Which Way is Really Better?

Though it wasn’t in the name, First Community Church was a large Southern Baptist congregation, solid in doctrine, and forward-leaning regarding evangelism and missions. They added a missions pastor to their staff and started sending out various kinds of mission teams and established schools to train national pastors. Before long, the work grew to fourteen different countries around the world.

Pastors of smaller churches in the area heard about the efforts at First Community’s annual Pastor Seminar. These pastors approached Pastor Danny Bright about forming a network, where smaller churches, that couldn’t afford to have a missions pastor on their staff, could contribute to the missions effort. Bright saw this as an opportunity to minister to smaller congregations by giving them the opportunity to be part of world evangelization. The additional funding would enable the International ministry to expand to new countries and engage additional unreached people groups.

First Community added associate missions pastors to their staff to oversee the expanded work. They had learned through their varied experiences that they needed to do a more thorough job of screening potential overseas personnel. Some mistakes had been made along the way and a few international crises had been navigated. So they tried to fix the glitches in the system.

In order to promote the work among the other churches the international workers would come into the smaller churches and explain the work. There was also an expanded web site and more printed materials to promote the offering. Eventually, First Community added an office building to their campus to house this growingly complex operation.

Everyone had agreed up front that all of the churches and their members could do more working together than they could apart. Some could give a little and some could give a lot, but everyone could be a part. And it worked out just that way. In fact, quite a number of churches affiliated with other evangelical denominations joined the network because they liked the personal connections they felt with the missionaries. Eventually, the funding coming in from the smaller churches grew to be a significantly larger portion of the budget than what First Community was putting into the missions operation.

Seeing the percentage of the budget coming from the smaller churches, some of the pastors from these churches felt there should representation from among their churches on some sort of a board to provide accountability. First Community agreed and the International Ministries ministry was created as a separate organization with its own board.

As time went by, more and more funding was required for overhead. While funds weren’t being wasted, processing the offerings from the ever-expanding number of supporting churches, overseeing the training of the growing number of missionaries, and so forth required more personnel and funding. It was, after all, a large operation.

Other mega-churches began to copy First Community’s International Ministry. They were adding their own mission pastor staff and building their own networks of supporting churches.

Eventually, in all these churches combined, the number of stateside paid staff administering these operations was, put together, larger than the states-side staff of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. There were numerous presidents of missions boards, accountants, trainers and training facilities, and development directors competing for the offerings of other churches. Consequently, the International Mission Board was actually getting a larger percentage of receipts out of the country and to the mission field.

Eventually, some members of First Community began to express how they were increasingly feeling disconnected from the work. It had grown to be so large it now seemed impersonal. Pastor Bright tried to remind everyone that evangelizing the whole world is a big task and working overseas in multiple countries is very complex with all the legalities and language and cultural training involved. “Besides,” he asked them, “which is more important: how being involved in the work makes us feel or how this will impact the lives that will be reached in a larger operation?” “It’s not about us,” he said. Nevertheless, some of the members of First Community and some of the smaller supporting churches started a smaller, leaner organization designed to create a more personal connection between churches and missionaries.

So what is the point of this made-up story?

There is a learning curve to doing a new ministry, especially missions. It is poor stewardship to reinvent the wheel and doing so increases number of critical mistakes made.

If the point of First Community creating a network was so smaller churches could be involved in the work, isn’t that what the International Mission Board is already doing?

If it is waste and duplication we want to avoid, isn’t the best way to avoid that by participation in the denomination? Instead of every church having its own missionary society?

Can part of what we are seeing going on around us, as more and more people disregard their denomination, reflect the attitude that ministry hasn’t really been done until we ourselves have done it?

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