I am privileged to serve alongside some great women and men who make up the advisory board of Evangelical Missions Quarterly, a leading journal for mission-oriented thought-practitioners and the North American mission community in general. Obviously, as anyone who has been following the blog for any length of time will know, my primary interest is in a missiology of Western culture. This, combined with the fact that my wife is the Director of Mobilization for International Teams, an organization that, having been a somewhat traditional mission-sending agency, is transitioning to a new and, if I might say, pretty compelling model of “Integrated Community Transformation,” is what made me so interested in a recent EMQ Article, “Time to Reboot Agency/Church Relations?” Here’s a brief review I did and posted over at EMQ’s Facebook page.
In the January 2013 edition of the EMQ Journal, offers a compelling piece entitled, “Time to Reboot Agency/Church Relations?” As I read it, I think I exclaimed “AMEN!” at least 10 times – which is saying something since it’s all of 2 pages. In short, Corwin is after a reconfiguration of the church/mission agency landscape in North America. One that, as I would frame it, would help us recover from the devastating and oppressive forces of Constantinianism, which severed church and mission resulting in the kinds of issues raised in this article.
I would like to put forth what I find to be some of Corwin’s most salient points, commenting briefly on each.
For starters, Corwin say, “Agencies should refuse to process candidates who come to them without the enthusiastic endorsement of their home church, based on a history of effective and faithful ministry in that church.”
The hard truth here is that mission agencies which fail to operate on this principle deviate from the biblical witness, overstep their bounds within the framework of faithful mission strategy, which ought to always be ecclesially-shaped, and work against the healthy and faithful witness of the people they seek to send. Taking this point alone seriously would revolutionize the North American “missions” scene.
In terms of the “screening of candidates” and “field supervision and member care of missionaries,” Corwin is in favor of an approach that is far more collaborative than is commonly practiced. “Annual reviews should be the norm for all mission workers, and their home churches should be copied on the results,” says Corwin.” Such cooperation is virtually impossible, however, given the isolationist way in which churches and agencies typically relate.
For Corwin, “It is a mistake when agency accountability is handled more as a public relations function than the development of a multi-faceted relationship built around shared passions.” Seeking to move churches and mission agencies into a closer and more integrated way of relating is undoubtedly a slower and harder process, but it is also deeper, richer, and in the final analysis, more faithful. It is to our great detriment that we have McDonaldized Christian mission. We have sacrificed something intrinsic to the spiritual fabric of our calling for the sake of ease and efficiency. I’m not sure we are prepared to reckon with the full implications of such a move.
Corwin continues; “It is rare that forums of agencies and church leaders come together to discuss God’s purposes in mission and explore theological and missiological fault lines. Instead, this should be a regular feature on agency calendars each year.” As a missional theologian, this point is of particular interest to me. However, rather than launching into a full diatribe, I will simply offer that I find the lack of critical theological dialogue around and emerging from the practice of mission both maddening and embarrassing. Also, that I am privileged to be directing an initiative that is seeking to remedy this, Missio Alliance.
Corwin finishes his article by noting, “Whatever the actual pattern of relationship, churches and agencies do need each other. The sooner they get more serious abut strengthening their relationships, the better it will be for achieving God’s purposes.”
I appreciate that Corwin emphasizes that he’s not looking to get rid of mission agencies. Agencies play a vital role in terms of invigorating and facilitating a fundamental aspect of the mission entrusted to the Church – that of making disciples of “all nations.” However, it is in point of fact, an invitation that is extended to the Church. As such, a wholesale relegation of this aspect of God’s mission to independent agencies is, not to mince words, a grotesque affront to a faithful approach to the missio Dei. Corwin has offered a challenge to mission agencies and churches that begs to be reckoned with. The lingering question is which of these entities will allow their commitment to faithfulness to trump institutionality?