“Why is it when we go abroad, we emphasize all the forms of a church, but not all the functions of a church?” asked Dr. John David Smith on Thursday morning in his final presentation in the William Newton Paschal Memorial Bible Lectures.
Smith, executive director of missions for the Baptist Missionary Association of America, spoke about founding churches that are self-sustaining and replicable to students at the Baptist Missionary Association Theological Seminary. He delivered the message as a conclusion to his three-part series about missionary work for the annual memorial lecture.
Smith's message was based on Acts 19:8-10, and he said verse 10 was particularly appropriate to his message.
“We get a vivid glimpse of what we want to examine as missionary methodology,” he said, explaining that the verse shows how the gospel spread throughout Asia during the Apostle Paul's time at the church in Ephaesus.
He said one of the keys to founding a successful church as a missionary is keeping the church in line with local customs. He said missionary-founded churches should be self-governing, self-sustaining, self-propagating, self-theologizing and self-expressing.
“They need this so they can exegete the word of God and see how it applies to them,” he said. “And the church should look like a Chinese church in China, and not a piney woods church from Arkansas.”
He said the goal in meeting these needs of new churches in Christless countries is to build a church that will train others to plant more churches and so the missionary eventually can move away from the church in order to plant other churches.
Smith said that what is to some a traditional missionary methodology can hinder the spread of the gospel because it causes the church and those in it to become too dependent on the missionary and the financial support the missionary brings from the U.S. He said he realized this when he was in the mission field.
“After about two years, I realized, 'This is a model they will never be able to reproduce,'” he said. When he came to this realization, he said he explained it to the leaders of the church by telling them that as soon as money from the U.S. was no longer sent to one place, it could be sent to another to spread the gospel there.
Smith also spoke to the imbalance he said he has seen in the funding of long-term mission work vs. short-term work.
“Our society today wants to be hands-on, but not for very long,” he said. In 2010, more money was spent on short-term missions than to support long-term missions. I think that is grossly disproportionate. Any short-term missionary action is only valid if there is a long-term missionary presence in that place.”
Seminary President Dr. Charley Holmes concluded the presentation with his own testimony about the effectiveness of some short-term mission work, if it is not correctly structured.
“Through the years I've had the opportunity to go on short-term missionary opportunities,” he said. “When I got there, more than ministering, it was more a tourism opportunity. Usually the first thing I do is call the missionary office and ask, 'Is this part of something we're trying to do? Is there something I can contribute to what someone else is doing?'”