Wednesday, May 30, 2007

is there a mission agency for the missional church?

Every 3 years in New Zealand, all the mission agencies get together. They call it Missions Interlink and it is happening June 5-8. The theme is “Remodelling Mission” and I’ve been asked to speak for 2 hours on the topic: “A Missional Church.” “Specifically we need to see the biblical basis of the local church being the main instrument in mission and where appropriate delegating responsibility to agencies to work with their people in fulfilling the churches vision.”

I said thanks but that the dates clashed with some existing teaching commitments. They moved the timetable to accommodate me.

I said thanks but I was in a really busy patch and would be unable to do any fresh work on the topic. They said come anyway.

I said thanks but told them that missional church actually offers a profound realignment for mission agencies. Missional church says that mission is not an extra, for over there; but that mission is the whole church. And that will set up an entirely different (and potentially quite uncomfortable) conversation for mission agencies. They said yes, that’s why they want me to come.


My worst case scenario is that I am going to be fed to some lions. My best case is that I could actually say something prophetically helpful. Anyhow, as I’m short of time, are any of my readers interested in doing some research and thinking for and with me? Here are some of my questions:
– what does the reality of a rock star like Bono advocating for justice and commercial movements like Red mean for mission agencies in our world today?
– what does missional church mean for traditional notions of parachurch mission agencies?
– does Luke 10:1-12 speak to the cross-cultural challenges of our globalised world today?
– can a locally missional church function into a cross-cultural context, or does the mission agency have some role (whether old or new) in that?

Posted by steve at 12:07 PM


  1. Hi Steve, this is an interesting area. I’m going to avoid your questions (well not entirely) and give you a little spiel about World Horizons.

    The founder of WH was once asked: “are you para church?” to which his response was: “only as much as you are para mission…”

    For the last twenty odd years WH has been modelling in a flawed, imperfect way, a kind of missional church. We are a community of people, a family, and we are all engaged in mission. We are church, and we are mission. Moreover, we are all individually tied into other fellowships, from a variety of backgrounds. But together, we dont exist as a para church ‘agency’ we exist as church.

    Possibly if we were an agency we would be more efficient, more organised, more strategic, or more targeted. We’d probably have more money, or better facilities.

    But we prefer a kind of Celtic model of community and service, basing all of our activities on a deep foundation of prayer.

    The kind of mission we’re into is indeed cross cultural, and our principle focus is always on the areas of the world that are called least reached, where there is little by way of active Christian expression, and in countries where indigenous mission movements can be raised up. We also leave plenty of room for God to speak about the places we should be going next.

    A large proportion of our workers (we’re not huge in humbers – possibly around 300 I think) are from Latin America, and we’re actively involved in raising up/encouraging/equipping indigenous missionaries in countries in Africa and Asia.

    I could go on, but this is feeling like a plug. Sorry.

    There is a role for agencies I think, particularly to train and equip, rather like a vocational college… not to denigrate people’s work, but you know what I mean.

    In terms of the Bono question, I think that it is helpful and unhelpful at the same time. Helpful because it raises the legitimacy of being ‘on a mission’, and unhelpful because it makes some people say that ‘the world is looking after the justice issues’, which is stupid I know, but I have heard it.

    The Luke passage – well that is an encouragement, the harvest is indeed plentiful.

    And the last question… in my (limited) experience, local congregations benefit from having people of experience who can equip them in terms of cross cultural adaptation, journeying and so on.

    All this is why, we as World Horizons arent called a Mission Agency, but a movement.

    Two legs bad, four legs good 😉

    Hope that’s of interest.

    You can read more about WH by putting in the name, followed by a dot org, or a dot co dot uk.


    WH UK

    Comment by Simon Cross — May 30, 2007 @ 8:30 pm

  2. Sorry, mucked up my personal info thingy.

    Comment by Simon Cross — May 30, 2007 @ 8:32 pm

  3. i work for a mission agency in the uk, cms, that is precisely trying to reconfigure to be a mission agency for the missional church and certainly not afraid of any of the questions you are asking. we are always asking questions…

    Comment by jonny — May 30, 2007 @ 9:36 pm

  4. Jonny,

    you got any answers? or just questions? questions are good … so are you asking any good different questions?

    got any resources you could flip my way about how CMS is reconfiguring, apart from hiring you from another parachurch (YFC) agency?

    going to talk to a mission agency grouping is an area i enter reluctantly, personally, and am still trying to process why i feel this way … the danger of being patronised for an underlying agenda of “bring more young people to our mission agency please”, the danger of being an expert when in fact it needs a mutual dialogue and learning, the danger of becoming “the spokesperson for the missional church” when i feel like a little plodder along,


    Comment by steve — May 30, 2007 @ 11:01 pm

  5. on the bono question… i know mine is an unpopular view, but i think that what mission agencies offer that’s different is an integrity… a wholistic approach embodying the christian gospel, which is about living simply so all can simply live. the red campaign’s approach indicates that justice is something you do with your extra cash. the gospel says that justice is our starting point…

    Comment by cheryl — May 31, 2007 @ 11:12 am

  6. thanks Cheryl. I agree with you that Red is about surplus cash. What appeals for me in thinking about that example is that it shows that God is at work in our world without mission agencies. (You could also be cynical and say first that God is more active outside mission agencies and second that mission agencies are also only getting people’s surplus cash, just like Red).

    Your comment pushes me in another direction too, wondering if you can clarify what makes justice at the heart the domain of mission agencies. Shouldn’t that be the domain of all Christian groups, including churches? So, if churches could live simply so all can simply live, would we still need mission agencies?


    Comment by — May 31, 2007 @ 11:27 am

  7. Simon, found your testimony on WH helpful. thanks,


    Comment by — May 31, 2007 @ 11:28 am

  8. really quickly, time’s against me today… justice and mission go hand in hand – by the definition of my tradition anyway. our mission as christians is to create god’s kingdom on earth, to fulfil jesus’ proclamation in luke 4.

    mission is more than justice, of course, but it’s not complete without it.

    we confuse justice with charity/mercy quite often. the red campaign, or world vision, can’t advocate for justice to governments because if they do governments won’t let them in to do the charity. church missions can. the red campaign, at its heart, is about charity, not justice. according to micah 6:8, both are at the heart of faithfulness to god.

    mission agencies to the stuff that individual churches can’t do. [that’s why i’m firmly denominational]. they only work if they serve churches who do what they do on a local level.

    the church isn’t only local. in the uniting church, which i’m part of, we speak of each council and agency of the church as being the manifestation of the church in that place – our mission agencies are church on our behalf, on a national and global level, where each congregation can’t be. they speak for us [it’s not as one-sided as that, of course]; they resource congregations to better be missional on a local level – so the local is integrated into the global.

    Comment by cheryl — May 31, 2007 @ 4:05 pm

  9. steve
    i am on a week off. a reply will take me a while so i want to think about it and post when i am back in action… but i will do so. i am really uninspired by red by the way. unsacrificial giving while you shop? if that’s an alternative to mission agencies then that is depressing

    Comment by jonny — June 2, 2007 @ 4:50 am

  10. A few thoughts:

    1. Is God using the likes of Bono, the One campaign and Red movement to remind us Christians that His Kingdom is not just about getting souls into heaven? I believe that the time of the “plunder hell, populate heaven” ideology for both evangelism and mission is over. We need to have a more rounded approach to mission.
    2. Missional church means change for parachurch mission agencies. One thing that surprised me recently is the fees parachurch mission agencies charge someone who is interested in being a missionary under the agency umbrella. Average is 10% for the local branch, which could potentially get up to NZ$5000 depending on where you serve, and an additional 2% for the international branch, sometimes not capped. Is this a good way to operate? Is it stopping some people from fulfilling God’s call on their lives as they can’t raise enough to cover this?
    3. Yes, Luke 10:1-12 still speaks to cross cultural challenges. There is a large movement in missions that focuses on looking for the person of peace and building a church planting movement around that person. However one part that seems to be overlooked in this approach is the healing of the sick – the idea of a person of peace seems to have become a formula (x + y = z). Dangerous to do this.
    4. I believe missional church and mission agencies can work together, so yes, mission agencies still have a role to play. When my wife and I first began working cross culturally we were sent out by our local church. However, we have recently joined a mission agency as we felt that we needed the support and encouragement on the field that a mission agency can provide, and that a church, whether missional or not, can’t provide equally well.
    I think that with missional church, there will possibly be a more hands on approach, but I think that mission agencies can help with that.
    Will continue to think on this and talk with a fellow misso here and will make another comment if we come up with anything else.

    Comment by wokboy — June 2, 2007 @ 1:18 pm

  11. Really helpful wokboy.

    Now let me be devils advocate, just to help my thinking —
    re your fees % taken by mission agencies: wouldn’t most mission agencies accuse the church of taking a % in admin, building costs, newsletters etc?
    — Luke 10 is a bounded text geographically. the disciples go, but Jesus is following after. how practically does that work in a globalised world, where a church sends out missionaries miles away? does the church just weight for newsletters and email or furlough? does the church send encouraging tourists? or is this the role of mission agencies, as your alude, to provide mutuality and support.

    if so, here’s my cynical take. why not just set up a myspace site? with www, there are much better ways to connect,


    Comment by steve — June 2, 2007 @ 1:35 pm

  12. another thread I am picking up. people are using parachurch quite differently.

    jonny has used CMS and cheryl has used her denomination. that is quite different from a mission agency.

    now i was reading yesterday that mission agencies are only an invention of Protestants in the 18th century.

    so they are a contextual response to colonialism. what might that say about their shape and need and veracity in a post-colonial world?


    Comment by steve — June 2, 2007 @ 1:37 pm

  13. Steve
    Mission agencies here in the UK are changing to be major partners with the missional Church throughout the world and including here in the UK. CMS and USPG the major anglican agencies work in partnership withe local churches and there is no gap between missional and mission agency.

    Now CMSNZ had a reputation for being more conservative but I find it hard that they would not welcome your story of being a missional church. I would doubt very much that you are being fed to the lions – quite the reverse.

    Missional has exactly the same roots as the !9th century mission agencies of the protestant denominations (as it indeed with the earlier mission agencies of the Catholic Church such as Jesuits)- it comes from a movement of the Spirit for the renewal of the church and a radical rediscovery of Jesus charge to share the faith which we hold in new ways according to a new context.

    I don’t think Red or its ilk has any real serious implications – its not about real links between real people – it is a somewhat form of modern age imperialism which says ” we will save you poor benighted people” – it screams ” we know how to solve your problems”. Partnership between CHurches is a a quite different relationship which says that “we will sit alongside and learn from and with you what the God of justice and peace is doing in”

    Hope the meeting is much more profitable than you imagine.

    It would be worth pursuing with Jonny B what CMS is doing here in the UK for a worthwhile model of how the traditional agencies are informing missional Church here in the UK (with Mark Berry and Tallskinnykiwi also involved within CMS)


    Comment by Tom Allen — June 3, 2007 @ 4:30 am

  14. Steve
    See some of Chris Neals writing about missional church from a CMS perspective ( ignore the cell Church stuff if that seems rather cliched and unhelpful as it does to me) here

    Comment by Tom Allen — June 3, 2007 @ 4:47 am

  15. could I suggest that the fact we even use the word “parachurch” indicates a fairly narrow view of “the church”? surely the stuff “parachurch groups” do IS church????????

    Comment by Rachael — June 4, 2007 @ 10:48 pm

  16. Steve,

    Nice thoughts. Have been thinking through the questions you ask and here’s what I came up with.
    Re fees %, it is possible that some missions agenceis would accuse the church, but I am not aware of it. However, I am aware and personally question the idea that you must give your local church 10% – but this could be a whole can of worms that I do not want to open at this point. The one thing I keep coming back to is, is there a better way that missions agencies could raise finances? Is there a more efficient way of running missions agencies? Have some of them become fat cows?
    Re practicality in a globalised world. I think that churches, agencies and missionaries need to get better at using the technology available today for communication. Our home church is not missional and sometimes we find it quite hard going back as very few people actually know what we do, and apart from a quick update when we initially get back, don’t really seem interested in what is going on, but are more interested in sports, houses and the latest “toys”. We try to send out newsletters every month, have experimented with sending weekly prayer updates, but half the time we wonder if anyone is reading what we put out.
    I like your idea of a myspace or a weblog. I have often thought of trying to set up something like that myself, but have always held off doing it, due to us living in a country where we have to be careful about what we do.
    In terms of providing mutuality and support (and I am reluctant to push agencies, so write the following as “in our experience”), the leadership team of our agency are on the field. We still get some visits but a lot of the mutality and support occurs on the field.
    Just a few thoughts. Sorry for being a bit wordy.

    Comment by wokboy — June 5, 2007 @ 3:00 am

  17. Just reading your second post about missions agencies being born in the 18th century. The obvious answer is that they need to change and adapt. I recall going to a church planting training in Singapore run by Southern Baptists. The teacher, in the 1st week, gave a rundown on the history of missions. During that time he said something that has been etched in my mind. He addressed the Sthrn Baptists in the room and said that their agency was the last of the dinosaurs. He said that no one runs an agency the way they do anymore. He was trying to encourage them to change. He said that the average missionary today was more open to pentecostal/charismatic thinking, sent out by their own church and had to raise their own support. This was a shock to some of the S.B.’s, particularly the last part – we were asked a few times how we went about raising our own support. I personally wasn’t aware that S.B.’s are essentially paid a wage from a cnetral fund.
    I mention this as I think it serves as a good warning to all missions agencies – society changes, people change, the way people do things now has changed. I think it is a wise mission agency who is willing to embrace change and see how it can adapt to the new environment.

    Comment by wokboy — June 5, 2007 @ 3:10 am

  18. Rach, my understanding is that mission agencies gave themselves the name “parachurch.”

    it does raise all sorts of problems. say you are the navigators, you don’t see yourself as church and you want to focus on discipling people. fine and good. you are “parachurch” for the sake of your mission.

    then people get changed. do you try to fit them back into church? or create your own? but then you have to change your original focus, cos church now equals care for elderly, questions about giving, etc.


    Comment by steve — June 5, 2007 @ 9:29 am

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