If the church is God’s plan A, is there a role for mission agencies?

Yesterday, I wrote about why our church has decided to focus our giving on church-based mission. That is, we are planning to support missionaries who have been sent by churches, to plant churches or work with existing churches. We are also supporting those working in theological education who will train up the next generation of church leaders, missionaries and evangelists. We are similarly keen to support other churches in their ongoing mission. You can read that post here.

That last post focused on our missions budget. It was really an explanation of who we would consider supporting and why. It particularly focused on two questions. First, why have we come to the conclusion that we want to give to church-based mission? Second, why would a small church like ours have a mission budget when we aren’t financially self-sustaining? You can read the original article to see our basic reasoning. We are, however, left with another question. If the church is God’s plan A, where does this leave missions agencies?

I guess the bottom line is that it depends what they do and how they do it. I am increasingly sceptical of the model that employ hundreds or thousands of missionaries that have no connection to local churches. There is simply no biblical precedent for missionaries being employed as agents sent on behalf of agencies to work, essentially, at the behest of those paying their wages, namely the agency. By contrast, the scriptural model appears to be churches sending missionaries and, in turn, supporting those missionaries who then engage in the work of planting new churches or serving alongside existing churches.

It strikes me that mission agencies are at their best when they employ nobody at all. Rather than employing missionaries, they facilitate the sending and support of churches. That is, churches send their missionaries and commit to supporting them – whether an individual congregation or several churches in partnership – and the agency simply operate as a facilitator. If even the facilitators are sent and supported by local churches, being treated themselves as mission workers, the agency itself need hold no money nor employ a single worker.

It also seems to me that a similar setup for theological colleges may be helpful. If churches sent academics to colleges, effectively as mission-workers who will be training the next generation of church leaders and workers, the church itself would have a far greater role in the work of theological education. If the church is the primary means of training the next generation of church leaders and evangelists, it is important to close the gap between the church and the academy. If we are intent on entrusting theological colleges to the work of training leaders, missionaries, evangelists and the like does it not make sense for the church to recognise such people as mission workers, formally commission them to this work and support them meaningfully? What is more, it would give the churches a much greater stake in theological education rather than, as at present, simply attempting to pick a college that broadly shares your convictions. There would be a genuine missional relationship between churches and the academy; both serving the other in the gospel.

Whether we are talking about those labouring in Bible translation, planting churches, teaching in the academy or whatever it may be, we should recognise these things as mission work and draw a close link between them and the church. There seems to be little to no Biblical warrant for churches to farm these things out to third parties with whom they have a minimal connection. A sending relationship between the churches and mission workers, with the agencies being recognised as facilitators for the wider work of the church, may help to close much of the gap that often exists between the academy, mission agencies and the church.