First, I will define “missions philosophy” as a brief, written statement of why a person or organization engages in Christian mission and what happens in this process. Second, such a statement should be composed (as any good definition is) of a major and a minor: the major defines what Christian mission is; the minor describes what happens when Christian mission occurs. The main objectives of Christian mission should be imbedded (implicitly or explicitly) in the statement. Third, a mission philosophy is not a full-orbed theology of Christian mission. Rather, it is a theologically-informed definition and guide to what happens in our mission work. This leads to the final point. Fourth, many philosophical statements are useless. Usually they are unclear, difficult to remember, or difficult to implement. A person can philosophize all day long with no result if it does not guide us to action.
A philosophy of ministry should include a Christian worldview and ethics. It should acknowledge that the local church is central to the work of God in the world, and therefore central to all ministry. If the ministry itself is not a local church, it should define itself by the way it serves local churches. Its work should not bypass, undermine, or weaken the church. A ministry should have a sense of calling to serve a purpose. It should focus its resources and efforts on that purpose and not be sidetracked by opportunities for other potential successes. A ministry following God’s call will experience providential confirmations of God’s guidance.
An adequate missions philosophy must answer several questions in order to guide our work. Who are the lost? Why are they lost? What is the means of their salvation? Those sound like questions to which we all should know the answers, but, amazingly, they spark debate. Are people saved because they follow our rules and norms, or are they saved by means that transcend those standards? Must they become copies of us, or can they be Christians in the context of their own cultures?
How will we present the gospel message in their culture? Should we preach just like we do at home? How much should we give them or do for them? How much should they do on their own? When should they begin? How soon should we begin to train them to teach others? How will their pastors and leaders be chosen? Will we appoint them?
A strong ecclesiology - The church is God’s agent of change in the world (Eph. 3:8-11). We must understand that we are sent by the church to plant the church. We must keep the mission of planting churches primary and not be sidetracked with peripheral pursuit. If an orphanage is to be built, then the vision for and operation of it should spring from the local church.
A partnership mentality - Missions has always been a partnership (Rom. 15:24). None of us can do the work alone. We need other people to share the burden with us.
A disciple-making focus - We need to disciple others with the intent that they will do the same (II Tim. 2:2). We should be working ourselves out of a job from day one and not do for people what they can and should do for themselves.
A good missions philosophy gets us on target and then it keeps us on target. Not having a clearly articulated missions philosophy is a poor start. Knowing what the organizational ministry is all about is crucial. If the leaders and the people do not know why they exist, then “why DO they exist?” Perhaps closing-up shop would be a good idea. If a good missions philosophy is not embraced, many pointless off-shoots of “ministry” and side-lining events will provide “busy work” for the people, but with little focus for long-term growth, development, and success.
Key Elements: A good missions philosophy 1) is biblically based, 2) has defined objectives, 3) is relevant to the target culture, 4) defines limitations (what we are NOT going to do), 5) includes thoughts regarding the recognition of success, 6) provides exit strategies, and 7) is embraced and practiced by all the group members.