Cats and dogs?
This year for the first time the once-every-three-year joint meeting of the IFMA and the EFMA includes not only AERDO and EMS but also COSIM. The ISFM meets two days before, at the same place. (See the box below for the meaning of these acronyms.)
While the theme of this issue of Mission Frontiers dwells on astounding and unprecedented cooperation in the mission lands, so called, the very existence of this kind of a joint meeting is astounding in its own way.
Drawing in COSIM this year is new and surprising because no single tension in missions in this century has been more acute. The raw and unprincipled attitude behind some agencies that "just send money" is legendary.
As important, surely, as knowing what ABC, NBC, NBA and TWA mean is knowing about the following cooperative mission associations. These agencies encompass the lion's share of all mission activity based in America and they are all meeting at Virginia Beach in September.
IFMA = Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association (1917)
EFMA = Evangelical Fellowship of Mission Agencies (1946)
ISFM = International Society for Frontier Missiology (1984)
EMS = Evangelical Missiological Society (1990)
AERDO = Association of Evangelical Relief and Development Organizations (1978)
COSIM = Consultation on the Support of Indigenous Ministries (1996)
There was a time when advertisements widely and blatantly trumpeted that donors were wasting God's money in supporting American missionaries in foreign countries when, supposedly, you could hire a national worker to do the same thing even better for $50 a month. (Where missionaries are most needed, there are by definition no national missionaries to hire.)
Do mission agencies fight each other? It's bad enough for one agency not to promote other agencies or to say nothing about what other agencies on the same field are doing. But when one type of agency declares war on all other agencies, someone has to stand up and say something. Mission Frontiers has done that. (And some letters have lambasted us for even raising the issue.)
But new things are happening! The worst-offender agency is not a part of COSIM and the emphasis is shifting away from not-sending-missionaries to the valid and delicate situations where mere money can in some cases help. AERDO agencies are still somewhat isolated from the mainstream mission agencies, but there has been an honest attempt on their part to work amicably with the standard church-planting agencies.
It is the position of Mission Frontiers that all ministries must either themselves broaden out into all aspects of mission or effectively and intelligently cooperate with other agencies which will flesh out the full range of God's concern.
To minister to "the whole man with the whole Gospel" is simple to say, but difficult to do. The so-called "standard missions" with their huge overseas constituencies come the closest in dealing with the entire range of God's concern, even though with the emergence of the AERDO agencies they have accommodated themselves to specialized help of other agencies. But, on their own, agencies like SIM and AIM interface on the field with thousands of churches and millions of adherents and therefore cannot ignore any significant dimension of human need.
Probably Mission Aviation Fellowship is the best example of interdependency between agencies of mission. Even the global radio ministries, which for so long were loners, have for some time been working more closely with the "ground troops." And Phill Butler, who started out in radio, is one of the most visionary and creative people aiding this closer relationship.
It may take time.
Let me give some examples of growing pains in cooperation. Let's rejoice at the incredible picture this issue of Mission Frontiers paints concerning the amount of partnership (sometimes called cooperation or networking) that is already in place.
Wycliffe Bible Translators had its origin in the concept of training translators for other existing missions. But, unexpectedly, they found little interest in this offered service! They then went ahead to do it themselves--so well that other agencies are coming to them and actually giving them personnel to work within the technical harness which Wycliffe has now spent 50 years to produce.
The potential errors of judgment in the area of cooperation are best known to me in the area of the U.S. Center for World Mission and our own nearly-25-year attempt to catalyze all kinds of inter-agency cooperation. Like Wycliffe, when we began we thought that for us to do "generic mobilization and research" for all agencies would be an idea that would be instantly heralded and supported. Pastors and people in the U.S. were enthusiastic--and that is how we were enabled to acquire this campus. The agencies? We assumed agencies would lend personnel to work with us if we just got a large enough set of facilities.
It did not fully happen the way we expected. So, like Wycliffe, we have gone ahead to do generic mission promotion through our own now-nationwide network--including the Perspectives Study Program, the publication of the Global Prayer Digest and Mission Frontiers. Additionally, we have spent years developing elaborate graduate study opportunities which can be pursued fulltime or part-time anywhere in the world from the B.A. to the Ph.D. level, etc. We are nearing our 25-year milestone and still have a great deal to do. But we did not develop this curriculum merely for the use of our university--it is now used by accredited colleges and universities beyond ourselves.
Do mission agencies cooperate or compete?
Cooperation apparently isn't "natural." I can remember being very embarrassed and perhaps even offended as I sat in an Urbana Student Missionary Convention thirty years ago.
Redoubtable soldier/saint Stacey Woods, that faithful pioneer in InterVarsity's early days in USA and Canada, was doing his nightly summary of InterVarsity's campus work around the world (under the umbrella International Fellowship of Evangelical Students).
A huge amount of money from Urbana offerings goes each time to overseas work and Stacey was at pains to highlight the wonderful things that were happening as these offerings flowed to distant parts.
What offended me?
As I listened closely for any hint of any other brand of evangelical campus work, I heard nothing at all. Back in those days the Urbana Conventions did not even tip their hat to Campus Crusade. Later, Bill Bright was asked to pray in one evening session--and a very different attitude prevails today.
But I was offended back then by InterVarsity's apparent unwillingness to praise Campus Crusade. They had no obligation to do so, admittedly. Just like the U.S. Army doesn't have to go around praising the Air Force or the Navy. But we would never win a war if these various armed forces didn't basically and effectively cooperate and compliment one another.
However rarely the leaders of InterVarsity and Campus Crusade may get together with plans to cooperate, it is a glorious fact that on many campuses the local workers of these two organizations as well as others are willing to work together hand in glove on many projects.
But, let's ask the question again: Do mission agencies cooperate or compete?
What is really happening?
Basically, they compete at home and cooperate on the field. Local pastors will tell you that every mission agency may sometimes sound as if its work is the most important. And the pastor himself may at times begrudge the money that flows out of his church to missions instead of to pressing local ministries. Of course, agencies don't have enough extra personnel to go around boosting everyone else's work.
However, at local church misson conferences, the personnel of mission agencies are very friendly to each other even though their fundraising and recruiting purposes may be in competition.
There are about 200 different mission agencies in the IFMA and EFMA spheres alone. They can't all have promotional representatives in every U.S. city. But how can they cooperate in raising money? What Larry Walker of ACMC has called "generic missions promotion" is not something that could be easily defined, although the U.S. Center for World Mission has been trying to do that for almost 25 years now.
Is the U.S. Center competing?
But even our workers here in Pasadena are "in competition" with money that could go to workers in foreign lands. Know this, though, we would quit if we didn't truly believe that for every dollar of mission money our workers consume we are creating more than that for the field agencies.
Think of all the funds we "divert" from missions! Let's suppose the average student in our nationwide Perspectives Study Program pays $100 toward the travel cost of the visiting professors. Okay, that's $100 x 3000 students. That's $300,000 right there. That money can't be spent again! It's gone! It's lost to the cause of missions!
Or is it? What if that annual $300,000 "diversion" of monies inspires those 3000 students to give an extra $300 to missions per year? That's $900,000 right there. But there are now 30,000 alumni of this program, and if they are giving an extra $300 to missions per year, that's $9 million more for missions per year. If, in addition, two or three thousand of these alumni have become missionaries themselves that's an additional $90 million for their support. In this light the cost of the program sounds less and less like competition and more and more like cooperation, reinforcement.
Brothers and sisters: There is just one Kingdom of God. We better all be working for it. Down through history, even in the New Testament followers of Christ have had their differences. But on the mission field you come the closest to seeing a single team at work! Praise the Lord.