Martin Perris senses changes afoot in the global village of missionary communication
Are people cutting down their financial support of established Missionary Societies and increasing their support to individuals? In an increasing number of churches, the answer must be a resounding "Yes".
The reasons for this are varied and complex. In our own church, 15 years ago, a declining interest in missionary prayer meetings, a thumbs-down to many missionary deputations and an increasing desire to give responsibly (i.e. have some control over "where the money goes" - this latter desire amongst mature Christians also has a bearing on Quota payments in the same way), led us to seek to reduce our supported societies from 13 to 6. A survey of societies supported by individuals in the congregation revealed a staggering 81! It was soon realised that nothing less than a total review and a clear statement of our Mission support strategy was needed. To cut a long story short: The result was a person-orientated support strategy.
It is axiomatic that Scripture witnesses to the centrality of mission at the heart of God and the Gospel. Mission arises primarily out of the nature not of the church, but of God Himself. The God of the Bible is a sending God. Christians are sent into the world, like Jesus, to live and work; to love and serve for His glory. Mission is therefore the priority for any local church, in obedience to Jesus' command and example to be the "salt of the earth" and the "light of the world".
The goal of any Church's mission committee must, therefore, be to facilitate the development of Mission awareness, interest and support within the whole church. It is at this point that person-orientated support comes in for - active involvement in mission by the whole church is best encouraged by focusing upon individuals or "mission partners" - as they may be called. This focus will find expression in Sunday services (prayers, regular focus spots, and speakers), events from family fun days with a mission input to seminars, links with home groups, youth groups and prayer meetings. (All this depends on a regular two-way flow of information, but the advent of E-mail, faxes and cheaper air tickets greatly aids rapid and easy world-wide communication).
Person-orientated support is increasingly evident in British Church life because
1. It fosters a closer link between supporter and supported. 2 It is increasingly encouraged by many missionary societies. 3. It should result in greater financial, prayer and internal support because it is focused on a person rather than a society.
On this latter point, when we implemented this new strategy, our mission giving went up by a staggering 61% from around £19,000 to about £30,000 in the first year. Prayer and interest were revitalized. Mission display boards became a focus of real interest and concern for evangelism and mission beyond our parish boundaries was enhanced.
There are disadvantages, which should not be overlooked:-
1. Are missionary societies to be no more than a sort of glorified travel agency? 2. If a local church concentrates solely on individuals from their church, then they would set and limit the church's mission criteria and horizons. 3. The mission partner with the bright personality and exciting work attracts funds that another night not. 4. When a mission partner retires or moves away from his/her place of calling, the work does not cease, but a large financial input to their work might. Mission agencies who had come to expect several thousand pounds annually from a certain church may suddenly find those moneys transferred elsewhere. 5. A person-orientated strategy by western churches may seek to perpetuate a "west to the rest" view of world wide mission.
To seek to meet these potential criticisms a local church would be well advised to seek to combine a policy of supporting individuals with a few selected societies. The former have the value of personal, manageable, intimate relationship and warmth of concern; the latter help a local church to have a wider perspective on world mission (in terms of geography and in terms of supporting gospel-preaching, and church planting and nurturing organizations), and enable that church to continue support of the work when their partner "comes home" - and to be involved in work where there are few or no western missionaries.
Hence, any local church needs to clarify its objectives in mission support. As an example Redland Parish Church's Draft (we are in the process of re-working our strategy) Mission Support Objectives look like this:-
a) Main Longer Term Goals. To pray that God will enable our local church to become more actively engaged in: i. Church planting and nurturing ministries among unreached people.
iii Development of national Christians, to enable them to lead churches to maturity. b) Shorter Term Goals (again in the context of a person- orientated strategy). i. To help every church member to be committed to a deepening involvement in mission. ii. To maintain support for all our present mission partners and to ask them to consider our vision concerning longer term goals. iii. To facilitate God's calling from the congregation of mission partners for long term service; either in primary evangelism or in nurturing and discipling of existing churches. iv. To seek to facilitate the training of national leaders; this training to be taken as close as possible to their place of ministry. v. To encourage and support short term commitments and provide training and practical experience in cross- cultural evangelism, discipleship and leadership training. vi. To encourage and support those serving the Lord through their chosen professions and witnessing and reading the Bible with Nationals as and when opportunities arise.
Just as local churches are having to radically rethink their role in world mission in a global village where communication is getting easier and cheaper, so too, must missionary societies undergo the perhaps painful process of rethinking their roles and how they can best be in a genuine partnership with local churches, winning the confidence of local churches, that individuals, churches and para-church agencies together might best witness "to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ". Rev. Ch. 1 v 2.
Martin Perris is Vicar of Redland Parish Church, Bristol and member of Crosslinks General Council
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