Question: This chapter focuses on the decision each believer
must make about his or her involvement in missions. But who should send missionaries? It seems as
if mission agencies have taken over this function from local churches. Is there any way to restore
the role of the local church as the sending agency? (Chapter 22)
Answer: The New Testament establishes an important precedent: missionaries should be sent by and accountable to local churches. Yet with the complexities of the modern world, mission agencies provide a valuable function in the deployment of missionaries world wide. Over the years, however, systems have developed that have eroded the strong connection that should exist between missionary and sending church.
In many "faith" missions (those not tied to a denomination), each missionary candidate must go to dozens of churches and individuals for support. At the same time, local churches have tended to proliferate the number of missionaries they support. The end result is that in most cases it is impossible for a local church to be the authority over the missionaries it supports. The mission agencies have no choice but to assume authority over their missionaries. How could they ask twenty churches and fifty individuals to gather and make decisions about a specific missionary? So by necessity, the mission agency becomes the sending and governing authority.
Individual givers often contribute more than local churches to the support of a missionary. Raising financial support from church boards is usually slow and cumbersome compared to contacting individual donors. One missionary told me he could get more support from one week of contacting church members directly than one year of asking the church board. Thus, the local church no longer holds the purse strings.
One sad consequence is that missionaries often spend their home assignment time traveling the country. And when local churches support twenty or more missionaries, they don't have time to allow every missionary to give a detailed report to the church.
One remedy to this situation would require a change of strategy on the part of local churches. Instead of having a budget of $200,000 for fifty missionaries, a church could fund four missionaries full-time. When on home assignment, each missionary would have a position on the pastoral staff of the church. The church could approach a mission agency and say, "We would like to loan one of our staff members to you every three years out of four. We'll cover the bill, but we expect to have final say in all significant decisions affecting this missionary." The church would encourage its members to get to know the four missionaries and sacrifice for them, visit them, and send work teams to help them. And the missionary-in-residence at the church would continually promote the ministry of cross-cultural missions.