Changes for the Better?

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.

Jake Moore and his wife and family serve as missionaries to Ethiopia with Christian Missionary Fellowship.
Jake Moore and his wife and family serve as missionaries to Ethiopia with Christian Missionary Fellowship.

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.

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  1. Avatar
    November 10, 2015 at 12:47 pm

    As a missionary who is well into his third year in SE Asia, I’m perplexed & troubled by this sentence:

    “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.”

    My wife & I certainly have no plans to go back to the US.
    Perhaps this mindset would lead to more people being willing to go, but to those who would only choose to obey a call if it is three years or less…maybe it would be better if they stayed home.

    The Lord Jesus said to ask the Lord of the harvest to send out more laborers.
    If laborers are typically going ‘back home’ that soon, it seems like overall that means fewer, not more, laborers.

    Of course I’m not criticizing those whom the Lord has called to limited missions.
    Jesus is the Lord of the harvest, & if he wants someone in cross-cultural missions for only a few years, or only a few weeks, that’s his call.
    I’m addressing a lack of lifetime missionaries, & those who refuse to go unless it’s short-term.

    There are about 7000 unreached people-groups on Earth.
    But there are millions of evangelical churches!
    We ought to be able to reach all of those groups within the next decade!
    Will we?

    In cross-cultural missions, there are many obstacles:
    The language obstacles, the money obstacles, the logistical obstacles, the cultural obstacles…
    But the worst one is the reluctance obstacle.

  2. Avatar
    David Cole
    November 11, 2015 at 10:38 pm

    Taylor seems to think that having missions ministers on staff who go over missions analytics and map out mission strategies for their church is a benefit for cross cultural missions. Getting churches involved with missions through awareness is beneficial if it causes the church to give more liberally for the gospel but does it help the church weed out the good missionary causes from bad ones, the successful from the unsuccessful, the committed from the uncommitted, or the ones with vision from those without? Can we trust that the missions minister is truly objective in his approach to, “Match candidates’ and congregations’ vision statements… in our network of independent congregations?” In actuality there is no such thing as an objective missions minister or missions chairman. They will favor their friends and the organizations they are connected to. They will systematically divert, over several years if necessary, church mission funds away from hardworking missionaries they are committed to support, who are actually on the field, to those with the best fund raising organizations, friends in their church who decide to be missionaries and those who hold the same theology beliefs as they do. I’ve seen it over and over again. It’s happened to my fellow missionaries and I have experienced it numerous times myself. Missions committees led by mission ministers can be brutal and heartless.

    In order to compete, missionaries must walk on eggshells when they preach not to joke or criticize about anything in American culture or the state of the American church. They must embellish, exaggerate or make up stuff about their accomplishments to make it look more impressive and appealing. They are forced to toot their own horn as loudly as they can and they must show pictures of cute orphans or homeless people or anything that can evoke emotion and empathy for their ministry. If a missionary is not willing to sacrifice his integrity, prostitute himself and beg, lie, cheat and steal he will not be able to compete and will have his livelihood slowly chiseled away. Ministering to a resistant field with few baptisms or a country being blamed for the American economic depression is a death sentence. The only recourse for them is to resort to “tent making,” by finding employment on the field, so that they won’t be at the mercy of ruthless missions ministers and committees who will find every reason under the sun to justify cutting support and giving it to their friends. (The same model of lobbying for support is used in American government so why not in missions too?)

    My experience is that the lifespan of support from the average individual is about a year and the the average church about five years. This means missionaries who do not support themselves on the field cannot stay there for any extended period of time without returning to America to do years of deputation work just to get enough to subsist on or join mission societies who give them meager salaries, rob them of any ministry autonomy, move them around every two years and force them to work with incompatible missionary co-workers. I’ve heard their many stories and seen their tears. The only long term Christian Church missionaries in Japan (those who last more then five to ten years) are those who make their living here or moonlight for a substantial amount of their income. There is no such thing as a fully supported long term missionary, not since the 1970’s.

    The trend toward mission society endeavors rather than direct support missions is a negative one and employing mission ministers just exacerbates the problem and reduces missions to nothing more than politics.

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