Apostolic Missionaries and the Urban Contexts 1

Over this past week, I have posted about issues related to urban missions.  While I hope to do more in the future, I wanted to conclude this series by addressing a matter that I believe is a critical missing link to urban missions today, particularly in western contexts.  This issue is the missing element of understanding the essence and function of the church planter from a biblical perspective. 

Sometime ago, I briefly outlined my perspective of how missions in general, but especially in post-Christianized western contexts must be grounded on an apostolic missiology.  While I will not repeat the content in those posts, I will direct you to them:

Apostolic Missiology Part 3 – Missiological Shift in Western Contexts

Apostolic Missiology Part 2 – What is It?

Apostolic Missiology Part 1 – Some Questions to Get Us Started

To set the context, I would like to draw your attention to a few matters that I have either posted or tweeted this past week. 

First, earlier this week, I responded to Tim Keller’s excellent Advance Paper for Cape Town 2010.  If you have not read his work, you need to read it and join the conversation.  Tim rightly reminded us of the enormous sizes of global cities, the massive amounts of diversity, and the need for contextualized churches.  But I especially want to remind you of his statement that “It takes a movement to reach a city.”  He continues on to write, “To change a city with the gospel takes a self-sustaining, naturally growing movement of ministries and networks around a core of new church multiplication.”  Remember his last two words here (We have barely been adding churches, even in all that we have been doing in church planting over the last decade.). 

Second, I also shared with you about the U. S. metropolitian areas with Evangelical concentrations of 5% or less, and their church to population ratios.  The needs and challenges, even in the U. S. are great in our urban contexts.  We cannot continue to do more of what we are presently doing in urban church planting when it comes to reaching the cities.    

Third, I don’t know if you follow me on Twitter or not, but if you did on Tuesday, I had a mini-Tweet-O-Thon based on John Vidal’s article, “UN Report: World’s Biggest Cities Merging into ‘Mega-Regions'” that was released by The Guardianin March of this year.  I also sent out a link to the UN’s free 280 page book State of the World’s Cities 2008-2009-Harmonious Cities.  The title of Vidal’s article alone communicates the challenge we face in urban missions.

Now, most people I know would agree that given the present realities and future possibilities of the urban contexts, that the dissemination of the gospel and the planting of churches (via evangelism and not transfer growth) must happen at a multiplicative pace.  While no one is arguing for getting ahead of the Holy Spirit, most of the people I know greatly desire to poise themselves, their churches, their organizations, their networks, and their agencies in such a manner that if the Spirit so moved, they would be prepared to move with Him accordingly.  We all desire and pray for this opportunity.

But, my fear is that we are operating from a missiology (and ultimately a theology) that is not conducive to biblical movement.  The result is that we are not in any position for movement (theologically, missiologically, methodologically, organizationally), even though many of us long to experience movement. 

We appear to operate almost completely from a pastoral approach to engaging a city.  But someone may ask, “What is the alternative?”  My response would be, add a missionary paradigm to the pastoral paradigm.  Both are needed.  But, when it comes to church planting, the emphasis must be on the former.

I have pastored churches in the United States for over thirteen years (and I have served on several church planting teams also in this country.).  So, I believe I know how pastors are wired, gifted, and equipped to carry out their Ephesians 4:11-12 callings.  And guess what?  Pastors and missionaries are rightly different creatures–and divinely designed to be that way. 

However, most of us completly ignore these differences when it comes to church planting in post-Christianized contexts: 

Reality Number 1-Pastors are Pastors

  • Pastors do not function like missionaries for they are not called to be missionaries…. They are pastors.
  • When pastors are expected to function like missionaries, they are generally neglecting their pastoral ministries.
  • While pastors are to be missional, leading their churches to multiply disciples, leaders, and churches, they have extremely important, long term, pastoral responsibilities that missionaries typically do not have. 
  • We need to be thankful for pastors and allow them to be pastors. 

Reality Number 2-Missionaries are Missionaries

  • Missionaries do not function like pastors for they are not called to be pastors….They are called to an apostolic ministry.
  • When missionaries are expected to function like pastors, they are not fulfilling their callings in multiplying disciples, pastors/elders, and churches.
  • While missionaries are to be pastoral, the weight of the biblical evidence is that the missionary teams are to do evangelism, gather new believers together as healthy churches, train up pastors for those churches, and partner with those churches as they continue to repeat this process. 
  • Missionaries are not permanent fixtures, but are to be evangelistic, new believer gathering, elder-preparing machines.
  • We need to be thankful for missionaries and allow them to be missionaries.  

For most of us laboring in western contexts, we have exclusively shifted to define church planting in terms of pastoral ministry, rather than apostolic (or missionary) ministry.  Our expectations reflect this truth.  Our conversations reflect this truth.  Our strategies reflect this truth.  Our books reflect this truth.  Our support systems reflect this truth.  Our conferences reflect this truth.  Our theological training reflects this truth.  

But most importantly, our application of missionary methods to the field reflects this truth–and such methodology is not multiplicative in its orientation to the degree that is necessary for reaching the urban contexts of the world.     

Nine years ago, I wrote about three necessary shifts (i.e., theological, philosophical, and methodological) that I believe are necessary before the Church in North America would be poised for multiplication.  In 2003, I published a lengthy article on this topic. in the Journal of the American Society for Church GrowthI do not believe we are poised to where we need to be, that if the Spirit blew across the western urban contexts our sails would be ready to catch His wind and move where He would have us to go for the multiplication of disciples, pastors, and churches.   

We need to return to the Scriptures for guidance in understanding what it means to be a church planter in order to reach the urban masses.

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