Are missions agencies necessary?
By Pastor Ray Mensah
Whilst attending a missionary training school in the 1990s, one of the most popular missionary biographies among the students was Bruchko, the compelling story of American missionary Bruce Olson, who undertook an amazing pioneer missionary work among the Motilones in Columbia. He bought a one-way ticket to South America at the age of 19, without any church or organization sending him. In a review of the book, Sam K. John observed, “It needed tremendous faith in God on the part of Olson to go into an unknown territory without the support of the family or the church or mission agency.”
Olson’s story sparked an interesting debate on campus about whether it was really necessary for every missionary to be sent by a church or mission agency since Olson had done seemingly very well by himself. After lots of research and intriguing interactions, we concluded that, though there are exceptions, it is best to be sent by a body.
One of the scriptures strongly used by many students to support the need to be sent was Romans 10:13-15: (NIV)
For ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ Certainly, missionaries and their sending agencies are neither unnecessary nor a new phenomenon in the modern world. When the early church was forming, the Holy Spirit identified elders and teachers to lead newly forming groups of Christ-followers. But the Holy Spirit also called those such as Paul, Barnabas, Timothy and others, to be sent out by these local believers to the nations. These early apostolic teams were missionaries.
However, the biblical role goes back even further. In the villages and towns of ancient Israel, priests led the people to worship in the temple and local synagogues. But the Lord called another kind of person, the prophets, to travel near and far, prophesying from town to town, and often to the nations beyond Israel. It is in the tradition of the prophets and the apostolic teams that missionaries go out today.
A missions agency and missionaries are no more “unnecessary” to the local church today than the apostolic teams in the first century were unnecessary to the early church, or the prophets of ancient Israel were unnecessary to local priests. All are called and used of God.
Upon graduating from missionary school, I served as the Botswana field coordinator of the African Christian Mission and there I saw firsthand the many benefits of being sent by an agency. I also witnessed the havoc some “independent” or “lone ranger” missionaries were causing on the fields because they lacked cross-cultural training, among other things. Lacking the needed support, they often didn’t last long. Member care is a significant benefit provided by a solid mission agency, in addition to ongoing training, financial services, visa and work permit acquisition, accountability, teamwork and fellowship, prayer support, among many others.
Many people still contemplate whether to go alone or to go with an agency. Agencies can take the form of denominational sending structures or inter-denominational faith mission organizations. Among both of these are general missions as well as specialist missions, such as Mission Aviation Fellowship or Wycliffe Bible Translators. All organizations have their challenges, but the advantages of being sent by one preponderate over any apparent disadvantages.
I currently serve as the Director of OneWay Africa, which sends missionaries to the unreached. Our missionaries are so excited and grateful to belong to a family that stands with them. Throughout this global pandemic, they have continuously expressed their immense appreciation.
Furthermore, serving with the Ghana Evangelical Missions Association (GEMA), we have VISION 2040, a nationwide vision to see 30,000 missionaries sent by the year 2040. It also seeks to activate 30,000 churches to pray and send missionaries. We have thus been challenging churches and mission agencies in Ghana to strengthen their sending capacity to be able to commission thousands of new missionaries whom the Lord will call. We also sound this clarion call throughout Africa and the rest of the world.
Top Photo: Pastor Mensah baptizing new converts whilst serving as a missionary in Botswana.
Pastor Ray Mensah is the Director of OneWay Africa and President of the Ghana Evangelical Missions Association (GEMA). Ray and wife Cynthia served nine years in Botswana, gaining field experience in leading a strong, disciple-making movement. Ray is a passionate speaker, gifted mobiliser, a fire brand missionary, and a lover of Jesus Christ.