The Goal of Mission Work
By Rod Rutherford
Our Lord has commanded us to "go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). The salvation of souls depends upon their hearing and obeying the gospel, for only the gospel is "the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16). When a missionary goes into a foreign land, preaches the gospel, and souls are obedient to it, is his task completed, or is there yet work to be done? When can we pronounce a mission work finished? What is the ultimate goal of mission work?
Missionaries, missions scholars, and church leaders generally will agree that the ultimate goal of all our mission work is to produce congregations which are "indigenous." Webster defines "indigenous" as "growing or produced naturally." An indigenous church is one that belongs naturally in the culture in which it is found. It is not alien or foreign, nor discernible as such. God has designed his church so that it meets the needs of men in every century, country, culture and clime. The gospel does not need to be changed, adapted, or modified, but if taught in its purity, will produce the same thing, the church of Christ, in any part of the world at any given time in history (Luke 8:11).
An indigenous church has three characteristics: (1) It is selfgoverning; (2) It is selfsupporting; (3) It is selfpropagating. Today, one can go to many nations of the world where our brethren have rendered devoted, sacrificial service for decades, and the churches are still in their infancy. Few congregations have qualified elders and deacons. The only outreach which is done is spearheaded by missionaries, or national preachers whose support is derived wholly, or in part, from congregations in the USA. If, for some reason, the missionaries should be withdrawn and American funds stopped, the work would suffer a setback, or might not even survive. It is obvious in such situations that principles which lead to the establishment of indigenous churches have not been followed.
An indigenous church is selfsupporting. Wise, loving parents provide for their children when they are young and incapable of caring for themselves. But they also realize that the time must come when their children are able to stand on their own and make their way in the world. Therefore, they teach them principles of hard work and economy and provide education so they can eventually become self supporting. The same should be done with churches. As long as we continue to pour funds into the same churches year after year, and these same churches never begin to take responsibility for their own support, they will remain infants, and we will never have the funds to evangelize the world. A new congregation, from its beginning, should be taught that eventually it must cease being a receiver and become a giver. A mission congregation should grow to the point that it becomes a part of the team supporting efforts to take the gospel to the whole world!
An indigenous church is selfgoverning. Caring parents train their children to be responsible. Initially, they must make all the decisions for them, but gradually they will lead them into making their own. Eventually the time comes when the apron strings are cut and the once dependent children form their own families and begin training their own children. So it must be in mission work. Wise missionaries will work to develop leadership in local churches. They will encourage the church to become self governing. It must be the aim of the missionary to work himself out of a job as soon as possible.
An indigenous church must be selfpropagating. It is the work of Christians to produce Christians by teaching the gospel to the lost. God designed his church under its leadership of elders, evangelists, deacons and teachers to be a missionary society to reach the lost and an educational institution to train the saved. A church which is not actively involved in efforts to carry the gospel to the lost in its own community is not the church as God designed it. From the very beginning of their spiritual lives, converts must be taught their responsibility to use their talents to reach others with the saving message of the gospel. From its inception, a congregation needs to be grounded in the idea that it is designed by God to be an evangelistic vehicle.
What is the goal of mission work? Successful mission work has been done only when selfsupporting, selfgoverning, selfpropagating churches have been formed. Sponsoring churches should insist that the missionaries they support will have wisely formulated plans to make the churches they establish truly indigenous. Only when mission churches become a part of the team to carry the gospel to others will we be able truly to take the gospel to every creature.