Going Far: Traveling Together Toward Missions Success
By L. John Bueno
An African proverb says, "If you want to go quickly, travel alone. If you want to go far, travel together."
Every follower of Christ who has a sense of God's direction on his ministry has a natural passion to carry out the Great Commission on the strength of his personal mission statement. But learning to meld one's personal fervor for outreach with the leading of the Holy Spirit among the wider body of Christ has a multiplying effect with eternally significant results. The same holds true when individual ministry groups develop partnerships for worldwide outreach.
In the early days of the Pentecostal movement our leaders were not inclined toward organization. Most had left mainline churches after receiving Christ within the context of a Pentecostal revival. They looked with suspicion on religious institutions, a suspicion often merited by the hostility of organized religion toward anything Pentecostal.
But our spiritual forefathers felt compelled to organize, even though it was not their preference or natural inclination. Careful reading of the minutes of the first several General Councils reveals among the principle reasons for organizing was for doctrinal clarity and unity, establishing Bible training schools to prepare people for full-time ministry, and to provide ethical accountability for ministers. The clearly overwhelming, driving force was the desire to obey our Lord's command and reach the world for Christ. One fact was inescapable: They could not possibly fulfill such a great task individually and divided. Necessity compelled them to unite their efforts for the greatest cause on earth — reaching a spiritually lost world before the Lord's return.
The success of that divinely mandated mission rests on the commitment of diverse members of the body of Christ coming together while honestly accepting the spectrum of characteristics each brings to the ministry endeavor. Worldwide missions succeeds when the eyes, ears, and feet the apostle Paul spoke of in 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 work together with Spirit-coordinated agility.
We Succeed When We Accept Others' Distinctives
It is human nature for someone to say, "I'm going to get it done myself." A church may embark on its own ministry overseas by establishing its own contacts and perhaps building an outreach center or ministry outpost in a foreign country. That congregation might honestly believe they can identify where the maximum number of people will come to Christ in response to every missions dollar invested. But philosophically, this congregation does not understand the mission Jesus gave the Church.
We cannot objectively compare a missionary working in Argentina — where revival is ongoing and hundreds of people accept Christ every month — with missionaries working in restricted countries where the government prohibits overt preaching and where it is not possible to carry out the traditional ways of evangelism. Jesus called the Church to plant the gospel in the hard soil as well as the fertile soil. This requires partnership.
One of the Spirit-inspired foundations of Assemblies of God World Missions is its willingness to partner with local believers without giving up our core values or doctrinal truths. Brazil, for example, is the largest Assemblies of God work in the world — more than 20 million strong. Brazilian churches do not have the same church polity as the Assemblies of God in the United States, or as in most other countries. Large churches in Brazil plant daughter churches and tend to keep them under a central church's authority. But they have found ways to do a powerful work for the Lord in that nation. We can partner with them and accept their differences in polity because we agree doctrinally and in our core values.
Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, we have partnered with many Pentecostal unions in that region. They have bishops and maintain different governance, but we agree doctrinally and in spirit. We unite with them in our passion to reach the lost of our world.
In partnering with these churches rather than competing with them, we have accelerated our outreach by decades. The Commonwealth of Independent States Pentecostal unions are well established. They survived as underground churches through years of communism. Now that they are flourishing, we can come alongside them with training and other resources they need.
In the 212 countries and territories where the U.S. Assemblies of God ministers, our partnering fellowships have different church polities. By partnering with people on the field and foregoing our own systems, we are able to be more effective. When we work through partnership, the Great Commission moves ahead much faster than when we are dogmatic about our methodology.
We Succeed When We Nurture Long-term Vision
Working together is a valid principle anywhere. If applied to the United States, our strength in working together today is unparalleled in history. God has abundantly blessed our churches with human and material resources. The challenge is to get our churches to take a long view of a mission field's potential harvest.
There are churches with the finances and personnel to pursue individual projects overseas and do a quality job. But when you look at the total picture, will that ministry have longevity? W ill it have long-term effect among local believers? Will the project survive when the church changes senior pastors or when it shifts its support to another country? Will the ministry fit into a fellowship or a structure that will guarantee long-term success? It may be easy for a U.S. church to say, Let's do it fast. Let's do it our way. But our African proverb would invite us to reconsider.
Pastors recognize this principle at work in their own congregations. A pastor, in many cases, could do a better job of a particular ministry task than most laypeople. But the wise pastor trains laypeople to carry out and expand his church's ministries. The pastor who thinks he has to do everything will lead a stagnant church that will never grow beyond the pastor's own ability to care for a limited number of people.
The world's challenges are staggering. In response to billions of unreached people, it would be natural to say, " That's too many," or " Let's find a shortcut." Some radio and television preachers claim they have found a new way to reach a billion people or to carry out a massive outreach. But in the end , they depend on individuals to commit to this cause, be willing to partner, and agree to accomplish Christ's purpose together.
The Lord himself exemplified this. Jesus could have built His public ministry as a lone maverick. He could have taught, fed, and healed everyone himself. He is the Son of God. But Jesus gathered 12 flawed disciples and invested himself in them. Those men were to carry on after Him. We see in the Book of Acts how the Church multiplied and grew after Christ ascended to heaven.
We Succeed When We Recognize Our Limitations
In my lifetime I have observed the ministry of many independent missionaries who were people of faith. They were willing to give up everything and live sacrificially. God honors a servant spirit that will pay any price to obey the Great Commission.
Too often, though, a person with an independent spirit passes by resources the Holy Spirit would invite him to accept. The lone missionary serving on a field where the government is restrictive and the culture is resistant to the gospel may go down in defeat if he does not find a ministry partner. It helps to have a colleague. It helps to have someone who shares your ideals, your faith, and your burden for people. Too many times those with a pioneer spirit start with great vigor, faith, and a willingness to give up everything, but end up leaving the field defeated. Maybe their support base dwindled. Perhaps they grew discouraged. Those wounded individualists underscore the value of working together as a team, of having a support system.
Any system of any size will have bureaucratic challenges. I confess that I chafe under the system myself. A large organization, such as ours, may develop bureaucratic principles that may not be fundamental to our mission. But we have to face the requirements of the IRS, the requirements of our United States legal system, and the legal systems and governments overseas. We must make sure we do not put people in jeopardy, whether missionaries in the field, our national churches, or even our churches at home.
But as we consider the impact of our missions endeavors around the world, the benefits are much greater than the liabilities.
We Succeed When We Maximize Our Resources
I do not think any organization offers more specialized support to its missions personnel than does the Assemblies of God. Consider, for instance, our programs for missionary kids. We are committed to helping MKs not only when they are on the field but also when they are home and facing times of transition. This is a great blessing; I do not for a moment consider it superfluous. Our support programs are essential to the well-being of our missionary families.
Speed the Light is another compelling example. Many organizations admire the way our missionaries are equipped. This cannot be done through individual effort. Tens of thousands of youth across our nation have partnered with us to provide our missionaries with the best tools possible. Boys and Girls Missionary Crusade has been a tremendous blessing by providing for many ministries around the world. Women's Ministries has been, from the very beginning, a program offering key support. Light for the Lost for many years has provided literature to facilitate evangelism.
No one missionary can raise funds for his personal support and, at the same time, raise money for vehicles, equipment, and literature for the unevangelized. But these Assemblies of God support structures help our missionaries in that process. And these support structures demonstrate again and again that we cannot do ministries alone.
We Succeed When We Minister in Unity
On a recent trip to Southern Asia, I saw first hand a missionary team — our missionary body as well as the national leadership of the local church — working in the unity of which I am speaking. Every missionary family was working to reach the same goal. Everyone had taken on the task of being part of a team pushing forward a broad spectrum of ministries.
During my visit, I continually saw the results of this spirit of unity. This spirit of unity transferred to the national church. W hen the national church sees missionaries unified, they see the value of cooperating with them in ministry. The national leadership in that country then partners with our missionary body. This is how missions needs to work. This is what Jesus wants us to do. His mission and desire i s to build the kingdom of God through a unified body of His followers.
When we individualize our ministries to the point we can no longer see the value of others, we detract from the real purposes of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is to glorify Christ and spread the name of Jesus in the world. But sometimes our own kingdoms get in the way. W e dedicate too much time to building up and fulfilling our own ambitions in the name of ministry. The focus of our life becomes our own pet project. We fail to see the Great Commission's broader picture and fail to value what others are doing to fulfill Christ's mandate.
We Succeed When We Remember the Larger Missions Endeavor
Multiplication among the worldwide body of missionaries is a powerful outgrowth of our partnership with other fellowships. Emerging countries in the Assemblies of God family now sponsor more than 5,000 international missionaries. It is our responsibility to reach out and maximize their missions impact wherever possible. They may work in isolation if we fail to make a concerted effort to include them. They may struggle to build financial backing and gain the material resources we take for granted. As we expand our vision, we can partner with these new brothers in mission and multiply their ministry.
In Northern Asia, for example, the missionary fellowship consists of U.S. missionaries as well as missionaries from Guatemala and other countries. They are working as a team to accomplish a 21st-century mission. So much more can be done as we continue to make a deliberate effort to bring emerging missionaries into our Fellowship for encouragement, for partnership in their projects, for financial support, and for other logistical contributions to create new and powerful outreaches in our day.
As the exponential growth of these missionaries from emerging countries develops, a day will come when there will be far more of them than there are U.S. missionaries. It is vital that we find ways to work together to share our ministry journey. It can be laborious, time consuming, and an intercultural challenge, but the harvest of people will prove it worth the effort.
In some cases, this involves working together with other denominations. I believe any level of cooperation that helps move us back to the unity of the Early Church is Spirit-led. This is not yet happening as it should, but the spiritual demands of this age point us in that direction. We need to be sensitive to the Spirit to hear what the Spirit is saying to us about our relationships, about our networking, and about our finding ways to work together, instead of competing with people of like faith.
We Succeed When We Innovate While Maintaining Focus
As our mission continues to multiply and new challenges, opportunities, technologies, and communities open themselves to us, I am convinced the Holy Spirit is speaking with clear guidance to missionaries to draw them together in creative and innovative ways to fulfill the Great Commission. Today's missions milieu requires a challenging and sometimes paradoxical balancing act between flexibility and innovation on the one hand and commitment to core doctrine and missiological values on the other.
Any organization that would greatly impact the world must learn to walk a fine line between preparation for a wide variety of tasks relevant to its mission and a retained focus on the primary purpose they wish to accomplish. In the history of Assemblies of God World Missions, we have clearly prioritized establishing indigenous churches through four pillars of missions outreach — reaching, planting, training, and touching.
An organization devoted to specialized ministries in missions can often best accomplish that purpose. For almost 14 years AGWM has had a partnership with Wycliffe Bible Translators. We have 29 Assemblies of God missionaries working with Wycliffe. Our AG churches can support these Wycliffe missionaries and receive World Missions giving credit for doing so.
This partnership does not conflict with the many missionaries involved extensively in translation. For example, Sobhi Malek has developed an Arabic New Testament, and John Hall translated a Mossi Bible. But going into a primitive culture whose language is not yet reduced to writing, and dealing with that level of specialized translation is a task where Wycliffe excels. Our missionary leadership determined long ago to partner with Wycliffe in these areas.
We are open to every ministry birthed by the Spirit in the heart of a dedicated servant of God. As the Spirit convinces our leadership of that person's calling, commitment to building the Kingdom, and contribution to our primary task of establishing and serving the long-term health of our national churches, we make room for his ministry.
Are there ministry visions that our mission cannot accommodate? Yes. But I am thrilled to see an ever-growing variety of missionaries and ministries coming together in these last days to bring the gospel to every corner of the globe and to every hungry heart.