What are Missions, and Who are Missionaries
- Grady McMurtry
- April 04, 2020
We are taking a brief departure from the usual topics of this column to address a subject close to my heart. The normal format will return in future issues.
I have sensed for some time that even those people who support missionaries and believe in what they are doing, may not truly have a full vision of what a missionary is all about. Likewise, I have found that the church universal has a poor grasp of the role of the sent out ones. Today, many members of the church in America are parochial. They are inward looking and concentrate their efforts in maintaining the local facility.
But, the church is commanded to be apostolic, that is a missionary. The Greek word from which we get apostle and the Latin word from which we get missionary mean the same thing, to be sent. Jesus was sent by the Father into the world, and Jesus in turn sent us all into the world. He said, Go ye therefore, and teach all nations... (Matthew 28:19). The term He used was an imperative command.
The early church was obedient and invaded the world with the message of the risen Christ. Any apostolic church, at any time in history, will be moving outward offensively. It will not circle the wagons and wait, but will take the battle to the enemy - and win!
There are two views of what the Church is to do. One view is centripetal (seeking the center). In this view the Church consumes its resources on itself. It circles the wagons. It becomes introverted and becomes ingrown. It tends a garden, but does not develop the fields outside the church walls. This view is an incorrect perspective on the role of the local and regional church.
The other view is centrifugal (fleeing the center). David ran toward Goliath; he did not sit with Saul. David's sling killed Goliath, not because it was a huge weapon, but because it sent a message out that was anointed by God.
The apostolic church takes over the world by thought and deed. There can be no truly apostolic or missionary church without missionary leadership. I tell everyone in my opening presentation on Foundations: The Relevance of Creation, "Every thought you think will either be done in obedience to God, or disobedience to God."
Who is a true missionary? He is a minister of proven character, vision, evangelical power, spiritual depth and compassionate heart who is particularly adept at teaching truth, confronting false power structures, and getting people to think and to reevaluate their previous positions, in order to impact the society and culture around them. In the decline of the orthodox Christian denominations in America can clearly be seen a painful absence of missionary leadership.
A lack of missionary vision is seen in the failure of the local church to impact its own city. Taken as a nation of churches we see a negligible impact on our national life. The United States, once the greatest missionary sending country in the world, is now a missionary debtor nation; we receive more missionaries than we send.
I am not saying that we should be only outward looking. We must have strong local bodies which fulfill the pastoral role for which they were intended. Those won by missionaries must be cared for. Jesus was the ultimate Missionary and He was the ultimate Shepherd. The Church must have both. A Church without missionaries collapses from without; a Church without pastors collapses from within.
The missionary is to be the one who is sent out from the Church into the world so that his life, example and pioneering spirit plow the path that the Church needs to follow. A missionary must go, not stay. When a missionary is in the local church it is to be as a servant guest.
To be truly apostolic the Church must return to the message of an inerrant Bible and discipline to the Word of God. This will require missionaries as well as local pastors and ministers. The Church needs both mission and parish structures to fulfill our Lords command. The problem today is that we are out of balance. We have a great deal of parish structure and not enough mission structure.
When I speak of mission structure, I am not speaking of only foreign missions, but local and regional mission structures as well. This is needed if we are to impact our local society. Redemptive missionary invasions can bring light to the darkness which is holding America captive.
In his essay entitled The Two Structures of Gods Redemptive Mission, Ralph Winter asserts that there are two basic kinds of structures which make up the world Christian movement. The local church he calls a modality. The mission structure is called a sodality. We need both.
The local church should be involved with pastoral care of the flock. The mission structure should be a militant body which effects a redemptive change in society. The local church is to be ingathering (centripetal), while the mission is to be a sender (centrifugal). The church pulls you in; the mission sends you out. The parish is to provide a church for sheep; the mission is a church for soldiers. The parish and the mission then are simply two different institutions of the Church universal. Both are legitimate and both are necessary.
The local church is to care for Gods people and is not intended to be the one who carries out the Great Commission. In his book, On The Crest of the Wave, Peter Wagner wrote:
There are some notable exceptions to the rule, but throughout history churches as churches have not been particularly effective instruments for carrying the gospel into the regions beyond. The outstanding success stories of world evangelization have usually come from situations in which the church or churches have permitted, encouraged, and supported the formation of specialized mission structures to do their missionary work.
Too often we have thought of missions structures as serving foreign fields. The widespread moral decay we are experiencing here in America, a darkness and depravity which permeate every level of our society, has put the Church under siege and compels us to reevaluate our need for missions here at home. If we do not counter the current trend we are doomed to succumb to it. Missions structures are best suited to initiate the needed counterattacks.
To borrow phrases from popular Americana, this isn't Mayberry anymore, Sheriff Taylor. Otis isn't sleeping one off in the empty jail cell. We have prisons full and overflowing. Barney has been replaced with a SWAT team. Opie must face the temptations of drugs, alcohol, tobacco and STDs. What's more, Opie is getting a totally inferior education, without standards or discipline. What we need is no more Mr. Nice Guy; what we need are strong missionary soldiers.
Over the centuries, redemptive changes have come from mission initiatives. Historically, mission orders have pioneered the gospel, planted churches, established institutions of higher learning, led in economic development, established mercy works, and impacted the humanities and government.
Mission structures are nothing new to the Church. Jesus formed the first mission structure with His twelve disciples. Paul lead a missionary organization to the Gentiles. The Catholic Church learned early the value of mission structures and used the monastic orders to carry Catholic doctrine to the world.
The Protestant evangelical church has been dominated by a local church only mentality. We have come by it honestly. Citing Wagner again:
One of Martin Luthers blind spots was that he reacted so strongly against the corrupt aspects of the monastic movement (he belonged to the Augustinian Order) that he failed to appreciate what they were doing well. It did not occur to him to reform the Catholic missions while he was reforming the Catholic church. So the Protestant Reformation movement ended up all congregational structure and no mission structure. There is no doubt that Luther himself desired that the gospel should be carried throughout the whole earth. Luther sharpened the missionary message, but with all his brilliance he never came clear on missionary structures.
The Roman Catholic Church learned this lesson through the centuries. Early on, they discovered the value of mission structures....While the missionary movement of the churches of the Protestant Reformation was zero in the sixteenth century, the Jesuit order was formed in France to carry Christianity throughout the world.
The Protestant Reformation basically sat still for 300 years while the Catholic Church was out winning the world. The Protestant missionary movement didn't really get going until the early 1800s. The primary inspiration for this surge was a book by the great missionary William Carey entitled An Enquiry, in which he proposed the use of means for the conversion of the heathen. His means was the establishment of missionary sodalities. The Baptist Missionary Society was a direct result of Careys concept.
Ralph Winter writes of Careys work: "Organizationally speaking...the vehicle that allowed the Protestant movement to become vital was the structural development of the sodality, which harvested the vital volunteerism latent in Protestantism, and surfaced in new mission agencies of all kinds...Wave after wave of evangelical initiatives transformed the entire map of Christianity...By 1840, the phenomenon of mission sodalities was so prominent in the US that the phrase the Evangelical Empire...was used to refer to it..."
What happened? We went from zero to 100 mph in only 40 years. But, then these highly successful mission sodalities (associations or societies formed for missionary ministry) were brought in under the umbrella of various denominations - and they dried up for a hundred years. It is only in recent years that successful new independent mission associations have reemerged.
What we need are individuals who have a vision of the importance of mission structures to the success of the Church at home. Without this vision there is no blueprint; without a blueprint there is no defined ministry effort. If there is no defined effort, there is no mission and no missionary thrust into our local culture.
This lack of understanding about the role of missionaries also places an unnecessary burden on the local pastor and church. A pastor should not leave his flock while he tries to go out to war. Is it wise for a surgeon to leave the hospital, pick up a rifle and run to the front? Most assuredly not! What we need are both pastors and missionaries in our local communities.
What is needed? For there to be a missionary invasion of secular America there must be the building of strategic missionary base camps. These are places where initiatives are planned, launched and sustained under missionary leadership. To lead a mission you need to love the sheep - but you also need to love wolf hunting and do it often!
Historically, many mission organizations have specialized. The Jesuits are famous for education, while the Cistercians are known for agricultural pursuits. What is needed in our crumbling America is a wide variety of missions to target specific niches in our society. We need local missions to battle locally, just as we need those who battle on foreign soil.
The first century church in Jerusalem bore witness to a wonderful cooperation between Apostles (missionaries) and Elders (pastors). This example provides us with the blueprint for Christian laborers in our cities, states and around the world. There is a place for a symphony of interest between the parochial and the missionary causes that concern us all. It is going to take more than a local church expression of Christianity to mount a redemptive invasion of our darkened secular culture. To carry the light to the various sectors of society that dwell in darkness we need to see the emergence of truly innovative evangelical missionary structures.
The local church must do its part. The Body of Christ walks best on two legs, and works best with two arms and hands.
Today our nation is divided, fragmented and broken. We are divided ethnically, religiously, politically, morally, ethically, by class and income. The Church can not meet the challenges of our fragmented nation with the parochial structure inherited from a prior generation.
To meet and correct this problem we will need the kind of multi-faceted ministry which the Apostle Paul wrote about: "Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are diversities of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all." (I Corinthians 12:4-6 NKJV) These diverse gifts not only edify the Church within, but also launch missions into those fragmented arenas which surround us.
The Church can best prepare to take on this divided world by first developing her diversities of ministries within. Missionary sodalities are increasingly becoming essential organs for the edification and discipleship of the Church and the extension of her influence in the world around her. Sodalities usually form around particular gifts, ministries or activities. The Gideons, for example, are a sodality with a heart for soul winning and a passion for distributing Bibles in schools and hotels.
The multiplication of sodalities within the Christian community today is an indication of maturity and growth. The more local churches graduate their mature members to the service of particular ministries, the quicker will the army of Christian rebuilders and developers grow. The more healthy the sodality, the better they will be able to minister to local churches and spread Christian influence into the surrounding culture.
Creation Worldview Ministries is a missionary sodality in the truest sense of the word. This ministry is a mission with a calling to edify, disciple and evangelize; primarily through the presentation of both the Biblical and scientific truth of Creation Science versus the various theories of evolution. We teach the foundational truths which call everyone to "think Gods thoughts after Him."
CWM has actively sought to influence both the Church and the unbeliever at home and abroad. Our purpose is to be a part of the revitalization of classical Christian intellectual activity for the preservation, promotion and propagation of a Christian Biblical Worldview.
With your continued help we intend to keep on fulfilling our part of the Great Commission!