Facing Facts: Three Crucial Factors for Effective Mission Mobilization

Historically, from the 1700’s – 1900’s, mobilizing the church for its role in cross-cultural mission involved a combination of at least three foundational factors. These three factors are each crucial for the global Church to wrestle with today.

The absence of one or more of these factors contributes to keeping a church, denomination and even a national body of Christ from accomplishing its purpose as God’s Great Commission people. It is partially because of inadequately reflecting and laying the foundations of each of these three factors that the body of Christ in many nations is not progressing more effectively in God’s global purpose.

We are indebted to the writings of Andrew Walls (the great Scottish missiologist) for his careful analyses of the combination of these three factors in the success of mobilizing the Church for cross-cultural mission. Walls’ groundbreaking book, The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History, is a treasure to be mined. 1 May we learn and apply the importance of these three foundational factors in accomplishing God’s purpose among the unreached.

We begin by providing a quick introduction of the three factors. Next, we consider the first factor and some of its practical implications. In subsequent articles, we will continue to unpack the other two factors in a similar way.

To see effective cross-cultural mission going out from each of our national churches, there must be a combination of the following factors:

  1. Message Bearer Teams – A substantial number of people with a high degree of commitment who have the wherewithal of being sustained over the long term and are informed by necessary educational and practical training to effectively partner with God in bringing in the harvest among the unreached. 
  2. Organizational Sustainability – Church and mission structures that sustain committed “message bearer teams” and maintain a vital link between them, their work, and the wider Church.
  3. Logistics – Sustained access to near and distant unreached locations with ongoing communications and access to needed material sustenance.

Let’s look a little deeper at the first factor. The need for a large number of laborers with a high level of commitment for the long-term is foundational. Cross-cultural mission has tended to limp along due to a general laborer shortage. We have normalized lower numbers of cross-cultural laborers by rationalizing that only a few are called.

But what if God willed 20% of every church’s members to be scattered out among near and distant unreached people groups? While a seemingly outlandish thing to consider through our modern mission lenses, it is not outside of God’s own vision, desire and perspective.

How is this multitude with a high level of commitment prepared spiritually? History reveals the immense role of spiritual renewal, revival and awakening movements. While this is true and vital today, an additional need is an ever increasing, high standard within our churches for disciple-making, along with expository, practical Bible teaching and application.

It is these types of spiritually vibrant laborers who prove capable of being sustained in mission among the unreached for the long-term. As has been said, “it is not possible to mobilize a dead and backslidden church.”

The Holy Spirit is preparing our churches to be filled with members who are not casual with their faith, but red-hot, seeking God for God, serving Him and His Kingdom purpose, not for what they can get from God. It is from such churches that multitudes of effective laborers come. May God deliver us from the paralyzing effect of nominalism, compromise, and lukewarmness.

The phrase “…a high level of commitment” is also significant. It has become common in the modern mission movement to send out spiritual novices as “missionaries” instead of the “best and the brightest” spiritually. Often, they are untrained for the rigors of cross-cultural ministry. At best coming home defeated and at worst doing great harm to the gospel among the unreached peoples they serve among.

Acts 13 is a helpful study. The Antioch Church was led by the Spirit to send out Paul, Barnabas and John Mark as the first ever organized “message bearer team.” Notice the quality of those sent forth.

They were pillars within the Antioch church, representing the highest levels of abandoned devotion to Jesus coupled with significant dimensions of spiritual gifting and ability for the task at hand. They were not casual church members.

Each of our local ministries has these types of laborers within them as well. What if our churches worked toward sending out the best lay leaders in Level 2 and Level 3 Scattering, 2 like the Antioch church did, instead of those we assume we can do without?

One reason for sending the “best and brightest” today is because effective cross-cultural mission to the unreached is centered upon deliberately and intentionally living among people different from us culturally. The willingness as Walls puts it, “to live on someone else’s terms.” 3

Are we ready to live this way while thriving with the implications? This is not easy for human beings. Yet, it is what Jesus did in incarnating Himself among us as a human being and it is what Paul did in all his mission endeavors.

Not only is God calling us today to send forth large numbers of the “best and brightest” to serve among near and distant culture people groups, but they also need adequate preparation and training to do so.

It has become common today for mission sending structures to sometimes overlook training for the sake of getting people out to the unreached quicker. Though the motivation may be understood and on one hand appears noble, what is the result? Often, ill-equipped laborers who may do more harm than good.

Adequate Biblical, theological, and mission practice training enables “message bearer teams” to effectively think, reflect, assess their context, rightly apply church planting methods, and empower the burgeoning churches to flourish.

Though the form of such training in certain contexts is evidently shifting today (from formal to practical, hands on), the educational content cannot be neglected without doing great harm to the mission movement.

What can your local ministry be doing?

  • To mobilize a substantial number of people with a high degree of commitment?
  • Who are capable of being sustained over the long term?
  • And are informed by necessary educational and practical training to effectively partner with God in bringing in the harvest among the unreached?

1 Andrew F. Walls, The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History. Orbis Books, 2002. Maryknoll, NY. Chapter 11
2 Level 2 scattering refers to sending teams to near culture unreached peoples having the same language, general customs, etc, even potentially being close by geographically. Level 3 scattering is sending teams to culturally distant unreached peoples from the message bearer. A different language, traditions, culture, etc.
3 Walls, p. 221

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