Full Text for Church History 3 - Volume 27 - From Mission Field to Church (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED COPY CH3-027 PROFESSOR LAWRENCE REST PROFESSOR WILL SCHUMACHER Captioning Provided By: Caption First, Inc. P.O. Box 1924 Lombard, IL 60148 800-825-5234 ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. ***** >> PAUL: I've really appreciative all that you've shared regarding missions in the Christian church. But I'm curious about one more thing. Obviously, at some point, a mission field matures into some independent form. For example, the work of Lutherans in Haiti led to the formal organization of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti. Several of my congregation members emigrated from Haiti and were active in the work of the church body. Can you help me understand this type of transition process? How did mission fields develop into independent churches? >> SPEAKER: Paul, that's a great question, and I wish I had a simple answer. The fact of the matter is that the development from mission field into an independent church is sometimes slow and sometimes rather uneven. It's complicated by the fact that the initial supporting church sometimes has its own very clear ideas about what's necessary and beneficial for the life of the church that don't always match up with the expectations of local people in what was a mission field and is quickly becoming an independent church. Perhaps one way I can illustrate this is to describe something of the experience I had as a missionary myself. I was sent as a young green seminary graduate to work as a missionary in southern Africa. And a few years before that, Paul, the church in southern Africa had officially constituted itself as the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa. They had a constitution and bylaws. They had a structure and offices. They elected officers. They had their regular meetings. But because the mission work in that part of southern Africa had been started by German missionaries, they had decided that they would elect a German missionary as their bishop. So the leader of the church, the leader of the church body, was a German missionary. The treasurer of the church body was a German missionary, and a number of other prominent leaders, major offices in the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa, were held by German missionaries. Was the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa an independent church, or not? Well, if you looked at its leadership, it was just another way of organizing German missionaries. If you looked at its financial situation, you would have found that the great bulk of its finances were funded by contributions from overseas, especially Germany, but partly from America. So in one way, or more than one way, the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa at that point wasn't really an independent church except in form. There was a structure. And even that, if you would ask them, had essentially been copied and translated from an example of a church constitution from somewhere else. Even the form and organization they had chosen for organizing their church wasn�t something of their own. They had borrowed this and adapted this from an overseas model, a German model. During that time I worked with the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa, the mission that sent me, the Board for Mission Services of the Missouri Synod, had in place a policy, and that policy restricted my service. For one thing, I was not to vote in any elections in the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa. I was a non-voting pastor. Secondly, I was not permitted to be elected to any offices so our mission had a policy, which they were quite open about, that I and any other Missouri Synod missionaries would not be elected to any leadership offices, that the way we worked in that church would be in another way, but it wouldn't take these leadership positions. And during the nine years I worked with the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa, the German mission adopted the same policies which meant that German missionaries were no longer eligible to vote and no longer eligible to hold elected offices and leadership positions in the LCSA. That resulted in a tremendous change within that church. Once the missionaries were no longer in the leading offices, they had to look around and decide on national leaders that could lead their church an offer that kind of service. And it meant that missionaries, although still important in the life of their church, and working with them were no longer the leading voices that controlled things. That was a difficult time for the LCSA. And some would have argued that they were not quite ready for that step. On the other hand, as long as Germans and Americans were prepared to fill those leadership roles, it's difficult to imagine how any of their local pastors would have become ready to take on that kind of leadership. But as it turned out, the missions adopted policies that intended to foster this kind of independence, this kind of local indigenous leadership, and at the same time, the mission agencies, the German mission and the Board for Mission Services, came to an agreement about reducing their financial subsidy of the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa with the goal that the church would be more financially self-supporting as well. Now, this was phased in over a number of years to give the LCSA the opportunity to teach its people the importance and the methods for actually supporting their own pastors and their own ministries. So it wasn't done overnight. But again, this resulted in a tremendous change in the LCSA. From that model, I think I come back to several factors that have to fall into place or have to be put into place as a quote/unquote mission field develops into an independent church. And the first of those is: local national leaders, that is, leaders that are indigenous to this church, to this place. It didn't matter how well I or one of the German missionaries learned the language that we were working in, we were always outsiders. Now, we were acceptable outsiders, and they were happy to have us. We were, nevertheless, outsiders and couldn't exercise leadership as effectively as people that were indigenous to that local situation. So the first factor that has to be in place is a local leadership. And to be honest, missionary work has to make that an intentional goal. It's rare that this kind of leadership just happens spontaneously. Mission agencies have to make the development of local leaders an intentional goal. The second factor that needs to be in place is a high level of local responsibility for all aspects of the work of the church. That means supporting churches and schools and hospitals and welfare programs, whatever kinds of programs the church is engaged in need to have a high degree of local ownership and support. There are any number of bright ideas that a missionary can have and things that are good to do, but as long as they�re the idea of the missionary and supported with funds that the missionary gets from overseas, this is not really part of the local work of the church. To have a really independent church, the ministry carried out by that church needs to be supported locally. And finally, the church has to move from being simply the receiver of mission aid to itself being an agency of spreading the gospel. Local efforts to evangelize others and plant new churches have to be put into place and come into being. Without that vitality of being engaged in the spreading of the gospel, the local church never really develops into a genuinely independent body. This process doesn't happen overnight. It sometimes doesn't happen spontaneously. The fact of the matter is that in the history of Christian missions, there have been a lot of mistakes made in developing bad habits that have fostered dependency in churches, young churches that have been planted. And those are hard lessons to unlearn. What has been learned over the last 200 years of Protestant mission effort is the importance of intentionally developing a local leadership and putting the ministry into their hands, of building a workable mechanism for local support of the ministry, both in financial terms as well as in other ways, and finally, local engagement in the spread of the gospel and vandalizing neighbors. Those elements have to be in place for a mission field to generally develop into a truly independent national church. ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. *****