Separate Administrative Structures for Church and Mission. (1st of 5)

If Paul and Peter were Cowboys.

A Story. One day two cowboys rode a horse, one of them holding the reins and making decisions for both of them about where to go. This was curious, since a second horse was trotting at their side. The cowboy on the back of the horse suggested they hold a parley. The men dismounted to dispute this situation. The one who had held the reins finally relented; he allowed the second cowboy to ride his own horse. They shook hands, mounted up, and rode off in different directions. The cowboy who had held the reins was not really sure that this parting was for the best. Ever since that day the sons and daughters of those two cowboys have been trying to make good on the handshake that brought together an agreement between them a long time ago.

This is the story of a dispute that was resolved, sort of, with a handshake. One day, the missionary leaders–Paul and Barnabas and Titus–went to Jerusalem to meet with the church leaders–Peter, James and John–to resolve their differences concerning the governance of mission among non-Christian nations in “the regions beyond.” Paul wanted to make sure he had the backing of the church leaders. You can read more about that here. At last, they shook hands and agreed to part on different horses. Paul writes:

The church leaders saw that I had been entrusted (pepisteomai) with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter [had been entrusted] with the gospel for the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter making him an apostle to the circumcised also worked through me in sending me to the Gentiles). And when James and Peter and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Galatians 2:7-9

So it came to pass that Paul and Barnabas and Peter, James and John agreed that there would be two administrations of God’s redemptive mission, one for church leaders entrusted to administrate the church where it was established, the other for missionary leaders entrusted to administrate the church planting effort in “the regions beyond,” where there is no church. What is so interesting to me is that this agreement became possible after they all realized that the “two structures of God’s redemptive mission” was not a human artifice, but was God’s design. Here is the text:

They recognized that I had been entrusted (pepisteomai) with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter [had been entrusted] with the gospel for the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter making him an apostle to the circumcised also worked through me in sending me to the Gentiles).

The church leaders and the missionaries were able to put aside their differences and reach an agreement because they saw what was really there, a resolution that God had made possible and necessary based on mutual respect and separate “entrustments” for church administration and mission decisions. One might say they agreed there should be one board for administrating the lighthouse (where the church exists), and a second board for Paul and future missionaries who would carry a piece of flint to the people who walk in darkness, where there is no lighthouse.

The cowboys shook hands, mounted up, and rode separately from that point.

Don’t suppose that the missionaries are going off without any accountability; Paul did feel accountable to the church leaders. It was for accountability that Paul came to Jerusalem in the first place. Paul says he “laid before them (though only in a private meeting with the acknowledged leaders) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain” (Galatians 2:2). The church leaders approved Paul’s ministry and message to the Gentiles.

It was a good day for settling a dispute. God had made Peter a trustee for extending the message of Jesus Christ among Peter’s own people, the Jews. Believe me, this suited Peter well. I would draw the reader’s attention to what happened after the church leaders were forced to leave Jerusalem, on account of persecution. The Bible says they scattered to Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, “where they preached the word, but only to the Jews” (Acts 11:19). That means Jews from Jerusalem were more than a little reluctant to actually evangelize people who were not Jews. Paul, on the other hand, wrote, “I am the apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:14). Peter would never, ever say such a thing. Peter was quite content to keep expanding the number of Jews who were coming to faith in Jesus Christ. Note to self: the Holy Spirit sent Paul and his teams to evangelize the peoples of the world who are not already Christians, and entrusted them to make decisions closest to the action.

The cowboys mounted up and went their separate ways. The dispute over governance was resolved. Sort of. At least they shook hands. Unfortunately, it started up again in Antioch, when the posse from the home church arrived and showed their badges–“We are from James! Show us your lunch!” You can find this story here.

Frankly, church administrators today should recognize two administrations of God’s redemptive mission. Not a verse in the Bible supports the opinion that church administrators should govern the missionary teams. Paul’s mission was “field-governed.” It was not governed by the Antioch church or any other church. There is a great need for church and mission leaders to meet again, and come to an agreement, as they did that day in Jerusalem. If this problem can be resolved, perhaps ten times as many missionaries will be sent to the regions beyond. But if the problem continues, the number of missionaries will be inhibited. The agreement that needs to be reached is of considerable consequence for the advance of Christianity in our time.

I am grateful to Dr. Ralph D. Winter for his superb article, “The Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Mission” and for letting me study with him. You can read my article, “Still Two Structures After All These Years” here.

Next: Separate Administrative Structures for Church and Mission (2nd of 5). Five Christian Men Agreed Not to Eat for a Long Time. This is Their Story.

Previous: Jewish Voluntary Societies Today.