Thursday, August 2

The Future of Missions - Four Questions

Ken Sorrell, Alan Cross, Bob Roberts, Jr., Tim Patterson, Ed Stetzer along with other bloggers have all contributed in an ongoing interesting discussion dealing with the FUTURE OF MISSIONS. Please take a moment to click on any of the above to read some of the issues involved.

Today I would like to invite fellow IMB missionary Ken Sorrell to be my guest on the "M Blog" and with his permission reproduce his recent, "The Future of Missions: 4 Questions" that was submitted to the IMB-SAM Region Church Planting Forum. His four questions reflect four issues at the heart of mobilizing Stateside volunteers/partners to the mission field. Please feel free to interact with anything shared in his post. These matters ARE the future of missions and will either advance or hinder the Gospel depending upon how they are handled.


Greetings to all from Mexico,

I have been and continue to be encouraged and troubled with current trends in missions. I want to say upfront that I am in full agreement that the local church, in the U.S. and around the world needs to participate in a much greater capacity than we currently see taking place. It is exciting to see the level of interest in missions at an all time high. My concern focuses on the issue, not of participation, but knowledge. What many churches, associations, and state conventions term as missions rarely resembles any model or example as found in Scripture.

In a recent blog conversation with Tim Patterson, I posed 4 questions that I feel must be addressed as we look towards churches being both, "churches who send and sending churches", as Tim describes it. As I stated in my response to Tim's latest post, I want to be extremely careful here so please bear with me. I am struggling with a series of questions as I give serious consideration to this issue. Here are but a few.

1. There are many in the evangelical community today that feel that the current model of church is broken and needs serious adjustment. Assuming that a great majority of churches have strayed far from the New Testament model of church, what exactly will we be exporting when churches begin to go out as lone rangers to other cultures?

2. Where is the accountability for the strategies and practices of a sending church's missions efforts? Are they free to do whatever they want to do without any type of checks or balances?

3. Who is better prepared to evaluate missions projects, the missions committee at a local church or someone who is or has lived incarnationally in another culture?

4. Is this move to more intimately involved churches in missions really an effort to impact lostness or give fulfillment to U.S. believers?

I really hate the negative tone that these questions project because as I stated earlier, I am not opposed to a greater church involvement in missions. However, what is done and how it is done will either advance the Gospel or hinder the Gospel. This is not just a church problem but everyone's challenge. I work with missionaries who are called by God, love the people with whom they work, and really want to see a movement of the Spirit among their people. And yet, the bulk of their time is spent on activities that keep them busy but produce little to no fruit.

U.S. churches are a tremendous resource to Kingdom growth...We must find a way to engage in conversation greater numbers of our partners in order that we may learn from them and so that they may learn from us. The four questions above only touch the surface of the issues that must be brought to the forefront and addressed honestly and openly.

One other comment related to Alan Cross's comments to Guy. Alan states the following: "I guess that I am a stateside local church pastor that believes that the Great Commission was given to all Christians and that every local church should play a part. And, I don't want to just sit on the sidelines while I pay others to do it all for me."

I find this comment to be incredibly insightful and right on the mark, but not in the way that most churches in the states would read it. If the Great Commission was given to all believers and that the local church should play a part in fulfilling this command, doesn't this then also include our national believers and churches? Is it right for "others" to do the task for them that God has also commanded them to do? Also, in many situations, a few are being paid to do the task while the remainder of the believers sit on the sidelines and watch, or they sit on the sidelines and watch others do the task of the church for them.

If we are going to form true partnerships between U.S. churches and national churches, then it is critical that this relationship be based upon vision and purpose, rather than a redistribution of resources.


Burkhalter Ministry said...

Just a few comments...
One, I don't necessarily agree that the US is a tremendous resource to Kingdom growth. Especially if that means money. In many ways, money hinders the move of God, in my opinion. Yes, there are harvest areas in the US. However, in many ways the "church" culture hurts Kingdom growth in the states.

Two, it is time the US starts taking notes on missions and making disciples from the rest of the world. The US is no longer at the forefront of mission thinking or for that matter, doing. Maybe 100 years ago, the US was but not anymore

Lastly, the first question pretty much sums up where the US is at when it comes to missions. Even when we do "get" missional and send someone out, they are ill-equipped to be missional. I know this because that is where I was at and am still at in many ways. In many ways, I've felt like I've had to de-tox from much of what I have seen and been taught.

John Lunt said...

I am convinced that a lot of these issues would be resolved if everyone were a lot more prayerful and seeking God's answers. The Holy Spirit doesn't make mistakes. If we are messing up in the area of missions, I strongly suspect because were using "man" centered approaches instead of praying and listening.

GuyMuse said...


Interesting perspective coming from somebody living in the States. I tend to agree with your observations. However, I think what Ken and others are saying is that there is no stopping the flood of people willing and wanting to become personally involved with global missions. This is a reality that challenges us all to be more proactive and use those laborers that God is sending our way in strategic partnerships that impact lostness and growth of the Kingdom.


Thanks for the good comment. You are right that we need to be doing a whole lot more praying and seeking God than analyzing, worrying, fretting, etc. about our man centered approaches. The question then becomes, how do we engage our willing partners in such a prayer/seeking endeavor? We can pray, but as Ken says in his post, will they join us in what God is revealing and leading? Or are our partners going to do their own thing regardless? Thank you for praying with us that indeed the H.S. would make clear to us all his will and intentions.

WTJeff said...

I think the biggest challenge is getting stateside churches to realize the western way of doing church isn't the goal. Too often, people go to the mission field thinking this. Much of the re-evaluation of what church should/can be is coming from the mission field to the US. Strategic partnerships can only truly exists when stateside partners understand the goal is to make disciples in a culturally relevant way. They will have to be trained and un-learn some of what they associate with doing church. Then these partners can come along side missionaries and truly be a help to the missionary. In a nutshell, a lot of what we currently do needs to be rethought.

Jeff Parsons
Amarillo, TX

GuyMuse said...


I would agree with you. A lot of what Ken and others are trying to say is this very point. Assuming what needs to be done and how it should be done is what is getting us into trouble overseas. Ken states, "it is critical that this relationship [with Stateside partners] be based upon vision and purpose, rather than a redistribution of resources..."

One night a couple of years ago I received an email from a large S. Bapt. church in the South informing us that God had chosen us to be blessed by their coming down for ten days. They informed us they would be sending an advance team the next evening and would like to sit down and meet with us.

We scrambled and came up with seven projects that would be strategically helpful and where this church could plug in for maximum benefit.

The next day we met them at their hotel and presented our list for where they would be of most use. They looked it over and told us that they weren't looking to be that involved. All they wanted was a "missions experience" for those coming down. They had come with their own plan in mind for what they thought was "missions". Nothing we could say had any effect on them changing their predetermined agenda. They promised to write and let us know what was decided. We never heard back from them again. I understand they found somewhere else to go where they were allowed to do their "thing".

Part of the "missions experience" needs to be a willingness on the part of those coming to be stretched, color outside the institutional church box, and trained to be effective laborers in the context where they will be serving. There is a real need for missions education like never before. Our daily prayer is for the Lord of the Harvest to send us laborers. Many of these laborers will be coming from the USA.

Outoftheshaker! said...

Hey Guy and all,
Thanks agian for a very enlightening discussion. I going to throw my two cents in even though I'm sure I need to hang on to all my loose change. I haven't been on the field long at all but I am fairly fresh from the states. With what I've experienced so for on the field and with what I have experienced in the states, I don't think that churches in the states are ready for the commitment they so are saying they are wanting. I don't think they realize the huge cultural walls that have to be torn down. or the time that it takes for norte americanos to be accepted. I'm only sharing from my experience here in Uruguay.
Your local church and local believers also have to be reconditioned to what missions means. To what I have experienced so for missionaries are looked at only as cash cows and transportation. Please excuse the frankness but it is the truth. All that said, I believe for us here it would be a reconditioning of all parties involved. If you plan on partnering with the local national church. That is another topic as well.

GuyMuse said...


Good to hear from you down there in cold Uruguay! I recently ran into Charles and Mary at our AGM and had fun sharing all my "cold" stories from my time in Montevideo.

I think what you are sharing from your experience on the field is what a lot of us are also saying. There is a lot more to it than a 7-day trip overseas and a bunch of photos taken while there. What we need is a long-time commitment to do whatever it takes to reach the assigned people group/segment. What we are talking about is as you say, probably a bigger bite than what most partnering churches are willing to give. Nevertheless, this is what is needed.

You also bring out another aspect of bringing national churches in as well. I just received a proposal for a national evangelistic project seeking to mobilize all our Baptist churches here in Ecuador to reaching the unreached parts of the country. It is interesting to see our own national brothers struggling with these issues as well. I am still working on a project that would seek to link up USA partners with national churches and them adopt an unreached area and together design a long-term strategy to reaching these areas with the Gospel. Once I have it all figured out you can be sure I will be letting everyone know! :)

Anonymous said...

“Directo al grano.” Straight to the point…

This is one blog entry that I just could not stay away from responding to. I just returned from a 5-6 month stay in the USA. My experience on the missy speaking circuit shows that traditional (many stagnant and dying) still generously support financially and in prayer missionaries.They could afford to get directly involved more with missions. Many of the contemporary churches are indifferent to traditional missionaries and at times treat them like appendages at their so-called world mission conferences. And thankfully there is small percentage of churches that are growing, have their own mission programs AND love traditional career missionaries. In response to the four questions: 1) It takes a long time, even for career missionaries to learn how to appropriately share the Good News, make disciples and start New Testament churches. I am afraid that short-term, short-minded volunteers are exporting too much USA stuff. 2) There is little or no accountability other than how many people supposedly made decisions for Christ. 3) Local mission committee should work closely with incarnational workers. 4) I am afraid that too much of USA mission trips are designed to make Americans feel good. It is a fad!

It is completely erroneous to say that every Christian believer is a "missionary". Every disciple of Jesus Christ is called to be a witness at any time and any place on the globe. However, God does gift some people to be "apostles" and today we would and should call those cross-cultural communicators of the Gospel. The following quote from Ralph Winter is radical but helpful.

"Here is one way to look at it: Anyone can open a door and walk through it, but only a locksmith can deal with a locked door. Missions is “locksmithing” new groups. Once the lock is open (a very special skill), expanding the number of churches is by comparison a relatively simple task." -Ralph D. Winter on page 5 of the November-December 2002 issue of Missions-Frontiers-.

My take on this: Anyone can go on a missions trip for 7-10 days and walk through already open doors, but it is the career missionaries who day in and day out look for God’s way of opening locked doors.


GuyMuse said...


Glad to have you join the conversation. If you haven't yet read through some of Ken Sorrell's thoughts on these matters give his and the other links above a click for some interesting thoughts coming from both sides of the issues.

I had never heard Ralph Winter's locksmith analogy, but like it. In many of our cases the "door" has been unlocked. We are now needing those laborers to come in and bring in the harvest. US partners are certainly part of the needed labor force, but need a bit of orientation and training to take full advantage of their willingness to help.

Thanks for your observations.

Anonymous said...


For even more insight into this on-going dilemma, please see the May-June 2005 issue of Mission Frontiers. Ralph Winter, somehow always ahead of the game or on the edge says some of the following things in his editorial-one that he says "may be an unhappy editorial."

*"If pioneer mission is a complex, specialized enterprise, volunteers are not an alternative to in-depth missionary wisdom."

*"...somehow in all of this the earlier congregational ignorance of what missions is has now been replaced by extensive misinformation about missions!"

*"How in the world did a highly sensitive, delicate, specialized task like missions become something a volunteer could do in two weeks?"

"No human endeavor is as full of unforeseen, unexpectable, apparently unreasonable or certainly baffling obstacles. No role requires more intelligence stability of heart and life, and more dogged endurance than the role of a serious missionary."

*"Supposed a local hospital were short on surgeon. Would it invite volunteers to pitch in for two-week turns in the operating room?"

*"Suppose the Air Force lacked pilots. Would they call upon short-term citizens to help out?"

You may certainly disagree with Ralph Winter but it is hard to ignore the comments of one of the senior fellows of missions.

Personally I do believe that there is a place and purpose for short-term mission trips but albeit it a relic for some, the place of the career missionary is still needed. I repeat: It is completely erroneous to say that every Christian is a missionary. Every true disciple of Jesus Christ is called to be a witness but some of the body of Christ is called to the specialized task of sharing in other languages and culture with those who have never heard.


GuyMuse said...


Wow, two comments over one post. Ken must have punched on of your buttons!:)

Do you have a link to the Missions Frontier article? If so, share it with us in that I believe many others would be interested in reading.

GuyMuse said...


You're batting a thousand once again, my friend. THANK YOU for putting the "Four Questions" issues on your blog site - this is extremely helpful to me because it may provide an avenue to relieve one of my major frustrations - trying to educate our folks about what "missions" really is.

I've heard Ken and others speak these things at conferences before and I believe they've taught me well - but as there were several well-established-but-marginal
(i.e. local church political) mission efforts already here when I arrived, I've met with limited success when trying to educate our folks about these issues. It will be easy for me now to point some folks to your blog site and let them read directly themselves what I've been hearing since getting into missions seven years ago.

You've tapped into the "main vein" and made it available to those who wouldn't take the time to plow through the excellent books some of these brothers have written.

I had a friend attend some SC training for the Middle America Region with Ken and company presenting the views expressed in the blog, and he described the response as "fire for effect" - some of the saints were not exactly happy to have their pet project described as "not missions".

It's like many other things - it didn't get this way overnight, and it ain't gonna change overnight - but it'll never change at all if you'all quit raising the issue.

Education is a slow process anytime you're changing the paradigm. But one thing I learned from the cell church guys - core values have to change before form and structure. If you try to reverse the order, you're in for a fight. And you know how the saints feel about the guy (or Guy :-) who tries to bring change...cHANGe.

Only one more thought about the issues at hand...a friend taught me once that if you poke people in the eye it's hard for them to see what you're again time
and patience may yet win the day. If you keep telling the kind of stories like "What A Difference You've Made In My Life" (which made a difference in mine), who would
WANT to do anything else?

Mike said...

This issue is my whole life. I live in the U.S. for the almost the express purpose of mobilizing the U.S. church to go on these short-term trips. I don't know whether to respond to the 4 questions or the comments, or both?

Like most issues, a lot of the problems that Sorrell is intimating in his questions stem from is a lack of communication and education. The last thing I want to be is critical of the IMB, but if I were an IMB missionary on the field full-time, I'd want a very tight relationship with whomever is mobilizing US churches to come into my backyard. You guys needs more than mobilizers, you need advocates, screeners, and trainers. People who understand, explicitly your strategy and can filter churches and people appropriately. Some personalizers do this well, others don't even know you.

We've all seen the damage the best intentions can cause on the field. We vastly underrate and underappreciate the differences in culture.

A US church and short-termer can be a tremendous asset on the field. My good friend in the ministry just completed his Ph.D. on this very topic and quantified the impact and the necessary factors that must be in place for successful short term missions. (Once published, I can quote and share his coming book on the topic.)

e3 Partners (my ministry) has seen 10,000 churches planted in the last 20 years using a short-term US team strategy. Research has shown that about 85% of those plants have survived and are ongoing.

But, as you can suspect, we've made a lot of mistakes with short-termers in 20 years, and we've learned a lot.

As a new(er) guy in the ministry, here's what I've learned, so far (still drinking from a firehose):

1. It is ALL about the nationals. You must constantly defer and follow the nationals. Listen, listen, then listen some more. And you learn more from indirect conversations and comments than direct questions. You learn even more when listening to nationals speak to one another. They know their culture more than we ever will. Accept it and embrace it. My job is simply to stand behind my very strong, very capable national leader and feed his strategy, appropriately--without creating dependency--from the U.S. At times, I coach, and other times I and others train, but our them remains one of deference.

2. Advocate on their behalf and for their strategy in the U.S.

3. Beat into your short-term team member's heads that they are only there for a week or two. That they are leaving. That they can't and shouldn't attempt to solve problems beyond what the trip itself is for. That, unless a national is not obeying the bible, that national is to be deferred to on every decision.

I understand the distinction you gentlemen are making regarding the title missionary. I agree with you too. There are some who are called specifically to go and live within a totally unreached culture/area, and find the bridges to share Christ with that people group. Then plant His church amongst those people. I like the locksmith analogy.

However, we are all called to obedience. Clearly the Lord is calling many to go overseas on a short-term trip. I'll cede the self-fulfillment issue as well; however, I believe that goes back to whoever is mobilizing the church in the U.S. That person should either weed those folks out, or purposely put him or her in a position that forces him or her to grow out of that mindset. It can be done.

When you advertise a trip that is about living in terrible conditions, sharing the gospel and discipling new believers every day, your interested crowd dwindles.

When you advertise construction in Mexico or Belize, watch out. But that's probably a different discussion.

Question #4 can be about lostness, but, bottom line: Whether it's national leaders, or guys like Guy, the missing link is a bridge between them and the U.S. church. This bridge (like guys like me) can maybe not solve, but help a whole bunch.

The sad part is when you routinely get pushed away from the head mobilizers of the IMB because your ministry is non-denominational. (I can go deeper on this.) Despite personal partnerships with you guys, like I have with the IMB folks in my country, and many of us have in other countries around the world.

Okay, I'm rambling.

GuyMuse said...


I am so glad to have you join the conversation. As a mobilizer you are one of the key players in all of these issues being discussed. It is high time we began talking face-to-face. You bring up many good points that merit attention.

The idea of "mobilizers" is part of our vocabulary, only that I think we need to be expanding the role from its current 'mobilizing national believers to become missionaries' to becoming mobilizers of ALL God's people (wherever they come from). In a real sense I too am a MOBILIZER. Most of my job involves training, coordinating, mobilizing, and encouraging those who are actually out there doing the tasks of going, making disciples, baptizing, and teaching. If I were to decide to become a missionary church planter we might see 1-2 new churches planted per year. But if I use my time and energy to train and mobilize 100 others out into the harvest fields, in a year we will see anywhere from 50-75 new churches planted. 2 or 50?

You write, "I'd want a very tight relationship with whomever is mobilizing US churches to come into my backyard." You are exactly right. That is part of the problem. We don't have a very tight relationship with those coming. My personal experience is usually I am meeting them for the first time once they arrive on the field.

Since the average trip is usually around 7 days, there isn't much time to deal with all the issues that we would like to address with them. What happens is that these missiological issues come up during the week and there is little understanding for why we would want to deal with the matters in a particular way. Our on-the-spot explanations often sound hollow and even unfeeling and often lead to strained relationships between those coming and those on the field. It is hard for good intentioned volunteers to accept when all they want to do is help a needy situation.

Mike, I believe people like yourself are going to become key players as more and more people decide they too want to be part of what God is doing around the world. I too think we Ms and the IMB should be seeking out people like yourself as our Stateside advocates who can help communicate to our partners the thinking, strategies, ecclesiology, etc. of overseas missions. When we all begin to get on the same page with the Holy Spirit empowering us, we will be once again a force that turns the world upside down.

Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts and may God continue to use you greatly in mobilizing Stateside partners into the harvest fields of the world.

GuyMuse said...


Thanks again for the comments. Sorry you are having such a hard time with blogger. I don't know what is preventing you from being able to comment!

You write, "...core values have to change before form and structure. If you try to reverse the order, you're in for a fight..." This is exactly right and at the heart of what is taking place between Stateside churches and their partners overseas. Often our values do not coincide. Therefore the form and structure are at odds with one another.

Several years ago we drew up a 3-page document outlining our values as a team. I think it would be helpful to bring out that document again and work through it as part of an orientation time with our visiting partners. Often what appears on paper sounds pretty harmless, but when we take it out onto the field--that is where some of the misunderstanding and friction arise as these values are played out in the real world with real people.

Don said...

Wow... I just type a 10 paragraph response, got frustrated and deleted it :)

It is probably for the better...

GuyMuse said...


Would love to hear some of your thoughts if even in ONE paragraph.