We not only want to celebrate 125 years of pioneering mission in 2018, we also want to recognize and confess that we have made mistakes.
There have been times when we’ve failed to live up to our vision, purpose, mission and core values...As I thought about our 125th birthday, I asked a number of our members involved in church planting teams and church-strengthening ministries to give their views on where this may have been the case.
Looking at their responses through the lens of scripture, I’ve picked out 10 major mistakes, which have, on occasions, rendered our ministries ineffective and which we must guard against.
I don’t want these to discourage, but rather inspire us to keep Christ at the centre of all we do and to trust in Him.
We depend on our resources instead of God
Whether we’ve been sharing the gospel in communities where Christ is least known for decades or are newly sent by churches, the tendency is always to lean first on our own resources, education or experience.
Missionaries believe in our need of the Spirit’s work, yet we often fail to rely on him. Without Christ’s Spirit at work among us we will not see the glory of God. We need to remind ourselves and our teams repeatedly that, apart from the branch, we can do nothing of any worth.
We stop using God’s word as our means of mission
Since we’re committed to Biblical truth, it may seem strange that teams can try to make disciples without depending on God’s Spirit through his word.
But that happens if our multi-skilled teams give time to good activities, without making clear our intention to share the good news of Jesus in a language people can understand.
We’ve even been guilty of assuming people don’t want to hear Biblical truth, when that is the very thing they most need to hear. If our disciple-making is to be effective, we must learn that communicating the Biblical gospel goes hand-in-hand with learning a new culture and language.
We follow Christ through mono-cultural eyes
Our primary concern is to introduce communities to the person of Jesus but we must always be aware that we see the world through a particular cultural lens.
To discover a multi-ethnic evangelical identity in mission we must listen to God’s word and allow the breadth of cultural diversity to contribute to our disciple-making.
An open heart, with an open Bible, will always open us to grow in the love of Christ through the eyes of those we live among.
Showing Christ’s compassion without speaking of Him
Just as Jesus cared for the sick, suffering and marginalized, so He commands us to love our neighbours, to act justly and love mercy in communities where he is least known.
Our good works of mercy must never replace telling people of God’s mercy to us in Jesus. Fruitful workers do not imagine people will become disciples simply by seeing or receiving compassion — let us love people in Christ’s name and speak about Christ’s gospel truth.
We fail to appreciate the strength of diverse teams
As one SIM colleague put it: “We say we will be more effective in ministry as we incorporate the richness of cultural diversity in SIM and celebrate our oneness in Christ but I’m not sure we really believe that.”
However, there is no doubt that strategy works — look at SIM’s team in South Sudan, where Ethiopians cycle 20km to reach out to displaced people from Sudan, who are Muslims with no knowledge of Christ.
New churches have begun as a result of this witness but it takes the support of the whole team to persevere in the work.
We serve from strength, rather than weakness
Mission workers can sometimes arrive in a foreign culture and expect everything to work well, simply because they have enough money and have been well-prepared. The reality can be very different.
One family spent two years trying to find a place to live, because they did not have the right paperwork. But through that they were brought into contact with countless people who had not heard the gospel.
The way they dealt with their problems was a powerful witness.
We think we know more than we do
We must always act with humility and never with arrogance. We must be quick to learn from the people we are serving and slow to presume we are qualified teachers.
One SIM worker thought if he learnt enough language and culture to share the gospel he would bring people to Christ. It was only when he listened to people’s problems that he learned how to point them to the Christ of Scripture.
As one experienced worker put it: “The most productive thing I can do is have a learning posture as I present the word of God for consideration.”
We stop equipping local churches
The church is central to God’s mission strategy but sometimes we have wrongly prioritized our ministries over the central work of gathered local believers.
We always need to ask ourselves: Does the way we do mission serve the church or limit the church?
In the Middle East, many of our workers are serving as church members, offering advice, training and assistance to develop the church.
We stop asking for prayers of those at home
God’s mission cannot be accomplished by just the relatively small number of people sent by churches; it requires the whole Christian community to empower that work by prayer.
Communicating prayer needs is vital for effective ministry — how can people pray if they don’t know what they should pray for?
Writing prayer requests can sometimes feel like a chore or a burden, but building and maintaining that relationship with supporters is part of ministry.
We put our ministry above greater gospel need
Rather than celebrating our likenesses and our differences and working together, mission agencies have tended to treat each other as ‘competitors’ and the missionaries they recruit as ‘theirs’.
Instead, many missions are now working together both on the field and at home. One example is SIM’s headquarters in Toronto that it currently shares with four other agencies who are actively seeking to combine ministries where possible.