Lecture 6: Modern Missiological Techniques
Course: Essentials of World Missions
Lecture: Modern Missiological Techniques
Now, at this point in the lectures we want to turn to examining some modern missiological techniques, the kinds of things that churches are using and understanding to be better equipped to serve missionaries. When William Carey went to India, the way it worked was a mission board back, in his case, England, or later with Adoniram Judson in America, sent and supported this missionary who was preaching and teaching and working in some capacity in another part of the world. We call that “mission to the world,” a mission agency sends somebody out into the world.
But gradually what happened was, once these people began to come to Christ, then they began to be gathered together into churches, just as we saw in Acts Chapters 11, 12, and the opening verse of 13.
Now the moment that new believers began to be gathered into a church, they began to ask questions. Do we govern in ourselves in the same way as the church that planted us? Is that essential to the gospel? What are the things that are essential to ecclesiology? What kinds of things may be peculiar to the particular cultural context we’re in? So, many churches when they planted a church overseas, they planted a church exactly like the mother church, even back in the US. The church in Scotland planted churches that were like them in the foreign fields. Baptists churches planted Baptist churches, and so forth.
Other organizations tended to allow the indigenous church to spring up, and they formed their own structures, their own ideas on governance issues, and maybe had some slight differences in theology, but it was different. So eventually the mission boards, whether they followed either of these patterns—whether they tried to become just like the mother church or started their own churches—the mission boards realized soon they were no longer dealing just with unbelievers out in the missions fields, but now newly emerged churches that were out in the field.
So this is a big challenge, because now you’re relating not only to how do we evangelize and reach out and preach the gospel to unbelievers, but once they come to faith, how do we then relate to the new Christian churches that are rising up all over the world? And we have seen the emergence of not hundreds, but thousands of new denominations of Christian believers around the world that have sprung up that are not connected at all with Western denominations. So this becomes a new dynamic in the mission field.
And finally, once these individuals on the field come to Christ and once they’ve joined together the church, they began to themselves send out missionaries. And this becomes another factor, because now mission boards in the West that have traditionally sent missionaries out, are now having to relate to indigenous missions sending boards that are already located in Korea, in India, in various parts of the non-Western world, that are sending out missionaries.
So, the way we send out missionaries is changing, how we do that is dramatically different today, the way we relate to the world situation in light of the fourth era of missions that is upon us. So today you find a wide variety of cooperative efforts. You have the traditional denominational boards, you have the para-church or faith missions. You have local churches that send directly into the field and bypass the mission boards, which I don’t recommend but it’s certainly done. And you have individuals who go out into missions.
So in the full course I go through a more extended explanation of how people can find the right agency or church, and the normal procedure that people go through when they go from saying they want to be a missionary to the time they actually go out into the field. That’s a process. Most mission boards, though there are a lot of varieties, generally follow a very similar procedure. And so it’s very easy to lay out and track the basic process from the time a young person or anybody comes down to their pastor, the altar of their church at the conclusion of a service and says I want to be a foreign missionary to the time their plane touches down on a foreign mission field, that process follows through certain stages, and in the full lectures, I outline eight stages of this process that are followed generally by boards everywhere, and you can listen to that in the full lecture notes.
Categories of Missionaries
Long Term: Pioneer and Regular Missions
Once missionaries arrive onto the field we actually have a number of missionaries in various capacities on the field, and we want to briefly highlight those for your benefit. Again, when William Carey went to the field, the only real category that existed was long-term, regular missionary. That is, someone who was there long-term, working in the mission field.
Today, with the rise of national churches and the non-Western church growing, we have to begin to distinguish between long-term regular missionary and long-term pioneer missionary. When William Carey went to India, he would be called a pioneer missionary; that is, he was going to a place or among a people that did not have sufficient access to the Christian gospel.
Now, this is really the critical, defining point in determining whether something is a truly missionary activity or not. Because missions takes place where either there are no Christians or there’s not sufficient access to the gospel, because there aren’t enough churches or enough Christians, or the church is not yet viable. Maybe there is a church there, but it is through bad theology or poor practice or just through sheer lack of numbers, the church is not yet viable to effectively be consistently counted on to be able to deliver the message of the gospel to those who need it.
So, we have to distinguish between those who have access to the gospel and those who do not. So because today many people who are missionaries are working cross-culturally, but are working in areas where the church has already been planted, and where the church in some places is thriving quite nicely, we have to distinguish between regular missions and pioneer missions.
So you have long-term regular who are working cross-culturally, so it’s a missionary activity, but they’re working in a context where the recipient church is doing quite well and is viable and it is able to disciple its own numbers and it is able to reach out, but you’re there in a supportive role of some kind. That’s important work; there are many examples why a missionary is needed to help that situation, but it is, after all, a long-term regular missionary, not a long-term pioneer missionary, because we need to give proper attention, and be able to isolate how many of our missionaries in our missionary force are actually doing pioneer work.
Pioneer work means you are going to a place where there are either not enough Christians to provide access to the gospel, or the church is there but it’s not viable. The two key terms—access and viability. If either of those occurs, then it is considered a pioneer missionary position. So you have long-term regular missionaries, you have long-term pioneer missionaries, and any church worth its salt should understand the difference between those categories.
A third category is what we call the non-resident missionary. Now this is a different person, because the first two are actually physically resident among a people with whom, or to whom, they are seeking to bring the gospel. A non-resident missionary, on the other hand, is somebody who is not currently present among the people, where they are primarily located.
So, for example, if you were to be a missionary to Chinese students who were living in the US, and you have a burden for Chinese people, you’re working for the Chinese, but you’re not actually in China, you’re in America, you can still be a missionary. You’re called a non-resident missionary. You’re working with that people group outside of the normal context of their missionary work. This is a non-resident missionary. (Or outside the regular context of where that people group is located, I should say).
So, many times, because of political problems, or other problems, it is not advisable to actually be present along with those people, or maybe not even possible. That doesn’t relinquish us from a responsibility for working with those people, so we call them non-resident missionaries. They work with that people group outside of the primary location of that group, and I have several examples of that in the extended lectures.
Asynchronous Resident Missionary
The fourth category is the asynchronous resident missionary. This is someone who is resident, but because of visa restrictions, mainly, or other reasons, they’re not able to stay in that location for an extended period of time. They go back to the same ministry over and over again over long periods of time. They build up a long-term ministry. They are resident there for certain periods, perhaps every year, but they are having to come back to another base, or even back home, because usually of visa restrictions—there are many countries that only allow three-month or six-month visas, and they do not allow missionaries to stay there in an extended, long-term capacity.
The fifth category is the term “tentmakers,” which refers to people who are involved in secular professions, who work in cross-cultural contexts for the explicit purpose of gospel proclamation. Tentmakers refer to people who may be working in such diverse fields as teaching, medical work; it could be in computer technology. There is no end to professions that people have taken and used for the sake of Christian witness.
If you’re out there and you have a particular skill that God has given you, or maybe you have a business background or some other background, you should not see that as any wasted time for full-time ministry, because today there are many open doors for secular professions that are otherwise closed to traditional church planting, preaching-type witnessing people. And therefore we need to find a way to help people see the value of this and go onto the field as tentmakers. And once they’re there they begin to build relationships with unbelievers and begin to witness to them, and eventually people come to the Lord and you network with them with the national church, so they can have a place to grow and to flourish.
The sixth and final category of the modern missionary force is what we call short-term missionaries. Short-term missionary is actually defined as any missionary that is working in a field for less than three years. That may seem like a long-term for most of us who think about short terms as being about two weeks or three weeks, and certainly the majority of short-term missionaries are working for less than three to four weeks, but it is true that from the point of view of our categorization, that we generally don’t call someone a long-term missionary until after their first term, and a term is generally three years. So because of that, we will call this whole category short-term missionaries who are only going, maybe, to China for a year or to India for two weeks or to Costa Rica for a month, and so forth.
Now the short-term missionary force is extremely important and very, very vital. And I deeply encourage and am supportive of the short-term missionary movement. In the extended lectures I actually explore a number of questions that I have about short-term missions. This is not at all to be critical of the short-term missionary movement. It’s a wonderful movement and I’m excited about the ways that God has used it.
But I do think that many churches need to have a smarter, more effective short-term missions program. I recently published an article on this in Contact magazine, which goes out to alumni of Gordon-Conwell around the world. But it is an important point of reflection, and I reflect on these six points in the larger lectures, and I call these, “The Six Dangerous Questions about Short-term Missions,” and I encourage all churches to listen to these questions and to reflect on them carefully in the context of their short-term missions program.