What can American Christians learn from foreign saints?

What American churches can learn from the mission field

Is there anything that happens on the mission field that American churches need to learn? Can a sponsor and supporter of missions efforts in the world’s number one country find something of value to apply in developing countries or in cultures far different from its own?

As one who grew up in the US, was reared in a Christian home, and has spent more time outside the country than inside it, I see lessons abounding. Brace yourself.

  • A large number of baptisms do not define a successful work. If you don’t think this is a problem, you’ve either had your head in the sand, or have lived a sheltered spiritual life. “More bang for the buck” is not in the Bible. We all want to be effective (I’m working on a book called Effective Missions), but effectiveness cannot be measured by how many people are dunked in the water.
  • Money does not solve all problems. Everybody says it doesn’t, but too many act like it does. When crossing international borders, money often creates more problems than it solves.
  • The Way is about relationships based on truth. If the truth doesn’t establish relationships, it is either false or badly utilized. The people of God are the family of faith. They depend upon one another for their spiritual existence. Church is not an hour-long activity to fit in your week, it’s the life-blood of the saints. Both the have-nots and the haves must know that the kingdom of God, manifested today in the church, must be our priority.
  • A huge part of what American churches do just doesn’t work outside of the country. It’s not an issue of doctrine, but rather culturally defined ways of doing and working. Whether it’s two services on Sunday or four-part harmony, some things just don’t translate well. Feeling comfortable in a foreign worship service may well be a sign of a work that is not fitting well into its culture. Our way of doing things may not be the only way.
  • Church of Christ” is not a name. We used to know this, but you’d never imagine it by our dedication to a single name on our buildings, bulletins, and websites. Around the world, some people get it. Others have been infected by Americans. Remember, churches that have names are called denominations.
  • Jesus defines success by suffering for his mission. Doing his work means getting out of the padded pew and out of the air-conditioned building. Or maybe off the little stool in the corner of the living room where the saints meet. Faith is seldom a physical comfort. On the contrary, to be faithful to Christ, we must be willing to take on the afflictions of the Cross.
  • One can be a Christian without any knowledge of Alexander Campbell or Barton W. Stone. Or of Guy N. Woods or N.B. Hardeman. (Insert your favorite brother here.) Just the Bible is plenty. That’s the only restoration history needed. As wonderful as such brethren were, they pleaded for the simplicity of faith that depended directly upon God’s word for guidance.

There are other lessons, but these are enough to offend plenty of people. And maybe to give one or two a heads-up about getting back to a simpler, more biblical faith.

The editor and a few others write about mission principles and practices on the website Gospel Progress.

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J. Randal Matheny

Servant of the Lord at GoSpeak
Randal and his wife have lived and worked in Brazil since 1984. They have three children, two daughters-in-law, and four grandchildren. Randal's a lefty, a chocolate lover, an author and a poet.

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4 thoughts on “What American churches can learn from the mission field

  1. As one who has spent time abroad in different culture, though in many ways like ours here in the U.S., the points made are totally correct to the nth degree. Though we worked in Australia, with many cultural traits similar to what we know in the States, there were subtle differences that could cause embarrassing moments. We all should take the points being made with utmost seriousness, perhaps even reassessing what we do here in the “Church of Christ.”

    God bless….

  2. Addressing the first bulleted item,

    • A large number of baptisms do not define a successful work. If you don’t think this is a problem, you’ve either had your head in the sand, or have lived a sheltered spiritual life. “More bang for the buck” is not in the Bible. We all want to be effective (I’m working on a book called Effective Missions), but effectiveness cannot be measured by how many people are dunked in the water.

    We all know the principle behind “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase” 1 Cor. 3:6), but church leaders often forget to apply it when it comes to mission works they support.

    After we finally arrived on the field in 1968, I was privy to a discussion between my father-in-law, James A. Johnson, and brother J. C. Bailey. Brother Bailey was a planter; my father-in-law was a waterer—both very sincere, hard-working men. With much feeling, Jim Johnson argued, “If we can be sure that every person we baptize will go to heaven without further teaching, then we have a great work. But if we have to obey the last part of the Great Commission, who knows what we have?”

    There are only 24 hours in each of our days.

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