With the schism in the Restoration Movement, the Church of Christ separated from the Christian Church over several issues. The instrument is often considered the main reason for the division but also at issue was the missionary society.
Leaders in the Church of Christ felt that the missionary society violated congregational autonomy by being a supracongregational agency which could legislate for local churches. Thus in the Churches of Christ the idea of a "sponsoring" church developed, and is still the pervading pattern today.
The sponsoring church assumes the responsibility for initiating and/or carrying out a mission effort. Other churches may send funds to the sponsoring congregation but the sponsor sets policy and oversees the mission effort. This pattern is based on New Testament examples of many churches sending funds to a single congregation for use by that congregation (2 Cor. 8; Acts 24:17; 11:27-30).
The idea of congregational sponsored mission work is not; however, confined to the Churches of Christ. The ACMC (formerly the Association of Church Missions Committees) is an interdenominational effort to directly involve denominational churches in world evangelism. The fact that such an organization exists, among groups that traditionally work through mission societies, is an indication of the value of the local congregation in the sending and supporting of missionaries.
Just as the ACMC tries to help member congregations do more effective mission work, there are those in the Church of Christ who try to help local congregations more efficiently and effectively sponsor missions programs. This report will be limited to one such program, called Mission Focus.
When a congregation inquires about Mission Focus, the director sends a simple brochure that gives a general outline of the program. If the leadership of the congregation feels that the program might be of some help they respond and negotiation by letter or phone follows. Generally there is a questionnaire to be filled out by the congregation and then a date set for a weekend seminar.
Though each seminar is designed to meet the unique needs of a particular congregation, this report will follow a pattern that has been used in the greatest number of congregations. First, the leaders of the congregation are asked to give the adult members a questionnaire which helps the director determine the mission philosophy of the membership. Once the philosophy has been determined, a weekend seminar is planned. The seminar is not designed primarily to motivate. It is designed for those who already want to do mission work but are not sure how to begin.
It is recommended that participation be limited to elders, mission committee or ministry members, preachers, and other deeply interested persons (both men and women). During the seminar various topics are addressed. These might include, mission theology, mission philosophy, church sponsorship, missionary personality, culture shock, field selection, goals and methods, mission policy, and women's role in missions.
Ideally, the seminar will involve two hours on a Friday evening, six hours on Saturday, and one hour on Sunday. During this nine hour period almost all topics can be covered. If nine hours are not possible (generally, larger congregations commit to less time than small congregations) only select topics can be covered. For a limited seminar, the basic areas would likely be:
If the congregation does not have a mission policy, all of these items can be included in a special format that results in the development of such a policy. Rather than give the congregation a variety of policies to choose from, the various elements generally included in a policy are introduced by a series of questions.
For example, those present might be divided into groups of three to ten persons and then assigned to a policy issue. One group might work on setting up a mission committee while another works on the rationale for having a policy. In this manner much ground can be covered in a short seminar.
Those working on the rationale would have questions like: (1) What is mission work? (2) Is benevolence mission work? (3) Is a written policy biblical? (4) Is a mission committee a biblical concept? In this manner the group is introduced to ideals that may be quite new and are forced to find the appropriate answers for themselves. Of course, the director is there to help and offer suggestions. Also, in many congregations there are knowledgeable persons the director can use to bring expertise to the groups.
This approach allows the leadership of a local congregation to begin building its own policy with consideration for all possible questions that members might ask. As this process continues a mission policy can take shape in one weekend. Since the policy was not given to the leaders but they worked it out for themselves, the result is a policy that belongs to the congregation.
Second, during the normal or policy formulation process the members can be introduced to the various philosophies of missions. The director can be honest concerning his biases but can present Church Growth, Nurturing, Presence, or Social Reform philosophies for their consideration. With the director there, questions can be asked and attitudes challenged and clarified.
Third, once a philosophy has been determined, the leadership can be moved on to Sponsorship Style. They need to determine whether they want simply to endorse a missionary or actively supervise a mission program. As director, I encourage Supervision as not only one form of sponsorship, but as a preferred method for truly mature congregations.
The rationale for this emphasis on Supervision is taken from Acts 16, where Paul wanted to go to Ephesus and Mysia but the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and God (in that order) finally led him to Macedonia. Paul was an experienced trained missionary. If Paul could not get it right without help, how can today's youth hope to get it right without help?
From whence is help to come? Since there is little evidence that modern missionaries get miraculous messages from God, it is assumed that the agency God would be most likely to use would be the church. Thus it behooves the church to be the repository for God's plans for world missions.
Fourth, once a congregation accepts the responsibility for supervising a mission work it does not follow that they are ready to effectively supervise. Proper supervision demands preparation and study. For this reason, each seminar has a section of time dedicated to and a table filled with mission literature.
Fifth, aware of their need for study and preparation, the leadership is then led to the area of field selection. As God had Macedonia in mind when he led Paul there, the local church should focus on a place where God wants them to save souls. At this point, and for this report, it will be assumed that the congreagtion for which the seminar is being held has a Church Growth philosophy.
Field selection is a serious task that must involve a number of variables such as congregational size, budgetary constraints, congregational philosophy, etc. These must all be considered in an atmosphere of prayer and, if possible, fasting. It is during this phase that God is asked to give the leadership and wisdom to select the field that God has in mind for the congregation. Once selected this will be the focus of the congregation for a long time. Larger congregation may focus on several fields at the same time.
Sixth, once a field has been selected, the goals of the mission enterprise must be determined. Since a philosophy has already been articulated, the goals are relatively simple to write. Those attending the seminar are apprised of the need for very specific mission goals. Mission for which there are no clear-cut goals is suspect; comfortable but suspect.
The ABCD method of developing behaviorable goals is used. "A" stands for Actor. The actors in these goals must be the target population not the missionaries. The missionary can "teach" but until the student "learns" no education has taken place. The goals must focus on what the people being evangelized will do.
The "B" stands for measurable Behavior. People accepting Christ, submitting to baptism, and forming churches are examples of measurable behavior. The Engle Scale can be used for measures other than conversion.
The "C" stands for Conditions. This includes the conditions under which the evaluation will be made. This is important because Missiology is not an exact science. Assumptions must be made and the results of evaluation balanced against the validity of the assumptions. The "D" stands for Degree. This includes the level of behavior as well as the time frame. Consider a goal that 10% of a tribal group will indicate a basic level of understanding of the gospel by a given date. If the size of the tribe is known, a means of testing for a basic level has been developed, and an honest estimate of the percentage of the tribe reaching this level can be determined, then the goal has the proper degree.
Only goals of this nature can be subjected to evaluation. If one does not know what he wants to accomplish, cannot tell when it has been accomplished, no evaluation is possible. Again, it is emphasized to those attending the seminar that poor goals are comfortable because that cannot be measured.
Seventh, only after goals have been clarified will be leaders move on to methodology. Of course, once goals are clearly stated, methods easily follow. At this point selected books and expert advice will generally be necessary. The amount of help needed will depend on the mission knowledge of the leaders of the congregation.
This brings up the question of expertise. During the seminar, critical books are shown, discussed, and recommended for reading by the leadership. The point is made that if a local congregation is going to become a viable missionary society then the members must become expert enough to direct a mission program. At this point it is important to point out that one does not have to be able to lay eggs to raise chickens. The training of the leadership is not the same as the training of the missionary. Where a missionary may need years of training, a sponsoring church needs to have only a small amount of specialized training. The expertise of the leadership in other areas can contribute to their ability to sponsor mission work.
Eighth, probably at this point missionary recruitment should be discussed. Like Paul, the missionary of a supervising church will become an instrument to carry out a mission previously determined by God (in this case via the local church). The missionary's personality, leadership or followership style, family situation, education, etc. must be examined. The policy should provide for whatever training is necessary to make the selected missionary a true professional.
Ninth, the last part of this limited seminar will involve evaluation. The leaders will be introduced to a Mission Methods Model which will help them evaluate the progress of the missionary on the field. The model illustrates the connection between philosophy, goals, and methods. Those involved in the seminar are then given scenarios where a missionary is sent to do a particular job and then writes home to suggest a new program. The leaders are then taught to distinguish between valid suggestions for accomplishing the stated goals and questionable suggestions that are inconsistent with the stated goals.
Finally, a modified form of P.E.R.T. charting is then introduced to help a church plan and carry out a full fledged mission program. Mission teams and the dynamics of group work can be covered. Leadership and followership can be related to the relationship between the missionary and his sponsoring church as well as to the missionaries on a given team.
Throughout the seminar prayer is emphasized. As the policy is developed, prayer concern is introduced as an integral part of the policy itself. Without prayer a church can do mission work but it may not be God's mission.