Leading a Church in Mission
Adrian Reynolds reviews a short but compelling book from 9Marks on the subject of world mission.
I’ve really appreciated reading Andy Johnson’s new book subtitled ‘How the local church goes global.’
The work of mission – in its broadest sense – always needs to be given a high profile in the local church. Many of the churches in our family do this very well indeed. For others, however, we are much more casual about anything that happens outside of a five-mile radius.
Both types of churches need to read this book: the former group to do what they are committed to even better; the latter to redress some of the imbalance that – sadly – independency can sometimes breed.
Like many of the 9Marks books this one is attractively presented and easy to read. More importantly, however, it is full of really good biblical and practical wisdom.
Most books could do with being shorter: they are often padded out with unnecessary stories or illustrations. This one is pithy and to the point. Good. I love that in a few short pages, Andy can outline, for example, 9 ways to prepare for a short term mission trip.
It is unsurprising that the 9Marks series make so much of the 9Marks distinctives. However, there’s much less of that in this volume and so there are no distractions. I particularly valued Andy’s insights into how mission partnerships needed to be pastor-led. I worry that this is just another one of those subjects where the church leaders abrogate their responsibilities.
It is not that pastors and elders need to do all the work of – say – organising support for mission partners. It can be delegated. But leaders should not be delegating ownership of this area of church life and Andy argues cogently that the only successful partnerships are pastor-led. As someone who’s been involved with a mission charity as a board member for 10 years or so I want to say “amen to that.”
But he also shows how congregation-wide support is essential. I know a few stories where church leaders have moved on and support for a mission work has stopped overnight: the church never really seemed to believe in it. Just as with other areas of church life, we are reaping the harvest of poor leadership in our churches.
Redeeming short term missions
I also really appreciated Andy’s critique and restoration of the work of short term missions. This can be more of a US bugbear than in the UK, but the points still apply. There is a place for short term missions, but Andy’s checklist ensures that these are conducted for the right reasons and in the right way. I can think of a few projects that could do with this kind of analysis.
A couple of questions
There are a couple of areas where I wanted a touch more depth. Andy is rightly keen on the local church, but I wanted some exploration of what the three-way partnership looks like between churches as they seek to serve one another. This is the founding principle behind groups such as Grace Baptist Mission and, perhaps more explicitly, Radstock here in the UK. I wanted a little more help from Andy and some of his practical wisdom applied in this area also. Some churches do this very well indeed. Others have a way to go.
I wondered too about whether I agreed wholeheartedly with everything Andy had to say about expat international churches. I can think of some that operate exactly the way that he describes (we’re probably thinking about the same ones). But it’s a somewhat idealised view and many are a long way off being the local mission hubs that he (and I) want to see.
These, however, are minor niggles. It’s a superb book. Easy to read. Practical. Stimulating. FIEC is sometimes accused (wrongly, I believe) of being obsessed with UK mission at the expense of world mission. I hope that’s not true. It’s both/and. And this book will help us all get the balance right.