The church is God's agent for world evangelism (1 Peter 2:2- 12; Matthew 5:13-16; 28:18-20). For a local congregation to express its desire to plant churches in different cultures, the congregation must have a plan which has been prayerfully worked out. The author assumes that the congregation has appointed a mission committee whose responsibility is to channel the congregation's desire into a reality. The author also assumes that the mission committee has written its policy statement and established certain goals. This paper will address only two areas of the many activities of a mission committee: informing the congregation of its mission efforts and implementing the congregation's oversight of its mission efforts.
For the congregation to enthusiastically begin and consistently maintain a mission effort it is imperative that the congregation be constantly informed about its various mission personnel and activities. Lack of adequate and regular information to the congregation breeds disinterest and lack of prayer support which adversely affect the mission effort.
There are several ways to keep a congregation informed of its mission efforts. First, utilization of existing channels of congregational information flow should be considered. For example, the church bulletin should contain regular information about the congregation's mission efforts. This could be done by including sections of a recent newsletter from the missionary and informing the members that the full text of the newsletter can be picked up on a table in the foyer. The missionary's newsletters should be made available to all members by whatever appropriate means are necessary. Announcements from the pulpit could include update information about a mission effort and then a special prayer be offered on its behalf.
An attractive mission information bulletin board could be used to displace recent pictures with accompanying script. An alternative to the bulletin board format is to have a large wall map of the world and the areas highlighted where the congregation has its mission efforts.
Periodical video or slide presentations of the current activities of the congregation's missionaries would be informative. The presentations should include not only the various activities of the mission effort but the daily life activities of the missionary family and the national Christians.
To give a warm personal touch to the information flow, the congregation could install a telephone jack to the public address system and have a telephone conversation with their missionary. This conversation not only brings up-to-the minute information but is very encouraging to the missionary who feels loved and appreciated by the congregation.
Pre-school and primary age children can be informed about their congregation's mission efforts through what the Webb Chapel Church of Christ calls the "Mission Learning Center" concept (Petty:1990:1-88). This concept is based around a designated classroom which simulates the culture and work of the missionary which is overseen by the congregation. A class of ten to twelve students come to the mission learning center room for a demonstrative and participatory presentation of the culture of their mission effort and their missionary's life. The children return to their normal Bible study classroom with a feeling that they have been to the mission field with their missionary because they tasted food which was eaten in that country and heard the strange language of the people their missionary is trying to reach for Jesus.
Congregations need to effectively use their missionary families during their furlough time to deepen and broaden the information given to the congregation. The family should have the opportunity to visit the Bible classes and relate appropriate stories and information about what God is doing through them. Individual church families should be encouraged to have their missionary family into their home for times of sharing and praying for each other.
The author cannot over estimate the importance of regular and current information from the mission committee to the congregation about the various mission efforts. The mission committee should be creative in its responsibility of informing the congregation and not limit itself to the above suggested ways of informing a congregation of its mission efforts.
Another necessary function of the mission committee is the implementation of its oversight of their missions efforts. This paper will focus its suggestions to the practical steps in implementing this oversight and will not develop the philosophical and theological basis of this oversight responsibility.
One of the initial activities of the overseeing church is to establish and subsequently maintain a healthy relationship with the missionary family. It seems best and natural if a congregation were to send some of their leading members, who are gifted and committed people, as missionaries. They are already a functioning part of the local body whose evangelistic efforts are appreciated and observed as effective. The church at Antioch sent two of their leading members out to plant churches cross- culturally (Acts 13:1-5). Barnabas and Saul were men of demonstrated skills who had been an active part of the church in Antioch (Acts 11:22-30). For an example of how one church trained and sent some of its own members to do mission work in 31 countries, one should read the article "Your Church Can Train and Send Missionaries" by Woody Phillips in Evangelical Missions Quarterly (1985:196-201).
Unfortunately it has not been the pattern of the churches of Christ to send their leaders to the mission field. In most cases congregations are approached by a family who have a strong desire and a plan to do mission work in a particular place but are searching for congregational oversight and support. The most common result of this kind of searching by the missionary is the establishment of a relationship with a congregation which is best described more as sponsorship than partnership. Paul expressed thanksgiving to God for the partnership which he had with the church in Philippi (Philippians 1:3-5; 4:14-19). When a congregation assumes sponsorship, financial matters seem to take precedence over prayer and emotional support of the mission effort. The missionary family is often treated not as a member of the local family of God but as an outsider. In order to develop a family-member type of relationship it seems imperative that the prospective missionary family should spend a considerable length of time with his newly adopted church family in order to know them and be known by them.
Ronald Blue has suggested that instead of thinking of "sponsoring" or "supporting" missionaries it would be healthier and more helpful to think in terms of "adopting" them into the local family of God (1982:104). What is needed is the same concern and care afforded an immediate family member. The author would like to suggest five practical ways a congregation can establish and maintain a family-type relationship with its missionary family. These suggestions have been adapted from Blue's article (1982:103-106). For easier remembrance and implementation these five activities should be performed according to the suggested time sequel.
First, the members of the congregation are encouraged to pray daily for its adopted missionary family. To help the individual families be consistent in their daily prayer of the missionary family, a picture of the missionary family could be placed on the dining table or the coffee table as a visible reminder. By reading the monthly newsletters regularly the church families will be informed as to the matters for which to pray.
During the Sunday worship period it is helpful to remind the congregation that part of the contribution is an expression of the church's decision to adopt the missionary family by giving weekly to their financial support. It would be helpful to have among the collection plates a container from the country where the missionary is located. As the members see the container they would be reminded of their personal participation with the missionary family.
Third, a few designated people are asked to write monthly to the missionary family sharing news of interest about their own family and news of the extended church family. These letters should include encouraging words, scriptures to build up the missionary family, assurances of the congregation's prayer emotional support, and an honest inquiry about what is happening in the work of God and in the life of the missionary.
Fourth, the congregation or some designated member should send a small "care package" quarterly. The missionary family is generally elated to receive small items which are American in origin and unavailable in the host country, like Dentine chewing gum, salad mixes, mixes for dips, dry yeast, kool-aid mixes, the latest Max Lacado's book, etc. Because of the general practice of charging customs on packages weighing more than two pounds, people should send packages which weigh less than two pounds. Suggestions from the missionary family should be sought in connection with this quarterly activity.
Fifth, representatives of the congregation should visit annually the missionary family and the mission effort both to encourage their missionary family and the national churches, and to receive impressions and information necessary for evaluation and planning for the future. The author's home church had the oversight of a mission effort in Guatemala for several years. The missionary family returned to the States for furlough every two years for two months. Every other year an elder and his wife or a mission committee member and his wife were sent to Guatemala to encourage the missionary family and to get fresh impressions of the work. The congregation always looked forward to the reports which were made by those who went.
Following the above suggestions can help with the mental shift from supporting the missionary family to adopting the missionary family and lead to the full "partnership in the gospel" about which Paul speaks (Philippians 1:5). After the congregation has established a family-type relationship with its missionary family(ies) and is involved in maintaining that relationship, the mission committee must meet regularly to facilitate and to monitor their oversight of their mission efforts. Assuming that a congregation is involved in more than one mission effort, members of the mission committee should be assigned to different sub-committees. Each sub- committee is responsible for a separate mission effort. For example, the mission committee of the author's home congregation is responsible for six different missions efforts and consequently has six sub-committees: Slavic World for Christ with Stephan and Reba Bilak; Back to the Bible Crusades with Clifford Davis; Nairobi, Kenya with Carla Dean Thompson; Global Campaigns with Les Bennett; Missionary Apprentice Resource Korps with Gaston Tarbet; and Outreach to the Unchurched of Abilene. Due to the need of sharing information of the various efforts, the need to pray for specific situations with regard to the individual mission efforts, the need to discuss questions and develop appropriate answers to these questions, the need to review goals and to evaluate progress, the mission committee should meet at least once each month.
At the regular mission committee meeting each sub-committee chairperson is given an opportunity to brief the entire mission committee (1) on what God is doing in the various mission efforts; (2) the difficulties and problems which need to be considered and solved; (3) the specific prayer needs and requests; and (4) introduce for discussion areas which need a decision. After prayer and discussion, decisions and recommendations are made for immediate implementation or sent to the Elders for approval or adjustments according to guidelines.
Information about the various mission efforts is then passed on to the congregation through the various channels of information flow which were discussed earlier in this paper.
The establishing of a healthy relationship with the missionaries and the conducting of regular meetings to facilitate oversight are best done in connection with much prayer. The author's feelings about the need for continual prayer for any mission effort are expressed in the following quote. "More than organization and structure, more than the philosophy of missions, more than schemes or strategies for evangelization, the priority concern for attaining God's objectives for our generation is mobilizing the prayers of the Church for the lost world" (Duewel:1989:258).
In addition to the times and situations for prayer mentioned above (members praying daily for their missionaries to foster the adoption concept; praying for specific needs of the missionary at the regular mission committee meetings; praying for the need of the missionary when they are announced public from the pulpit), the mission committee should encourage the establishment of a prayer support group of three to five people for each separate mission effort. This prayer support group should meet regularly to engage in intercessory prayer for the focused mission effort. Paul's mission efforts were sustained and perpetuated through the prayers of fellow believers (2 Corinthians 1:8-11; Colossians 4:2-3).
Prayer encourages the overseeing church to allow God to do more of the battling against the forces of evil. Like King Jehoshaphat and his people who stood helplessly before God praying for direction (2 Chronicles 20:1-30), the overseeing church needs to spend as much time in prayer as it spends in planning and discussing the needs and direction of its mission efforts. Then God will fight His battle and give the church rest from the many struggles which result from trying to oversee a mission effort in its own strength (verse 30).
Looking to God for direction and power, the mission committee will be successful in informing the congregation of its mission efforts as well as implementing its oversight of these mission efforts.
Bright, Vonette, and Jennings, Ben A. 1989 Unleashing The Power of Prayer. Chicago: Moody Press.
Duewel, Wesley L. 1989 "Developing Prayer Support for Missions." in Unleashing the Power of Prayer. Bright and Jennings, editors. Chicago:Moody Press.
Petty, Don 1990 "Training 21st Century Missionaries." An unpublished manual, Webb Chapel Church of Christ.
Phillips, Woody 1985 "Your Church Can Train and Send Missionaries," Evangelical Missions Quarterly (April) 197-201.