Among missionaries, there are at least three common ministry perspectives.
Each perspective has a different focus. Every one of these viewpoints has a worthwhile goal; however, many disagreements and controversies among missionaries boil down to people having different perspectives concerning mission strategy.
By identifying one’s primary perspective of ministry, we perhaps can better appreciate the contributions of others as well as find more balance in our own work. I do not suggest that everyone has only one of the three viewpoints; yet we all do tend to emphasize some perspective over others.
THREE MISSIONARY PERSPECTIVES
Many missionaries primarily focus on multiplication. When developing and evaluating tools and strategy, they want to know whether some approach will increase the overall number of churches and/or individual believers. I should clarify my meaning since this, of course, is the heart’s desire of every missionary.
Those who focus particularly on multiplication emphasize rapidity—how fast the number of believers and churches grow. Accordingly, “fruit” can be counted. One might say, “If you can’t measure it, it’s not a priority.”
In recent years, many missionaries heavily stress the need to foster “church planting movements” (CPM). Such workers prioritize multiplication. Naturally, one’s perspective has practical consequences.
From a multiplication perspective, a key value will be the “reproducibility” of a given ministry method. The definition of “reproducible” is closely linked to time or speed. By and large, a method is considered “reproducible” if trainees can leave a training session an immediately reproduce what they’ve learned for others. This inevitably means that the trainee/method must be so basic or simple that one can effectively master the information sufficiently to retrain others.
Missionaries with an eye on the “margins” focus their attention on the socially disadvantaged and the “outcasts” of a culture.
Those who have this perspective have a strong burden to love people by meeting practical needs. Whereas most workers send time with more educated people (college students, English speakers, businessmen, etc.), this group of missionaries seeks to serve the homeless, disabled, and the rural population.
A “margins perspective” is deeply concerned with the quality of one’s witness. After all, we can’t measure love and the fruit of the Spirit. Believing is important but so is belonging.
These missionaries know that an “efficient” ministry is not necessarily a significant one. Healing and restoration take time and patience. The God who resurrects the dead cares about our body and soul.
Missionaries with a “maturity perspective” understand the importance of making disciples who follow Christ with their head, hearts, and hands. They worry about easy believing. A single-minded focus on evangelism can breed converts with a superficial faith. Although many profess a belief in Christ’s ability to forgive sin, they often don’t confess Christ as the true King of kings.
From this vantage point, the health of a church depends on the character of its people, not simply the count of churches planted.
This has practical implications for determining ministry strategy. Accordingly, in addition to evangelism and church planting, this perspective lead will prioritize theological education and various types of family ministry (e.g. marriage training, parenting classes, etc).
Rather than contrasting faithfulness and fruitfulness, these missionaries are mindful that faithfulness is fruitfulness.
They stress the fact that the impact of one’s ministry cannot easily be measured. Wary of superficial “success”, a person will be guided by the question, “What of my ministry will exist beyond my lifetime?”
Finally, this perspective has a broader view of “reproducibility.” Maturity is a process. True understanding and a transformed heart are not products of quickly reproducible methods. By analogy, rabbits reproduce offspring rapidly, but humans and trees require more time and attention.
How Broad is Your Perspective?
God’s people collectively must not neglect the multiplication of believers, the marginalized, nor the maturity of churches. Yet, given the debates that exist among missionaries, it would seem that people were forced to choose one perspective over others.
The above three view can be summarized respectively in three words: becoming, belonging and being.
Becoming a believer.
Belonging to the Church.
Being a disciple.
Although no one would deny the importance of each, we practically tend to choose one against the others. We do this either by neglecting another aspect of ministry or sometimes by urging others to be singularly focused.
Everyone recognizes the significance of the “Great Commission.” We would do well to let the bolded words below shape our perspective:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.”