By Mark A. Taylor
Every missions leader and missionary watcher will tell you missions is different these days.
A generation or two ago, missionaries departed for a foreign field with the intent to spend their lives there. Now “long-term missionaries” stay for maybe two or three years.
Those days, and in the generations before, missionaries went from the West to the rest of the world, and most American church members assumed “we” had the solution to the problems suffered by “them.” Now missionaries from Asia, Africa, and South America are going all over the world with the gospel. And some of them are coming to America!
Not long ago, many tended to view missions work primarily as gospel preaching that would lead to conversions and new church plants. Now many missionaries from conservative, Bible-believing groups are making humanitarian work and community development a part, if not the significant thrust, of their outreach.
In a movement committed to independent missionaries, missions candidates used to approach Christian churches and churches of Christ with a simple statement of their plans and a plea for funds. In some cases this led to meaningful involvement between local congregations and work for God on the other side of the world. But sometimes the result was that the most money went to the best fund-raisers, not necessarily to the greatest opportunities or most urgent needs.
But if the missions ministers we interviewed this month are typical of many others, thoughtful strategy has become the foundation for much missions work among our churches. Many churches are deciding to concentrate on significant support for fewer missionaries, rather than scattering their missions dollars all over the world. Not only that, but some congregations are deciding ahead of time on vision and goals before they talk to individual candidates for support. Granted, this focused approach may make their missions outreach more effective. But it also complicates the candidate’s task of finding support. Matching candidates’ and congregations’ vision statements is a challenge in our network of independent congregations.
All in all, however, we must congratulate the prayerful concern of missions leaders to see their congregations obey the biblical mandate to evangelize the world. I’m particularly taken by Pat Creech’s goal to “demission” missions where he serves in Indiana. “We’re trying to make this idea of God’s ambition for the nations central to the heart of the church so it doesn’t seem like it’s just the thing the missionaries do,” he told us.
When every Christian decides it’s every Christian’s mandate to take the gospel to every nonbeliever, that will be a change in missions every Christian can celebrate.