Friday, January 14, 2005

Why Go With the Local Church?

Now that summer plans are almost upon us (I know, hard to believe), I've had one student come to me and ask me why she shouldn't go with just an old missions organization versus what we are trying to do as a part of SPACE. It's a great question, there are so so many opportunites out there for students, and the market is only going to get larger. Students today can go just about wherever they want, doing whatever kind of ministry they are drawn to. I'm sure I will get more kids asking the same kind of question.
Here is a snippet from a great write up from the Discovery segment of Wycliffe, which is their summer college age program. You can read the whole document (included in three required reading articles for Discovery applicants) here under the Discovery doc download page.
Link your short term with your local church
by Paul Borthwick
Diane’s short-term missions experience left her feeling a little flat. It had all seemed great at the out-set -- a good mission agency, excellent financial support from her family and a few friends, and a fair amount of enthusiasm from her college peers. But, when she arrived on the field, she sensed just how alone she was. Her family wrote regularly, but others seemed to forget about her, or so she felt. When she returned home, no one seemed interested in the intense experiences she’d had in a new culture. Her aloneness left her thinking, “I don’t know if I’ll ever go into missions again.”
Bob and Louise had a very different experience. Rather than going with an independent program, they decided to go through their church-affiliated short-term program. Their feelings of frustration came at the start of the summer: Why do we have to do all of this paper work? Why do we have to meet with the missions committee? When we are so ready to go, why does it seem that our church is dragging its feet?
They spent time developing relationships with people in their church. After a special send-off service, Bob and Louise were taken to the airport by a dozen friends and supporters from the church.
During the summer, letters came with regularity. They never felt the same sort of aloneness that Diane felt because there were constant reminders that they weren’t there alone: their church was behind them. They returned two months later to an airport reception crowded with church members toting “Welcome Home” signs. Several expressed anticipation about hearing their reports. At the close of their experience, Bob and Louise thought, “Wow! Let’s do this again.”
Although Diane and Bob and Louise are extreme (though true) cases, the basic reason for their contrasting summers was their relationship with a sending church.
Let’s be realistic: sometimes the local church doesn’t seem too desirable. In some ways it’s easier just to go than to stay around and try to build relationships with people who may not seem supportive of missions.
There are at least three good reasons to spend the time needed to build bridges to the local church.
First, it’s biblical. Jesus promised that the church will prevail against the gates of hell (Matthew 16:18) The book of Acts demonstrates the church in action to fulfill the Great Commission through the establishment of churches. Missionaries are sent to establish churches, not to make solitary converts. If we ignore the local church in our culture what will we have to offer the local church in another?
Second, it’s practical. Whether or not we want to admit it, our local church has plenty to offer in the sending process. Financial and prayer support are the most basic means of involvement, but people we know are crucial, too. They can best advise us on what we need to learn for a short-term assignment.
Finally, a short-term missionary can be a tremendous missions catalyst to the sending church. Most of us would admit that the local church (in general) is fulfilling a strategic missions function. The solution, however is not to circumvent the church in order to get to the field: the solution is to get involved enough so that we can build our missions vision into others.

In my mind, its even more important that students go with their local church's missions experience if at all possible. Their experience will be so formative, coming home with other students and leaders that understand is paramount.

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