The Naiveté of “Church Direct” Mission Efforts

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“If the short-term movement has been a trend toward ‘amateurism’ in missions then congregational-direct mission efforts are often even worse….

Most local church people, even members of brand new congregations, have no idea how a congregation does or should start, or even how it is to function – in their own society, let alone in a cross-cultural situation….

It is, in fact, highly unlikely that local congregations will have the resources of previous experience or historical or missiological perspective to work strategically or even effectively in a cross-cultural situation. Most congregations are unable to deal effectively with ethnic minorities on their doorstep. Why would they expect to be able to deal intelligently with those same kinds of strange people at a distance?

If what Paul understood to be needed in his outreach to the Greeks had been easily explainable to the Jewish followers of Christ back in Jerusalem, we would not have needed the detailed information in the New Testament. Rarely, down through history, has the exact nature of the need on the field been readily explainable to the people within the sending cultural situation.”

—Missiologist Ralph Winter

** Painting is Rembrandt’s famous “the Apostle Paul,” circa 1657.

3 Responses to “The Naiveté of “Church Direct” Mission Efforts”

  1. Brian Newman Says:

    Perhaps Ralph Winter sells the local church a bit short, which would make sense because he has largely been a para-church guy. Come to think of it, perhaps the place from which we sit affects our perspective on this issue. I now wear two hats; one as an executive pastor in a local church, the other as co-founder of a para-church (yes, I have left Christian Associates).
    I find that we missionary types have an easy time throwing stones at the local church about what it is bad at, or what it inherently should not do. I happen to be at a church now that is in part its own mission organization, and is doing quite a spectacular job of it. Sometimes I wonder if the local church needs to recapture this part of its calling to the nations.
    But to seriously consider this would force a lot of para-church groups to reinvent themselves or become obsolete. Scary thought.
    I’m sure you have some reflections on this, and I also appreciate your insights.

  2. Sam Says:

    Hey Brian,

    Nice to hear from you. I didn’t know that you had left CA nor did I know that you had taken a pastoral role. Hope it is working out well for you and the family. Would be great to talk further with you about it, particularly if/when you feel drawn back to Europe. Folks with your depth of experience of cultural ability are rare and I would hope that you will have a further contribution to make on that continent.

    You’re right, I have done some reflection and quite a bit of work on the issue you raise. I’ve commented on it in more depth in the section of the blog entitled “Apostolic Ecclesiology.” So I won’t repeat much of it here.

    But I will say that I don’t consider myself or Ralph Winter to be “para-church.” I don’t think there really is such a thing …theologically, historically, or missiologically. I see God’s people—as Winter so keenly has written in his classic article, “The Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Mission,”—minnistering throughout redemptive history in one of those two structures. Which one people predominately serve through is the result of their giftedness and calling.

    And from my understanding of the historical data, the Christian movement has been most vital and healthy when those two structures work in interdependence and synergy with one another. It’s when both understand their strengths and unique contributions to God’s overall purposes. Both structures …the church local and the church in its apostolic, mission form … are equally “church.”

    I like the way Dararell Gruder refers to this in his book, “The Missional Church.” He says: “The church’s nature as both one and catholic means that these structures must exist in a symbiotic relationship with local congregations and their denominational structures.”

    It would be fun to analyize the local situation in which you are involved. My suspicion is that both structures are probably functioning intuitively in your setting and contribute to the “spectacular job” to which you allude.

  3. Seth Says:


    Kudos to you for the spectacular job your church is doing. I for one am always on the lookout of local churches with successful track records and would love to learn more about your church and its efforts. I hope you do put a lot of para-churches out of business. Many are inept or just tired (as could be said of many local churches).

    Perhaps it would be helpful to talk in terms of the missiological terms “modality” and “sodality” defined here by wikipedia:

    In Christian theology, a sodality is a parachurch organization, a special group within a church for a specific purpose or activity, as distinct from the church itself (which is termed modality).

    Check out Peter Wagner’s work on this; it’s good. In my experience working to send out mission teams from many local bodies over the course of 20 years, something on the order of 95% of them are by and large modality churches only, not sodality churches. So, what may be true for you and your church, is not true for the vast majority of churches.

    To be an effective sodality, you must be adept at not just calling and sending your missionaries, but preparing them, caring for them on the field, understanding and developing missiological strategy and practice (including the issue not just of dependence that occurs not only with local partners, but with missionaries themselves), understanding and integrating with local contextual issues, and you need to have an ongoing relational commitment to partners on the field, exercising apostolic authority as required. And that’s just a start.

    Most churches have a hard time being relevant in their own communities, much less in communities an ocean away.

    Ralph Winter is a wonderful sage on these issues and has a lifetime of scholarship behind him. I don’t think he’s sold the local church short one bit. He’s devoted his life to starting them in places where they don’t exist.

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