Kingdom Life Simple/organic church

Simple missions

This past weekend I met with a group of people to discuss missions.

Traditional church is complex and complicated. Think of what goes into a typical Sunday morning service, let alone the upkeep of a building, handling the finances, keeping the programs running. Ordinary people, who have no training in ecclesiology and who have jobs and families, would find it very difficult to start and/or run a traditional church.

Simple/organic church, on the other hand, is so simple, almost anyone can start one.

Traditional missions is complex too. They require mission agencies and mission boards to keep them running. Raising support is tough. It’s hard to adapt to a different culture.

A question I’ve been asking myself for some time is this. What would simple missions look like? Just as simple/organic church has a very different feel and DNA to the traditional, what would be the differences between simple and traditional missions?

What ideas do you have?


10 replies on “Simple missions”

In Ukraine it is looking like this: simple church missionary together with Ukrainian believer lead an alcoholic to Christ, and teach him to reach his oikos–other alcoholics and drug addicts–and they meet in an apartment or cafe or park, and they teach new believers to reach their own circles of family, friends, drinking buddies, etc. They don’t have a church building, and it’s a good thing! Now there are about a dozen simple churches of former addicts and their families and friends, and they are still reproducing. They are continually being discipled, and making disciples who make disciples. If they built a church and started a program, this would be the end of the movement, as it has been in America. Same things are going on in China, India, etc. etc. etc.

We work on two principles – overflow and encounter. Overflow is how we should live our lives…from the overflow of Christ in us empowered by the Holy Spirit. Mission should come from our overflow of love, compassion etc. Encounter is bringing kingdom demonstration back into mission so that our explanations are built upon someone’s encounter with God and His kingdom rather than just words. Both of these remove duty and programmes because mission comes naturally when we overflow and encounter.

The man who first taught us about how the Holy Spirit raises up the church when left alone without us imposing things on it, he was speaking from his own experience in ‘simple missions.’ He felt called to Korea, so to Korea he went with $17 in his pocket. No missions organization backup, and a wife and kids along for the ride. He went from village to village preaching ( this must have been around 50 years ago), and when a few would respond to the Lord, he would give them a Bible and tell them to read it, and get together to pray and talk about what they were learning. He’d move to the next village and not see them for a long time. Later he would observe how they met and how it didn’t match American churchianity. He came to the same conclusions as what all the simple/organic church people agree on today. I don’t know exactly what his family’s lifestyle was while there, although I am sure that was also fairly simple, but I do know he taught us that God doesn’t always provide by giving you money — He will often just give you the things you need directly. I assume this was also from his experience. So different from today’s missionaries ‘raising support’ (meaning money) to what is essentially a salary they can (somewhat) count on to meet most needs. I always think of what he learned ‘accidentally’ and taught hundreds of wanna-be missionaries as independent verification of what I read today in modern books about organic church life and church planting. He started some churches in the states too and has conferences for a loose network of house churches in the Pacific Northwest.

Angela, what a fascinating story–and exactly the sort of thing I was looking for. I’ve come across a similar story in Mongolia too, where a new believer went from village to village telling stories about Jesus and encouraging people to gather around these stories. Until he met some missionaries who told him he was doing it all wrong.

Mongolia is an interesting case in point. When the communists left I think in 1992, there was only a handful of believers in the country. Now, a mere 20 years later, I forget the exact figure but I think there are around 100,000 believers, but also denominations, missions organizations, sectarianism etc, etc. So sad that with our missions, we import all the trappings too.

Yes, we’ve heard the same story about Nepal. It makes me so angry when I hear of missionaries telling these workers they are doing it all wrong. I’ve always been interested in Mongolia, and I read that book ‘There is a Sheep in my Bathtub.’ So interesting what they discovered about meeting through trial and error. Again, independent verification based on real experience. I worked with some missionaries in Mexico in the area of the Tarahumara Indians, now made famous by the book, “Born to Run.” This is where we learned from Dick York about his experiences in Korea — he came to teach a mission training class. The career missionaries had so much trouble with his ideas– like open meetings. Said they’d never work, ignoring the fact that he’d SEEN it working. He was very gracious. But many of the people who came to the class with us were from churches associated with him and had experience with open meetings. They even have open meetings at their conferences. When we left Mexico, we went to what turned out to be the most organic of these churches and stayed five years. I still count them as the dearest friends and brothers ever, and visit at least once a year. In Mexico, we were also priveledged to meet some New Tribes mission people who mentioned how some of the ‘hit and run’ short-term missions people were causing problems. I never heard specifics though. They weren’t the type to bad-mouth others.

It depends on the direction of God. Evangelism and apostolic missions are not exactly the same thing. We can, should, and must share Christ with people near and far, but purposefully working to establish an understanding of gospel and call people to repentance and faith from a different culture is something a little more precise. People often describe ‘mission organizations’ as if they are all even close to being alike, but that is far from the case. If a person is led of God to go into most nations of the world, he will be required by the receiving nation’s gov’t to sign a promise not to seek employment. Whether he is allowed to earn money through self-employment or not will depend on the country. How much his financial reserve or current income must be will vary too. For most people who work through mission agencies, the agency is really a just a conglomorate of necessary administrative functions that the person could set up for himself – but not always so efficiently. Other agencies act as if they have spiritual authority over a ‘worker’ or ‘missionary’ and that is a completely different animal. In my opinion, whether a person carries cash and hitchhikes or uses a bank account and plastic card to draw money from ATM’s or seeks employment and the right to live in another culture or travels in an out frequently coordinating efforts with locals – is up to the direction of God. Using the services of most mission agencies is no more or less scriptural or anti-scriptural than using a bank, a post office, or a flight maintenance program for a bush plane. It’s just a tool that either serves or doesn’t. What makes the difference is how the person conducts himself and how he influences others. I travel frequently and spent significant time living in other cultures to do evangelism or teaching. The people I meet on the street know nothing of how I got there or how I survive, and when some of us start meeting to talk about Christ, worship together, or for discipleship – that rarely comes up and hardly matters.

Thank you for a helpful and balanced view. You make some excellent points– although I doubt most mission agencies would see themselves in the light that you discuss here. I totally agree that the difference is in how the individual influences others.

Having said that, I’ve also come across indigenous Christians who assume they cannot be a “missionary” in their own culture because they don’t have all the trappings that missionaries from other cultures bring. There isn’t an easy answer… Like you say, the main thing is that we listen to the Lord and obey him.

I love the example of my parents in law. Turned down by mission agencies for health reasons, they knew the call of God on their lives to go to China, and so they went anyway, with the backing of their local church but no mission agency.

Leave a Reply