A model for missions

Sep 6, 2016 by

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In Nik Ripken‘s book The Insanity of Obedience, he describes three important elements of a mission effort: the needs of the lost (people without Jesus), worker concerns, and the sending body/agency. One of these elements will be the top focus of the mission, and the other two elements will supplement the main goal.

In a worker-concerns oriented mission, the focus is primarily inward. Priority is given to worker needs like housing, transportation, schooling and security. The sending body and needs of the lost are secondary.

When the sending body is given precedence, the focus is outward — toward the sending church. In this model, things like church/denominational identity, policies and administration are considered to be most important. In this case, secondary needs are worker care and people who don’t know Jesus.

The third model also looks outward but to the needs of the lost. The heartbeat of the mission is to preach the gospel, baptize believers, plant churches, engage in spiritual warfare and relentlessly work to bring Jesus to the world. Worker care and the sending body come under that.

Ripken gives a more detailed description of each of these models than I am giving you here. Reading his words, I could not deny the implication that most of the conservative Mennonite mission organizations that I am acquainted with hold the sending body as the priority. It probably isn’t the stated priority, but it’s there, nonetheless. (Please note, I am not saying that all Mennonite missions are this way, and definitely not that all of their missionaries are this way. I only said that most of the mission organizations that I am aware of function this way.)

I quote from Ripken:

In this model [sending body first] …success is often measured by numbers; important concerns may include the numbers of new believers, the number of churches planted, the number of church buildings built, and the number of baptisms… The language used in these gatherings might often focus on who is in charge or on matters of authority, policy, and procedure tied to the home office or church. In this model, strategy typically flows from the top down…What is most convenient for administration takes precedence over almost anything else. Field-based initiatives are not always highly valued and creativity is inadvertently stifled.


…When the needs of the sending entity are the highest priority, a shared and mutually owned vision within the group is rare. Even worse, new vision can be hijacked or new ideas sidetracked in the attempt to make them fit a particular management approach or a specific theological presumption. These administrative concerns can easily take precedence over creating a new vision for a lost world. (The Insanity of Obedience, pg. 63)

Spiritual warfare is unavoidable regardless of the model, Ripken says. And with keeping the sending body first, he says we will be less able to care for spiritual struggles. He concludes with this statement: “The danger of this model is that the needs of the sending agency or the sending church ultimately assume priority over the needs of the lost world” (pg. 64).

I felt profoundly disturbed as I read his words because I have noticed that we do micro-manage mission efforts.

Why else would we demand that Africans wear Mennonite dresses and head coverings, instead of letting the African church figure out a way to live out the Bible in their own culture? (I use Africa only as an example.) Why do we insist on missionaries living in a compound when they want to live among the lost people? Why do we insist on American-style church services with American preachers preaching from American-style pulpits? Why should only Mennonite preachers have the right to baptize? Why, if not because we have to keep the sending body happy, and because we think American Mennonites have the edge on knowing how to apply the Bible?

Why do we have fundraisers for big guesthouses to keep the American guests comfortable? Would you feel loved if someone built a mansion in your front yard and then tried to convert you to his way of thinking while you wondered where your next meal of rice was coming from?

Why do we have to oversee and manage every little detail of a distant church plant? Is it possible that Christians who have left the comforts of home for a life that includes hardship and loneliness are at least as spiritually mature as those who are living in ease? Is it remotely possible?

I have noticed several side effects of this way of thinking. First of all, when a sending group has ultimate authority, people don’t think they need to answer God’s call to missions. They wait to have the church ask them to go. Never mind that Jesus’ last instructions to his followers were clear: Go into all the world. Preach. Teach. Baptize. When God’s call is ignored because a group of people didn’t ask us to answer his call, we have a problem.

Second, because people are called by an organization and not by God, they don’t have a vision for long-term missions. We do our two-year stint, then return with a sigh of relief that our turn is done. We spend our time longing for the comforts of “home” because we don’t see “home” as wherever Jesus calls us to work. This not the total fault of the sending organization, of course, but people do tend to be shaped by what is expected of them. If a church does not expect or train its members for a lifetime of service, it shouldn’t be a surprise when you don’t see much of that. Jesus had hard words for those who looked back instead of pressing on into their calling. He called them unfit for the kingdom of God (Luke 9:32). This does not mean that we need to spend our lifetime in one location, but it does mean that we are expected to be active in revealing God’s kingdom all of our lives.

Third, this focus on the sending body means that if someone feels God’s call and answers it outside of being asked by a church group, they experience an almost complete lack of worker care. I think a rising number of young Mennonite adults are realizing that there must be more to life than endless meetings and fundraisers and rule-makings, and they are reaching out in new ways to their communities. Instead of seizing the opportunities and equipping these people to serve well, the church turns a suspicious shoulder.

Could we possibly change our model of missions to put the needs of the lost first, while still providing worker care and being respectful of the sending group? Again I quote:

In this model [the needs of the lost first], the world’s lostness causes workers and sending entities to be broken before God and before their colleagues. In this model, workers willingly take on a servant’s role, submitting their own needs to the needs of the lost. The vision for the lost holds them in its grasp and, then, creative and responsive sending bodies develop approaches that grow out of ministry encounters. (The Insanity of Obedience, pg. 65)

“Creative and responsive sending bodies develop approaches that grow out of ministry encounters.” I love that! We should all be answering God’s call to bring the gospel to the world, and each of us needs the helping hand of other Christians. We need support, not fear. We need wisdom, not control.

To those who are active in ministry, can we turn our lives over in service to Jesus, trusting him for everything we need? If we are serving a sending organization above serving Jesus, is it because we are worried that we won’t have enough money? That we will be left alone? Our heavenly Father will provide for us. He will be with us, always.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20 ESV)

Which is the most important? The 99 in the fold or the one who is lost?

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:4-7 ESV)

Rosina Schmucker lives in Medicine Lodge, Kan., and has Amish-Mennonite background. She blogs at Arabah Rejoice, where this post first appeared.

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  • Charlie Kraybill

    The needs of the lost? Really? The “lost”? In 2016 we’re using this type of language to refer to non-Christians? When I hear the phrase “the lost” in the context of world religions, my mind goes to the evangelical Christians themselves who, alone amongst all religions, are arrogant enough to think that their beliefs are superior to those of every other religion. Poor lost self-righteous Christians. But even worse, they insist that unless non-Christians renounce their birthright paths to become Christians, God cannot be happy with them. Their spiritual lives right now are invalid. Do we really believe, in 2016, that the Divine Presence is not to be found within Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Pastafarianism? Do Christian missionaries really want to wipe out our planet’s spectacularly beautiful religious diversity by converting every single person to Christianity? I dread such a world. As Christian institutions continue to decline and recede from global dominance, we can only hope that the power and reach of the Christian missionary industrial complex will decline and recede as well. God’s work in the world will not suffer.

    • Brian Arbuckle

      What is so significant about 2016? Have I missed something?

      • Charlie Kraybill

        Yes, it is 2016, when the bulk of humanity has learned the importance of tolerance and mutual respect for the cultures and religions of others. With the exception of evangelical Christians, who are stuck in a pre-21st-century mindset based on aggressive proselytization and systematic eradication of non-Christian religions and cultures. All while claiming to be God’s instruments. In reality, evangelical missionary Christianity is an active retardant to human progress and a cause of much suffering and misery around the globe.

        • Berry Friesen

          As I perceive you, Charlie, you reflect a thoroughly 19th-20th century religious worldview: there is only one god known by various names and whose primary relevance is determining what happens to us after we die. Of course, you now espouse a universalist answer to that question, but the framing of the question hasn’t changed for you.

          The 21st century worldview is thoroughly pluralistic and closer to the worldview of biblical writings. It sees many gods competing for our collective allegiance; their visions for the salvation of Earth and its inhabitants vary considerably one from the other, pointing in different directions. Those who think they can stand above it all to create an abstract and philosophical synthesis are only fooling themselves.

          So yes, people of faith with a 21st century worldview are missional. We know we collectively are in trouble, we know we need to be saved, we know not all roads lead to the salvation we seek for ourselves and our loved ones, and we have committed ourselves together to a particular way forward.

          And no, Charlie, we’re not talking about life after death, we’re talking about this life in this place, the life and place Messiah Jesus sanctified and redeemed by his transforming presence.

          • Charlie Kraybill

            As usual, Berry, I have to read and re-read your posts multiple times and even then I don’t know what in the world you’re trying to say. You’d be more effective if you kept it simple and straightforward. Not everyone is as educated and sophisticated as you. (I, for example, only graduated high school, and just barely.) Anyway, here’s my very simple worldview, in a nutshell: I recognize the common qualities that make all religions more alike than they are different: compassion, mercy, empathy, humility, forgiveness, generosity, etc. These qualities, no matter where they’re found, emanate from the same place: The Source of All Truth and Beauty in the Universe. The name of that Source for you, apparently, is “Messiah Jesus.” The name I prefer is “Big Mama.” But the name don’t matter, because it’s the same Reality, the same Source, that lies at the heart of all sincere spiritual paths. And when I interact with folks who grew up in different religious environments than me (which I do every day), I want to be mindful that there are non-Christians who possess a richness of spirit and a connection to the Source that puts many Christians to shame. So why would I try to persuade any of them that they’re “not saved” or that my “particular way forward” is the only/best way? I have no desire to do that. In fact, I’m in a permanent state of curiosity about how others do their spirituality, to see if I can learn something. And sometimes new ideas about God and the nature of reality come from the most unexpected places. But one must be open in order to grokk it.

          • Soghomon Ishkhanian

            This time, and with utmost rudeness, Mr. Charley begins his response with a small and different type of “ad hominem” attack on Berry’s comment, which was not obscure at all to read and re-read it more than one time, nor unclear or confusing. But the minute that you notice the argument starts against the person, you can predict that the arguer has lost all of his valuable “cash” to contribute to the conversation. Nonetheless, as Berry said, we have multiple stories in the 21st century, when the world is experiencing the huge waves of something called postmodernism. Everyone has the right to present his/her story with the best ways available. What Christians are presenting is very tiny both in quantity and quality comparing to what the secular media is presenting. No one is putting a gun over anyone’s head to force his/her own beliefs. In a society of free speech and opinion, this is a sacred right. And you, Mr. Charlie, and all of the people like you, who believe in things called multiculturalism, diversity of opinions and different paths are simply destroying each group’s own story when you are taking them, boiling and trying to present them in the same language of “Big Mama,” or something called “at the end the same reality.” And no, the spiritual paths do not lead to the same source at the end. Why? Because “We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23). I don’t see any problem with being open with people and their different beliefs, while at the same time being convinced that what you have is a priceless jewel and you have to share it.

        • Steven Stubble

          Kraybills posts make a mockery of those who come to the Christian faith, full of joy at their liberation from the curse of the Law — Karma, Torah, Koran and all the unfullfillable stipulations of “gods” who must be placated by fearful service. What joy is experienced by the monk and the Imam whose load is lifted by the gift of Grace! And what suffering of persection do they undergo because of it. The prisons of Iran, North Korea and Pakistan contain those who suffer severely because of their love for — what, Mr. Kraybill? On your terms, nothing! They suffer for nothing! They need only have remained in their own religious tradition, but they did not. This should present a great mystery to you. As an aside, your own Anabaptist history books contain accounts of martyrs who also died (speaking on your terms) for nothing!

    • Linda Rosenblum

      Charlie- Do you think Jesus was mistaken or lying when he claimed that he was the way the truth and the life and that no one comes to the Father but by Me? Or was that just something made up by the human authors of the Bible? Linda Rosenblum

      • Charlie Kraybill

        Made up by the author of the gospel of John. That’s not a radical suggestion. Most New Testament scholars have noted for decades that the sayings of Jesus found in John are so dissimilar from the sayings of Jesus found in the synoptics that they couldn’t have been said by the same person. It is therefore assumed that the long, complex, and highly philosophical speeches in John are not original with Jesus, but rather came out of whatever group of Christians the author of John was written for. This idea is not controversial at all within the scholarly community.

  • Craig and Karen Long

    No matter where on YHVH’s Earth that we have been called to declare the glad tidings of great Joy which shall be to ALL people, it is of utmost importance to remember that Yahshua, Alone, died for the sins of the world. This changes our perspective, entirely.