Eddie and Sue Arthur

Books I Have Read: The Church on Mission

Whether you are a church planter, a cross-cultural missionary or a seminary student, if you are interested in studying and understanding mission then Church on Mission by Craig Ott should be on your reading list. Subtitled A Biblical Cision for Transformation among All People, this book gives a short, sharp biblical overview of what mission is all about and is well worth a careful read.

The book is a small format paperback of 131 pages. Each of the six chapters has two or three pages of notes and references, and there is an index and a list of biblical passages cited at the end. The book originated as a series of lectures and (as is often the case) the transfer to written format isn’t always smooth and the book can be quite hard work at times. This is an excellent book, but it isn’t a page-turner.

The book consists of six chapters which started life as lectures to the staff of an American denominational mission agency in Europe. The lectures unpack the denomination’s mission statement which is

… to glorify God by multiplying transformational churches among all peoples.

Which isn’t a bad mission statement in my view.

Chapter 1: Transformation to God’s Glory

This chapter points out that “the church is not at liberty to define its mission for itself”. Mission statements can be developed in different ways, but ultimately, the church’s mission is defined by Scripture. To this end, Ott unpacks biblical teaching on “transformation” and then helpfully shows that God’s glory is both the source and the endpoint of the church’s transformation.

Chapter 2: Transformational Communities

The opening few sentences of this chapter describe where it goes: ” If transformation is the dynamic of our mission, and God’s glory is both the source and goal of our mission, then the church in the power of the Spirit is God’s primary instrument of mission in this age. The church is the only institution on earth entrusted with the message of transformation – the gospel – and the only community that is a living demonstration of that transformation.”

Chapter Three: Transformation and the Word of God

This chapter sets out the centrality of careful, contextual and theological reading and teaching of Scripture to the work of mission.

Chapter Four: Transformational Influence

Focussing particularly on Jesus’ teaching, this chapter unpacks the role of the church as salt and light in the wider world. While never losing sight of the importance of pointing people to Christ, this chapter is a helpful corrective to those who see mission as nothing more than preaching or evangelism. It’s worth the price of the book on its own.

Chapter Five: Transformation for All People

This is the bit that touches on my interests and I’ll put a few quotes from this chapter at the end of this short review. Ott, very helpfully, points out that the church is to reach out to all nations, but must also be a place where all nations are welcome. Our outward thrust in mission and evangelism must be matched by a welcome for believers from all languages and nations.

Chapter Six: Transformation Through Multiplication

The final chapter looks at the issue of multiplication and tackles the thorny question of numerical versus spiritual growth.

This is just a brief outline of a very good book. Who should read it? Well, in a sense, I’d say that any church leader or missionary should read it, but being realistic, I’d say that anyone who is actively involved in Church planting or supporting a church plant, must read it. It could be that they have thought through all of the issues in this book (though, I doubt it), but there are very few places where you will find this depth of biblical teaching on the subject all in one place.

As promised, a few quotes from chapter 5:

First, we are to reach all people with the gospel. Every person on planet Earth should have the opportunity to become a follower of Christ and a member of a local community of believers. This will mean sending gospel messengers to people everywhere, crossing cultural, religious, linguistic and geographic boundaries, evangelizing, baptizing, discipling and planting transformational churches among them.

Second, every local church should welcome and embrace all people. Just as God’s grace is equally extended to all people regardless of race, ethnicity, economic status, educational level, or social standing, so each local expression of the body should reflect something of that diversity.

It is one thing to believe that all people should be reached with the gospel. It is quite another thing to truly embrace a diversity in one’s own local church.

Disunity undermines the credibility of the church and discredits our witness. If we are concerned about evangelism, we must be concerned about unity. Unity in the body of Christ is not a nicety or a bonus for otherwise contentious people; it is of crucial importance. Neither is it a gloss over deep-seated animosities or tensions. Rather, the unity in view is nothing less than the unity of Jesus and his Heavenly Father, the unity of the Godhead. This unity goes beyond the mere absence of conflict; it entails acceptance, openness, and embrace.

It is one thing to believe that all people should be reached with the gospel. It is quite another thing to truly embrace a diversity in one's own local church. Click To Tweet

Questions 6: What On Earth Is A Missionary?

At first glance, this might seem like a silly question, with an obvious answer; a missionary is someone who travels to a new country or culture to share the gospel. Well, that definition is ok as far as it goes, but what about medical missionaries, or people who go to far flung places to provide logistic and administrative support for church planters – are they missionaries? Or consider those who work with unreached people groups in their home town: are they missionaries? Are the home staff of mission agencies missionaries?

The thing is that mission is a complex business there are lots of people doing all sorts of different things all round the world and all sorts of different ways in which they receive their funding. It is far from simple to come up with a one line definition of what a missionary is. Nor, in this case, is the Bible much help. Though I would argue that mission is a biblical concept, the specific terms mission and missionary are never actually used in their modern sense. It would be nice if you could look up “missionary” in a concordance and turn up six verses which describe what one looks like, but you can’t.

In the end, I would argue that missionary is actually a fuzzy concept which can’t be given a hard and fast definition. There are no strict dividing lines which say that one Christian worker is a missionary and another isn’t. However, I would argue that there are four qualities that need to be present in one way or another for someone to be called a missionary. I realise that there won’t be universal agreement on this, but, that is the nature of the beast.

Missionaries are sent out by churches: In order for someone to be regarded as a missionary, they need to have been comissioned into ministry by a church fellowship. This may be a very simple process, but it is an important one. People are not missionaries on the basis of an individual, personal decision, but on the grounds of their gifts and calling being recognised by their church. Even when there is a mission agency involved in the process, the mutual responsibility between missionary and sending fellowship is the key relationship.

Missionaries are involved in disciple-making and witnessing to Jesus: any mission work must overtly point people to Jesus and deliberately seek to make disciples (see this post). There are lots of good stuff that people can do, which is well worthwhile; relief of poverty, education and so on, but if there is no active and deliberate witness to Jesus, it isn’t mission. This doesn’t mean that every missionary needs to be involved full time in disciple making or church planting. The administrator who keeps things ticking over so that the church planters can do their stuff is as much a missionary as those who are preaching and teaching. Missionaries work in teams and the team members have different roles – but the job of the team is to point people to Jesus.

Missionaries have a vocation and a long-term commitment: I am somewhat allergic to much of the talk about a missionary call, but some sense of vocation is essential for someone to be called a missionary. How  this sense of vocation is experienced is less of an issue, there is no recipe. Mission work involves a long-term commitment to a ministry – often in the face of danger, disease or home-sickness. Being a missionary is not like another job and it is not a step on a career ladder in the Christian industrial-ministry machine. It is about devoting your life to making Jesus known.

Being a missionary is not like another job and it is not a step on a career ladder in the Christian industrial-ministry machine. It is about devoting your life to making Jesus known. Click To Tweet

Missionaries don’t always receive a salary: this is a complex one. Some people who would count as missionaries do receive a regular stipend or salary, but many don’t. “Living by faith” (as the jargon has it) is not a sign of sanctification or a special relationship with God. However, if someone is willing to travel off around the world (or even stay at home) without the promise of a regular salary, I believe that it is more likely that they fulfil the other criteria that I’ve laid out.

These four points are indications; they are not hard and fast guidelines or a checklist that sets out to define who and what a missionary is. There are people who would not fit into one or more of these descriptions, but who are most definitely missionaries. This is especially true of people from the growing majority world church who have not inherited all of the structures and baggage that goes along with mission from the West. However, I also think that my list does (intentionally?) exclude many people in the West who move from job to job in Christian organisations, using their skills for good, but without a long-term commitment to anything in particular. The Christian job market is a very safe and comfortable place for some people, but being employed by a mission agency doesn’t make you a missionary.

Does this matter? Yes, I think it does, for two reasons. Firstly, if we throw the term missionary around too liberally, we end up losing the focus on making disciples and planting churches. Secondly, churches need to think through how they will support world mission and a consideration of what they consider a missionary to be is an important part of this process.

Oh, one last thing – I never mentioned geography in my list.

Other Posts in This Series:

  1. What Is Mission?
  2. Why Bother With World Mission When the Needs in the UK are So Great?
  3. So You Want To Be A Missionary?
  4. What About Short Term Mission Trips?
  5. Mission Strategy

Throwback: Why I’m Allergic to Devotionals

This post is three years old and still true!

In my world, business meetings tend to follow a similar pattern; the very first item on the agenda is the devotional. There will be a Bible study and a time of prayer and if time allows (and the group is big enough) there may even be a bit of singing. Once the devotional is out of the way, the day’s business proper begins.

Please don’t misunderstand me; I’ve nothing against Bible studies or prayer and despite having a voice like a frog with a sore throat, I think that singing is a good thing, too. However, the concept of the devotional at the start of the meeting does bother me.

Let me explain.

The problem is not what we do during the devotional time, it is that we end up drawing an artificial distinction between the spiritual aspect of our work and the everyday business that we have to deal with. All too often, once the devotional is out of the way, the meeting makes no reference to the things that were raised during the time of prayer and meditation. I recall one meeting where we started with an excellent devotional talk on the subject of listening to God; at no point in the ensuing meeting did we actually consider what listening to God might mean for the business of the day.

At the risk of overstating the case; it sometimes feels as though we get the Christian content out of the way and then our meetings default to an essentially secular way of functioning.

Yesterday, I highlighted the way in which Tim Chester looked at a common problem in contemporary mission work through the lens of Scripture, rather than through management theory or strategic planning. I believe that one of the reasons that we find it difficult to follow Tim’s example is that our management and business meetings tend to have the devotional-business divide. We’ve not learned how to meditate on Scripture as part of our approach to work problems.

I’m not exactly sure how we change things, but I would love to see business meetings that had a much more integrated approach to spiritual life and business life.

Putting Things in Perspective

After yesterday’s post about charity law, I thought it would be worth posting this little thread that turned up on my Twitter feed this morning. Steve Schirmer is president of a US agency which works in Asia.

Being a Charity Case

Yesterday, Stephen Kneale posted an excellent reflection entitled: What if we lost our charitable status? In it, he considers the implications for churches if the government were to withdraw their right to exist as charities; I’d strongly encourage you to go away and read the original before coming back here.

However, knowing that many of you won’t read the original, here are Stephen’s main points:

  • First, let’s recognise that charitable status is a privilege, not a right.
  • Second, let’s be clear that having such status removed does not amount to persecution.
  • Third, let’s recognise that the mission of the church does not revolve around charitable status.
  • Fourth, it bears saying that if your church model does depend (and I use that word advisedly) on charitable status, I’m going to suggest your church model is probably flawed.
  • Whilst charitable status is certainly helpful and beneficial, it is not the principle means of supporting the ministry (and, for the record, nor should it be!)
  • Sixth, and here is the main point, where do we think our help actually comes from? Do we look to the Lord in these things or are we looking to the world?

What I’d like to do is to take this reflection on a bit further and to look at some of the implications of charitable status for mission agencies. However, before I do that, there are a couple of general observations that need to be made.

Firstly, charitable status works differently in the UK and the US. In the UK, when someone gives money to a charity, the organisation can claim back the income tax that the donor paid on that gift. This means that donations given by income tax payers are worth 25% more to the charity than the actual amount donated. As I understand the situation in the US, it is the individual that gets tax relief on donations (the same is true of higher rate taxpayers in the UK).

Secondly, I think that it is very unlikely that the government will withdraw charitable status from churches and other religious bodies as such. However, charitable status depends on an organisation being willing and able to demonstrate that they fulfil one or more of a list of “charitable purposes“. One of these purposes is “the advancement of religion”. In the current climate in the UK, I would not be surprised if this charitable purpose were to be removed or so modified as to make it useless. If this were the case, then churches and Christian charities would need to demonstrate that they fulfilled some other charitable purpose, such as the relief of poverty or the advancement of religion if they were to retain their status as charities. Whether some churches or charities would want to do this or be able to do this is an open question.

In my research, I came across an issue which Stephen’s post did not touch on; the burden imposed upon mission agencies by maintaining charitable status. This is a longish partial quote from my thesis:

“In practice, the duties of charity trustees involve a significant amount of monitoring and reporting on activities. The trustees need to be aware of what the charity is doing and have to ensure that it is complying with relevant laws. They must submit a comprehensive, annual report on their activities and finances and keep track of any risks that the charity faces and ensure that appropriate mitigation strategies are in place. This monitoring and reporting become more complex when the charity is involved in work overseas, potentially in hazardous situations.

The complexity of the legal and financial issues that trustees must deal with and the priority that they must give to this work mean that they will very often pay special attention to recruiting board members from a legal, financial or business background.

In the experience of the author, both as the CEO of a mission agency and as someone who has advised a number of agency boards these two factors — the responsibilities of the trustees and the composition of trustee boards —have an impact on the way in which agencies approach theological issues.

Firstly, the time required to address the requirements of governance and compliance issues means that trustee boards, who generally do not meet frequently, do not have adequate opportunity to engage in missiological or theological reflection.

The second trend is that boards often lack the experience, expertise or desire to interact with material such as the Lausanne documents.

The third trend is a combination of the other two; the limited time available and the pressing need to address regulatory issues combined with the interests and skills of board create a culture in which the compliance and business issues are given ever greater prominence because this is the ground where the board is most comfortable.

Martin Lee, the former director of Global Connections highlighted the problem that current patterns of charity governance pose for agencies in a 2016 blog post.

‘The Charity Commission seems to be putting increasing burdens on trustees in the areas of compliance, financial accounting, risk assessment, policies of an ever-expanding nature – and I could go on. Sadly, it means that this can often dominate meetings and take up disproportionate amounts of time.

… However perhaps the most important role, often neglected, is thinking about the future. When was the last time your Board set aside substantive time to think about questions such as the changing external environment, what the future might bring, whether to merge or close, or just getting fresh perspectives? Too often an organisation just uses internal sources of information and focuses its discussions on the current or planned activities. Regularly asking people from outside to talk about trends and their experiences, even if they are competitors, is vital if a Board is really doing its job well.'”

If British mission agencies are to remain relevant in the future, they will need to take their place within a growing multi-national mission movement which looks very different to the situation in which they were founded and developed. This will involve some serious theological and missiological reflection with wide-ranging input. However, the pressures placed on them mean that mission agency boards often do not have the time and, perhaps, the skills needed to engage with the complex issues which they will need to deal with in the future. I don’t think we are necessarily at that point yet, but I do think that British mission agencies will need to consider whether a registered charity is the best organisational vehicle for them to carry out their calling.

To put things in some worldwide perspective, when I mentioned on Twitter that I would be looking at this topic today, my friend Timothy responded:

If you are interested, I explore more on the theme of Christian charities here.

Books I Have Read: Mission Shaped Church…

There are lots of books about mission and church that I would like to read, but some of the more academic offerings have eyewatering price tags and are simply out of my reach. However, Mission-shaped Church in a Multicultural World by Harvey C Kwiyani will set you back less than two pounds and is full of all sorts of goodness. Go and buy it now.

The book – actually, it’s a booklet – forms part of the excellent Grove Books series and consists of a mere 28 pages. The writing is clear and accessible, pitched at a general audience. There are no footnotes or illustrations, but the page is broken up with highlighted quotations.

In my experience, Grove Books serve two purposes. They provide an excellent introduction to a subject that is new to the reader. Equally, for the reader who is familiar with the subject matter, they package half-forgotten and well known material in a convenient manner which makes it easy to find what you are looking for. Certainly, this book will be of help to those who have never though about mission in the multicultural UK as well as to those who are familiar with the author’s Sent Forth: African Missionary Work in the West and other works on the same theme.

The book consists of six chapters, the longest of which is five pages long. This is a booklet that could conveniently be read in a week of coffee breaks.

Chapter 1: The Future of the Nations considers the basic multi-national, multi-lingual nature of Christianity. A theme that will be familiar to Kouyanet readers.

Chapter 2: Migration and Cultural Diversity does what it says on the tin. In particular it covers three possible responses to migration and cultural diversity; assimilation, cultural pluralism and muticulturalism. The chapter favours multiculturalism, but demonstrates that it takes determined effort to make it work.

Chapter 3: Blessed Reflex considers the flow of missionaries into the UK from countries which once received missionaries.

Chapter 4: Exploring and Releasing the Gifts of Foreign Christians in Britain is the longest chapter and highlights the fact that the global church is meant to be an interdependant body. We Christians in the UK need to receive input from others – but we aren’t very good at receiving it.

Chapter 5: Intercultural Mutuality takes the theme of the previous chapter and develops it further. It also challenges the idea that homogeneity is neccesary for success in mission and church planting.

Chapter 6: Multicultural Christianity and Mission in a Multicultural Word is best summed up by this quote from page 25.

… the best way to engage a multicultural context effectively in mission is through a multicultural missionary community. Otherwise Christianity becomes a dividing force that socializes people into segregated congregations when they live multiculturally at work, at school, and practically everywhere else.

Who should read this booklet? You should! Frankly, I cannot imagine why anyone, especially those involved in church leadership and church plants, would not read this. It is cheap and it is an easy read, but it introduces a lot of important concepts. I know that some of the books that I reccomend are too long, too expensive and take too long to read for anyone but the specialist. The same cannot be said about this excellent little book. Now, click on the link and buy it!

 

Throwback Thursday: Close the Door

I thought it would be good to step back from the broader questions about mission and mission support and to focus back on Bible translation. This post by Sue is from 2015.

What could be simpler than asking someone to close the door you might think? But whenever you try and translate something from one language to another you come across the phenomenon of language and culture being so closely bound together that they are almost impossible to separate. Let me give you an example. Here in Madagascar, someone from one area simply asked a colleague from another area to close the door; a reasonable request, since it was early evening and the mosquitoes were coming inside! However, the request didn’t produce the desired result.

What was happening? The first man had made the request according to his language and culture which was, literally: ‘Please wall the road!’ The second, however, hadn’t reacted because in his own culture and language the way to make that request is to say: ‘Please make-closed the door’ and hadn’t associated the talk of ‘blocking the road’, as he had understood it, with the idea of closing the door! But for the first man, this is just the normal expression used in his language for closing the door: you ‘wall-up the entrance/path’ or as we might say in Yorkshire: ‘Put wood in t’hole!’

What has this got to do with Bible Translation you might ask? Well, if a simple request to close the door was met with such confusion here, among related languages in the same country, imagine how the scope for misunderstanding is magnified when we come to translate ideas written down a couple of thousand years ago in the Middle East into a language with a very different culture and context in the 21st century! Whenever we communicate, the words we use embody the culture of that language – whether we are talking about doors, cricket, Pancake Tuesday or olive branches or in the Biblical context: vineyards, priests or Samaritans – because they are part of the culture and always have the connotations of that particular culture. Therefore when we translate ideas like these from one language to another, we have to find a way of communicating them accurately and clearly in the translated text, whilst avoiding undesirable connotations in that culture.

Following our discussions about cultural differences in closing doors in different Malagasy languages here at our translation workshop in Antananarivo, we then asked the translation teams to look at how they might go about translating Revelation Chapter 3 verse 20 in which Jesus says: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” What if there is no word for door? And do people knock or do they call out to those in the house when they want to enter? Is Jesus a stranger that he needs to knock? Or in some contexts would Jesus knocking at the door make him a thief, since the custom is for everyone to call out – only a thief would knock to check that the house is empty! There are no easy answers because words cannot help but bring their culture with them! What’s more there are also theological implications from many of these questions which influence the way we translate, but I’ll leave those discussions for another day……

Questions 5: Church Mission Strategy

What should a church world mission strategy look like?

Of course, this begs the question as to why a church should have a mission strategy in the first place, so let me deal with that before I get to the main question.

The world is big; really big and there are lots of different things happening. It is impossible for even the largest congregation to be involved in everything, so churches have to choose what sort of ministries they will support. It is better to make this choice in a prayerful considered manner rather than on a whim or in response to a random visiting missionary. My own observations (call me cynical, if you like) is that many churches make their mission decisions on the basis of which mission agencies have the biggest advertising budget and I’m far from convinced that this is a good thing for anyone (including for the mission agencies). The bottom line is that all churches will have some way of determining how they support (or not) world mission, but it’s better that this is done in a thought-through way, rather than by default.

A mission strategy also allows church members to learn and get involved in supporting work in one place, rather than being faced with a constant churn of information that they can never get a hold of.

A church mission strategy should shape the following:

  • Who or what should be the focus of the Church’s missionary prayer slots. For many smaller congregations, this might be all that they can reasonably do, but having a focussed prayer time for mission can help to create engagement and enthusiasm.
  • Which visiting speakers are invited to the church. Missionaries and agencies are forever looking for opportunities to visit churches and to build there support bases. The sheer volume of requests can put pressure on church leaders who feel that they should allow someone to come and speak. It is also true that it is useful to invite a missionary speaker to come when the pastor is on holiday – someone needs to do the preaching. Having a mission support strategy means that the church is in a place to actually invite people to come and address the issues that the congregation is involved in supporting and random requests for speaking slots can be legitimately refused.
  • The Church’s policy for supporting short-term mission trips. They should, in some way, fit the church’s broader strategy.
  • The Church’s policy for supporting long-term missionaries. Again, this should fit in with the broader strategy of work that the church supports.

Or to put it another way, don’t do stuff which isn’t in your strategy (but leave a little wiggle room for special cases).

The strategy itself should be relatively brief and easily grasped by the whole congregation, It doesn’t need to go into details of how missionary candidates will be selected and levels of financial support. There may be a need for supporting documents to cover this, but keep your main strategy simple. Basically, it should cover no more than two things; geography and ministry types (and you may want to forget geography).

Geography

Some churches like to focus their efforts on a particular country or part of the world. My only caveat would be that this often means that people focus on places that they know, rather than on lesser known places of equal or greater need. For instance, many British churches take a deep interest in East Africa, but very few ever consider the Central African Republic.

Ministry Type

I would suggest that this, rather than geography, should be the driving force behind the church’s strategy.

  • The Unreached: all churches which call themselves evangelical should have some sort of focus (regular prayer, supporting mission partners, …) on those parts of the world where there are no Christians and only limited gospel witness. We can and should, support other sorts of work, but we cannot ignore this one.
All churches which call themselves evangelical should have some sort of focus on those parts of the world where there are no Christians and only limited gospel witness. Click To Tweet
  • Bible Ministry: this should also be a priority, whether it is supporting Bible translation and distribution (which I would strongly encourage) or training Christians around the world to handle and teach the Bible so that they can reach out to others.
  • Social Action: It is right and proper that Christians should support social action – relief of poverty, medical work, advocacy etc… – but ideally, this should take place within a holistic framework which includes evangelism, Bible ministry and so on. I believe that churches need to think long and hard before supporting social action which is disconnected from a holistic approach to mission.

There are lots of other types of ministry that a church might want to get involved in such as support for persecuted Christians, student ministry worldwide and so on. However, I would suggest that it is wise not to spread yourself too thinly. Two or three areas of focus are probably enough for most congregations and the unreached should always be in there. Of course, it is possible to combine some areas; Bible translation and the unreached are an obvious one, or student ministry and Bible ministry go well together.

Developing a Strategy

If one of the aims is to involve and enthuse the congregation, then they should be involved in helping to develop the strategy. Build on existing commitments and enthusiasms, seeing how they overlap and eventually focus on a limited number of ministries and perhaps a limited number of regions. Developing a mission strategy is not simply a management task, you need to build in times for prayer and listening to what the Spirit is saying to you. By all means use a flipchart and the tools for strategy development that you find in business, but don’t be limited by them. Depending on the size of the church, it may be necessary to delegate the development and implementation of the strategy to a small group – but the minister should always take a public lead in supporting the mission.

There is a lot more that could and should be said, but I want to keep this post to a manageable length. In closing, if any church would like help to develop a mission strategy, or would like someone to review and comment on their current documentation regarding mission support, I would be more than happy to chat to them. I promise not to push any particular mission agency (not even my own) or initiative.

Other Posts in This Series:

  1. What Is Mission?
  2. Why Bother With World Mission When the Needs in the UK are So Great?
  3. So You Want To Be A Missionary?
  4. What About Short Term Mission Trips?

Questions 4: Short-Term Mission

What should a church leader do when a member of their congregation says that they want to go on a short term mission trip?

I had been planning to address this question later on in this series, but a comment on yesterday’s post pushed it up the agenda.

Short-term mission trips are something of a rite of passage for many Christian young people, today. They form an alternative to a gap-year of backpacking through Asia for evangelicals. Over the years, I’ve written a lot about short-term mission and if you want to dig through the archives, you can find them here (oh, and I give my definition of short-term mission here).

Getting practical, what should a church leader do if they are approached by someone who wants to go on a short-term trip and is looking to the church for support? I think there are three areas that need to be looked at.

The Person

Church leaders know more about this than I do. Would you genuinely recommend that this person gets involved in some sort of Christian work? Do they have something to contribute? Do they have the maturity needed? Are they committed to church? etc. etc…

If you aren’t very positive about the person, then don’t support them in going on the trip. However, you should explain to them why you aren’t supporting them and you should give them advice on how they can grow and develop.

The Trip

Is the organisation running the trip signed up to the Global Connections code of conduct for short-term mission? If not, then suggest that the person find something that is.

Putting it bluntly, is the trip more of a sanctified holiday than actual involvement in mission work? Any visit to an exotic location will have some element of adventure and sight-seeing, but if that appears to be the primary purpose, then I’d suggest that you don’t support the person. If they want to go on holiday to Thailand (and who wouldn’t?), they should pay for it themselves. Sorry if that sounds uncharitable, but most churches don’t have a lot of money spare and what there is needs to be used wisely.

Is it a mission trip or a holiday? If they want to go on holiday to Thailand (and who wouldn't?), they should pay for it themselves. Click To Tweet

Is the trip doing something harmful? The idea of sending a group of young people to build a classroom in Africa might sound fantastic, but why would you spend thousands of pounds to send a bunch of unqualified kids out to do a job when there are local craftsmen finding it hard to make a living? Exporting unemployment to underdeveloped countries is not a good idea. Similarly, avoid anything that smacks of orphanage tourism like the plague.

Is it really a mission trip? The thing is, there is no such thing as short-term mission. Mission, by definition, involves a long-term engagement. There is however, a place for short-term teams or individuals getting involved in long-term projects, as I wrote three years ago:

However, just because mission itself is long term, this doesn’t mean that there is no place for short term mission workers. What it does mean is that short-term mission work must take place within a long-term framework. Short-term missionaries can bring valuable skills and manpower to bear at critical points in a long project. The key is designing short-term mission projects that support ongoing mission work.

Make sure that if you are sending people on a short-term mission trip that it integrates into a long term strategy.

Your Church?

What is your church’s strategy and involvement in world mission? (If you’ve not thought that through, watch this space.) I would argue that any support for short-term mission work should align with what the church is already involved in. Unless you are looking to expand your concern into new regions, you should only support short-term workers who are going to be involved in a country, or a type of work that you are already supporting.

Are you being proactive? Rather than waiting for people to put themselves forward for short-term mission trips, why not identify people that you think could make a real contribution and learn a lot from visiting a mission partner, or supporting some work and actively send them out?

You might think that my approach here has been negative and you would be right. I think that short-term mission trips have the capacity to do enormous good. We really profited from the support of a couple of short-termer when we lived out in the African bush. I also believe that people can learn a huge amount from an involvement in mission work and that supporting short-termers can be a real blessing to a church. However, for short-term mission work to be a success it needs to be carefully thought through and implemented. It isn’t a rite of passage or something that every Christian young person should do once in their life and the evidence that it helps develop a life-long interest in mission (as is often argued) is tenuous at best. Good short-term mission is a fantastic blessing for the individual and the church, but that means we need to ensure that the trips are good.

Questions 3: So You Want To Be A Missionary?

So you want to be a missionary; what should you do?

This question has one easy answer; talk to your church leaders and tell them about it.

There are two basic reasons for this, the first is theological and the second is practical.

Theologically, it is churches who send out missionaries, not mission agencies. The agencies exist to help churches with the technicalities of the sending, but the church’s role is primary. So talk to your pastor/vicar/elder before you talk to an agency rep.

Practically, if you do become a missionary, you will be looking to your church to pray for you and provide a slice of your funding for years to come (our home church has been supporting us financially for over thirty years). If you are going to expect your church to get behind you like this, it would be wise to talk to them before you make any decisions.

The thing is, church leaders love to hear about people who feel called to serve the Lord, but they feel less positive about people who have decided to go off to somewhere exotic and, without warning, expect the church to stump up a share of the costs.

As well as talking to your church leader, you should get stuck into the life of the church, serving in some way. This gives good experience in Christian service which is a useful discipline but also builds up contacts and friendships which can serve as a support structure if you do end up going abroad. Again, being practical, why would a church leader agree to support you to do Christian work thousands of miles away, if you never did anything in your local congregation?

A word about mission agencies; social media is full of adverts for agencies who want you to talk to them about your future and at every Christian conference, there are stalls with ernest reps trying to entice you in to talk to them. If you haven’t talked to your church leader, ignore the siren calls of the agencies. If you don’t want to take my advice, talk to lots of agencies and learn lots of things, but don’t focus till you know your church is supporting you. Also, if any agency talks to you about serving with them (short, or long-term) and doesn’t mention talking to your pastor, run a mile.

If your pastor agrees that you are called to mission work, the complicated bit of working out where, how and when starts. I may look at this in a later question. However, if they don’t agree, then things are even more complicated, but the next steps are always the same.

It could be that your church leadership feel that you don’t have the gifts or temperament required for mission work. As someone who has led a mission’s field operation in two countries, I wish more people had been told this. One of the biggest hardships in mission leadership is dealing with people who should not have been there in the first place. I realise it can be hard to accept this sort of verdict, but the answer is to get stuck into the life of the church, to be discipled and to serve. That’s the primary calling we all have – and who knows, as you get stuck in and start to grow, your minister may change their assessment of you.

It could also be that the church leadership agree that you might have a call, but don’t think you are quite ready for mission work. So, get stuck into the life of the church to be discipled and serve…

Another possibility is that the church feels it is right for you to serve as a missionary, but they don’t have the wherewithal to support you. This one is complex, but can the church help you to make contacts elsewhere who can help with finance? Meanwhile, get stuck into the life…

It is possible, but unlikely, that your church leadership simply have no vision for world mission and refuse to countenance the idea of sending you as a missionary. In this case you have two options, the first is to switch churches, but I find the whole idea of going to a church so that it can serve you rather odd, secondly you can get stuck into the church and serve others to such an extent that the church simply can’t ignore you call to mission.

One last thought; it can be good to get together with a small group to pray about your sense of call to mission. A group that you can be open with about your hopes and frustrations. It is even better if others in the group have big questions about their futures, too. An hour’s prayerful sharing over a coffee every week or ten days can help to sharpen your thoughts and, if your friends are honest with you, to show you the strengths and weaknesses that you have.

Other Posts in This Series:

  1. What Is Mission?
  2. Why Bother With World Mission When the Needs in the UK are So Great?
  3. So You Want To Be A Missionary?
  4. What About Short Term Mission Trips?
  5. What About Church Mission Strategy?
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