Church-based models of mission sending are fraught with difficulty. Pastors providing oversight for missionaries in such churches often have little to no actual missionary experience. Competent, strategic, and knowledgeable oversight of missionaries is difficult under this circumstance. Furthermore, missionaries sent by a single church are subject to changes in mission emphasis occurring within that church. Engel and Dyrness summarized the difficulties with all church-based models of mission sending when they said,
Make no mistake about it, a retreat from continued agency/church partnership, no matter how well motivated, virtually guarantees that an independent initiative will face the same challenges and make the same mistakes—without the benefit of the experience missions have acquired.
History “gives little warrant for optimism” that the local church alone will muster the intentionality and competency to sustain long-term missionary commitment.
By contrast, mission-sending agencies have both historic precedent and pragmatic rationale in reaching unreached peoples with the gospel message. Wilbert Shenk states, “The modern missionary movement would have been inconceivable apart from the missionary society.” A. F. Walls observes that one of the preconditions for sending missionaries was “a form of organization that could supply [missionaries], and forge a link between them and their work and the wider church.” The authors of Encountering Theology of Mission state that,
[It] should not be considered unduly pragmatic to address this topic frankly on the basis of practicality: What is realistic? What has stood the test of time? What experience have others had? What really works? World mission is a complex undertaking and costly in both financial and human terms. Good stewardship demands that we proceed with wisdom and efficiency. God expects us not only to depend on the supernatural provision of the Holy Spirit; he has also given us the ability to discern and act wisely.
Initiating and supporting missionary work requires specialized knowledge of the target country, culture, language, and politics. Specialization made possible by the focused energies of a mission sending agency facilitates development of the insight required to discern real local needs. For a mission-sending structure, resources are focused on successful effort in the target country, whereas mission effort from an individual sending church may face distraction because of additional demands on resources (e.g., providing positive experiences for parishioners participating on short-term mission trips). Mission-sending structures are better able to train, send, support, and supervise foreign missionaries by coordinating the limited resources of multiple congregations. These advantages of the mission-sending structure generally result in greater missionary fruitfulness.
In China, church-based mission sending models suffer many of the same difficulties herein highlighted. In my article, “Difficulties with Church-Based Models in Chinese Missionary Sending: Understanding the Need for Mission-Sending Organizational Development in China” from the perspective of Chinese missionaries interviewed in field research, I explore difficulties with the current church-based sending models in China and look at the proposed benefits of distinct mission-sending organizational structures.
Image credit: Kite by Paul Kretek via Flickr.
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