I have been reading and enjoying (very much) the book, “The Shape of Things to Come,” by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. I highly recommend it.
One of the issues that Hirsch focuses on is the definition of the church and its relationship to mission. He ties in many different themes, from those espoused by the missional/emerging church movement to standard organizational theory (for example, he builds on Adizes’s Organizational Lifecycles). However, I would say that the main idea being espoused is a change in our fundamental understanding of the church. It is a good summary of so much of what I believe needs to happen in the Western church. It is also a good summary of what I have personally seen from my travels around the world among church movements. If there is any one criticism I would make it would be that the perspective of the book takes place in the post-modern cultures (for example, the research that was conducted took place in the US, the UK, Italy, France, Israel, New Zealand, and South Africa, p. 182). These cultures are not representative of the global. Yet, the ideas in this book are not unlike those at work among churches emerging from tribal, Islamic, Hindu, and Buddhist contexts. Could it be that these ideas are, in fact, transcendent, particularly regarding the definition of the church?
There are systemic changes underway in the Western church and this extends to the missionary agency like the one with which I am associated. Are there necessary changes regarding the future of the missionary agency (I am going to assume from here on that I am addressing Western mission agencies). I believe so and these changes will rightly flow from a redefining church in the West.
I do not agree with many authors who argue that the mission agency exists because the church has not done its job. This begs the question of function. If the function of the church is to do mission, and agencies are doing it, then the agency becomes a functional part of the church. There is a great deal of sloppy theology going on over the definition of the church. I like to always ask myself, “Is this a ‘church universal’ issue, or is it one of the ‘local churches’?” Just as the missional movement is redefining church away from its institutional components, the mission agency needs to be defined apart from its institutional components.
When somebody asks me a question about Pioneers, they are often thinking about the organizational, institutionalized version of Pioneers. I usually respond in kind, by saying we have X number of missionaries, an office in Orlando, etc. This works for that context, but it does not really get at the core of what Pioneers is from a â€œtheomissionalâ€ standpoint. To understand the core, one needs to see Pioneers as a network of apostolic teams, sent from a variety of different “home” churches, planting churches in much the same way that the first century church planting teams did their work. It is very much a Kingdom definition of church at stake here, rather than a localized definition of church (and a localized definition of a mission team).
The mission agency, for most of us, is rarely seen in this light. There are a number of reasons for this, not the least of which is that the agency often presents itself as such through websites, brochures, programs, etc. There is also history playing into this. The current “board structure” used in most agencies over the past two hundred years is a reflection of the British business model from which it grew. In the US, our tax laws further push us down the path of being a “501-c3 Corporation,” a distinction proudly displayed to ensure that everybody gets a tax break. Marketing approaches, glossy advertisement in magazines, and other representations of missions are the primary contact point for most people in the church. If you are a missions pastor at a local church “well, look out, we are coming for you and you will be assimilated!”
That’s only the tip. The real “iceberg” in Pioneers is the other ninety-two percent of our staff that live among various cultures worldwide (and most recently, within North America itself planting churches among unreached, ethnic immigrant communities!), working on highly motivated and focused teams of church planters. When viewed as a network of apostolic teams that are planting the church, a mission agency becomes much less of an institution and much closer to the model that we see at work in the New Testament.
The truth is that our mission agencies are in desperate need of reform when it comes to seeing themselves as networks of apostolic, church planting team. It’s not until these reforms are made that we can expect local churches to see us this way.