Churches, para-church organisations and mission

This blog post was prompted by a conversation I had with a couple of former students working in student and youth work. This seems to me to be a recurring issue. Each generation needs to encounter  the conversation again.

In the so-called “Great Century of Missions” (the 19th for any in doubt) countless “mission societies” were begun in order to carry forward the work of “foreign missions”. So the Baptist Missionary Society, the Church Missionary Society, etc. were founded. These were denominational mission organisations which planted their particular species of church. The big question was when did the missionary society pull out and let the denomination run itself. Roland Allen dealt with such a problem.

Later “Faith Missions” emerged with people from different denominations coming together in order to avoid the transplantation of denominations from the “home field” to the “mission field”. So the Evangelical Union of South America (EUSA) was formed and planted churches all over South America. New denominations were formed such as the Evangelical Union of Argentina. The same problem existed with this model.

This is further exacerbated when we get into the realms of the specialist organisations; be they student missions, development organisations or children’s work missions. The tendency has been for the specialists to do the work of mission rather than work with the local church. So the specialist student mission organisation goes into the universities and works with local groups of students, encouraging them, pastoring them and training them. When the student groups do well, the local churches suffer.

The question is, what does the church do? What is the local church’s role? If the development organisation does the well-digging, water sourcing, etc. what is the role of the local church? The answer has been, do the “spiritual bit”! So the dichotomy between evangelism and social action is formed and widened.

The arguments were quite intense in Latin America with mission organisations being frustrated with local church leadership and the leadership mistrusting the mission organisations, suspecting them of robbing their young people.

Is their any answer? I think the answer does lie in recognising that the mission of the church is the mission of both the local and universal church. The local church is primary in this task and the universal church should be serving the local church in order to facilitate its mission.

Many development organisations claim that they do “integral mission”. I would argue that they do not. Unless they evangelise, make disciples and planted churches, then they are not doing integral mission. In the same way, if local churches are not caring for the poor, confronting injustice and maintaining creation, they are not doing integral mission.

I leave it to you to rain down the brimstone.