The Future of Missions
If we are to believe the sounds of alarm, missions from the U.S. is on the decline. Unfortunately, few studies have been done to affirm or deny this perception. In preparation for this article, my research revealed many opinions and few numbers; when numbers were provided, usually they were skewed by a general definition of Christianity or so narrowly focused that a legitimate conclusion about missions as a whole was inappropriate. What is available does reveal several consistencies about missions that offer some legitimacy to the alarm, including the following:
- Many of the previous missionary movements have died out.
- There is a switch from U.S. born missionaries to foreign-born missionaries.
- Agencies are struggling to recruit missionaries.
Furthermore, with the demise of sound Bible colleges and decline in faithful church attendance, it is reasonable to speculate that impacts the sending out of missionaries as well. Aside from sheer numbers, some are concerned about the direction of missions, with an emphasis on social ministry at the expense of church planting and gospel proclamation. Others worry that the integrity of the gospel has been compromised through shoddy doctrinal commitment. The concerns are valid, but there is opportunity to change those trends. However, the solution requires more ambition than many are willing to exert because it transfers the burden from the missionary to church leadership.
It is expected missionaries set the future of missions because the missionary is on the field setting goals, influencing people, and training up leaders. The future of missions though, is determined long before the missionary hits the field. While every Christian, including missionaries, is in a constant state of growth, generally, character, doctrine, and gifts are already established. All was developed long before the missionary entered the foreign field through God’s gifting combined primarily with ongoing discipleship and accountability and a slight influence of formal or informal training.
Who then, determines the future of missions? The greatest impact comes from pastors and leaders of the church. If concern about the future of missions is legitimate, leaders must take seriously their responsibility to influence the work of God by ensuring the following:
- Cultivating Desire: Leaders cultivate an enthusiastic desire for the completion of God’ Great Commission, inciting others to advance God’s kingdom.
- Cultivating Disciples: Leaders also cultivate disciples. Luke 6:4o indicates that a learner will be like his teacher. This places immense pressure on leaders to model Christ knowing that those they train will be raising up others in a similar manner.
- Cultivating Doctrine: Missionaries propagate doctrine from which they have been taught, placing a responsibility on leaders to teach accurately the Word of God (cf. James 3:1).
- Cultivate Character: Finally, noting Luke 6:40 again, leaders cultivate individuals of godly character through the teaching of God’s word and the modeling of godly behavior.
If missions isn’t being proclaimed and produced from leadership, the future of missions will be in jeopardy.
Admittedly, placing so much pressure appears to deny God’s sovereignty both in the future of missions and in the formation of a missionary. The Lord, through his Holy Spirit shapes character, convicts hearts, and causes them to respond. The intent is not to deny that or elevate a leader to a position above that which he holds. Instead, this article seeks to reconcile the concern about the future of missions and the erroneous view that missionaries have the largest impact on that direction. The future of missions is not dictated by missionaries because they are already on the field; the future is determined by those sitting in the pews in preparation to go. Therefore, leaders must take seriously their role in raising up the future generation of Christians who will be developed from their congregations.