Ten Reasons to Appreciate the “Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Mission” (7th of Ten)

Last week at the American Society of Missiology annual meeting I realized that many of the mission speakers were members, or founders, of small mission agencies. This gave me considerable satisfaction. Here’s why.

Ralph D. Winter and Gerald H. Anderson founded the ASM in 1973 to bring together missionaries who, frankly, may disagree with one another. (This reminds me of what my pastor, Tom Gillespie, once said: “I don’t learn much from people I completely agree with”). From its very beginning members of the ASM have been missiologists from Pentecostal, Evangelical, mainline Protestant, and Roman Catholic backgrounds. Last week in South Bend, nearly every speaker had established a small mission structure in order to advance their missionary work. I realized, to my delight, that we members of the ASM affirm what Ralph D. Winter called “the two structures of God’s redemptive mission theory.” However, resistance to the legitimacy of mission agencies looms quite large on some college and seminary campuses, and among some pastors and church administrators. So, while there is wide acceptance of the “two structures” theory among missiologists, considerable scepticism is to be found among clergy and theologians. How does the reader feel about that?

Ralph D. Winter was convinced that the Roman Catholic tradition, in its much longer experience with the phenomenon of the “order,” embodies a superior structural approach to both renewal and mission. Protestants must begin to see their parachurch structures in a similar light. Toward this achievement Dr. Winter wrote, “I believe Protestants do now possess in various parachurch structures functional analogues, if only Protestants could somehow see them in a new light and develop a new relationship to them that will be both supportive but also help them to be accountable.”[1]

Nine Mission Agencies Represented at the 2024 ASM Conference in South Bend, IN.

This brief list covers the mission agencies represented by speakers and attendees whose last names begin with A, B, or C. There were a hundred more speakers and a hundred more mission agencies represented in the room. Therefore, ASM the has accepted and affirmed the two structures theory. This is mighty good news. It seems to me the ASM needs to feel more pastoral responsibility to influence pastors and professors in this direction. The two structures theory is “really there” in the New Testament and in the experience of missionaries. Congregation and mission structures are the pair of structures in the New Testament and in mission history. I call these “Lighthouse and Flint.

[1] Ralph D.  Winter, “Protestant Mission Societies: The Other Protestant Schism,” Missiology Vol. 7, no. 2 (1979).