Missions Done Well, Missions Done Poorly
June 29, 2016
John’s two-part message (see Video Blogs #32 and #33) is combined in this video post in which he shares six points to illustrate missions done well versus missions done poorly. Missions done poorly is about “us.” The Alliance is committed to doing missions well, which involves incarnational ministry that ensures the local, indigenous church’s sustained ownership and brings lasting fruit.
This Video Blog combines John’s two-part message on missions done well versus missions done poorly.
Missions Done Well, Missions Done Poorly
We can do missions well, or we can do it poorly. Not everything done in the name of Jesus is equally as effective.
We can do missions well, or we can do it not so well. Let’s talk about it.
Missions done poorly, missions done well. I’ll give six specifics; you could add to the list if you wanted.
Number one: Missions done poorly doesn’t understand local context.
With the many refugees that have been spilling out of Syria, there have been many organizations throughout the United States that have wanted to help. And one of those organizations in recent years sent a whole truckload of mattresses. (It’s easier to raise money in the United States for stuff.) People that are of refugee status need stuff, and sleeping on concrete floors, mattresses were a very appropriate thing to send.
However, that missionary organization did not have the cultural awareness, the local context, the language ability, the incarnational experience to really know the needs of the society that they were trying to serve. And so they came in with a truckful of American-purchased mattresses, only to have men and boys rush the truck. Women and children were pushed aside, and later that week those mattresses were for sale down at a local store.
Missions done well, on the other hand, is incarnational: [It] knows the language, knows the culture, knows the people, has genuine relationship, and is shaped by those relationships.
We give out mattresses as well, heaters and food too.
There is a church that The Alliance started decades ago that is receiving Syrian refugees across the border from Syria. GCF-supported teams and CAMA staff have worked together with that local church doing fabulous incarnational ministry to where 4,000 families have now been served through The Alliance in varying meaningful, personal ways: going home to home, tent to tent, apartment to apartment, finding out what the needs are, delivering those goods, developing relationships, doing so in the name of Jesus in a manner that strengthens the local churches, respectful of the immigrants themselves, and distributing the necessary goods.
We can be proud to be part of the team that we are part of. Many times we have been told, “Thank you for sending the kind of people you are sending. They have experience before they come; you give them time to learn our language and culture. They want to get to know us; they want to work with us. It’s not like that with every agency. Please send us more people like that.” Believe me. I’d like to.
Point two: Missions done poorly creates dependence—usually upon the West.
Here is an example. There is a church, I don’t know its name, but I have been told that every year they go into another country to provide vacation Bible school for that national church. No offering is taken; no local leaders are trained; no ownership is developed in that local national church.
Why would they need to develop ownership? Because the outside group is coming every year, at great sacrifice to themselves, raising lots of money, committing themselves to go do this beautiful ministry where they are sweetly showing the love of Jesus. I am not questioning their intent. I am questioning their strategy. This U.S. church is actually creating dependence upon themselves by their lack of incorporating that church into the children’s ministry, training them how to do so in such a way that in a few years they could move on and do it for somebody else, leaving behind a sustainable ministry. That U.S. church needs to shift from doing for to doing with so that they are not creating Western dependence.
Meanwhile, missions done well creates sustaining local ownership and control. I pray that every Alliance leader will clearly understand and value the significance of establishing networks of indigenous churches that are self-supporting, self-governing, self-reproducing, and self-theologizing—that they are understanding the gospel and the Scripture is not just a transplant of Western interpretation. We have a long history of establishing networks of churches that fund themselves, lead themselves, multiply themselves, and educate themselves. This isn’t just good economics; this is good missiology.
Missions done well creates sustaining local ownership. For example: The Alliance Church of Indonesia has the goal of planting 500 new churches among some of the world’s least-reached people. A couple of decades ago, the local Alliance church leaders in Hong Kong kindly said, in so many words, “We are ready to do this on our own; we don’t really need you anymore. Why don’t you reposition your missionaries elsewhere?” Well we did, and The Alliance of Hong Kong is now one of the most significant denominations in the entire region, sending out some 140 missionaries of their own to 10 other nations. The Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, some of us remember it as Zaire, has an entire network of national churches that run clinics, a university, entire school districts entrusted to them by the federal government, 1.5 million Alliance believers—and growing. We wouldn’t, we couldn’t—we shouldn’t—run all that from the U.S.
Missions done poorly creates dependence, instills weakness. Missions done well creates the strength of sustaining local ownership.
Point three: Missions done poorly makes our engagement the goal.
Now, I am warning you. This is a hot one. Because as church leaders, we can easily perceive our role as engaging as many people as possible in missions—that, that being the central goal, because we feel really good when we get lots of people to go on a short-term experience, and we feel badly when we have to cancel that trip for lack of interest. I get it.
Missions engagement is a good thing. Missions won’t happen if no one is engaged. This is one of the great things about being part of The Christian and Missionary Alliance; most of us have churches that have a higher level of engagement than the average evangelical churches around us. Money is only one measurement, but Alliance church members’ giving to missions, although far from what it once was, still leads all evangelical denominations.
But all that being said, missions isn’t about us doing something meaningful—it’s not about you. Leave it to the American church to make missions all about “us.”
The true goal of missions is lasting fruit, souls, disciples, Jesus being loved, worshiped, and obeyed by every tribe, tongue, language, and people—networks of reproducing churches that will become missionary-sending churches. That’s the goal of missions.
So, missions done poorly makes missions about us. Missions done well realizes that it’s about the fruit.
Number four: Missions done poorly has little or no accountability.
A new pastor came to one of our Alliance churches and noticed that they were giving tens of thousands of dollars to an organization he had never heard of. He began asking questions, and he was assured by the owners and church leaders that everything was good—it was a great organization. He kept pressing and said, “Shouldn’t we go see what our money is doing? Shouldn’t we explore some of this for ourselves?”
After a number of years of prodding he was finally allowed, with a few other church leaders, to go do a little accountability check to see where all these monies were going. When they got there, they were saddened and stunned to see that this ministry wasn’t a ministry at all. The stories that the leader was telling were actually true, but they weren’t his stories. There was nothing that that mission was actually accomplishing, other than recycling other ministries’ stories but raising a whole lot of money on the basis of it. Now, obviously, that’s an extreme.
I was recently in a very restrictive country, meeting with a national church leader who told me a similar story from the opposite end, telling it from the recipient end. He had gone to another country and had, unannounced, walked into a mission’s office and saw his country on their publication list, on their walls, in their promotion, and they were raising money based on ministry that they were doing in his country. And he walked out of that building and wept, because, while they were true stories, that mission, in whose building he had just visited, wasn’t doing any of those ministries. There wasn’t an ounce of bitterness as he told me the story; he was just truly saddened that here was an organization that didn’t have the credibility to actually report accurately. And as he told me the story, he commended The Alliance as one of his few trusted partners.
Missions done well, on the other hand, has a solid system of accountability, including financial and missions strategy.
Workers from other organizations have expressed their gratitude to The Alliance when we have come to the area where they are attempting to work with unreached people. They found access into this limited access country, but once they got there, ministry was far more complicated than they had expected. They had limited support from their home office and hadn’t discovered a solid strategy to reach people.
Upon our arrival and establishing our work, they have come to us and said, “Can we join your work? We have been looking for something meaningful to do.” And often we are able to utilize some of these other godly people from around the world, who are looking for a way to express their missions heart.
See, every five years The Alliance has a strategic review for every field or team that we are a part of. Senior leadership, national leaders, and outside voices come together to conduct a careful review of our work. And, as a result, some of our teams have been closed, or restarted, or major changes have been made to what we are doing.
I am not claiming that every work we have is humming along at maximum efficiency. Is your church? But I am claiming that our International Ministries’ leadership team is serious and intentional about solid strategy and accountability. Financially, we meet the highest standards. Accountability is taken seriously by Alliance leadership.
Point five: Missions done poorly doesn’t establish a network of reproducing local churches.
Scattered acts of kindness are good. God uses them. But how much better when combined with long-term impact that is created by a network of local churches?
As you remember, the collapse of the Soviet Union created an opportunity for our missionaries to enter Russia. The Alliance was quick to respond. We weren’t alone. By 1995, I am told there were over 900 evangelical organizations with offices and/or ministries just in Moscow alone.
Tens of thousands of Christians from the West came. Hundreds of millions of dollars were raised. Missiology suggests that it was the greatest missionary blitzkrieg ever! Pretty exciting.
Scores of campaigns with film showings and literature distribution took place. Thousands came to faith, maybe more. Historic.
However, by the year 2000, more than 800 of those 900 organizations were no longer active in Russia. They left behind some literature and movies and believers—all good. But if we don’t leave behind the sustainable church, we have not completed the missionary task. Missions done well establishes networks of reproducing local churches.
You see, meanwhile in Russia our Alliance team was learning the language, incarnationally entering the culture, building relationships, and discovering ways to build the church through Russian leadership, insisting that every church plant have a Russian leader. The Alliance wove its way into the fabric of the rebirth of the Russian church, and by 2002, 15 new churches had opened.
Hundreds of leaders eventually graduated from the Bible college we helped to established. More than 50 key leaders completed masters’ degrees through a program under the umbrella of Alliance Theological Seminary—ATS. Today, these key leaders are known throughout Russia as some of the most innovative and impactful church planters. Church planting continues today, largely in the hands of young Russian church planters being led by those whom The Alliance invested in through the decades.
This kind of story is being replayed in other nations. I am pleased to remind us that the investment we made in decades passed, through the Great Commission Fund, has reaped some awesome dividends.
The Christian and Missionary Alliance has now multiplied itself 55 times over—if you think in terms of peers that we have in other nations. Just like we have a U.S. Alliance, there are now 55 other national churches that are part of the Alliance World Fellowship. Five are larger than the U.S. Alliance. More than 20 are now mission-sending churches.
Did you hear that? Twenty of our national churches around the Alliance World Fellowship are now sending missionaries themselves—investment well made, mission strategy well implemented.
Number six: Finally, missions done poorly is unsustainable.
Not understanding the local context, creating Western dependence, thinking it’s all about us, having little accountability, and not establishing a network of reproducing churches—missions done poorly simply isn’t sustainable.
God will use a short burst of enthusiasm for some global cause that many Christians view as missions, but when the missionary leaves, will the fragrance of Jesus remain in that location?
With the political upheaval of our world, we can’t assume we will get to work in a place for the next 100 years. We have to leave something behind that’s lasting, and you and I teamed with The Christian and Missionary Alliance are in the sustainability business, because we plant churches—networks of reproducing churches that survived war in Vietnam, genocide in Congo, revolution in China, the Sandinistas of Colombia, Ebola in Guinea, civil wars in Côte d’Ivoire and in Syria. Yes, we have 18 sister churches still faithfully proclaiming Jesus in Syria; pray for them.
Talk about a return on investment.
Missions done well is sustainable. Here is a beautiful thing. You don’t need to go searching for some other organization to do missions well: You can make a difference in the world right here with the family you are already a part of.
We are the Church—a church-based, church-backed missions’ effort. And you can contribute to all of what I have talked about through the Great Commission and CAMA Advanced funds. You see, in The Alliance we are better together. We need each other.
Thank you for being part of a team that’s establishing the Church among some of the world’s least-reached people. Your prayers, encouragement, the next wave of workers that you are raising up, the giving to the Great Commission Fund and CAMA Advanced Fund are affording the gospel.
I am honored to be on the team with you! God bless.