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Mission (Christian)

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A Christian mission has been widely defined, since the Lausanne Congress of 1974, as that which is designed "to form a viable indigenous church-planting and world changing movement." This definition is motivated by a theologically imperative theme of the Bible to make God known, as outlined in the Great Commission. The definition is claimed to summarize the acts of Jesus' ministry, which is taken as a model motivation for all ministries.

The Christian missionary movement seeks to implement churches after the pattern of the first century Apostles. The process of forming disciples is necessarily social. "Church" should be understood in the widest sense, as an body of believers of Christ rather than simply a building. Many churches start by meeting in houses. Once they gain enough funds, or find a building they expand.

Church planting by cross-cultural missionaries leads to the establishment of self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating assemblies of believers. This is the famous "three-self" formula formuladte by Henry Venn of the London Church Missionary Society in the 19th century. Cross-cultural missionaries are persons who accept church-planting duties to evangelize people outside their culture, as Christ commanded in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Stepping outside of their comfort zone they are able to relate with and understand people who have different beliefs.

In addition to theological doctrine, many missionaries promote economic development, literacy, education, health care and orphanages, believing these causes give glory to God with their service. Christian doctrines (such as the "Doctrine of Love" professed by many missions) may permit the provision of aid without requiring religious conversion.

History of Christian missions

See also Timeline of Christian missions.

According to the documents of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, the biblical authority for missions begins quite early in Genesis 12:1-3, in which Abraham is blessed so that through him and his descendants, all the "peoples" of the world would be blessed.

In this view, the early historical Jewish mission is that of being a people placed in the midst of the other nations, situated so that they could proclaim the Creator God that blessed them. This view is confirmed in many OT scriptures, (for example, Exodus 19:4-6, and Psalm 67) as well as the nature of the temple (its outer court was "the court of the gentiles").

Several teachers including John R. W. Stott believe that a prominent prophecy in the Old Testament often unfolds continually and is certainly manifested in three situations, an immediate historical situation following the prophecy, a church-based intermediate situation, and an eschatological, end-of-time situation. Of course, Gen. 12:1-3 is such a prominent passage.

One of the first Christian missionaries was St. Paul. He contextualized the gospel for the Greek and Roman cultures, permitting it to reach beyond its Hebrew and Jewish context.

In the early Christian era, most missions were by monks. Monasteries followed disciplines and supported missions, libraries and practical research, all of which were perceived as works to reduce human misery and suffering, thus enhancing the reputation of God. For example, Nestorian communities evangelized much of North Africa. Cistercians evangelized much of Northern Europe, as well as developing most of European agriculture's classic techniques.

In the 16th century the proselyization of Asia was linked to the Portuguese colonial policy. With the Papal bull Romanus Pontifex the patronage for the propagation of the Christian faith in Asia was given to the Portuguese, who were rewarded with the right of conquest. The Portuguese trade with Asia was profitable and as Jesuits came to India around 1540, the colonial government in Goa supported the mission with incentives for baptized Christians.[1] Later, Jesuits were sent to China and further countries in Asia. With the decline of the Portuguese power other colonial powers and Christian organisations gain influence.

After the Reformation, for nearly a hundred years, occupied by their struggle with the Roman Catholic Church, the Protestant churches were not missionary-sending churches. But in the centuries that followed, the Protestant churches began sending missionaries in increasing numbers, spreading the proclamation of the Christian message to previously unreached people. In North America, missionaries to the native Americans included Jonathan Edwards, the well known preacher of the Great Awakening, who in his later years retired from the very public life of his early career. He became a missionary to the Housatonic Native Americans and a staunch advocate for them against cultural imperialism.

As European culture has been established in the midst of indigenous peoples, the cultural distance between Christians of differing cultures has been difficult to overcome. One early solution was the creation of segregated "praying towns" of Christian natives. This pattern of grudging acceptance of converts was repeated in Hawaii later when missionaries from that same New England culture went there. In Spanish colonization of the Americas, the Catholic missionaries selected and learned among the languages of the Amerindians and devised writing systems for them. Then they preached to them in those languages (Quechua, Guarani, Nahuatl) instead of Spanish, to keep Indians away from "sinful" whites. An extreme case were the Guarani Reductions, a theocratic semi-independent region established by the Jesuits.

From 1732 onwards the Moravian Church began sending out missionaries.

Around 1780, an indigent Baptist cobbler named William Carey began reading about James Cook's Polynesian journeys. His interest grew to a furious sort of "backwards homesickness", inspiring him to obtain Baptist orders, and eventually write his famous 1792 pamphlet, "An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of Heathen." Far from a dry book of theology, Carey's work used the best available geographic and ethnographic data to map and count the number of people who had never heard the Gospel. It formed a movement that has grown with increasing speed from his day to the present.

Carey's example was followed by a number of missions to seaside and port cities. The China Inland Mission (later the 'Overseas Missionary Fellowship') is one of the more famous.

Thomas Coke, the first bishop of the American Methodists, has been called "the Father of Methodist Missions". After spending time in the young American republic strengthening the infant Methodist Church alongside Episcopal colleague Francis Asbury, the British-born Coke left for mission work. During his time in America, Coke worked vigorously to increase Methodist support of Christian missions and raising up mission workers. Coke died while on a mission trip to India, but his legacy among Methodists - his passion for missions - continues.

Open Air Preaching WB

Missionary preaching in China using The Wordless Book

The next wave of missions, starting in the early 1850s, was to inland areas, led by Hudson Taylor with his China Inland Mission. Taylor was later supported by Henry Grattan Guinness who founded Cliff College which exists today for the purpose of training and equipping local and global mission.

The new wave of missions inspired by Taylor and Guinness have collectively been called "faith missions" and owe much to the ideas and example of Anthony Norris Groves. Taylor was a thorough-going nativist, offending the missionaries of his era by wearing Chinese clothing and speaking Chinese at home. His books, speaking, and examples led to the formation of numerous inland missions, and the Student Volunteer Movement (SVM), which from 1850 to about 1950 sent nearly 10,000 missionaries to inland areas, often at great personal sacrifice. Many early SVM missionaries to areas with endemic tropical diseases left with their belongings packed in a coffin, aware that 80% of them would die within two years.

In 1910, the Edinburgh Missionary Conference was held in Scotland. Presided over by active SVM leader (and future Nobel Peace Prize recipient) John R. Mott, an American Methodist layperson, the conference reviewed the state of evangelism, Bible translation, mobilization of church support, and the training of indigenous leadership. Looking to the future, conferees worked on strategies for worldwide evangelism and cooperation. The conference not only established greater ecumenical cooperation in missions, but also essentially launched the modern ecumenical movement.

The next wave of missions was started by two missionaries, Cameron Townsend and Donald McGavran, around 1935. These men realized that although earlier missionaries had reached geographic areas, there were numerous ethnographic groups that were isolated by language, or class from the groups that missionaries had reached. Cameron formed Wycliffe Bible Translators to translate the Bible into native languages. McGavran concentrated on finding bridges to cross the class and cultural barriers in places like India, which has upwards of 4,600 peoples, separated by a combination of language, culture and caste. Despite democratic reforms, caste and class differences are still fundamental in many cultures.

An equally important dimension of missions strategy is the indigenous method of nationals reaching their own people. In Asia this wave of missions was pioneered by men like Dr G. D. James of Singapore, Rev Theodore Williams of India and Dr David Cho of Korea. The "two thirds missions movement" as it is referred to, is today a major force in missions.

Most modern missionaries and missionary societies have repudiated cultural imperialism, and elected to focus on spreading the gospel and translating the Bible. Sometimes, missionaries have been vital in preserving and documenting the culture of the peoples among whom they live.

Often, missionaries provide welfare and health services, as a good deed or to make friends with the locals. Thousands of schools, orphanages, and hospitals have been established by missions. One of the quietest, yet most far-reaching services provided by missionaries started with the Each one, teach one literacy program begun by Dr. Frank Laubach in the Philippines in 1935. The program has since spread around the world and brought literacy to the least enabled members of many societies.

The word "mission" was historically often applied to the building, the "mission station" in which the missionary lives or works. In some colonies, these mission stations became a focus of settlement of displaced or formerly nomadic people. Particularly in rural Australia, missions have become localities or ghettoes on the edges of towns which are home to many Indigenous Australians. The word may be seen as derogatory when used in this context.

Modern missionary methods and doctrines

A Christian missionary's objective is to give an understandable presentation of their beliefs with the hope that people will choose to convert from other faiths to Christianity. As a matter of strategy, many evangelical Christians in Europe and North America now focus on what they call the "10/40 window", a band of countries between 10 and 40 degrees north latitude and reaching from western Africa through Asia. Christian missions strategist Luis Bush pinpointed the need for a major focus of evangelism in the "10/40 Window", a phrase he coined in his presentation at the missionary conference Lausanne 1989 in Manila. Sometimes referred to as the "Resistant Belt", it is an area that includes 35% of the world's land mass, 90% of the world's poorest peoples and 95% of those who have yet to hear anything about Christianity.

In modern missionary strategy, mission stations and/or Mission hospitals are deprecated, because they were historically ineffective. Mission stations normally created disaffected individual converts, often seen as an outcast by their family and culture. In many cases, the only source of converts to a mission station were the orphans raised in the station's orphanage. Also, many mission station's converts were so alienated from surrounding cultures that they were unable to get work outside the mission station, let alone act as cultural ambassadors for Christianity. In some cases, these paid "rice bowl Christians" actively impeded Christian conversion in the mission's schools and orphanages so that their own incomes would not be reduced as more Christians came to depend on the mission station.

Modern pioneering missionary doctrines now focus on inserting a culturally adapted seed of Christian doctrines into a self-selected, self-motivated group of native believers, without removing the natives from their culture in any way.

Modern mission techniques are sufficiently refined that within ten to fifteen years, most native churches are natively pastored, managed, taught, self-supporting and evangelizing. The process can be substantially faster if a preexisting translation of the Bible and higher pastoral education are already available, perhaps left-over from earlier, less effective missions.

A key approach is to let native cultural groups decide to adopt Christian doctrines and benefits, when (as in most cultures) such major decisions are normally made by groups. In this way, opinion leaders in the groups can persuade much or most of the groups to convert. When combined with training in church planting and other modern missionary doctrine, the result is an accelerating, self-propelled conversion of large portions of the culture.

A typical modern mission is a co-operative effort by many different ministries, often including several coordinating ministries, often with separate funding sources. One typical effort proceeded as follows:

  1. A missionary radio group recruits, trains and broadcasts in the main dialect of the target culture's language. Broadcast content is carefully adapted to avoid syncretism yet help the Christian Gospel seem like a native, normal part of the target culture. Broadcast content often includes news, music, entertainment and education in the language, as well as purely Christian items.
  2. Broadcasts might advertise programs, inexpensive radios (possibly spring-wound), and a literature ministry that sells a Christian mail-order correspondence course at nominal costs. The literature ministry is key, and is normally a separate organization from the radio ministry. Modern literature missions are shifting to web-based content where it makes sense (as in Western Europe and Japan).
  3. When a person or group completes a correspondence course, they are invited to contact a church-planting missionary group from (if possible) a related cultural group. The church-planting ministry is usually a different ministry from either the literature or radio ministries. The church-planting ministry usually requires its missionaries to be fluent in the target language, and trained in modern church-planting techniques.
  4. The missionary then leads the group to start a church. Churches planted by these groups are usually a group that meets in a house. The object is the minimum organization that can perform the required character development and spiritual growth. Buildings, complex ministries and other expensive items are mentioned, but deprecated until the group naturally achieves the size and budget to afford them. The crucial training is how to set up a church (meet to study the Bible, and perform communion and worship), and how to become a Christian (the finer points of obeying God), usually in that order.
  5. A new generation of churches is created, and the growth begins to accelerate geometrically. Frequently, daughter churches are created only a few months after a church's creation. In the fastest-growing Christian movements, the pastoral education is "pipelined", flowing in a just-in-time fashion from the central churches to daughter churches. That is, planting of churches does not wait for the complete training of pastors.

The most crucial part of church planting is selection and training of leadership. Classically, leadership training required an expensive stay at a seminary, a Bible college. Modern church planters deprecate this because it substantially slows the growth of the church without much immediate benefit. Modern mission doctrines replace the seminary with programmed curricula or (even less expensive) books of discussion questions, and access to real theological books. The materials are usually made available in a major trading language in which most native leaders are likely to be fluent. In some cases, the materials can be adapted for oral use.

It turns out that new pastors' practical needs for theology are well addressed by a combination of practical procedures for church planting, discussion in small groups, and motivated Bible-based study from diverse theological texts. As a culture's church's wealth increases, it will naturally form classic seminaries on its own.

Another related mission is Bible translation. The above-mentioned literature has to be translated. Missionaries actively experiment with advanced linguistic techniques to speed translation and literacy. Bible translation not only speeds a church's growth by aiding self-training, but it also assures that Christian information becomes a permanent part of the native culture and literature. Some ministries also use modern recording techniques to reach groups with audio that could not be soon reached with literature.

Criticism and Controversies

Objections to missionary work among isolated indigenous populations have been raised by various indigenous rights groups organizations, such as Friends of Peoples Close to Nature and Survival International, who criticize the motives and methods of Christian missionaries. A compilation of these opinions, "Partial History of Christian Missionary Atrocities," can be found in the book, The Burning Cross [2]


  1. Daus, Ronald (1983). Die Erfindung des Kolonialismus. Wuppertal/Germany: Peter Hammer Verlag. pp. 33, 61–66. ISBN 3-87294-202-6. 


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See also

External links

cs:Misie da:Kristen missionet:Misjonno:Misjonro:Misionari ru:Христианская миссия fi:Lähetystyö sv:Kristen mission

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