Mission Agencies and the Final Frontiers
Mission Frontiers looks at the missionary task today from the standpoint of mission agencies.
IFMA Declares Priority of Frontier Penetration
It is a painful moment when Hollywood gathers all of the contenders for the annual Oscar Award together on a single stage.
Ordinarily, they are the center of attention. Now they are only one of 30 or 40 people that others might be looking at.
Is this the way it is when 200 mission executives come together from 85 of the mission agency members of the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association? Not at all.
These men are absolutely at ease, friendly to each other, not in any sense competitive, humble, prayerful, godly people through and through.
Of course, the world is not looking on. This is a purely professional gathering in the sense that it is made up of mission executives themselves. What actually happens at a meeting like this?
This year the theme was "Penetrating the Frontiers." You can imagine that this theme made those of us at the U.S. Center for World Mission present at the meeting very excited. The IFMA official news release, across the page, spells out a little more in detail what actually was done.
We are being genuinely immodest probably, to print this unedited news release with the name of the U.S. Center and the Director of the U.S. Center's name so prominently mentioned.
Note that both the official news release and the accompanying "Frontier Declaration" are very self effacing and perhaps even too apologetic.
Also, please understand that Dr. Frizen's reference to 811 mission agencies doing things that were "other than evangelism" is to be interpreted, not as a Theological loss of evangelistic perspective but very definitely the result of successful efforts in most of the fields where the IFMA has labored. That is not clearly spelled out.
The same goes for the "confession" section. The fact of the matter is that the agencies and their personnel represent literally the salt of the earth. They have worked night and day with unremitting energies to do everything within their power, and it is very difficult to fault them for the surging growth of the church that has drained all of their original frontier impulse from them.
Let's give these executives credit for the fact that this Declaration is a ringing challenge to the agencies themselves as they renew their determination to push out beyond where they are. Local churches must now try to keep up with them.
A further comment is due concerning the excerpts of my own address at the IFMA and the excerpts from Dr. McGavran's address at the sister conference being held at the same time in Colorado Springs the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association. But these are available in their entirety (see back cover).
Mine was somewhat on the technical side, commenting on the historical roots of the IFMA, on the Biblical and exegetical background of the concept of reaching out to peoples not just to individuals or countries. It offers a new challenge to the agencies to make their overseas churches frontier mission minded. My latest strong conviction is that mission agencies must labor with new creativity and force, both with the overseas churches and with the church at home in order to impart new vision and hope and enthusiasm for the finishing of the task of missions in the frontier sense.
No mission was ever established for the purpose of creating a vast overseas church and then simply settling down to administrate that church from afar.
Mission agencies have as their special calling the breaking of new ground, and when the ground is broken and the church is growing up, they need to shift gears only to the extent of making sure that the church itself that is born on the foreign field becomes a vital part of the international cause of missions the discipling of all the peoples of the earth.
To verify, clarify, and reinforce this conviction simultaneously in New Jersey and Colorado makes these two meetings the Biggest Events of the year.
IFMA Conference Report (official news release)
Member missions of the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association (IFMA) declared their determination to reach frontier peoples, at the association's 65th annual meeting held at America's Keswick, Whiting, New Jersey, September 27 30. "Penetrating Frontiers" was the conference theme that drew more than 200 participants.
The "IFMA Frontier Declaration," presented at the closing session by a conference strategy group, included a confession of "staying too long in established ministries" instead of redirecting resources to new frontiers. It also recognized insufficient preparation of missionaries for the frontier task.
The IFMA said its "chief and irreplaceable duty" is to share God's blessing with those of the world's peoples which have not yet been reached. The "highest strategic priority" must therefore be given to planting churches among these people. The declaration also calls on member missions to labor with churches at home and abroad to accomplish this task.
Seeking to define certain groups of people, whether they be called unreached or frontier people, IFMA called on Ralph Winter, Director of the U.S. Center for World Mission, for the opening address. He cited the biblical emphasis on peoples, defining them as ethnolinguistic groups with common internal communication. The maximum size of such a "people group" is that within which the gospel can spread as a church planting movement without running into barriers. He coined a new term for such a group: "unimax" people; unified in communication, maximum in size. He emphasized that size was not the prime factor, but rather the unified nature of the group.
Winter urged mission agencies to do all their work with such people groups in mind. He called for a massive educational program at home and abroad, because although mission agencies are ready to take up the challenge of the frontiers, most pastors and young people are not.
The exceptions regarding youth are the National Student Missions Coalition and the Theological Students for Frontier Missons, both of which came to the IFMA meeting to give testimony of their concern and to pray for the gathered mission leaders.
IFMA Executive Secretary, Edwin L. Frizen, Jr., reported that he had surveyed 84 mission agencies and, among other things, found that the principle assignment of IFMA personnel was "other than evangelism." Among his proposals was one that called for the primacy of evangelism and mobility of personnel.