standard Missions and the agencies in this category are differences merely of how—how to go about the most effective assistance to “indigenous ministries.”
These agencies, too, are “derivative” agencies due to the fact that they can only do their work where there are already believers whom they can pay.
These agencies in category four are characterized by sending money and not USA missionaries.
The Standard Missions, by contrast, could be characterized by sending missionaries who seek to raise up workers who do not need foreign funds but who will be supported by their own people. Thus, the astonishing contrast is the fact that Standard Missions, in effect, boast how many national workers they do not support, while Sphere Four agencies are proud of the number they do support.
Indigenous Missions Represented Chuck Bennett President, Partners International
The number of Christians in the non-Western world has exploded in recent years. These majority-world Christians are usually passionate about winning their own people to Christ. They are strong on people skills but often lack financial and technical resources which Western Christians have in abundance. More than 140 North American mission organizations—most of them fairly new—have come into being to support indigenous ministries and workers in the non-western world.
Although the combined budgets of these 140 agencies amount to only 2% of the current giving for missions in North America, they fund well over 16,000 full-time workers—half as many as all career missionaries from the U.S. and Canada. Many large churches and several foundations also give direct support to indigenous ministries. Any way you slice it, this qualifies as a significant new trend in missions.
Fully 85% of the 16,000 indigenous workers mentioned above are supported by just six of the 140 specialized agencies—Christian Aid, Christ for India, Every Home for Christ, Gospel for Asia, International Needs and Partners International. Others, such as Overseas Council, Peter Deyneka Russian Ministries, Christ for the Cities, and Wycliffe’s “Seed Company” division, mainly subsidize entire ministries and schools instead of supporting individual workers by name. Most of the remaining agencies are still fairly small.
Strengths and Advantages
The three most obvious advantages of this approach to missions are that the workers rarely need visas nor take furloughs and they cost only 5 to 10 percent as much as Westerners.
In point of fact, however, cost is probably the least important advantage. The agencies that champion this approach are not trying to market “cut-rate missionaries.” They simply believe indigenous workers are usually far more effective than Westerners. They can work in places where resident Western missionaries are not allowed. They are culturally the same or similar to the people they are trying to reach. They understand their values and priorities. They speak their heart language.
They enjoy their food and live on the same economic level. Most important of all, the Gospel they present does not seem like a foreign, Western religion. It can put down roots more naturally in the local culture.
Areas of Caution
The most commonly heard criticisms of supporting indigenous ministries are that 1) it can create unhealthy dependency and 2) financial accountability is more difficult. Both are valid concerns, and both have well-reasoned solutions.
Paternalism is an attitude, not an amount of money. If the indigenous worker feels like a trusted, equal partner, then financial subsidy is not a problem. If he or she is made to feel like an employee, then paternalism and resentment can result.
Local “ownership” of the ministry is the crucial factor. When it is our vision and ministry and we hire them to carry it out, they will do whatever we require to earn their pay, but they will rarely have the “fire in the gut” to go up against impossible odds and take impossible risks for the sake of the Gospel. But if it’s their vision and ministry, they will. When it is their vision and they “own” their ministry, they are grateful for our assistance because we are helping them accomplish their dream.
Mutual trust is the glue that holds these international partnerships together. And trust cannot be purchased. It can only be earned over time.
Where trust is lacking, resentment and problems abound. People in other cultures are no more—and no less—honest than those in our own. Every culture has its freeloaders and hucksters. How do we assure accountability and honesty in ministries that we support but do not control? Here are some things to look for. Are you supporting an organized ministry or an individual “lone ranger”? Does your partner ministry have the respect of other Christian ministries in its area? Is the leader accountable to a board (or board-equivalent) that contains respected, objective, unpaid persons? Is the ministry doing all it can to raise financial support from its own people? A good rule of thumb is that at least two-thirds of their total income should come from their own people so that they will not collapse if foreign funds are withdrawn. (Of course, this doesn’t apply to war and disaster situations.)
Another area of caution is that deep animosities sometimes exist between neighboring cultures, so a person who speaks the same (or similar) language as his or her target audience, and even looks and dresses in the same way, may be perceived as a traditional enemy and be less accepted than a Westerner. Every situation has its own complex dynamics.
Results. Throughout history, the vast majority of all new converts and new local churches have resulted from local Christians reaching their own people.
When their efforts are enhanced with money and prayer and technical support from international partners, the results can be amazing. For example, the agency I lead is not large but we support 3,350 workers in 49 countries. They work in 115 otherwise unreached people groups. They average a new believer every nine minutes, a new church every 15 hours, humanitarian aid to a needy person every five minutes, and a local leader completing a formal training program every 20 minutes. Other indigenous support agencies can quote similar numbers. Only the very largest traditional mission agencies have results on that scale.
Linking with other kinds of missions. A loose association of about 50 indigenous support agencies has already met twice and will hold its next annual meeting in tandem with the annual meeting of the EFMA in order to encourage more interaction. Opportunities abound for cooperative ventures with the other five spheres of missions, but only if the indigenous ministry is treated as an equal partner.
For further reading, see Supporting Indigenous Ministries, a monograph published by the Billy Graham Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL 60187, includes several excellent papers on this subject, plus a bibliography and a detailed directory of nearly 50 North American agencies that specialize in support of indigenous ministries.
Editorial Comment on Indigenous Missions
This category is a growing interest in American churches. For many years donors back home thought that the only Christians “out there” were the missionaries. They could hardly believe their ears when they heard that there were first hundreds, and then thousands of churches and pastors and millions of believers.
Rightly done, outside funds can be very strategic for transdenominational cooperative efforts which have a strategic value,often far exceeding the immediate awareness of their value. Let me give an example.
Partners International not too long ago gave strength to an incredible vision of a Latin-America-wide network of mission interest. They raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote and fund what turned out to be the largest inter-American meeting of evangelicals ever to gather in one place for any purpose whatsoever—over 3,000 representing every country in Latin America. This gathering in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 1986 surprised everyone, not the least reason being it was so competently focused specifically on cross-cultural mission to the unreached peoples. Out of it came the present leader of the AD2000 Movement, the incomparable Luis Bush.
But, do you know what? Most of the expatriate missions were so engrossed in their own local work they did not even attend. What were they doing? They were busy serving the usual product of missions: Swarms of churches, poor families, pastors needing theological education, etc. Thus, they, along with church leaders in general in Latin America, hardly even showed up at the meeting!
Here is a perfect example of how an outside organization can raise money for something that exceeds the vision of the local people, and promote a gigantic breakthrough.
On the other hand, pulling in outside funds always runs the risk of something not quite “taking.” The follow-through body, COMIBAM (Cooperaci—n Misionera Iberoamericana—Ibero-American Missionary Cooperation), has had great struggles to get going on its own. But it’s going. And because of COMIBAM ‘87 all of Latin America is aflame with missionary concern. To us “old hands” from Latin America the transformation is very difficult to imagine. But it is true.
Well, if there are now devout believers out in the mission fields already, then why send more missionaries?
Chuck Bennett adds, “these [mission-field] Christians are usually passionate about winning their own people to Christ.”
This undoubted passion to win “their own people” is not missions but rather evangelism. What “mission-field Christians” are often not interested in is winning their next-door-neighbor tribes (as in Northern Ireland?) which are often enemies isolated by centuries of gruesome conflict and deep-seated hate. Even if such believers are “passionate about winning their own people” and would be willing to go to the hated people “next door,” so to speak, they might be the last on earth to be welcome—sort of like white citizens from Phoenix going up to the nearby Hopi.
Yet mission annals often refer to outstanding “nationals” like John Sung who was an Asian D. L. Moody or Luis Palau. Yet, the acceptance by the people of such spiritual giants was not based upon their ethnic similarities, but often took place in spite of differences. Imagine a virtually illiterate Moody holding 5,000 upper-class Englishmen in rapt attention in the packed Opera House of London! I think even the resistant Hopi of Arizona would listen to Billy Graham. But would such a person need foreign funds?
Thus, in my opinion, if “inexpensive” is not the main value of such missions, then I would think that cultural nearness would not be the main value either—“winning their own people” is not a missionary role. The missionary who comes from a lot further away often has a great advantage over the one from the next-door group.
A great deal needs to be added to give a true picture either way. Space does not allow all that. Two things need to be brought up.
Point One: The false comparison between “16,000 workers” being supported for a song while only twice that number is supported by the entire remainder of the U.S. mission budget.
Chuck Bennett says, “Although the [Sphere Four] agencies amount to only 2% of the current giving for missions in North America, they fund well over 16,000 full-time workers—half as many as all career missionaries from the U.S. and Canada.”
The comparison is very misleading because an accurate account of the work being accomplished on the field by U.S. gifts certainly cannot be measured by how many workers on the field need or want financial subsidy! The missing statistic is how many workers do not need subsidy. My long-standing guess is that about two million national workers (funded by their own people) are out there—a massive chain reaction from the pioneering work of missionaries who taught them to grow without foreign funds.
But they are human. Probably all of them would be glad to get some additional support from the States. But those who are leaders in growing churches are able to continue that growth precisely because they are not tied to U.S. funds.
Recently a mission executive called me asking my advice about 4,000 congregations in a certain country that had been planted without depending on foreign support, and were constantly in the process of planting still more congregations. However, an “Indigenous Ministries” type of agency began to “assist” some of the pastors financially. After a few years, 400 congregations had been taught to depend on foreign funds, and wanted to pull away from the other 3,600. The executive who called me was not worried about losing congregations to another group—“they belong to God not to our denomination.” He was sorry that these churches were being withdrawn from a dynamic movement in which churches did not need to wait for foreign funds in order to plant more congregations. Another executive commented that these 400 churches, instead of being truly helped, had been “reduced to beggars.”
Point Two: Reluctantly, the second thing to mention is that some of these sphere-four agencies deliberately mislead the public. I just received a letter from the Christian Aid Mission. It states without qualification: “In the 50 years since foreign mission boards were put out of India…”
What is meant by “put out of India?” More accurately, the fund raising letter could have said, “While at no time were missionaries in general put out, in the last 50 years it has become more and more difficult for missionaries to get visas as “missionaries,” and during those years the total number has gradually fallen from 3,000 to 300 or more, if you don’t count hundreds of missionary personnel functioning in other roles. Presently more than 100 U.S. missions have work in India, Christian Aid being one.”
On the next page it says, “Since U.S. mission boards aren’t allowed to work in India…shouldn’t your church be helping…by using Christian Aid as your intermediary?” (Meaning: send your money to Christian Aid instead of to those missions that aren’t allowed to work there.)
It is not at all obvious why Christian Aid can direct people’s money better than those agencies whose work has long been rooted in India.
The letter also states that “more than half of the people of the world live in countries that are closed to foreign missionaries.” Again, this is highly misleading. Thousands of missionaries work in “closed countries.” In fact, the very phrase “closed countries” is not in general use. We can speak of “restricted access” countries. Even then, all countries make access difficult. Missionaries are in every country except North Korea, whether they publicize that fact or not.
Sphere Five: Short-Term Missions Defined
Short-Term Missions. These agencies are also of the non-derivative type—that is, they don’t necessarily depend on the previous or existing work of the Standard Missions. Everyone knows about Operation Mobilization and Youth With A Mission. Young people going on some short terms may never see a standard missionary or mission in operation even at a distance—-unless they are under one of the many (but smaller) short term programs of a standard agency. These represent the dotted line to the Standard Missions in the diagram on page 16.
Most of the Standard Missions operate their own short term programs, in which young people do in fact work very closely with their existing work. These types of short terms are represented by the solid line connecting them to the Standard Missions.
Short-Term Missions Represented George Verwer President, OM (Operation Mobilization)
For us in OM, short-term missions has been so effective that we are no longer mainly a short-term agency. About one-third of our 2,700 adult workers are career workers, with a large percentage working among the more unreached peoples. As a movement, we have grown up with all the growing pains that this brings. We, however, believe our mini- and short-term missions are an equal part of God’s great strategy to reach the world with the Gospel.
Forty years ago, three of us went to Mexico for just a few weeks and we have never been the same! Two of us have been in career missions ever since. We could give thousands of similar examples from across the world.
We have seen that Short-Term Missions can work in harmony with longer-term missions, especially when there is a strong emphasis on prayer and basic spiritual life. We must have committed people who know the way of the Cross and the reality of the Holy Spirit.
One of the dangers is that we get people on the field who are very immature and not that disciplined and committed. This, however, is even more scary when we find it among longer-term career workers.
Another weakness of short-term missions is that when many really begin to be effective in the language, with a greater grasp of the culture, they have to return home. Many of those who want to return longer term are unable to get the backing of Acts 13 support. One of the most important positive factors is that short-term people can stimulate local people to take steps of faith and move into action.
We now have about 600 workers in India, mainly Indians, and many of them are long-term, trained people. The whole movement there was birthed and initially sustained largely by short-term people. More than in many career mission situations, the nationals knew that the task of carrying the mission was mainly on them. Similar models can be seen across the world.
When people are young and zealous, they easily make mistakes, but my experience these 40 years is that the really bigger and more costly mistakes (and sin like adultery) are often committed by the so-called longer-term experienced people.
I believe trying to get each mission agency into a particular category is often an over-simplification when, in fact, a dynamic missions movement may have all these ways of working running simultaneously in parallel.
It is interesting that for years the great attack on Short-Term Missions came from seminaries, yet research will show that during the same period those seminaries trained and sent out very few missionaries!
On the contrary, an army of short-termers after their first time on the field returned highly motivated to study theology, missiology, communication, etc., and ended up in colleges and seminaries across the country. Quite a few of them are now leaders and teachers who have a much more balanced viewpoint of the many ways our God leads and guides.
In my view, Short-Term Missions must never be separated from the tent-maker concept of missions because, especially in certain countries, this is the way short-term people go. The positives and negatives to this approach immediately move into play. Additionally, it is often hard to measure results when the target group is a low or non-responsive people.
Such difficult frontline tasks will produce what some people call “casualties” as many return home after a few years, but God may have a different way of evaluating what has taken place.
For sure, we all need a lot of grace and wisdom.
Editorial Comment on Short-Term Missions:
This category represents a massive increase in personnel going overseas—for both good and not-so-good reasons. Following the Second World War and the Korean War, the loss of confidence in the older generation laid young people open to kinds of involvement which did not commit them long-term. They distrusted standard ways of doing things. Adventure, due to increased affluence, was now defined in global geography. God raised up OM and YWAM as His agents to corral and conserve a whole generation, providing what young people needed, and using resources that would, for the most part, have been unavailable to the work of the Lord.
I can say with George that if I had not gone on a three-week “micro term” to Chiapas, Mexico I probably never would have become a missionary. Had I not been so impressed by the work of the missionaries and the missionaries themselves I probably never would have considered it further. My own children have gone out on short terms all over the place, but they have not seen missionaries at work. They became missionaries despite their short-term experience.
But, “50 years later” both OM and YWAM are astonishingly different organizations, which, as Verwer says, can hardly be classified except in their main activity. Both bulge with life and eagerness and are growing into many other kinds of mission activity. If they do it right they can avoid the criticism that they lead young people away from formal school goals, and both of them are working on ways to combine the short-term experience with their parents’ school expectations. Nowadays, it is important for Christian young people to grow up in the globe, not in just one country of the globe.
For the most part their main direct contribution is not to missions but to the maturation process of thousands and thousands of young people. It is hard to know how we could have done without them. Like Intervarsity and Campus Crusade, their contribution to the quality of the new generation of Christian leaders is one of the most crucial contributions you can imagine.
Congregational-Direct Missions Defined
This kind of activity is also derivative, since much of it consists of improving upon Christian movements already existing on the field. Many “charismatic” congregations, but also most “mega church” congregations,are tending to develop their own mix of this kind of “direct” mission activity. It may consist of sending a lone family or a small team out there somewhere, or sending money, or sending short-termers or visitors, or building a hospital, etc. Many such congregations do not want to depend on any other structure. Perhaps their Gospel, their kind of church structure or ethos, they feel, is quite unique—almost a new kind of Christianity—and can only be extended directly if it is to arrive safely.
Congregational-Direct Missions Represented Mike Phillips Board Member, Antioch Network
There is a growing movement among churches to have “direct involvement” in missions and to develop their own missions program. For many churches this may mean putting together their own short-term trip or missions project. Increasingly, however, with the emphasis on adopting and praying for unreached peoples, some of these churches are beginning to send their own teams for the purpose of church planting. The Antioch Network estimates that there are thousands of such churches, hundreds of which are at least considering sending out their own teams.
Churches fitting into the category of Congregational-Direct Missions (CDMs) come from a wide spectrum of Evangelical Christianity, and include some who are part of denominations with well-established mission organizations.
Often the missions project or team is sent out from a single church; sometimes it is from a cluster or even network of churches. Some churches solicit advice from established mission agencies while others enter into very defined partnerships with such agencies. Still others operate exclusively on their own. There are some notable similarities, however.
They tend to be made up of the younger generations (boomers and Xers) and usually have younger leaders. Many of these churches strongly emphasize that church is a family/community. Large numbers of mega-churches also fit into this category.
These churches tend to be quite entrepreneurial. This characterizes their involvement in missions as well. They are not content with just giving money and reading mission updates prepared by people they hardly know. This younger generation is seeking avenues of participation that are consistent with their value system, which includes a high degree of ownership and personal involvement. This “new” thinking does not lack historical precedence. The great missionary thrust of the Moravians was both birthed and sustained by a local congregation. And certainly a case can be made from the early, apostolic church for strong local church involvement.
Another factor that makes CDMs so appealing today is that many can be involved. With today’s focus on targeting the unreached peoples of the 10/40 window, many professionally-trained missionaries have no platform from which to enter restricted areas. On the other hand, local churches often have professionals who can enter the most restricted areas. We believe that church-planting teams, consisting of both trained missionaries and tentmakers, will be the team of the future