Journeying without a guide

A key role of the mobilizer is to journey with the church and individuals towards missions involvement. I did not realize this when I first started serving as a mobilizer for the Philippines Home Council of OMF International in 2000. I simply thought that my role was to get the Filipino church involved with missions. There was no training that prepared me for the role. Passion kept me going but it did not keep me from making mistakes. I became increasingly aware that I was ill-equipped. How can I effectively journey with the church if no one is guiding me?

A key role of the mobilizer is to journey with the church and individuals towards missions involvement.

In my years of journeying with individuals and churches, I have witnessed missionaries ending relationships with their churches, sent home for sadly preventable reasons such as lack of missionary’s commitment, moral failure, lack of spiritual and financial support, and spiritual immaturity.[1] These highlighted the need to look into what must be done before missionaries are sent out. Sound mobilization should involve pre-field preparation—helping the missionary candidates in their spiritual journey, patiently educating them and the local churches on how to partner in sending and sustaining missions work. Though the missions movement in the Philippines has been in existence since the 1970s,[2] the Philippines church’s understanding of missions can still be considered young when compared to the churches in the West. This is evidenced by the significant amount of missions-related literature produced by the West, among other things.

The challenge is for mobilizers in the Philippines to partner with churches, guiding them towards a mature engagement in missions. This requires strategic and biblically sound missions mobilization.

Crucial role of mobilization in missions

Ralph Winter has famously illustrated mobilization’s strategic importance as waking 100 sleeping firemen compared to hopelessly throwing one’s own little bucket of water on a huge fire.[3]

Christian history has shown the important role mobilization played in sparking mission movements—even though the term mobilization did not exist then. During the Reformation, there were men who were passionate for missions and the fact that their plea for the church to reach out cross-culturally fell on deaf ears underscored the importance of mobilization.[4] Left to their own devices, the church historically showed that it tended to stay safely within its structural confines at the expense of reaching out in missions.[5] It took 300 years[6] after the Reformation’s birth before the missions movement started through William Carey’s perseverance (amid institutional opposition).[7]

Despite its importance, the ministry of mobilization remains relatively underdeveloped compared to the numerous trainings on equipping frontline workers.

Inadequate mobilization training

Despite its importance, the ministry of mobilization remains relatively underdeveloped compared to the numerous trainings on equipping frontline workers such as church planters, cross-cultural evangelists, or Bible translators. Trainings for mobilizers, when they do exist, tend to lean towards the pragmatic side—how to facilitate a missions awareness course, fund raising, recruitment, organizing short-term missions, to name a few. There is hardly any training focused on foundational matters like the basis and principles of mobilization.

The survey on training needs I conducted on a sampling of Filipino mobilizers revealed the need for foundational training. A significant number started their roles with minimal equipping. Whatever trainings they did undergo often were not specifically for mobilization though were helpful to be applied in mobilization.

The tendency towards pragmatism and expediency

Jay Matenga and Malcolm Gold in Mission in Motion discovered in their qualitative research on mobilizers around the world, four ‘ideal types’ in mobilization: educational, relational, formulaic, and pragmatic. Tellingly, the pragmatic type carried the ‘largest body of evidence’.[8] This type tended to focus on the practical aspects of the ministry, unencumbered by theological or philosophical implications.


Mission in Motion: Speaking Frankly of Mobilization by Jay Matenga and Malcolm Gold

The pragmatic nature of the mobilization ministry could be due to its origins. Mobilization organically developed out of expediency—reacting to the church’s need to be encouraged or challenged for missions. Mobilization as a ministry is a fairly recent development with probably the US Center for World Mission being one of the first to actually have a mobilization division.[9] It would explain why foundational training for mobilization has not been given due attention.

Foundational training, as the term suggests, focuses on the principles that guide application. This would cover the biblical basis for mobilization, examination of current practices, and unarticulated expectations on mobilization, resulting in adjustments that need to be made for long-term gains for the harvest field.

A missionary’s journey to the field

The fact that there are many Filipino missionaries serving in the mission fields around the world can be a proof that the current mobilization practice has been effective.[10] However, a closer look at the missionary’s journey reveals areas which could be strengthened. The survey I have done on the pre-field journey of 28 Filipino missionaries showed interesting results in terms of what encouraged and discouraged them in their pre-field journey:

  • They were positively influenced into missions mostly by missionaries and friends outside their church.
  • Volunteering in para-church organizations also made an impact.
  • The role of the church was inconsistent; although the two points above showed that the church did not prominently play a part in influencing them, respondents indicated yes when pointedly asked whether their churches had an influence in their missions journey.
  • Apart from family obligations, fear of having to raise funds was a source of discouragement. Others indicated a general lack of encouragement from their churches, with a few indicating the churches’ priorities and concern for finances discouraged them.
  • When asked what factors would have helped them in their journey, all respondents chose ‘educating church on missions’ as the most important.
  • Another prominent result was the need to be in a missions-minded community during their journey—to receive support and guidance as they meet hurdles along the way.

Could intentional mobilization of churches have helped to resolve some of these issues?

Journey of the local church to missions involvement

The local church is where all the resources for missions come from—whether it is personnel, prayer, or finances. In fact, their role in missions is not only indispensable from a practical point of view, but also biblically. It was years after being called by God to do cross-cultural missions before Paul was finally launched out, not at his initiative, but by the church of Antioch. Not only was Paul being prepared for the work during those years, God also prepared the early church leaders, starting with Peter, to finally understand that the gospel must cross cultures.[11]

The local church is where all the resources for missions come from—whether it is personnel, prayer, or finances.

In my survey on a sampling of Filipino churches, it became evident that even though churches were generally positive about missions—with many even having missions committees in place—very few actually sent out missionaries. Could this gap between what they know and what needs to be done be filled by mobilizers? One way this could be addressed is for mobilizers to intentionally journey with churches, helping them by finding out what these gaps are.

As much as the Philippines is recognized for its missionary movement as well as its huge mission sending potential, it also poses a huge mobilization challenge.

In a recent report by Bishop Noel Pantoja of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Church (PCEC), the growth of the church in the Philippines has been encouraging—from 51,300 churches in 2000 to 85,000 churches in 2020 with evangelical believers at 13.6 percent of the population.[12] If you travel around the Philippines, you can see how the evangelical churches tend to congregate in the major cities. When I searched ‘Evangelical Churches, Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City’ in Google Maps, immediately it showed 20 results on the first page with another 10 pages of results—and this is just on one strip of highway in Metro Manila. I did the same in the other major cities, Davao and Cebu, inputting a major street and the results were similar though not as many. Bishop Pantoja has shared that there are currently many other models of church such as the house churches and the ‘simple church’ model.[13]

So the church did grow! Yet a considerable number of people groups within the country remain unreached despite the presence of churches near them. Many of these churches would even have what is called a ‘missions’ component (either a committee or a department). A local cross-cultural worker in the Southern Philippines described the long and sometimes ‘two-steps-forward-one-step-back’ journey he has to take with local churches just to get them engaged in cross-cultural missions. There is a significant mobilization gap here that mobilizers need to examine and address.

An added complication is that local churches historically do not have the best relationship with mission organizations. This strained relationship was addressed in the Lausanne Occasional Paper 24 on ‘Cooperating on World Evangelization: A Handbook on Church/Para-Church Relationships’.[14] Mobilization principles could be gleaned from the practices of both William Carey and Hudson Taylor; both patiently worked with church structures, built trust, and guided the churches to adapting their existing structures to facilitate or support the missions endeavor.

Concluding challenge: equipped to journey well

There is still a segment of the world population that remains unreached,[15] with workers in the harvest field remaining few while ‘mobilization gaps’ have been identified.[16] Although there has been an emerging mission movement in the Global South, some regions with significant numbers of Christians have sent out few missionaries. This means that there are still many churches out there that need to be mobilized. The above discussion on the Philippine context provides a micro-narrative of this.

There are still many churches out there that need to be mobilized.

Many of the countries in the Global South do not have a long history of missions understanding and involvement. This reality and the fact that our world is increasingly complex—the COVID-19 pandemic being just one glaring example—should challenge missions organizations not only to raise more mobilizers but also to equip them adequately so they can journey well with the churches. Going through a list of activities like conferences, missions seminars, and the like have their benefits, but not pausing to reflect on the implications of these activities from a biblical, big-picture perspective may only cause more harm than good. Sound, reflective mobilization is obviously no guarantee to sending perfect missionaries but it can lead to more quality missionaries sent and sustained well by churches that have a mature understanding of their role in missions.

Endnotes

  1. Rob Hay, Valerie Lim, Detlef Blöcher, Jaap Ketelaar, and Sarah Hay, ed., Worth Keeping (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2007), 14.
  2. David S. Lim, ‘Indigenous Mission Movement of the Philippines’, in Philippine Missions Mobilization Movement, accessed 3 March 2019, https://www.academia.edu/12304593/Philippine_Misions_Mobilization_Movement.
  3. Ralph Winter, ‘Editorial Comment’, Mission Frontiers, January–February, 1995, http://www.missionfrontiers.org/issue/article/editorial-comment74.
  4. Thomas Coates, ‘Were the Reformers Missions-Minded?’, Concordia Theological Monthly 40, no. 9 (October 1969), 609, http://www.ctsfw.net/media/pdfs/CoatesWereReformersMission-Minded.pdf.
  5. Gustav Warneck, Outline of A History of Protestant Missions from the Reformation to the Present Time (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1901), 8–9.
  6. Ruth A. Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), 67.
  7. Joseph Belcher, William Carey: A Biography (Philadelphia: 1853), accessed 10 June 2019, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.32044081240269&view=1up&seq=1, 62.
  8. Jay Matenga and Malcolm Gold, Mission in Motion: Speaking Frankly of Mobilization (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2016), 13.
  9. The United States Center for World Mission, ‘Reaching God’s Hidden Peoples’, Mission Frontiers, 1 January 1981, https://www.missionfrontiers.org/issue/article/the-united-states-center-for-world-mission.
  10. David Lim, ‘Philippine Missions Mobilization Movement’, accessed 3 March 2019, https://www.academia.edu/12304593/Philippine_Misions_Mobilization_Movement. David Lim discussed how Filipino missionaries have significantly increased from the earliest report in 1972 of 155 sent out through 133 mission agencies to 1,900 sent to about 70 countries in 2006. Over the years, Philippine Missions Association (PMA) has promoted the concept of tentmaker missionaries with Filipinos who are sent or go on their own to different fields on a work visa and serve bi-vocationally. This has made it harder to track the numbers.
  11. The Acts 10 narrative followed Paul’s calling and conversion in Acts 9 and preceded Acts 11-12 where God prepared the church in Jerusalem and Antioch for Gentile missions. In Acts 10, Peter as leader of the early church, had to undergo a rooftop paradigm shift to understand God’s desire for the gospel to cross ethnic and cultural boundaries. Thereafter, Peter became an advocate of Gentile missions when Paul’s mission efforts were met with opposition (cf. Acts 15).
  12. Bishop Pantoja shared this in in a Webinar, ‘Seizing Golden Opportunities in Discipling the Philippines in the Midst of Covid-19’ for ABCCOP on December 8, 2020, accessed December 21, 2020, https://www.facebook.com/168825326651062/videos/389195792421286/.
  13. Got Questions, ‘What is a simple church?’, accessed 21 December 2020, https://www.gotquestions.org/simple-church.html.
  14. Lausanne Movement, ‘Cooperating in World Evangelization: A Handbook on Church/Para-Church Relationships (LOP 24)’, accessed 12 June 2019, https://lausanne.org/content/lop/lop-24.
  15. Editor’s note: See article by Ben Thomas entitled, ‘How Can We Finally Reach the Unreached?’, in March 2018 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis, https://lausanne.org/content/lga/2018-03/can-finally-reach-unreached.
  16. Steve Shadrach, ‘Mobilization: The Fourth (and Final?) Era of the Modern Missions Movement’, EMQ 54 (July–September 2018): 11.

Photo credits

Photo by Thomas Kinto on Unsplash

Jojie Wong is originally from Davao City, Southern Philippines. She is currently the International Facilitator for Mobilization Training at OMF International and also serves with the International Training and Development Leadership Team of OMF. Before that, she served as a church missions mobilizer and trainer under the Philippine Home Council of OMF International. She has an MDiv in Biblical Studies from Singapore Bible College, an MA in Global Missions from Redcliffe College in the UK and a Doctor of Ministry from Singapore Bible College.