The Independent Church and Its Missionary Program

Periodically we reprint articles from past issues that offer helpful insight for us today. Roger Bixler pastored Westerville Bible Church from 1963 to 1996 and now serves with Gospel Fellowship Association as a mission representative.

feature-article.gifSomeone has made the statement, “The church is missions and missions is the church.” Every local church is, or should be, interested in missions. Rarely does a week pass in which the pastor does not receive some inquiry from a missionary desiring to present his work to the people of that church.

The Helter-Skelter Missionary Program
Every church has a missionary program. The question is, What kind of a program is it? Several programs could be found among independent churches. Some churches operate an open door policy in which any mission, or missionary, is welcome to come and have a service. Other churches use an “every member” approach in which members of the fellowship support missionaries of their own choosing. Some churches support missionaries because they are personal friends, or family, of the members. Some churches support missionaries because they are good people and are doing a good work with little or no regard to the sponsoring mission. Other churches will support faith missions simply because they are not denominational. Some churches continue their support of missions and/or missionaries with little or no regard to their present position and practice. Many pastors are frustrated with the program they inherit when they are called to a different church. How can a good missionary program be developed and maintained? It will take patience and purpose to pursue a proper program.

The Biblical Mandate
Let us briefly review the biblical mandate for missions. We recognize our marching orders in the Great Commission as found in the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles. A study of each passage shows us the Lord’s command and his promise to help fulfill it. Note in Matthew 28:18–20 His presence. Note in Mark 16:15–18 His protection. Note in Luke 24:46–48 His program. Note in John 20:21 His peace. Note in Acts 1:8 His power. One great feature is found in all these passages—worldwide evangelization in which the gospel is to be preached unto the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1:8) and to be continued unto the end of the age (Matt 28:20).

Excuses, Excuses
In light of this, every church should have an enlarging missionary outreach encircling greater areas. Unfortunately, excuses are offered as reasons for failing to pursue this: (1) “The building program took all our money.” This pastor has gone through several such programs, but never at the expense of missions. (2) “We have heavy indebtedness.” We do not need our video, visual aids, and our air-conditioned buildings at the expense of missions. (3) “We have to support our Christian School.” Many churches have severely cut their missions to pay for their schools. One wonders which of these will stand the test of the judgment seat of Christ.

The Biblical Method
Second, we would quickly pursue the biblical method of missions. It is very clear that local churches released Spirit-called men for the Lord’s work. The classic passage in Acts 13 shows us that the church in Antioch recognized the Spirit’s call on Barnabas and Saul. After fasting and praying, they released the men and sent them away. A study of Paul’s journeys shows that the men went forth by the Holy Spirit to (1) Evangelize the lost, (2) Exhort the brethren, and (3) Establish churches (Acts 14:21–23). It is also clear that the men reported back to the church concerning their service (Acts 14:27; 18:22).

Should the Local Church be the Mission Board?
In light of this method, some pastors and churches feel that the local church should serve as the mission board. There seems to be little evidence that the church in Antioch considered itself as a board (as we know them today) for the following reasons: (1) There is little, if any, evidence of financial support. Funds may have been given for Paul’s first journey in that there is no record of his working, but such was not the case for his second and third journeys. (2) There is no evidence of supervision of the work in either the area of service or the activity of service. (3) There was no need for passports and visas as they traveled exclusively in the Roman Empire.

The question is often asked, “Could the local church act as its own mission board?” We must say, “Yes,” but it must be done with great care. Dr. J. O. Percy, an outstanding missionary statesman, offers the following areas of concern:

  1. A church must be willing to assume all the responsibilities for a missionary including support, visas, permits, money exchanges, medical expenses, the guarantee of passage home in emergencies, etc.
  2. Most foreign countries require that a foreign mission organization be properly incorporated in their country. This generally includes having nationals on the controlling board. Local churches are usually unable to do this.
  3. Supervision on the field is imperative. The pastor, or some responsible person, must be willing to make regular trips to the field.
  4. Continuity of the work is difficult when the missionary must come home for furlough, illness, or retirement. Who will step into the work?
  5. Money is invested in property and materials. To whom do they belong if the missionary must leave the field?
  6. Frequently there is a change of pastors, board members, and church leaders of the sending church. New men may not want to carry on the task.

Whichever method is used, the goal remains the same. The end of missions is to see local, independent, Bible-preaching, indigenous churches established. This is abundantly clear from the Word of God.

What Missions? What Men?
Third, what missions and men should the independent church consider supporting? It is essential that we see these two together. We must be careful that both men and board are those who stand with us for the Lord. It is dangerous and disastrous to consider only the man and not his mission agency.

Some Basics for Missions
The independent church needs to maintain vigilance in regard to the mission it recommends and supports. The following qualifications should be found in boards worthy of our consideration:

  1. The mission must be independent in organization. The biblical record is one of independency. Local independent churches need to reproduce themselves. It is not wise to become involved with denominational boards.
  2. The mission must be Scripturally sound. It must be one that holds to the great fundamental doctrines of the faith. It should declare its position on the Word of God, the security of the believer, the Second Coming of the Lord (pre-tribulation and pre-millennial), and the charismatic movement, to name a few.
  3. The mission must be one that practices separation. It needs to take a clear-cut stand on movements and ideologies. It must plainly declare its stand on cooperation and compromise. It must clearly set forth its position on worldliness. Does it earnestly contend for the faith?
  4. The mission must maintain financial responsibility. Does it make its financial records available to supporting churches? Does it use funds for the purposes given?
  5. The mission must use Scriptural methods. It must be biblical in the recruitment of personnel and the raising of finances. It must have a church planting focus and goal.
  6. The mission must work with the supporting church. We must support missions that recognize themselves as arms of the local church. Too frequently they view themselves above, or not accountable to, the local church.
  7. The mission must be organizationally stable. We would do well to inquire as to its board members, who sets the policies and who is responsible to see them enforced among the personnel.

Every mission has its promotional material. The mission should be willing to send its stated policies and position. The local church needs to know if the mission’s practice is in line with its stated material.

Ask the Right Questions
It is wise for the local church to develop a questionnaire for missions and missionaries seeking support. Most questionnaires contain questions on specific doctrinal, positional, and practical issues. It would be well to include the following questions:

  1. From what schools (Bible institutes, colleges, universities, graduate schools) and churches do you regularly and actively seek recruits? Weak schools and churches produce weak candidates.
  2. What guidelines are given concerning the missionary’s membership in the local church?
  3. What limitations govern missionaries concerning churches in which they seek services and from which they may receive support?
  4. What method of church policy is used by the missionaries in the establishment of local churches on the field?
  5. Does the mission make an issue of the Bible text question?

Write Down Your Policies
It is beneficial for the local church to have a written statement of its missionary policy. The church should establish regular interviews with its missionaries when they are home on furlough or a minimum of every five years. It would be well to set a policy in the support level for its own people. Should members be promised full, or partial support of one-half, one-third, or one-quarter? It would be most beneficial to the church and to the missionary to consider a minimum level of regular support. Many churches would do well to consider the advantage of having fewer missionaries with larger support levels rather than many missionaries with small support levels.

Supporting Your Missionaries
Missionaries returning home on furlough are expected to visit their supporting churches to give a report of their completed term of service. Failure to do so would result in churches cutting support for lack of interest. However, most missionaries labor faithfully for years on their fields of service without ever having their supporting churches show enough interest in their ministries to send someone to visit them. Local churches invest thousands of dollars in the work of missions but never visit their missionaries to show their interest and to give encouragement to them.

As a pastor, it has been my privilege to visit a number of our church’s missionaries. Each visit has resulted in a deeper understanding of the pressures and trials of our brethren and a greater appreciation for the dedication and service to the Lord. Seeing their faithful and committed service to the Lord, and that of several other mission ministries, I have returned with a renewed burden for our brethren.

Allow me to share several aspects of that burden: first, the issue of loneliness on the field. Few missionaries have the benefit of fellow-workers near at hand. They may labor for weeks and months with little opportunity for fellowship. What blessing and joy is theirs when they do have occasion for such refreshing. We take for granted our fellowship in the States and fail to realize the lack of it experienced by our missionary brethren.

The second part of my burden is the need to encourage our missionaries. I have seen how much it means to them to have a supporting pastor come to their place of service. One of our missionaries told me that I was only the second to visit him in fifteen years of service on the field. How much he appreciated my visit and was encouraged by it.

A third aspect of my burden is the need for men in mission churches—not only to see men saved, but to have qualified men who can be trained for positions of spiritual leadership. The lack of such men who are committed to the Lord and to the local church proves to be a great hindrance to mission churches.

We need to follow the example of Samuel when he said, “God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you” (1 Sam 12:23), but let us not limit our investment in our missionaries to praying and supporting them with our funds. Let us avail ourselves of opportunities to visit them on the field of their service. Our missionaries deserve it and would be greatly encouraged by it.

February 2009

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The OBF Visitor is the official publication of the Ohio Bible Fellowship. Feature articles from past issues of the Visitor are made available here for your use. You may read, distribute, and use this material as long as you do so in its entirety and without modification. All articles © The Ohio Bible Fellowship.

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