WHY MISSIONARIES? PART 3
This is the third part in a four-part Pastor's Perspective. I'm giving you some insight on why KCN is calling Missionaries to the Big Island to be on staff at a local church--a development that is largely unheard of in the Unites States.
I finished my first newsletter in this series suggesting that there is a common assumption about the institutionalization norm of the local church. It goes like this: as a church ages, its list of assets grows, and its traditions become more extensive; naturally, its institutional demands play a bigger role in decision making, leaving less time, energy and resources to devote to the original mission. (Inversely, the younger and less established a church the more decisions are made according to the discerned mission.)
My experience is that when a church gets to be somewhere 10 to 15 years old--whether the original team of planters has moved on or has simply become more established, salaried, and therefore secure--the church begins to lose focus of its original mission (the mission of the Body of Christ in general, but also the specific mission that church in infancy).
As an example of this, I saw a decade-old church plant decidedly shift from the mission of "reaching the world for the sake of Christ" [the church's phrase] to the mission of "retain stability for Christ's sake" [one leader's perspective].
Stability is not bad in and of itself. But I am interested in why, after the launch phase of church plants, there appears to be an invisible force that directs the church toward a new primary goal: stability.
This happens so often, it has become the norm. Is it inevitable, though? I don't believe so.
ACTUALLY, I BELIEVE WHEN A CHURCH "SUFFERS" FROM THIS INSTITUTIONALIZATION NORM, THE CHURCH'S UNDERSTANDING OF MISSION IS REVEALED.
Most church leaders I know truly do want to "reach the world for Jesus". Their (and their church's) mission is some form of that statement. However:
- Church #1 conceives of that happening by stabilizing enough to "invest" resources into local evangelism and global missions.
- Church #2 conceives of that happening by stabilizing enough to "invest" in social reform and compassion ministry here and globally.
Both understand their investments to be missions. One focus is evangelism; one focus is social impact.
[Follow me, I will get to how missionaries have a role in this shortly]
There are many books that cover the development of Missions in America. Most of the ones I have read agree that in the last 100 years, the "liberal" churches and mainline denominations leaned toward an understanding of missions that included anything outside the church. It was a broad description that allowed nearly anything to be justified as missions. Mix a broad definition of missions with a "lower" understanding of what happened on Calvary (on the cross) and a "less-than-inspired" perspective on scripture, and missions is reduced to social reform.
In response (or maybe it was the other way around) "conservatives" veered from missions-as-social-reform, so as to avoid the downfalls of missions-is-everything (which really makes it nothing distinct at all). Couple that with a "higher" belief in the purpose and meaning of the cross, and a "genuinely inspired" perspective on scripture, and missions can become only an effort in getting people out of Hell.
Well, which is it? Is missions everything the church does to "impact" society or is it the church's efforts to win souls for Christ?
I HAVE NEVER MET A MISSIONARY WHO TAKES A SIDE. They can't! They simply can't because definitions and theoretical demarcations simply don't fit into the holistic ministry of a missionary (or the ministry of Jesus, for that matter). Missionaries know from experience, that without the cross, what they do is only humanitarianism; without the social reform, what they do is target souls. Both can be damaging in the long-run without the other.
Missionaries that imbed themselves in a culture, bleed and sweat with a community, and mourn and celebrate with loved ones, know deeply that salvation and social change are BOTH included in the redemption we find in Jesus. I don't want to get too theological here, I'm just simply pointing out that MISSIONARIES ARE LIVING AND BREATHING EVIDENCE THAT SAVING THE LOST AND CHANGING A COMMUNITY ARE AS INTERTWINED AS THE PEOPLE THEY LOVE AND THE PLACES THEY CALL HOME. We separate the two when we reduce salvation to a theory and missions to a program.
MISSIONARIES, ON THE OTHER HAND, LIVE WITH THE FACT THAT IF SALVATION IS NOT EXPERIENCED, THEIR FRIENDS DIE HOPELESS, AND IF SOCIETY IS NOT CHANGED THEIR FRIENDS WILL HOPELESSLY DIE. They MUST happen together.
So what happens if a missionary is intentionally put on staff at a local church?
Well, a missionary is a constant reminder that allocating resources for soul saving OR social reform are deficient. They confront the "liberal" church with the fact that the cross and resurrection are definitive acts in history for the purpose of salvation. They confront the "conservative" church with the fact that the scripture is chalk full of judgements handed to those that ignore the social reach of God's redemption. THEY MUST GO TOGETHER.
BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY, a missionary--by their very call and obedience--call into question the concept that a church can develop into a stable institution, at which point it can focus its resources outward. Missionaries aren't people that stabilize themselves then look to the mission field. For a missionary, missions = faithfulness. There's no other way to be! The church is called to be on mission in this same way. There's no "off switch" to mission.
By including missionaries on our staff we are committing to incorporating the truth that the church must never become institutionalized to the point of "choosing" between social reform and evangelizing souls. Instead the church ought always make institutional issues of secondary importance to the primary call to be people on a mission to witness to all that is lost--people and places, souls and societies.
The institutionalization norm of churches is not inevitable; missionaries help us make sure of that.
Always being on mission to share the saving grace of God, second to nothing, is who we are; missionaries help us make sure of that.
On mission to reach the lost with you...(and if you choose to support our efforts, here's you chance),
[Want to meet a missionary on a local church staff? Here are three of them: The Pauls, The Boyarskis]