Welcome to Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on Church and Missions. Thanks for listening to Missions on Point. This is episode 127. I've decided to add one more episode to our series on Propempo certification. This concept is a paradox because it is quite radical to the norms of the established ecosphere of the international missions enterprise in the Western world, yet it is simultaneously so obvious to the thoughtful and objective observer of biblical teaching and precedent.
More than one pastor has told me that once you see this concept of the centrality of the local church, you can't unsee it. Are you interested in training for implementation of this in your organization or church? Contact me through email, firstname.lastname@example.org. That's email@example.com. If I may be so bold, I would say that recovering a sound understanding of biblical ecclesiology has the potential to radically change the world of local churches and of missions for the better. And by extension, since every believer ought to be vitally connected and involved in a healthy local church, this concept has the potential to be a factor in Christian life and ministry for all of us for the better.
Please allow me to go back to outline the what and why of this Propempo perspective, that is the centrality of the local church in missions. Start with the word and start with Christ. Jesus taught about the church in the gospels, gave his life for the church per Ephesians, and is intimately acquainted with and concerned for local churches everywhere per revelation. His great commission mandate cannot be fulfilled without the planting of local churches in all nations. In Acts, the history book of the New Testament, gospel proclamation and the establishment of local bodies of believers proved to be the primary means and the goal of fulfilling Christ's great commission by those who were closest to eyewitnesses of his command.
The entire inspired text and flow of the New Testament reflects this primacy of the local church. Every letter in the New Testament was written to local churches or leaders of local churches, or make specific reference to the dynamic of local church life. All the instructions for discipleship and personal spiritual maturity either explicitly or implicitly involve obedience in the context of a community of believers in a local church. The New Testament record consistently defers to and models local churches as sender, supporter, sustainer, and source of missionary workers for the task of missions.
Ministry leaders are gifted, developed and recognized or affirmed for service within the local church context. So go back and listen to Missions on Point episodes one through five to get more biblical detail. And I'm working on a little bit deeper biblical detail to follow this series in another series on the biblical support for this local church centrality ministry philosophy. Or please subscribe and follow the Missions on Point podcast in your podcast app, because when I dig deeper into this biblical case in future episodes, you'll want to hear it.
Here are the usual objections to embracing and implementing this concept. First, we've never done it that way before. Have you ever heard that in a church context about decisions or direction? Right, that doesn't mean it's wrong. It means that it will take effort, loving teaching, encouragement, shepherding, and leadership. Number two, lack of humility. Some church and mission leaders don't want to accept this because it would make them lose face. They have a fear of a dent in their reputation or a fear of man, what people would say. Instead of joy at understanding the scriptures and applying newfound truth, they would rather defend the old ways. Ouch. Isn't this a gut check for repentance?
Number three, fear of change or fear of the unknown. People say, "That's not what we were taught in seminary," or, "That's not what we were taught by the mission agency we trust or by those who came before us." Because they haven't done things this way previously, they don't know what the end result would be. This is a natural fear. It's kind of like a child saying, "I don't want to eat peas." "Have you ever eaten peas?" "No, but I don't want to eat them, even though they're good for me." Let me assure you that I have never taught or coached a church that adopted this principle tell me later that it was too hard or that they regretted making the change.
Number four, this could have far-reaching implications for how we do missions business. Right, that's the point. So what's wrong with that? We have walked through the application of what we call Proopempo certification for each of these key stakeholders. The local church, the church missions leader, the missionary, the mission agency, the donor, and the missionary training institution. So the follow-up questions are, if all of these entities, all of these stakeholders worked together, what would it look like and what difference would it make?
Here are some rudimentary projections about what it might look like. First, every missionary candidate would have to prove himself or herself as an individual or as a couple and family within the context of ministry involvement in a healthy local church. I remember the story of a college grad gal who felt called to missions through the Urbana missions conference sponsored by inner varsity fellowship. However, her contemporary church didn't understand their role in training and sending her. In fact, they had no good concept of cross-cultural international missions. They were so focused on reaching their community, they didn't even think beyond the scope of that.
Thankfully, she had good counsel from a godly older missions-wise couple in her church. She started a conversation with her church leadership, with respect, I should say, to encourage them to step up. Then she began a missions prayer group and started to work in her church and with her church for three years until they were ready to send her. It really paid off in the long run. This goes along with the article by Max Styles entitled, Don't Go Until You Are Sent. This means that every mission agency, every donor, every missionary training institution, and every church missions leader will challenge every missionary candidate to go back to their local church and build strong bridges of relationship, mutual vision for ministry, biblical character, ministry competencies, etc. Before they apply and get accepted as missionary appointees with a mission agency.
No longer will it ever be acceptable for a missionary candidate to sign up with an agency, and even go through the whole acceptance candidate orientation program, before telling their church and getting their church involved. Even in the process of decisions about where to go and what agency to go with, much less all of the qualifications beforehand. It also means that the local church will not let their candidate apply and be accepted unless the church has a written partnership agreement or memo of understanding with the agency outlining the church's ongoing role and high level accountability with their missionary.
Second, local churches will have to grow in their ability to select and identify potential missionaries in their midst. Then they will need to get some fortitude and learn what it takes to oversee the pre-field training and ministry equipping for the mission field for those candidates. It'll take patience, intentionality, and wisdom to counsel and raise up biblically qualified workers for the field before agreeing to allow them to proceed to mission agency membership, field ministry assignment support raising, and finally departure for the field.
Third, donors will have to develop discernment and probing questions about the missionary or ministry that is seeking support. Do they have the requisite deep connection and confirmation of their local sending church? Do they have a goal and conscientious strategy to plant and strengthen local churches in their target field through their ministry? Does the agency involved give due respect and role to the local sending church in their plan for member care, council and field supervision? These questions should be normal. The answers should reveal the commitment of all related parties to this biblical church-centric ministry philosophy.
Fourth, every mission agency would interface with churches, candidates, donors, and missionary training institutions differently. Missions mobilization would be more like local church mobilization and less like the recruitment of individuals. More human and financial resources would be spent on building relationships with key local churches and helping their effectiveness, rather than expensive conferences and pizza meetings with idealistic and often unrealistic individual potential candidates. The agency would help the sending church prepare excellently qualified missionaries for long-term service in the least reached areas of the world.
Fifth, the missionary training institution would be compelled to teach and practice the biblical high view of the local church and missions. The institution would establish an ongoing cooperative relationship with local sending churches to disciple and individualize, to some extent, the training experiences necessary to equip those missionaries with excellent pre-field training. In other words, the training institution would partner with the sending church of their students preparing for missions, so that they dovetail academics with experience and character building and cross-cultural training in order for that missionary to be maximally qualified for the field before they leave.
I know what you're thinking. I would think the same thing if I were in your place. You're thinking, "This is crazy. This is a utopian dream. It'll never happen." And I say, "It's not crazy. It's biblically consistent. It's not a utopian dream. It happened in the first century, and it's happening now on a limited scale among those who accept and embrace it." It's happening now on a small scale, but what would happen if every church, church missions leader, missionary missions agency, donor and missionary training institution worked together in this way, with earnest biblical commitment, in concert with each other?
Here's what I think would happen, some of which may seem counterintuitive. Number one, churches would flourish because of being more in line with God's purposes for their existence and having a balanced priority for ministry outside of themselves. It is an interesting dynamic that when churches actually focus on ministry outside of themselves, ministry that can only be done by them taking initiative to send somebody to that cross-cultural place, they don't suffer financially. They don't suffer numerically in their membership or attendance. Now, humanly speaking, leaders can still make poor decisions and have negative consequences because of that. But in general, I've seen all positive.
Number two, church missions leaders would have a more significant role with deeper relationships in the church through mission agency partnerships with vital strategic ministries in the missions field. Church missions leaders would just have a broader scope of things that they're more responsible for because they represent the sending body, and they're stepping up to take responsibility for that.
Number three, missionaries would be more effective and have greater longevity on the field because of clearer goals and greater partnership with their sending and sustaining local church. I've maintained for decades that there are two major solutions to the humongous statistic of missionary attrition that is missionaries leaving the field for preventable reasons. One of those reasons is having a strong accountability relationship with their sending church.
Number four, mission agencies would have far less attrition and more fruitfulness long term because of better equipped missionaries that stay focused on the right things for a lifetime of service. It's kind of sad to realize that high profile mission agencies or fast-growing mission agencies put a lot of weight on their numbers of missionaries that are sent. But you need to ask the question, how many of those leave the field before five years is out, to never go back to the field?
Number five, donors would be more satisfied and give even more because of having the right focus with greater spiritual impact. Number six, missionary training institutions would be vital, dynamic centers of missionary development, not just academically, but through reinforcing spiritual discipleship, character building, experience-based ministry skills development, and real partnerships with the local sending churches of their students. Their stats would improve for how many of their graduates actually make it to the field and stay long-term. May God grant that we would be faithful to welcome and commit to such a paradigm shift in our missions world, for his glory, through the church in Christ, to all nations.
Thanks for joining us today on Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. I trust that you'll find more help and resources on the website, propempo.com. Please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry. Now to God, be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, forever and ever. Amen.
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