I have always admired the Missionaries of previous centuries, for example those who took Christianity to the native tribes of Africa in the 19th Century, particularly the Scottish missionary David Livingstone. A major aspect of the challenge faced by Livingstone and others was the need to penetrate a threatening landscape, often jungles full of threats ranging from poisonous plants, through dangerous animals to hostile tribes. However, apart from admiring them, I also think they have a lot to teach us about the missional challenge we face, and are largely failing at, in our own society.
“It’s more missionaries we need, without more missionaries we will lose”
It seems that church authorities tend to focus on a whole range of things, land purchases for new church buildings, Classic church planting strategies, and increasingly a range of responses to an increasing multitude of social issues, but very little on what I believe is a first order issue for effective future Gospel ministry. That is the matter of who should be selected for the role of leading mission in the mosaic of pagan, church hostile ‘Tribes’ that constitute the cultural jungle of contemporary Australian society.
There is a story about Air Chief Marshall Dowding commander of British Fighter Command during the critical stages of the Battle of Britain during World War 2. Reportedly, an officer rushed up to Dowding with what he thought was exciting news regarding the number of the enemy shot down on the previous day. “That’s good”, Dowding replied not quite so excited, “but what we need is more pilots, without more pilots we will lose”.
The thing to be drawn from that story is that Dowding was able to discern, among a whole range of undoubtedly important aspects of the War effort, what was the primary issue. I would paraphrase Dowding to say that in the context of our missional task, “It’s more missionaries we need, without more missionaries we will lose”.
There often appears to be a failure to recognise the Kaleidoscope of ever morphing cultural universes in which the Australian church is set, the fact that we are in Athens not Jerusalem, in a culture where biblical knowledge is increasingly absent, for which reason we need to use the language of the “poets” of the culture (Acts 17:16-34).
In our mission context the primary need is for missionaries! I will certainly not deny that those who oversee Unbounded Church Missional Community expressions must be doctrinally sound and able to teach well, however that is simply not enough in what is in reality a Crisis, indeed potentially an existential Crisis for the Australian church. It ought to be self-evident that mission needs missionaries, however I am not sure that this, what ought to be, self-evident truth is always evident to many.
Given the ongoing missional unfruitfulness of what we have been doing, yet to continue to produce a flow of graduates from theological colleges who primarily see themselves, and indeed in many cases their primary gifting is, as Pastor/Teacher/Preachers is not the need of the hour. Rather, what is actually needed, and needed desperately, are Missionaries, and the fact is that Pastor/Teachers/Preachers do not necessarily Missionaries make.
Our current Leadership model is strongly shaped by the Christendom paradigm, primarily suited to maintenance, the building up of the ‘saints’, not mission. However, the person with a missionary heart, the heart that should be a primary requirement for the journey into the ‘jungle’ will display distinctive characteristics. Such a heart-
- Is ‘Entrepreneurial’ and is prepared to take risks.
- Is focused on building the ‘Kingdom’ not the ‘church’.
- Is able to not just think ‘outside of the box’ but get outside the box.
- Is ‘flexible and innovative’..
- Prayerfully submits its imagination to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the voice of the New Testament, and dare to ‘imagine what is not’ for the glory of God.
- Has a Star Trek’ vision, i.e. a preparedness to go where “no man (or church) has gone before”, that is along a ‘road as yet unmapped’.
- Loves enough that it is prepared, Livingstone-like, to head into the alien and hostile jungle, to face discomfort and opposition in order to snatch the spiritually blind teetering on the cliff top of Hell.
The cultural shift is now so great that, for the journey into the 21st century Australian ‘jungle’, it is primarily Missionaries we need, and Pastor, Teacher, Preachers do not necessarily Missionaries make. So-
“It’s more missionaries we need, without more missionaries we will lose”.