I previously discussed the importance of missions agencies not attempting to take the role of the local church. But with the growing awareness of church-centered missions, some churches want to throw up their hands and not deal with missions agencies altogether. That’s a bad idea, since missions agencies can be a treasure. However, both agencies and churches must agree upon certain particulars as they seek to work together.
Here are three long-term solutions that need to be in place for agencies and sending churches to partner together.
Is there agreement about genuine partnership between churches and missions agencies?
Partnership requires some work on your part. Don’t subcontract your missionaries; that’s the “bless them and forget them” model. See your role as a partnership with an agency. It’s tempting to bow out of missionary oversight and leave it to the experts. But churches need to keep their finger on the pulse of their missionaries and keep up to date with the missions agency’s aims and strategies.
Don’t subcontract your missionaries.
And if the agency is resistant to a partnership with your church, you have good reason to question if a person from your church should be with that agency.
Is the church in agreement on the missionary methods of the missions agency?
Sometimes, sending churches allows things on the field that they would never allow in their own church. Never give a pass on biblical principles just because it’s in another culture. More than ever, we need biblical culture, not human culture. To establish a church in a place that has no church, we need to double down on biblical principles of church, not relax them. It’s madness to establish “church lite” in areas that have never seen a church.
Most of all, don’t ever defer to a method of missions if it seems unbiblical. It’s easy to be intimidated by an agency’s expertise or the latest missionary trends. But after living in the Middle East for 20 years, I can’t count the sheer number of missionary fads that blew through town. At first, I was enamored, then puzzled, and finally a bit cynical. The best missionary methods are to go, make disciples, teach them everything Jesus taught, build a church on a gospel foundation with biblical principles, and trust that his presence will be with you always (Matthew 28:18–20; 1 Corinthians 3).
Does your church support anyone who feels called to go overseas without paying careful attention to what they will do and how? Or has your church done the hard work of hammering out a mission’s vision that is biblically based? Churches must have a three-way agreement about the work your missionary expects to do, the work the missions agency puts forward, and the mission vision of your church. That means you must ensure your church has a mission’s vision. A good start is to read Andy Johnson’s book Missions.
There are things to learn about missionary methods, but don’t fall into “gnostic thinking” about missions as if it’s secret knowledge only known if experienced. This requires the church to do a bit more work to read and stay up to date and, most of all, to inquire from seasoned, like-minded missionaries on the field about what they think about what’s happening in the mission world. For example, I recently gathered 65+ missionaries to join a missionary congress called The Great Commission Council. We are in the process of producing a manual for churches to understand bedrock biblical common sense principles for missions––look for it to be released next year.
Do the church and the missions agency agree about the basic principles of the church?
Missions agencies can’t bear the weight of instruction for solid ecclesiology. Agencies have developed the technical skills for cross-cultural work, evangelism, and discipleship, but agencies are not the church. Thus, they cannot model the church. Good ecclesiology begins in the sending church. Missionaries sent from your church must have a solid biblical ecclesiology.
Motivation without preparation leads to devastation on the mission field.
It sounds wild when you think about it, but many missionaries leave for the field with a good heart and false ideas about the church. I regularly meet missionaries who call themselves church planters who have never seen a church plant and couldn’t define a church. Motivation without preparation leads to devastation on the mission field.
When certain church principles align with those of missions agencies, churches are ensuring that they maintain authority and are preparing missionaries to share the gospel. As these partnerships are established, missions agencies can implement certain practices to best train and equip missionaries.
This article comes from a congress of missionaries directed by Mack Stiles and will be featured in an expanded form in a forthcoming book on missions published by Crossway. To learn more, read Mack’s article on Who Has Authority Over Missionaries? and What Missions Agencies Should Look for When Partnering with Churches.