From Owning the Missionary to Owning the Task

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There's a shift in the way churches are starting to think about missions ... from owning the missionary to owning the task. This excerpt is from a larger posting from Catalyst Services. 

We are appointed and chosen as God’s people to take an active role within God’s mission. Supporting and praying for others who are sent to serve is an essential part of this, but it is important that we also own the task, and not pass off that responsibility and level of participation to others. We have unprecedented opportunity to play a direct role in the impact of the gospel around the world. God gives His people an invitation to be involved in His mission.

Appointed as witnesses of God’s redemption. Before Jesus went back to heaven, He commanded His followers to wait for the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit came, the message of redemption was heard in all the languages of the known world through the believers. The power of God breaks down the barriers, but it is through His people that God acts. It is His mission, but we have a role as witnesses to His redemption. Even those of us appointed as "senders" can play a significant role in shaping the missions concerns of the church and those sent.

Chosen for others. In the Bible, to be "chosen" of God is not a matter of being privileged above others. Rather, it is being privileged for others. The emphasis on being "chosen" is not so that we can be saved, but so that we can serve. Abraham was chosen to be a blessing to the whole world (Gen. 12:3). Jesus was known as God’s Chosen One (Jn. 1:34) because He came to serve, not to be served (Mt. 20:28). Paul was stopped on the road to Damascus because God had made him His "chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel" (Acts 9:15 TNIV). As followers of Christ, we are appointed and chosen to be part of God’s mission. Owning the task is part of that responsibility.

Becoming Task Focused. For the past couple of centuries, most missionary-sending churches have owned the missionaries but not owned the task of missions. It has been the missionaries, with the oversight of missions agencies, who come to the local church with a mission, vision, and task already developed. The local church’s role has been primarily to provide support for the fulfillment of the missionaries’ calling.

In stating this, I do not criticize or devalue the faithfulness of God’s people who have prayed and supported missionaries over the years. The opportunity for churches to be strategically involved in missions was limited in the past, and the need to trust those being sent to define their own mission, vision, and activities was imperative. However, today if it is the missionary alone who has the mission, vision and task, the congregation will not be motivated to make an emotional investment. In order to revitalize North American churches in their involvement in missions, this process needs to change.

What is the difference between a missionary focused church and a mission focused church?

*note: "Mission" (singular) in this article is distinct from "missions" (plural). Mission refers to the expressed purpose or aim for which a group exists. Missions refers to the fulfillment of the Great Commission within people groups beyond a local church’s immediate area of influence.

MISSIONARY FOCUSED CHURCH: When the church announces, "Read our missionaries’ latest prayer letter to find out what they are doing."

MISSION FOCUSED CHURCH: When the church announces, "The mission of our church has been to establish an orphanage. Read our missionaries’ latest report about how our mission is being accomplished."

MISSIONARY FOCUSED CHURCH: When a missionary changes assignment or leaves his field of service, the missions team asks, "Where should we re-assign our money?"

MISSION FOCUSED CHURCH: When a missionary changes assignment or leaves his field of service, the missions team asks, "How will our goals in that area of ministry be fulfilled now?"

MISSIONARY FOCUSED CHURCH: When the church sends a short-term team, their primary concern is, "I hope that this will be a good experience for them."

MISSION FOCUSED CHURCH: When the church sends a short-term team, their primary concern is, "We need to make sure that what they do strategically advances our missions goals."

MISSIONARY FOCUSED CHURCH: When the church says, "We support missionaries who work for XYZ missions agency."

MISSION FOCUSED CHURCH: When the church says, "We have sent out missionaries with the support of XYZ missions agency."

Owning the task does not mean that missionaries are abandoned — quite the opposite. When a missions team works with their missionaries to discover a common purpose, the partnership and commitment to the task deepen. To use a sports metaphor, the church shifts from merely cheering on the sidelines to being a part of the team.

Is your church missionary focused or mission focused?

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