The End of Missions

  265 views

First CRC’s Missions Committee Disbands
Dateline: September 10, 2020

After nearly fifty years of managing the missions program of First CRC, the missions committee decided today that they had no choice but to disband. The decision was wrenching for the few remaining members because they recognize that it really means the end of an organized missions program for First Church. Most of the funding that the committee has controlled is likely to be absorbed into other areas of the church since few outside the committee have a significant commitment to mission work. How did things come to this end?


Gerrit, who proudly told me that he was one of the original members of the committee, talked about the excitement for missions that characterized the church and the committee when it was formed in the early 1970s. Members were eager to go beyond “quota” giving in order to extend God’s church around the world. Giving grew dramatically in the early years. Mission Emphasis week included morning and evening services on two successive weekends and a well attended supper Wednesday night.


For several members of the mission committee, the cause of missions was their great passion. They were extremely dedicated year in and year out. Growing the church’s Faith Promise program each year was a highlight. Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, they saw major increases and committed to support for more ministries.


By the turn of the century there were changes at First Church. There was a growing commitment to local ministry and programming plus increased staffing at the church. Attention to the world was increasingly focused on responding to disasters, community development and short term teams, including youth groups, which led to direct personal involvement. These developments mostly went around rather than through the missions committee. It continued to focus on the tasks of prayer, raising money to support missionaries, and keeping in contact with them.


Committee members sometimes reacted by lamenting the changes and remembering the “good old days.” Many of the members remembered them well because they had been on the committee so many years. Sometimes they tried to recruit new members. Sometimes, Gerrit admitted, they weren’t that interested in adding new people. They enjoyed each other and didn’t want to disturb the chemistry of the group. Younger leaders in the church were involved in other ministries that were local or more hands-on. As a result there were fewer and fewer congregation members that were deeply committed to international missions. It became the pet issue of a few rather than a church-wide commitment.


By 2010 all of the committee’s members were retirees. During the decade since then, the committee gradually shrank as members were unable to continue serving. In the last few years the committee began to see the handwriting on the wall. But they found that missions no longer had a constituency in the congregation. Their group was seen as the people who were committed to missions, while other members of the church had their newer ministries. Finally, today, September 10, 2020, the three remaining members, two of whom have significant health problems, sadly voted to disband.


Could this have been avoided? Could the committee or church council have made different choices, leading to a different result? It seems clear now that the years around 2010 were pivotal. If the committee and council had recognized the situation at that time and begun a very deliberate mentoring and recruiting program, this could have gone differently. A priority had to be placed on recruiting new and younger members. Some of those who had long served needed to step aside, but not before helping to recruit replacements. The short term youth and intergenerational teams should have been closely connected to the missions committee if not under it. Some of those who participated in these teams could have been recruited for the committee. Instead of connecting visiting missionaries only with the aging committee members, more effort should have been made to connect them to younger members, get them into the homes of younger families and into the schools and Sunday schools. In 2010 the disturbing trends were well advanced, but there was still time to take deliberate action to reverse them. Today, in 2020, it seems to be too late. Vital ministry will not be done, at least by First CRC, and it will miss out on a connection to the excitement of a world where many are coming to Christ. This is a cautionary tale for other churches, where it is not yet too late to change course.

Posted in:
Image Credit

The Network hosts user-submitted content.
Posts don't necessarily imply CRCNA endorsement, but must comply with our community guidelines.

Let's Discuss…

We love your comments! Thanks for your help upholding the Community Guidelines to make this an encouraging and respectful community for everyone.

Whether this is a true story or not, where was the church council? It is the responsibility of the council to oversee the committees and to make sure they are following their mandates. A committee does not decide on it's own to disband. That is the responsibility of the council.

Having said that, what is the attitude of churches in regards to missions today? Years ago there used to be rallies and missionary unions which helped the churches to keep in contact with the missionaries. Now it seems many churches are a lot more inwardly focused in their programs. We should be reaching out to our neighbors around us through youth programs, VBS, Bible studies, etc. How is World Missions encouraging the local councils and congregations to support the mission efforts around the globe? It's been a long time since I heard of a missionary home on furlough who was visiting our area. God has used the outreach efforts of the CRC through Worls Missions, Home Missions and CRWRC to reach many people over the years. Somehow the CRC has to start doing a better job of promoting these programs to the local congregations so that the support remains a priority.

Hi Steve,

  This story is fictional but based on some trends that have been developing for a number of years.  It projects those trends forward another decade to raise an alarm.  World Missions and CRWRC personnel continue to visit partner congregations every two to three years and communicate with them regularly in print and by email.  Some are beginning to use Skype to communicate into worship services while on the field.  Local outreach is vital and was badly neglected a generation or two ago.  This fictional story raises the question of whether the pendulum is swinging too far in the opposite direction.  Steve

One way to increase awareness of missions might be to do a better job of encouraging, even challenging our kids and young people to be open to be called by God as missionaries.  Often times we hear that the best way to witness is through our actions. Actions are important, but ultimately the Good News needs to be shared vocally. Our kids need to hear the importance from the pulpit as well classrooms and homes about the need to share the Gospel to the ends of the earth. If more young people accept that call then churches will become more excited about missions as they support sons and daughters of their congregations. I realize this may be somewhat simplistic but it's a start. 

Guide

Steve, I found it interesting that you used this as an example of declining interest in missions: "Attention to the world was increasingly focused on responding to disasters, community development and short term teams, including youth groups, which led to direct personal involvement." 

Used as part of an overall church missions strategy, I see those things as ways of strengthening commitment to missions. Furthermore, many of CRWRC's community development workers see themselves as missionaries; indeed, they are on the front lines helping indigenous churches to get out there and reach the poor. Their churches are growing faster than ours.

Hi Wendy,

  "The End of Missions" is designed to be a provocative title with a double meaning, or even triple.  End can mean purpose and also where something is going rather than just conclusion.  The piece does not mean to say that the things which First CRC is doing (in 2020) are unimportant.  Indeed, they should be part of an overall church missions strategy.  But because this committee is unconnected to them it made itself irrelevant and important values are being lost.  Least reached peoples, leadership training and other parts of missions disappeared from the church's radar.

Participant

 

Good example story!  I wonder if the approach of trying to keep the committee alive by better recruiting and such might be only a bandaid answer.  I am wondering if in the life of the congregations of NA, there needs to be a new or renewed look and understanding of why we are here as congregations in the first place.  We disbanded our "outreach" committee a number of years ago because just the committee members were doing any outreach attempts. They were burned out and wanted to disband so they did.  I (as pastor here) was not in a hurry to form a new committee until the congregation hears the call from the Lord to be witnesses here and way out there.  We still support missionaries elsewhere in the world and they come and speak at our gatherings from time to time.  We send members of the congregation on short and medium mission projects (I don't really distinguish between CRWRC and CRWM type work, they all tend to work and witness).  They come back and share stories and integrate their experiences into their lives.  To build capacity for mission work, I think our congregations along with their pastors and leaders (myself included), need to do the hard work of listening together to God's will for them in their specific contexts.  Ours is growing multicultural and "world missions" is right next door, literally.  We have to seek the Spirit of our Lord to guide us into new ways of being neighbors.  Also our far away missionaries have to be a part of our journey of discovery somehow.  They have more experience than we do.  The technology exists to skype, chat, facebook, whatever, with anyone in the world it seems.  Perhaps our denominational organizations have to leverage that connectedness for the local believer's benefit somehow.  I have heard that "we are in a time of change for the Church in NA, that is as big and significant as the Reformation of the 15-1600's was."  I am slowly starting to see what that person meant who said that (I think it was Gil Rendle, formerly of the Alban Institute).  Do we need deeper questions or simply renewed techniques?