Recently I’ve become aware of some churches that prefer to send out their congregants on short term missions trips and have moved away from, to some degree, sponsoring full time missionaries who work with organizations like Cru, Wycliffe, Navigators, and others. These churches want to engage their people in the missions experience so that they will become more excited about soul-winning and sharing their own faith. It is a great motivation! However, I’d like to touch upon seven advantages that missions organizations have to offer churches and missionaries on the field. To be honest, churches, while serving a critical role in the development of the body of Christ, can’t take on the task of the Great Commission alone. Neither can missions organizations do it alone. Both need each other to bring Christ to the world—especially difficult areas of the world where many sponsoring churches have few to no inroads. Let’s briefly touch on seven advantages that missions organizations provide for the advancement of the Great Commission.
- Missions organizations (MO) are a part of the body of Christ and as such perform a vital function in the body that churches can rarely or not perform at all.
Paul taught us that every part of the body needs all of the other parts to function (I Corinthians 12). Missions organizations do many things that the body of Christ needs that individual churches often have difficulty doing on their own: effective outreach across cultures, starting churches in difficult to reach areas, establishing partnership with various churches and local organizations, funding strategic ministry approaches that reach whole nations, and so on. Most churches do not have the resources to effectively function in these roles.
- Missions organizations provide specialized training that local churches don’t often have access to.
This is especially true in two areas. First, many MOs provide theological and witnessing training designed to help make the missionary more effective in his work. Many people are called to missions work but are unable to attend seminary for 2-4 years of degree work. In fact, in many cases such degree work is not totally necessary for field work. But the individual missionary still needs some level of training to help them stay on solid theological footing. Our organization, Cru, provides just such training.Witnessing training is also important. This usually centers around the MOs use of core materials like the Four Spiritual Laws, or Steps To Peace With God,JESUSFilm, and other such tools. These tools are highly effective and have brought millions to Christ. Training also includes things like how to handle objections to the Gospel, building long-term relationships, and using more specialized tools to reach very specific people groups with unique needs.
- Missions organizations provide formal structure and accountability.
Many churches have special tools they use annually to communicate with their missionaries to keep them accountable. However, these are usually long-distance tools that have limitations. MOs, especially the larger ones, have numerous field staff, foreign and local, along with specific practices and standards that the missionary must adhere to in not only his work for Christ, but in his personal spiritual growth. While a missionary can go onto the field alone that is not the optimal way for the missionary to work. The pressures of cross-cultural life can cause significant emotional and psychological strain if the missionary has no local partner on the field with the right tools to help him cope and grow through his experiences.
- Missions organizations provide ongoing training.
Though most organizations provide some kind of theological and cross-cultural training, they also provide ongoing training in the form of staff conferences, special seminars, and new materials that take advantage of what the organization is learning worldwide to help the missionary apply biblical truth and sound cross-cultural practices to his field of outreach. The world is changing, countries change, even cultures change. Being up on the latest strategies, practices, and tools helps the missionary to become more effective and a greater blessing to the people he is trying to reach.
- Missions organizations have a wealth of cross-cultural experiences that local churches simply do not have.
Short-terms mission trips can be effective for reaching people in many countries in addition to opening up a world of experience to the people who take such trips. But these kinds of projects have their limitations. For instance, how does the short-term person know that their translator (if they are working with one) is correctly translating the concepts the short-termer is trying to convey? This is not uncommon. The short-term person may often make cultural mistakes that bring unnecessary offense because he or she is not trained or educated about the culture being visited (but don’t feel bad, full-time missionaries have the same challenge). The full-time missionary has wide-ranging experience in addressing unique cultural issues when sharing the Gospel that simply cannot be assimilated by a short-term missionary before he launches on this trip. This is not said to be critical, rather, it is an important issue to understand. MOs provide cross-cultural training and resources to help the full time missionary understand and acclimate to his host culture over a long period that the local church is not able to provide.
- Missions organizations have a wealth of resource development and distribution; including media resources effectively adapted to specific cultures and languages.
Ready for a trip to Nepal? What materials will you use that speak to that culture that are culturally appropriate and language specific? It’s highly unlikely that a local church, even a large one, can produce materials for their people to use that meet these criteria. Whether it is Bible translation, Bible study materials, or other forms of media, the MO has usually spent years on the field learning how to develop such tools and deploy them in a most effective and culturally appropriate way.
- Missions organizations help the local church to reduce their missions expenses.
MOs do this by having their missionaries raise their own financial support. The local church may provide a part of that support, but usually can’t fully fund a missionary on their own. This also allows the church to then sponsor multiple missionaries or indigenous missionaries for less money. Savings to the local church include the MO’s work of materials development, deployment of personal and resources to a country, and much more.Are missions organizations relevant and necessary for global outreach today? Absolutely. In fact, I’d say that is true now more than any other period in history. And more people worldwide are coming to Christ as a result. In fact, millions each year are coming to Christ and being discipled because of the work of MOs like Cru, Wycliffe, Navigators, and many others. Without them the growth of global Christianity would be far slower and smaller than we would want to imagine. But let us also not forget the churches. For without the partnership of the local church MOs could not perform their functions either. Both need each other and God is using both in remarkable ways to help fulfill the Great Commission in our lifetimes.