For the past generation pioneer thinking about missionary methods has focused in the deepening conviction that the goal of missions everywhere should be the development of mature, responsible, and self-governing local churches. Continuing debate has not questioned this consensus, yet radically different conclusions have emerged therefrom.
Out of respect for the “indigenous” church’s responsibility should the missionary or should he not be insofar as possible a “normal member” of the emergent fellowship? Examination of this question continues in the current issue of CHRISTIANITY TODAY. Seldom does such discussion reveal, however, that this problem is not the deepest nor the most urgent in planning for tomorrow’s witnessing outreach. The same vulnerable definition of “missionary” is presupposed by both sides as they debate the missionary’s relationship to the indigenous church, or even his selection and training. A “missionary” is presumed to be a Christian from North America or Western Europe, someone sent and financially supported by churches in the “homeland” while he is “on the field,” and until he returns “home.”
By-Product Of A Modern Era
This universally accepted definition of the “missionary” has its obvious place in the foreign missionary movement of the last two centuries. But we do not seem to recognize to what extent this great movement, including its concept of missionary “sending,” was the product of an era of Western cultural and political expansion—an age whose passing we may welcome or deplore, but cannot prevent.
We are not discounting nor discrediting the immeasurable achievements ...1
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