So you want to be a missionary?

Mission schoolPhoto credit: breezy 421 (Creative Commons)

Nothing magical occurs when a person moves into a cross-cultural situation. Arriving on foreign shores, a new missionary doesn't suddenly morph into an evangelistic go-getter. 

When we come across people who are about to go onto the mission field, while standing in awe of their commitment to Jesus, our usual question to them is this: "What have you been doing here in this country?"

Whatever a person is doing now, back at home, in terms of working for the Kingdom, is most likely what they'll do overseas. If they never spread the Good News here, it's not likely they'll find it any easier elsewhere. If they've never started a church here, it's not going to fall into their lap in a foreign context.

So what is the best basic training for you, as one whom God is calling overseas? Is it years of seminary? Bible school? [God uses such people –remember, the apostle Paul had done the equivalent in his day–but that wasn't what qualified him to reach out to the Gentiles.] There's nothing to compare with practical experience.

Many missions or missionary sending churches, no matter their denomination or affiliations, have recognized that old-style missionary methods do not generally have much impact on the Kingdom in terms of new followers of Jesus. Teaching in schools, bringing healthcare and so on may provide  extremely valuable help to the local people, and that may be what God has called you to do, but it doesn't usually result in new churches. 

The most effective pattern being used around the world today is the multiplication of networks of small, organic churches meeting in homes. We know several mega-churches who start house churches in other countries. No matter their background, this is what sending agencies are doing overseas. Many missionaries today train indigenous leaders in these patterns. Relief of needs–feeding the poor, caring for orphans, may play a part, and may provide inroads into the community, but it's not the primary means of gathering the harvest.

Therefore, the most effective preparation for overseas missions is to do here at home what you'll be doing, or what you'll be training others to do, abroad. Start a multiplying network of simple/organic/missional churches. This practical, on-the-job training, coupled with learning about cross-cultural challenges and opportunities, together with some experience in other cultures will provide a good basic training for what you will do overseas.

A simple/organic contribution to global mission

Photo credit: Gravitywave (Creative Commons)

Over the past few months, we have had several people from a more traditional church background and who are in the process of leaving for the mission fieldĀ visit the church that meets in our home.

The exchange has been valuable. Our “Jesus family” has rubbed shoulders with people sold out for the Kingdom who are literally giving up everything they know in order to take the good news into cultures that may be hostile to the Gospel. And those visiting us have tasted a simpler, relational style of church that seeks to follow the Holy Spirit when they come together and that is reaching out using Luke 10 principlesĀ into the different spheres of influence that people represent.

Many churches and mission agencies are using simple/organic church patterns on the mission field. These days, mega-churches and denominations do not ususally plan to replicate traditional Western styles of church when they get into a cross-cultural context. Mission sending agencies recognize that the most effective evangelism uses a simple/organic model of church that multiplies along relational lines.

Current experience shows that simple/organic patterns of church are less likely to provoke persecution in environments hostile to the Gospel.

The problem for many of the people going abroad as missionaries is that they have no experience of simple/organic church, even though that is what they plan to do on the field. So when they arrive on the mission field, they not only have to cope with a totally new cultural environment–language, customs, lifestyle; they also expect to work within an unfamiliar style of both evangelism and gathering.

This leads me to two conclusions:

  1. People who have been involved in simple/organic expressions of church in their home countries are well-suited to involve in cross-cultural mission. If they have been involved in a healthy expression of organic/simple church, they are already accustomed to Luke 10 principles of mission and an informal, home-based style of gathering. But a single simple church or even network of simple churches, even though they may be able to provide financially, may not have the resources or experience to provide the cross-cultural training and support on the field necessary for someone going out as a missionary.
  2. One of the contributions that the simple/organic movement can make towards global missions is to willingly work with mission-sending agencies, giving prospective missionaries a taste of what they are likely to experience on the field.

Are there ways we can partner together?