How do we help our church change its view of itself from being a mission field to being a sending church?
Rev. Gloria Azikiwe
National Ministry Coordinator, Wesleyan Church of Kenya
At the heart of mission is the love of God for a lost world, and God has been in the work of reaching out to humanity since the fall to reveal Himself and to bring about salvation. This points to the fact that God is a missionary God, and He is the first missionary who reaches out to save humanity ultimately in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. In Matt 28: 18 – 20, Jesus passes on this missionary mandate to his disciples known as “The Great Commission.” Thus, in its DNA, the Church is supposed to love the unbelieving and possess a deep concern for their eternal destiny. This positions her as the light/salt of the earth, an agent of hope for the unbelieving and skeptical.
Where is the problem?
In some parts of the church in the African continent, there seems to be a paralysis about engaging in missions. Sending African missionaries to engage foreign communities and presenting the message of God’s love seems to be a strange concept because missionaries have typically come from the West. However, there are churches that have embraced the mandate and are sending African missionaries into foreign territories many of them going as church planters. This has produced a movement of multiplication within those churches that is formidable and encouraging. In 2007, I was part of a pastoral team meeting of a very vibrant mission-oriented Church. A Pastor from Lagos, Nigeria shared her story of how they came to Kenya to plant their first Church. They had shared with the Bishop of their denomination about their sense of call to plant a church in Kenya. In one church service, the Bishop asked, “Is there anyone here from Nairobi, Kenya?” A young person lifted her hand and was requested if she would be willing to host this Pastoral couple at their home when they get to Nairobi, and she agreed. Shortly after, the couple traveled to Nairobi, and with the help of this young lady’s family, they were able to have networks that made it possible for them to start a vibrant church. In 2015, I was part of a team of Pastors invited to a church planting conference in Kenya. Among the speakers was an assistant Bishop from Ghana serving with a sizeable denomination with over 2,500. Their strategy was that every member of the Church who gave themselves to serve in the Church was a potential missionary. Therefore the Church invested in training and orienting them into the possibility of going into foreign fields and territories to start fellowships that transition into disciple-making church plants. As a result, wherever any of their members would get a job outside the country, the resulting impact of these job opportunities would be the birth of a church in different towns, cities and nations around the globe. Churches were started in homes on a low budget and grew into self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating churches. The underlying factor behind these church's success was that, inherent in their DNA, was a passion for mission and a strategy that made the Church intentional at developing missioners that would step out into the mission field riding on their careers!
Generally, the African Church has been accustomed to missionaries coming from the West and supported by the Church in the West. Thus, the African Church in these contexts has yet to embrace the idea and concept of sending missionaries to other parts of Africa or the rest of the world. The problem is not one-sided; it is a dual dance of both the Western Church and the African Church. The West has continued to send and fund missionaries and mission interests that are either the vision of the key missionary or mission agency or mission organization's collective vision. This has entrenched the perception in certain parts of Africa that missionaries are mainly from the West. Even though the African Church has read, understood and sermons have been preached about the scriptural mandate to engage and participate in mission sending. The principles and strategies modeled of mission sending in some of these situations work one way: from the West to Africa. This has created a paralysis situation when the African Church has been challenged to engage in sending missionaries. The following are suggested reasons:
- The African Church has not been encouraged to engage missions from a contextual perspective doing the best with what she has and developing homegrown strategies to engage in missions.
- The inability of the Church in Africa to tap into its youth resource to fulfill the mission sending objectives is a setback. This is a failure to disciple and train a new generation of missionaries who are low budget and low maintenance and have a higher threshold of adaptability, enabling the gospel to continue spreading from “everywhere to everywhere.”
- The inability of the African Church to detach from traditional perspectives that a missionary is a westerner. Any African who has trans-versed countries to live in foreign communities for the gospel doesn’t seem to fit the profile. The term “missionary” is a reserve for those from the West.
- The better and stronger economies of the West enables a missionary to raise funds for missional objectives, as opposed to the African context, whose people are generally poor and under resourced making it a challenge to raise resources for missional engagements.
- The tragic stories of a section of the African Church mismanaging and misusing funds entrusted to her for accomplishing missional objectives in partnership situations have been a setback of engaging the synergy that would otherwise propel the realization of the missional goals when the West partners with Africa to send Africans.
- The setback of the West accepting and supporting reverse missionaries from the African continent who would take the gospel back to Europe, the Americas, and other areas of the world experiencing decline or difficulty.
- The Immigration challenge and difficulty of processing the necessary visas, and work permits for African missionaries being sent to foreign mission fields.
What can we do as the Wesleyan Church?
A paradigm shift is needed in the Church's DNA, transitioning its perspective and perception of itself from a mission field to a mission sending Church that sends from “everywhere to everywhere.” Wherever there is a Wesleyan Church where people gather in the name of Jesus Christ, that Church is a mission sending Church serving a mission sending God. Every Church has the Lord Jesus Christ's mandate to “go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.” Therefore as the Wesleyan Church, God has indeed positioned us and uniquely gifted us to engage in missions. A few suggestions for the African Church to engage in mission sending will suffice. Still, ultimately every Church has the task of unpacking how to practically achieve this with God-given strategies that will enable her to be effective:
- Prayerfully engage and listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Mission sending is at the center of God’s heart. Suppose our engagement and strategies are not flowing from a platform of prayer and prayer mobilization. In that case, our engagement in mission can be a fruitless and futile endeavor as the God of mission has not been given center stage to lead, guide, and impact through the Church's missional efforts. Prayer is the mother of all strategies!
- Maximize on Discipleship training avenues of the Church: The Church needs to equip by training and empowering new believers with both a sound theological framework of understanding their faith and a practical aspect of engaging their communities to influence them with the message of the gospel and also equipping the believers on mission engagements.
- Harness the youthful resource of the African Church by equipping and engaging them to go into mission fields for both short term and long term missions
- Mobilize local resources, i.e., funds, relationships, networks, properties, projects, etc. Whatever help the Church can master to facilitate sending missioners.
- Decide which model the Church will use based on an understanding of the Church's calling, mission mandate, and the contextual realities. For instance,
- A mission sending Church can have the resources of an elephant because of the size of the Church. This results in a situation involving an engagement of its stakeholders to do the following: work on a strategic plan to execute its missional mandate. As an elephant takes longer to give birth, so will such Churches take a longer time to accomplish missional objectives. The outcome of such processes is usually a bigger missional task that fulfills the great commission.
- The churches that are not endowed with extensive resources will have simplified strategies of missional engagements. These strategies will enable the churches to produce like rabbits, giving birth to many offspring to ensure a quicker and faster movement that avoids the complexities of the substantial financial and human resource investments. Plus, avoiding the rigorous and lengthy strategic planning processes of different stakeholders of churches that have an elephant mentality to mission engagement.
I must insist here that both the Elephant and the Rabbit perspectives to missional engagement are vital and needed to the spread of the gospel as each has the place in the advancement of the gospel.
- Engage partnerships in situations that that may be an available avenue facilitated by mutual trust and accountability. These partnerships should have the flexibility of allowing room for homegrown contextual engagements into mission fields resulting in a win for the gospel and the Kingdom of God.
It is a challenge to cover and exhaust all the possibilities of the need of the Church to change its paradigms to see itself as a missionary sending Church serving a missionary sending God regardless of its context. This means that wherever there is a gathering of believers and a congregation that assembles, that congregation has the mandate and responsibility of engaging mission. Meaning the Church has what it takes to send missioners to spread the gospel using whatever God-given avenues at their disposal. This ensures that from “everywhere to everywhere” the gospel is being preached and is transforming communities.
Rev. John A. Baminhoma
National Superintendent of the Wesleyan Church of Sierra Leone
Changing the church’s view from Mission field to a Sending Church is a very critical but significant issue that is worth given maximum attention by all faithful followers of Jesus Christ. Detailed discussion of this subject can cover tens of pages.
A mission field refers to a location; center, building, or area where a given a task is applied. A Church Mission field specifically refers to a place where missionary work is done. Every mission field has a mission field agent. This Agent consults with the Home Board before any programs or projects of the field are applied mostly. It is a place where the Mission Statement of the home board is effected. Some people call the a Mission Field as a “Mission Station.”
THE INITIAL STAGE OF A MISSION FIELD
A young mission field has its parent body from where guidelines, supervision, coordination of programmes or activities are approved. The Mission Field is involved in propagating the vision and mission of the parent body. If the parent body’s passion is evangelism and church growth, discipleship and ministries of compassion, the activities of the Mission Field will reflect witnessing Christ, making new converts, training leaders, planting churches, establishing institutions and other social facilities.
A MATURE STAGE OF A MISSION FIELD
As a mission field grows and matures, it takes its own responsibility fully. At this stage, the mission field initiates its own programs and operate them with the view of sustaining the core values of the church. This involves doctrinal teaching, spreading of the gospel and training of leaders that can continue the vision and mission of the church futuristically. Sooner or later the mission field develops into an independent stage and start working with the home-board as partners in ministry.
At this stage, the church does not concentrate on working in the local community only but also looks beyond. This has been the practice of the early church in the time of Jesus Christ. After preparing his disciples for three years, Jesus commissioned them to go to all nations, making disciples and teaching what he commanded them. (Matt. 28:19-20). This simply implies that a mature mission field should not just focus on Christian activities in their community but move out with the gospel to other virgin areas.
THE CHARACTERISTICS OF A MATURE MISSION FIELD
- A mature mission field is passionate for lost souls.
- A mature mission field does not consider the number of members in the local church only but also the number that the church has sent on missions work.
- A developed mission field has a burden to support missionaries with their funds and not to build magnificent temples of worship.
- A mature mission field directs most of it funds to take care of missionaries and new converts overseas.
- A mature mission field offers prayers and counseling to provide emotional care for missionaries who have left their comfort zones for a strange home and culture.
A mission field without a mission-minded character most times becomes overcrowded or saturated with programmes, functions and activities to satisfy the needs of the flesh rather than the rescuing of perishing souls. In this time the focus gradually becomes spending funds on the most expensive items such as: key-boards, drums, choir robes, the most recent projectors to screen hymns and messages. A mission field with such practice becomes redundant gradually. Such mission fields look similar to the church described in the Book of Revelation.
“I know your deeds; you have reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die; for I found your deeds unfinished in the sight of God” (Rev. 3:1-2). This discussion is a clear manifestation that the least mission field is expected to develop into a sending church.
MISSION FIELD TO A SENDING CHURCH
A Sending Church is a local community of Christians which has resolved to be prayerful, proactive and mission focused and also commissioning and sending their own members both locally and globally, often in partnership will other churches or organizations.
In as much as it is imperative for a mission field to grow into a sending church, there are measures that need to be taken into account in order to prevent counterproductive standards. Some of these measures are as follows:
- The sending church should beware of the implication of identifying and preparing a missionary from their congregation to go out to the field. A potential missionary is to be trained, commissioned and cared for like any other full-time staff of the home church.
- The prospective missionary should exhibit maturity, discernment and character of biblical enrichment. The church should be able to screen the candidate through his or her family, local church and community within a reasonable period.
- The missionary elect must be nurtured thoroughly prior to his or her departure to the new field. The training includes doctrinal, cultural, linguistic, methodological, security, medical, education, management, supervision and the relevant concerns.
- From the selection of the potential missionary to commissioning, mature mentoring and personal encouragement must be provided by the church elders in order to ensure success in the process.
- The Sending Church should play key role in selecting the field and the specific missionary work. Potential field workers in the mission agency must be involved at the initial stage.
- The local or Sending Church must be involved in fund raising activities to support the missionary. The missionary should not just move to the field by faith but a thoughtful plan must be put in place before he/she leaves.
- A Sending Church will provide distance shepherding. The missionary will once in a while be visited by at least one member of the local church. This practice will encourage accountability and transparency between the sending church and the missionary.
- Whereas the supervisor comes with a report on the activities of the missionary more frequently the missionary on the other hand visits the home board seldomly. The less movement of the missionary is because he/she will be busy in establishing the new field.
From this discussion, it is therefore incumbent on mission fields not to become stagnant in their operations but move further so as to become a sending church (The Great Commission) which is the heart beat of Jesus Christ.