Audio Transcript:

Welcome to Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. I trust that this episode number 110 will be a blessing to you. This is number nine in a series of 14 on contemporary issues in missions. We're going to be talking about the limitations of institutional ministry. Right away, you're going to think that sounds kind of technical, but actually it's not. You come in contact with institutional ministry done in the name of missions in many, many ways. There are certainly lots and lots of ministries that label themselves as missions in our world, in the western world, in the home sending world. Ministries that are focused on very specific kinds of technical aspects of sending. It may be a specialty in short-term missions, or it may be a specialty in travel and travel consultancy and tickets and that kind of thing.

So what I mean by institutional ministry are those ministries particularly on the field that have facilities or infrastructure or some sort of organizational hierarchy that is not directly related to church planting leadership training for the goal and vision of expanding church planting itself. Sometimes institutional ministries are vital to the function of those frontline church planting related ministries, and yet many ministries over time have proven to be institutional self-perpetuating for themselves without any view whatsoever to the original goal of assisting or helping with church planting.

In general, there are ministries related to medicine or education or the teaching of English as a foreign language. There are specialized technical ministries like well drilling or sports kinds of ministries, community development, AIDS related programs, internet evangelism or ministry, cottage industry development, electrical supply, reforestation projects, dental clinics, orphan care, aquaculture building or construction, youth ministry and camps, poverty alleviation, expatriate services or special skills development for the nationals in all kinds of trades like carpentry or cabinet making or plumbing, welding, auto mechanics, embroidery, garment making, jewelry making, weaving, microloan projects, VBS or bible clubs, music ministry, disaster relief and development or adoption services.

This is not a comprehensive list, but you can see how each one of these may have a specific role that is helpful in general to the facilitation of ministry or to the entree of ministry or as a methodology and a strategy for reaching people for the sake of evangelism, discipleship, church planting, and leadership training. However, our point here today in this episode is that all of these have certain limitations of institutional ministry, mostly because they lose the big term vision and focus of why we're there on the field, why this makes a difference in fulfilling the great commission.

Let's take a few examples. I've spoken to so many people involved in some aspect of medical ministries, whether it is a foreign hospital or a primary care clinic in rural setting on the mission field, and the doctors, nurses, technicians, people that work there almost always feel burnt out. That's one of the common things that happens. It's hard to even keep people on the field long term because they get so overwhelmed with the patient load that they almost don't know that they're there for ministry at all.

Yes, they are ministering to and helping people, but is it for the sake of the gospel or is it simply for humanitarian purposes to somehow salve our conscience to help people who are in that kind of need? It takes stalwart determination for a doctor, a nurse, a medical technician to follow through with, I am here for the sake of the gospel and for the Lord Jesus Christ in a special way that, say, Doctors Without Borders are not themselves able to do, or any medical help coming from overseas is able to do. I'm supplying some religious content and the values of the Bible of Christ and the gospel that is the ultimate salvation for them, not just healing and betterment of their life.

The same kind of limitation can be said of education. In past decades, many missions were so involved in primary education or secondary education that is elementary and high school education, and eventually some vocational education for nationals, basically with good intentions to better their lifestyle. But if that is not also coupled with a clear spiritual component, then it's just secular education and it doesn't ultimately help them in eternity. In a sense, this episode is a call to mission agencies and missions facilitators everywhere to take a step back and refocus what they're doing and give their good, well-qualified workers and all of these institutional types of ministries, a chance to have a spiritual impact on their constituency, on the people that they're serving.

What a relief to their schedule and a wonderful fruitfulness to the results of their ministry to see that enough spiritual content is partnered with their institutional ministry, whatever it is, so that it actually leaves results in the lives of the people who have heard the gospel from the word of God. They've come in contact with Christians, not just as do-gooders, but people whose lives have been changed and they hear their testimony and the doctors, nurses, teachers, technical people, all those in education actually get to know the people and the families because the priorities are set right for them to have a spiritual impact, not just a betterment of humanity.

Now, we have to ask the question, well, how is that even possible? Some of these institutional ministries have been going for decades and decades and decades, and recruiting people to fill the shoes of those that are leaving or retiring in such a way that it just keeps on going. It's an endless cycle without any significant spiritual impact in the community. The first thing that comes to my mind is indigeneity. You know this principle is woven through everything that we do and say in Propempo we want the nationals to take responsibility. Therefore, we don't do things that they are incapable of doing themselves, and we recruit them and disciple them in such a way that they take over the roles of the missionaries.

Shame on us for having decades and decades and decades of institutional ministry in which the nationals have not taken over and completely own it and run it if it is that significant in institutional ministry with a spiritual impact. It doesn't mean that the Western Mission Agency or sponsoring agency has to completely clear out, but it does mean that the nationals are taking responsibility. It's indigenous, they're in their language, they're in their culture, they're in their country, and they have a much better prospect of having a longer term spiritual impact. Spiritual priorities are woven into the tapestry of all that they do and their whole purpose for being there.

So having that spiritual end result is very, very important for any institutional ministry to have wired into their DNA from the earliest days all the way through. And then this indigeneity principle applies to raise up disciple train nationals to do the job so that the missionaries aren't funding, doing, leading, controlling all of the institutional ministry forever until Christ returns, that it is actually in the hands of the nationals.

The missionary and mission agency always have to ask the most basic questions like, why are we actually here? What spiritual impact do we have? How do we frame and organize our ministry in such a way that it actually produces spiritual results. By God's grace, it's a sad but almost humorous observation that some ministries, and some people think that going overseas and constructing a building for a church meeting is church planting. It's obviously not so. Putting up a church chapel is not church planting. Church planting is the people. It's having that mutually committed local body of believers that meets together regularly for worship with biblically qualified leaders and observing the ordinances and teaching all the things of the Bible and living it out together.

How successful would the church construction builders think it was if they thought they planted a church and realize that six or 12 months later that building was used as a store or a bar or a house of sin somehow instead of as a house of worship? So working in conjunction with local believers becomes a very important part. It's possible that a pioneering ministry, even at pioneering institutional ministry, might not have local believers to begin with, but if it's truly a priority to plant indigenous churches and to see people continue to evangelize their own community, it must be a priority on the front end to give time and effort and planning to actually doing the work of evangelism and seeing God bring those to himself to saving faith in Christ.

I remember an actual study done by a missionary on the field in a very remote pioneering kind of situation in which they had a clinic and a shop. Most of the missionaries in this whole region had these things. They opened it for a time once a day or one day a week. People came to the clinic and shop. They got primary care, medical help. They were able to buy steel axes and other things that made their life better, and everyone thought, this is the way to do it. This is helping the lives of these tribal people.

However, in the study this missionary said, I don't know if it's really helping the ultimate purpose, and they began slowly to shut down the shop and the clinic and discovered that their relationships were aimed toward evangelism, and they actually had much, much more fruit in evangelism when they closed down the commercial side of it and didn't help people in those ways. And amazingly, those people found other ways to acquire some of the same kinds of tools and services that they needed, reevaluation of the program activities, time and resources spent to develop relationships cause them to make a change that help them become much more effective in relationship building, in gospel proclamation and in fruit in the salvation of their people.

So again, if you're a church leader, if you are a missions committee person, if you're just an interested church person, what are you going to do about this? I think it's proper to start asking some penetrating questions of your missionaries, your mission agencies, and those that you have concerns with on the field. Are the kinds of institutional ministries that they're doing actually forwarding the cause of the gospel and of the ultimate plan for church planting among all the people groups of the earth? Or are they just kind of spinning their wheels, doing good for humanity in the name of Christ?

Don't mistake me. You may still need to do some of those institutional kinds of things. In some cases, you may have to do those things to have entrance into that place or that country, and yet don't lose sight of what the end goal is and keep pushing toward that in how you think day to day and how you plan for the long term. Ultimately, we're looking for seeing people come to Christ discipling and training them in such a way that the missionary's presence is no longer necessary, even if the missionary's support, encouragement and training forms of backdrop. And the ultimate goal is to see local bodies of believers who are committed to each other fulfilling the definition in the cause of the local church to expand the gospel among their own people. Lord, help us to change the shape of missions to be more effective for your purposes and for your glory. Amen.

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, Please preferably consider supporting this ministry now to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen.

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