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20 Nov '13

the ten dysfunctions of missions in the local church

Posted by T.J. Addington
I have written extensively on the topic of missions - in large part because I am a missions leader (ReachGlobal). The mission world is going through a period of major and needed change and it is my conviction that this must also happen with the mission committees or ministries in the local church. The following are my version of the ten dysfunctions of missions in the local church.

Not having a coherent plan
In many congregations, missions is a collection of people supported, places visited with short term teams or projects that while all nice are not designed to fit into an overall strategy or ministry plan. We do not run other church ministries this way and we should not run missions this way. 

Not connecting mission efforts to the overall ministry of the local church
Mission efforts are often the most isolated and siloed of the ministries in the local church. In fact, missions should be integrated into the overall mission of the church with its ministry philosophy and focus. It should not be an addendum to other ministry efforts but be in alignment with them.

Supporting missionaries you would not hire all things being equal
Don't support people that you would not hire in your own setting if there was an appropriate job for them. Just because someone has a "call" to go the the mission field does not mean that you are "called" to support them. Mission dollars are precious: use them wisely.

Living in the past
Missions has radically changed as the world has changed. The typical missionary today is not the guy in a pith helmet living in the jungle but more likely to be living in a large city somewhere in the world and the world moves to the city. Their primary job is often not hands on evangelism or discipleship (other than what all of us are called to do) but equipping national believers to do what they can do better than we can. 

Not differentiating between strategies of addition and multiplication
The last dysfunction applies here. Many mission committees don't understand that strategies of multiplication on the mission field look different than strategies of addition. It is critical to understand that ministries of multiplication - where national leaders are being equipped and supported will yield far more ministry results. 

Assuming that there is no longer a need for western missionaries
The great commission is a call for the church to go - until the end of the age. The moment we stop sending people and only send money is the day when we abandon the call of God on the church. While the job of missionaries has changed in the globalized world the need for missionaries from all people to all people has not and will not change until Jesus returns.

Misunderstanding of the economics
"I cannot believe what it costs to send missionaries" is often heard when churches see support schedules. What they forget is that their own staff have many "hidden costs" in benefits, support staff and the largest one of all, expensive facilities. When missionaries raise support there are not hidden costs as they must raise funds for travel, living costs, retirement, ministry costs and salary. It is all in the open and often actually cheaper then the staff in local churches when you build in the costs that are hidden above.

Devaluing leaders on the mission field
"We won't support you because you are not doing real mission work but leadership." Really? Can you imagine staff in the local church not having leadership? Mission efforts are important enough to be strategic, focused and targeted and that requires good leadership. Leaders actually maximize ministry results and are worth every dollar invested.

Unwillingness to support administrative staff on the field
Similar to the last dysfunction, this one says we won't support you because you are doing administration or teaching or supporting the other staff on the field. Not only do we not say that in our own context but it takes even more support internationally when one is dealing with the issues of living cross culturally, often in hard circumstances. It is the support staff that make it possible for other staff to be on the field.

Redefining missions
There is a dangerous tendency today to redefine missions around things other than the core mission of the great commission to see disciples made and churches planted. Missions should always be holistic as Jesus was but at the core and center must be the Gospel and the local church which is God's chosen instrument to reach the world.

For other key blogs on missions, see Top Mission Blogs: Getting to strategic mission strategies