28 January 2015

Mission Breathing

My heart sank when I read the following response to a friend's question on Facebook on why you no longer attend or have never attended church: "Some churches are directed too much on outside missions that the internal missions are left by the wayside!!"

Setting aside the statistics* which reveal that in 2014 USAmerican churches spend on average 9% of their church budget on Domestic and International mission support (4 and 5% respectively), the perception of disproportionate spending is often more motivating than reality.  As Bible Belt-tightening continues among some church groups, the question of whether to spend money within the walls of a church or to continue to support mission partnerships with other organizations remains relevant.

I hear echoes of this question when I speak in churches in USAmerica and even on the rare occasions I sit in Sunday School at our home church.  Either/Or options are not very helpful.  And while I encourage churches to do more to reach out in partnership with trusted missionaries and organizations, the examination of mission offered by Anekwe Oborji in Concepts of Mission suggests that it is important to understand mission as being directed inside the church as well.

Oborji describes mission as both ad extra and ad intra; that is, directed both outside and inside the church.  Ad extra mission activities include proclamation of the Good News, seeking conversion, involvement in church planting; Ad intra mission activities include providing pastoral care and focusing on church growth.  Even with this both/and approach of understanding mission, though, Oborji acknowledges that mission is essentially done outside the church.  A lot of the agenda for doing mission outside the church has been driven by success inside the church.  The impact of lessons learned under the heading of church growth have been significant even as they continue to be debated.

The church and missionary should hear clearly the grievance quote above.  There is a disconnect between mission ad extra and mission ad intra.  Both the church, mission sending organizations, and even missionaries like me who serve outside the church are to blame.  Outsourcing mission to organizations filled with specialists doesn't help; sending every member on an international mission trip doesn't resolve.  Having church ministry and missions compartmentalized is also counter-productive.

Imagine applying lessons learned by missionaries serving outside the church with churches and pastor-missionaries serving inside the church.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars are invested in preparing missionaries to serve in cross-cultural settings.  Seeking a return on that investment for the ad intra missional benefit of the church could nurture a healthier church and a more life-giving relationship with mission - a needed relationship where breathing - both in and out - define the flow of mission.

*See "How Churches Spend Their Money: An Executive Report" by Christianity Today's Church Law & Tax Group for complete statistics along with a caveat of the imperfection of using such studies.