There has been some significant conversation regarding yesterday’s topic, and Eddie Arthur posted Corkscrews and Pomegranates, which highlighted some of the challenges agencies face in the UK (the original Bread and Pomegranates post was in NZ).
In summary:
Christina suggests new agencies with new forms are needed.
Eddie isn’t sanguine that, in the UK at any rate, new forms will be helpful.
(there are too many agencies as it is.)
Instead, he suggests existing agencies need to adapt, and
that “we” (UK) needs to recapture a vision for mission being a function of the church rather than the agency.
Like Eddie, I don’t have any solutions. But as a start, I have a handful of thoughts I’ll just lob out there:

  1. The really bad possibility is that the disruption is severe enough to impede agency functioning but not severe enough to force change or death. If agencies can “muddle through” during this time, very little might be achieved. I see this also in persecution issues: martyrdom can (or not) bring a spurt of growth, but a little regulation, harassment, imprisonment, etc. will nearly always degrade the growth of the church.
  2. It may be that some structures need to die. This may especially be true in the UK. If there are too many companies in the market, some won’t survive. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. A lot of great agencies have gone away over the course of history, but mission continues on.
  3. While I, generally, agree with Eddie that mission sending should be first and foremost the church’s responsibility, I have come to think there is a danger in this: that we think of church an agency as two separate things. Here we fall into the “church is” challenge. The church is the community of believers; any expression of believers gathered is therefore the church. I grant that’s a radical thought, but I think it’s Biblical. If so, the workplace can be just as much church as the Sunday morning service, and therefore the agency is just as much church as the Sunday morning service. If so, then mission is still a function of the church. I have no real problem with this. But if you take it to this extreme, you still have a number of questions to re-think through: one “arm” of the church is dependent on another, and individual congregations do tend to “outsource” their mission efforts to these apostolic teams.
  4. I really like this David Smith quote that Eddie mentions. I think the quote, capturing the difference between missionmissions, and the modern missionary movement illustrates something we absolutely must keep in mind.

Having tossed the thoughts out, let me go back and restate the original problem.
Here is what is being disrupted, in my mind: a set of circumstances and growing cultural attitudes (slightly different in different countries) is preventing the ability of the current crop of mission structure expressions to (a) carry out the mission and/or (b) sustain themselves to carry out the mission over time.
That “and/or” leads us to four possible situations:

  • If some set of situations keep mission structures from “a one-way movement from Christendom to the unevangelized world” (Smith), we have failed.
  • If some set of situations keep mission structures from enduring, we have failed.
  • If some set of situations or methodologies enable a mission structure to endure at the price of a one-way movement from Christendom to the unevangelized world–we have failed.
  • If some set of situations or methodologies enable us to move from Christendom to the unevangelized world at the price of being able to sustain ourselves–we are closer to success, but have still failed (largely failing future generations).

Sidebar: As a subject for a future post, it’s interesting to me that not all missionary institutions are being “critically” disrupted (that is, finding it difficult to get the money or manpower to continue to exist). For example, my organization (Beyond, previously Mission to Unreached Peoples) is, insofar as I can see, doing just fine with regard both to the one-way movement and the ability to sustain itself. Another example might be the funding challenges that the IMB faced: but it seems organizationally to be addressing it.
For me, I think it’s instructive to survey or inventory the broad number of expressions of Christian mission institutions throughout the centuries, and see which expressions might be more or less effective in the current climate. (Almost immediately to my brain, I recall monasteries, enterprises, lone pioneers, missionary bases/compounds, etc.; also, centralized vs decentralized vs individual) That’s how my brain works. There may be other questions that need to be answered, however, and I would welcome your voices in the conversation – either on Twitter (maybe with the hashtag #MDisrupt?), in the comments, on your own blog post, or elsewhere.