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23 Jan '15

If we saw ministry in the United States through missionary eyes we would do things differently

Posted by T.J. Addington
We need a fresh look at ministry in the United States. In fact, we need to see the ministry challenges here through the eyes of a missionary. Here are some of the ways that missionaries look at ministry and the contexts where they work which could change the picture of how we approach ministry in significant ways.

Missionaries do not assume that there is one way to approach ministry. In fact, they are usually very flexible in how they see their context looking first at where there are pockets of people who are open to the gospel and secondly to the methodologies and strategies that might be effective if tried. In other words, most missionaries are not locked into a single paradigm of ministry but need to be highly flexible and entrepreneurial in their approach.

Because of the exploding populations of the world, missionaries are often focused on how to move from addition models of ministry to multiplication models. In the United States we often hire people to do ministry for us rather than truly having to equip others to do meaningful ministry with us. Internationally that is not an option, nor is it Biblical which explicitly teaches an equipping model whether it is Jesus, Paul or Paul's teaching (Ephesians 4:11-12). One of the critical factors in changing the equation of ministry in the United States is that all believers think of themselves as Kingdom entrepreneurs who are called to bring the gospel into all places where God places them and where they have influence.

Nor are missionaries content to think that the only people qualified for significant leadership have a formal theological degree or are full time. We believe that while formal theological education has a significant place for church leaders (pastors) that there are many creative ways to delivering the necessary theological skills and education and that God can use all kinds of individuals who are bi-vocational and part time. It is only in the west where the majority of churches have full time pastors with formal theological degrees and it was not common in the early church as well.

Further, most mission activity is about relational ministry rather than programs. Programs generally (not always) say, bring people here to the church and we will introduce them to Jesus. Relationship based ministry generally says we will go to where people are who don't know Jesus and develop friendships and relationships that can open doors to conversations about Christ and where non-believers can see what our lives look like as we follow Jesus.

In addition, missionaries pay great attention to the large cities in their region as the cities are where people gather and are the centers of influence. In other words while not all ministry internationally is focused on the city a great deal of it is. In the United States we have generally left the city for the comfortable suburbs, leaving great gaps in the large cities of our nation. Internationally we are drawn to the cities like magnets and the opposite is often the case in the United States.

There is another key difference. Internationally we understand that no one group can reach any city or region by themselves. We are forced internationally to work with other denominations to reach the cities and regions in which we work. We know we need one another. We call this a Bride over Brand approach in ReachGlobal where the priority is in multiplying the church and the spread of the gospel over our theological differences. If the United States is going to be reached effectively we need to see our fellow churches and denominations (who are evangelical) as partners and colleagues rather than competitors and a threat. This is a major difference in how we think about ministry.

Internationally we also know that for those who have no felt need for God that when people experience the love of Jesus in very tangible ways that they become open to experiencing the truth of Jesus. In other words, while we start with programming and church activities in the United States we often start with the practical love of Jesus and meeting real needs internationally. 

Here is the truth. All of us can become myopic and locked into paradigms when all we see is our own context. It is when we move out of our context that we are able to look back in and see things that we did not previously see. This is why we need to see our own ministry through missionary eyes. If we were missionaries here how would we see our context, the opportunities, the ministry options, the populations that are open to the gospel, our cities and our opportunities to see ministry in a deeply wholistic way.

All of T.J. Addington's books including his latest, Deep Influence,  are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 per book discount on orders of ten or more.