Thursday, May 24, 2007

Missions: Project or Process?

Should missions be project or process based?

Dave Dougherty of OMF defines the difference in approach:

Mission as process: This is the ongoing activity of traditional agencies, churches, and training institutions. They focus on fulfilling the Great Commission in every nation and among every people group.

Missions as project: This is the new outreach of mobilization organizations, churches, and individuals. They focus primarily on the unreached, or the least reached people groups.

As a career missionary you might assume that I am opposed to missions as project, but I am not. I believe that missionary projects, which include short-term trips and programs, can be significant in the global outreach. The reason that missions as project is popular today is two-fold. First, many people who are interested in world missions have become bored with missions as usual, i.e. missions as process. Supporting career missionaries to do the work of the Great Commission is not very exciting. Second, the desire to be personally involved rather than just sending career people to the field gives a feeling of being personally engaged, to have ownership as well as experiencing first hand the work of working cross-culturally. Missions as project provides things this generation longs for…instant gratification and a feeling they are doing something.

While I applaud the mission as project approach, it must be critically analyzed, as is missions as process. The downside of mission as project is that it is not always missiologically sound. Missiologists wrestle with issues of contextualization, indigenousness (new term is organic), self-governing as well as self-sustaining. Few mission as project programs wrestle with these concerns.

In addition, mission as project operate in terms of event not time. Miles Delos comments, “Church growth is a process, not an event.” Certainly this is true also of evangelism and church planting in a cross-cultural context. In missions, like language learning, there are no short cuts to success. Brewster wrote, “Learning a culture is the process of learning what its people know.”

Jay Gary, missiologist, states the church needs to take the long view. “To finish evangelizing the 25 percent of world population which remains unevangelized will likely take two or three generations…This is an area where those who sow may never know those who reap." By the year 2033, we will realize that we must measure our progress in world missions by centuries, not just decades.”

Whether we are engaged in missions through project or process, it must be current in thought, focused and strategic.