Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.
by Daniel R. Brown
Missionary accountability operates on a number of levels. Missionaries should be accountable to their sending churches, their supporting churches, and their missions agencies. Missions agencies should also be accountable to the sending and supporting churches.
The responsibility to hold missionaries accountable, however, can be neglected, just as it can be over-emphasized. Churches tend to be guilty of the former error, while missions agencies sometimes become guilty of the latter. Often, the neglect of accountability by churches is what leads to an over-emphasis on accountability by some agencies.
A missions agency can exert too much control over missionaries. This happens when a missions agency does not allow a church to control its own missionaries. It also happens when an agency requires its missionaries to sign an agreement that affirms loyalty to the agency as more important than loyalty to the sending church. If a church believes that a missions agency has disregarded the church’s authority, then the church, as a sovereign body of believers, certainly has the prerogative to seek an alternative to the mission agency.
The church may even try to act as its own sending agency. It should not make this attempt, however, unless it is able to fulfill this role competently. A missionary on the field should not have to worry about the incompetence of his agency—especially when the agency is also his home church.
Missions agencies do serve an important purpose. From the beginning of the modern missions movement, agencies have played an important part in keeping missionaries on the field. William Carey had people in England who would “hold the rope.” Adoniram Judson had Luther Rice, who organized the first Baptist mission in America. Agencies provide a valuable service in coordinating the resources of multiple churches. The godly and sacrificial service of missions agencies is indispensable to helping churches maintain the missionary force on the field.
Although missions agencies assist missionaries and churches, missionaries must be accountable primarily to their sending churches. The pastor and congregation of the sending church have unique privileges and authority. They recognize God’s calling in the lives of missionaries, help them to raise support, commission them for ministry, send them to the field, pray for their needs, counsel them concerning ministry decisions, and shepherd them through problems. This authority resides in the sending church because of an important scriptural principle: churches plant churches.
Churches that support a missionary financially have duties that are similar to (though less than) those of the sending church. To some extent, missionaries are accountable to each supporting church. Each church is responsible to exercise faithful stewardship over the resources God entrusts to it.
Pastors can help missionaries to be accountable in several ways. First, a pastor should view each missionary as a minister equal to himself. Missionaries, like the pastor, are called of God to the ministry. In purpose and function, both the missionary-evangelist and pastor-teacher are gifts of Christ to the church (Eph 4:11). Pastor and missionary serve Christ and His church on the same footing.
Because the missionary is accountable to his church, agencies must be careful in how they operate their field councils. Overriding authority in ministry decisions should reside within the sending church and the missionary whom God has called. Some field councils regularly make decisions on foreign fields that would never be allowed at home. These field councils may vote to determine which missionaries can come to their field, when missionaries are allowed to leave their field, and where missionaries must serve once they arrive on a field. Churches in the United States would never tolerate such interference.
Second, the pastor of the sending church should view the missionary as a pastoral staff member. The missionary should occupy a position akin to that of an assistant pastor. Missionaries have a status within the church that parallels that of the pastor, yet necessarily functions under his authority.
Third, every pastor needs to communicate regularly with his church’s missionaries. This fact is especially true if he is the pastor of the sending church. Regular updates from missionaries do provide some information but not enough. Virtually every missionary has e-mail capabilities today. Long-distance rates are reasonable, even to the most remote countries. Communication can and should occur in both directions.
Missionaries typically receive little or no information from supporting churches. Often, they are not even told when a church changes pastors. Churches should consider sending a “reverse prayer letter” in which the pastor provides regular updates to all the supported missionaries. Most missionaries would be thrilled to know how to pray better for their pastors and supporting churches.
Finally, the pastor ought to visit the church’s supported missionaries in their field of service. From the missionary’s point of view, nothing is more encouraging than to have the man behind the pulpit at home get excited about their work. Nothing excites a pastor like seeing the work itself—whether the work is being done in foreign countries or by home missionaries.
When I was a pastor, I had the privilege of visiting a missionary in South America whom our church had supported for over twenty years. The missionary and I had a great time of fellowship, and I hope that I encouraged him as much as he encouraged me. This missionary told me that, except for the pastor of his sending church, I was the only pastor who ever visited him on the field. Because of that visit, I came away with a much deeper appreciation of the blessings and challenges of that field.
Pastors and missionaries have a mutual responsibility toward each other for furtherance of the gospel ministry. Accountability is part of that responsibility. With some investment of time and effort, both pastors and missionaries can make their relationship more encouraging and useful to both parties.
George Herbert (1633)
Oh blessed body! Whither art thou thrown?
No lodging for thee, but a cold hard stone?
So many hearts on earth, and yet not one
Sure there is room within our hearts’ good store;
For they can lodge transgressions by the score:
Thousands of toys dwell there, yet out of door
They leave thee.
But that which shows them large, shows them unfit.
Whatever sin did this pure rock commit,
Which holds thee now? Who hath indicted it
Where our hard hearts have took up stones to brain thee,
And missing this, most falsely did arraign thee;
Only these stones in quiet entertain thee,
And as of old, the law by heav’nly art
Was writ in stone; so thou, which also art
The letter of the word, find’st no fit heart
To hold thee.
Yet do we still persist as we began,
And so should perish, but that nothing can,
Though it be cold, hard, foul, from loving man
|Dr. Daniel R. Brown is Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at Central Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He has a B.S. degree from Faith Baptist Bible College, M.Div. and Th.M. degrees from Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, and a D.Min. degree from Westminster Theological Seminary. He served as senior pastor at Kendall Park Baptist Church (Kendall Park, NJ). He also served at churches in Michigan and Texas and at camps in Texas and New Jersey. He and his wife, Mary Jo, have four daughters.|