Questions About Missions
Many congregations annually designate one Sunday as “Missions Sunday.” We have been doing so where I labor for a number of years. This is one expedient way to draw attention to those works outside the local congregation — prayerfully those works that are out-of-sight, but not out-of-mind.
It is true, however, that every Sunday is “Missions Sunday” for the people of God. Unfaltering concern about the universal Great Commission must characterize the churches of Christ. Actually, with God there can be no home or foreign missions. Such terminology only accommodates our limited perspective.
Congregations are tasked with the responsibility of active participation with many mission works. In view of these obligations and opportunities, we will contemplate some things with respect to the evaluation process of evangelistic works of the church.
What do we mean by “missions”?
The word “mission” comes from a Latin word that means “the act of sending.” A “mission work” is a work that can be done by sending someone to accomplish the task.
Who is a missionary?
In one sense, all Christians are missionaries. All children of God are “sent” by Christ into the world with a mission to seek and to save the lost. In a special sense, a missionary is a person sent to accomplish the mission of the church, which is two-fold — making and teaching disciples (Matt. 28:19-20).
What do we mean by “send”?
A congregation (or several congregations) sends a missionary. They enable him to accomplish the work by providing the necessary funds. First, financial support is necessary to care for the missionary’s family. Second, support may be needed to supplement his work with materials, transportation needs, meeting facilities, and other related expenses.
Can we support every missionary?
No. It is financially impossible for a sole congregation to support every missionary or mission work.
Should we support any missionary or mission work?
No. Some works might be fully supported already. Other works might be avoided because of doctrinal problems. With limited resources, we must consider carefully our opportunities. We evaluate the works we know (Gal. 6:10). We consider our resources. And we act.
It is not if we should support works outside the local congregation (see “Fellow Workers for the Truth”), but where and how. Individual Christians are not the only ones that can say, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled” (Jas. 2:16; cf. 3 Jn. 5-8).
How should elders and congregations evaluate mission works?
First, we can only support mission works to the extent that we have resources. Some may ask, “Why don’t we do more in mission work?” The answer is, “We can. The more people sacrifice and give, the more we can do — at home and in other places.”
Second, all works must be considered on a doctrinal basis. What faithful member of the church would want to knowingly support the teaching of false doctrine?
Third, the mission work must be checkable from various sources. For instance, what other congregations have been involved in the work? What might they know about the work’s history, success, and potential? Have other missionaries worked in the prospective mission field? What are the missionaries’ qualifications and experience? Since we are stewards of God’s resources, it is necessary that the work be checked out thoroughly from various sources.
Fourth, there must be a plan. An effective missionary will know his field. He will understand the culture and religious environment. He will communicate a clear mission plan. For example, what is the nature of the mission work? Is it ground-breaking evangelism, or is it congregational development? What time frame does he have? Is his plan specific?
We have learned through mission works in Asia, Africa, and South America, that in order for the gospel to be successful in an area, there must be an indigenous church — self-governed and supported. The people in the town, village, or region, who are converted, become the “missionaries” to their own area. They will be the ones to support and perpetuate the work.
We must listen to the experience of many missionaries, trying not to repeat the mistakes of many good brethren. We must be informed of the need to distinguish between supporting a “mission work” and sustaining a native work with funds from an American congregation. Reputable missionaries caution congregations about permanently supporting native preachers and congregations with outside funds. A congregation needs to be self-governed, and, whenever and wherever possible, self-supported. It is one indication of spiritual growth, or the lack of it, when a congregation is not moving toward these ideals.
The most successful mission works are those that emphasize the support of the missionary, training for the local preachers (either formally through an organized training program, or informally, through seasoned, faithful Christian teachers), and programs for congregational development — the New Testament pattern for missions. With biblical planning, a planted congregation will remain when the missionary goes home, and when the funds go elsewhere.
Fifth, even when all issues — doctrinal and sound judgment — are considered, elderships and congregations still must make difficult decisions. The need for a biblical approach and good management of the Lord’s money must be kept in mind.
Every dollar given for missions needs to have the greatest impact for eternity that is possible. Let us resolve as the body of Christ, therefore, to exercise sound judgment with the biblical model for missions in mind — making disciples of all the nations.