Lighthouse and Flint

Normalizing the Relationship Between Churches and Mission Agencies

After a disastrous 275-year Protestant mission “ice age, the two structures of God’s redemptive mission in the New Testament and in church history were re-established by William Carey. The church is the lighthouse; the mission agency is the hand-carried flint. The lighthouse cannot say, “I have no need of you.” Nor vice versa.

Church and mission agency are the warp and woof of God’s redemptive mission.

Church and mission agency are the double helix of every living cell.

Church and mission agency are the two boats that lowered their nets to haul in a great catch of fish. After Peter and Andrew had fished all night and caught nothing, Jesus told them to lower their nets. Thousands of fish filled the net, so that they called out to another boat. “Without the help of the second boat,” Bonaventure said, “the catch of fishes would surely be lost.”[1] In this same way let us cooperate, church administrative boards and mission agencies, for the sake of bringing in an extraordinary catch of souls. Some hold that if the Church were healthy, it would not need such mission structures. Paul Pierson comments, “That is clearly wrong:”

A healthy church will constantly form teams that are called to specific projects, whether at the local level, focusing on special groups in its own area; or at the international level, focusing on distant culture.[2]

The Church is all the people of God, a modality, “the assembly of the faithful.” A mission agency is part of the whole, a sodality. In Galatians 2:6-10, Peter and Paul recognized two administrations of the gospel, one by and for the church in its congregational form, the other for the church in its missional forms. Paul says shook hands, “agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.” Mission organizers do not wait for the initiative of the church; the initiative is from the Holy Spirit. Regulating the mission agencies is the work of the Church (Fortunately, financial regulation of the agencies is usually undertaken by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability [ECFA). The whole of the church is like a Swiss watch; those tiny gears within are mission agencies. We know what happens when the gears are removed. Carey proposed that we put them back where they belong. That made the difference. Bruce Bauer comments that leaders of mission structures and leaders of church structures would do well to accept the difference in their tasks:

If mission structure leaders could understand and accept the fact that the congregational structure is an organ of coordination that is primarily concerned with organization, unity, worship, nurture, and service for existing members, and if congregational leaders could understand that mission structures largely consist of action and mobility in order to fulfill their specific tasks, then perhaps each structure could be more accepting of the other. With acceptance and understanding would also come a favorable reduction in tension between the two.[3]

Let us, then, be noble like the Bereans and study the Bible to see what is really there. The Bible and history are our teachers in the matter of understanding the relationship between church administrative boards and mission agencies. Now, at history’s last hour, when the angel waits the command to raise the trumpet to his lips and sound the blast that will be heard around the world, let us organize for the task remaining. And then the end will come.

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[1] Moorman, A History of the Franciscan Order: From Its Origins to the Year 1517, 141.Quoting Bonaventure, the successor to St. Francis.

[2] Pierson, The Dynamics of Christian Mission: History through a Missiological Perspective. 33. Pierson also says, “I do not want to denigrate the institutional churches. We need them. They often provide stability, continuity and a system of checks and balances needed in every enterprise. However, even while we recognize their importance we must also be open to the Holy Spirit, who constantly surprises us and works outside these structures.” 33.

[3] Bruce L. Bauer, “Congregational and Mission Structures” (D. Miss. Dissertation, Fuller Theological Seminary, 1982), Chapter 2, page 11.