Saturday, December 28, 2013

Define Your Purpose: The Third Lesson in Creating a Missions Program

After you have assembled your team for missions, the first item on the docket to discuss is the fundamental questions, what are we trying to accomplish in missions?  In my classes I routinely remind my students “hazy goals will produce, at best, hazy results.”  If missionaries surrender their lives to overseas service they should at least have a plan for where they are going, what people group they are going to serve and what ministry they will be involved in that process.  If this is true for missionaries going, it certainly should be true for sending churches as well.  So, what’s the plan?

Here are three things to consider when creating a mission policy or guidelines.

1.     What type of work do we want to support?
2.     Who do want we want to focus on in terms of mission outreach?
3.     Who are the best people to help us reach out world outreach goals?

Mission Work

There are about as many mission activities as there are missionaries on the field.  Most of them are worthy of support.  Unfortunately no church can be involved in every mission ministry so it is important to choose what type of ministry is most important and focus on those programs.  I would suggest that you limit your support to two, possibly three, projects.

Church Planting – The heart of Christianity is the local assembly of believers.  Our Lord’s Great Commission was for His followers to go into the entire world, present the good news of His salvation, baptize those who choose to follow Him and then disciple those new believers in God’s Word.  There is no other singular important ministry that is more vital than establishing local congregations.  Of all the ministries your mission committee will consider the one question that should be asked is, “how does this ministry contribute to the establishing of the church?” 

Evangelistic ministries are worthwhile but evangelism does not plant churches.  It’s been said that you can do evangelism and not plant a church, but you can’t plant a church without evangelism.  Too many evangelistic programs are stand-alone programs.  The printings of tracks, radio or television programs and open-air evangelistic meetings are most effective when they are tied to the church planting process. 

Discipleship programs within themselves are not church planting projects.  Orphanages, rescue shelters, feeding programs, youth camps, seminaries and countless numbers of other ministry programs (which I will address later), though helpful, are not church planting programs.  As a missions team, you should always have at the forefront of your thinking, “how does this ministry aid in the establishing of a church?”

Types Of Church Planters

Pioneer Church Planters – A pioneer church planter is one who goes to a defined location and a people where there are few or no churches.  That was my job description when we moved to Kenya in 1976.  After language school I worked among two tribal groups called the Pokot and Turkana.  Both of these tribal groups lived in remote semi-desert regions of the northwest, bordering near Uganda and South Sudan.  The roads were often impassible, not easily accessible.  As a result of their remoteness there were few churches among the people and very few missionaries working among them.  For fourteen years I went to the towns and villages and established twelve congregations through witness, evangelism and discipling.

Two hundred years ago most Western missionaries did pioneer work, but that is no longer the case today.  Most Western missionaries are involved in other types of ministry, but there are still a few that do pioneer church planting. 

Facilitative Church Planters -  The reason there are fewer American pioneer church planters is because in many places of the world it is the national missionaries and pastors who are engaged in pioneer outreach.  There are, however, Western missionaries who come alongside the national church and help facilitate pioneer church planting efforts.  The FCP missionaries teach, disciple and promote the work of national church planting. 

After leaving Kenya as a resident pioneer missionary, I became a non-resident facilitative church planter.  There are several seasoned veteran missionaries with experience and expertise, like myself, who now train nationals in how to plant churches.  In my case, because I have worked in over 50 countries, I bring a perspective in training that comes with age.

It should be noted that not all discipling ministries are FCP.  Many short-term ministries from North Americans today are engaged in teaching marriage seminars, teaching a Bible course in a college or a two week children’s programs.  Much of those programs is taught from a mono-cultural Western perspective that is not contextual, and therefore could not be classified as FCP activity.

To recap, the role of a church planter is one who establishes or helps establish a congregation.  A pure church planting missionary, be they Western or national, does not pastor a church for an extended period of time, their focus in multiplying congregations, not a single assembly.  Like the Apostle Paul, a pioneer church planter is always on the move, with a focus of establishing another church in the next town or region.

As we will see later, other ministries can and should point to establishing a church.