Missionary Communities: Divine Alignments
The Promise Of Jesus Christ To Build His church: The “Raison D’etre” For Proclaim! International
Proclaim! International Is An Agent Of Mission, But Not A Mission Agency
Proclaim! International Is Comprised Of Family Members, But It Is Not A Family
Proclaim! International Is A Missionary Community, But It Is Not A Church
The Constitution Of Proclaim! International As A Missionary Community
We believe that the Sovereign Lord has called our community into being to serve as an extension of the ongoing redemptive work of Jesus Christ and an expression of his body, the church. The concept that Proclaim! International is a missionary community is fundamental to what we are and do.
Since the very beginning, from the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the gathered believers in Jerusalem and the church, the body of Christ was visibly constituted (Acts 1:8; 2:1-4), God has raised up evangelists, apostles, prophets and others (Ephesians 4: 11.12) to serve his cause in special ways, especially in the proclamation and spread of the gospel and the building up and extending of the church to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:45-49; John 19:21-23).
In the New Testament and post-apostolic period, some formed themselves into bands of itinerant missionaries or apostles to preach the gospel and establish new churches. The book of Acts and the New Testament letters bear witness to an astonishing amount of coming and going by Paul and others for this purpose. Given the rapid growth of the church in the early decades since Christ’s resurrection, one can presume with certainty that what we read in the pages of scripture is illustrative of what was happening in many other places.
III. SCRIPTURAL MODELS
In the early months following Pentecost the missionary activity of the apostles and others was focused on Jerusalem and Judea. Following the traumatic event of the stoning of Stephen a great persecution broke out in Jerusalem against the followers of Christ. All but the leaders scattered (Acts 8:1-3). Some of the believers who fled the troubles decided to form themselves into evangelistic teams. One such team from Cyprus and Cyrene made the great gentile city of Antioch their target. Here for the first time in recorded history Jewish Christians reached out to pagan Greeks, “telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:19-22 NIV). This was a decisive event in the life and mission of the infant church. Eventually a new church was born in that strategic city, a church from which Paul and Barnabas would eventually be sent as missionaries (Acts 13:1-3).
Compelled by the love of Christ and a burden for the lost, these unnamed believers from Cyprus and Cyrene formed themselves into a little community of missionaries. Enjoying fellowship in Christ, they also shared the hardships and dangers of the road, the thrill and challenge of preaching the good news and the joy of seeing the Lord bring many into his family, even hard-to-reach Greek pagans. One can easily imagine the rich and urgent times of prayer. Together they would have to trust the Lord for their daily provisions. They would certainly have spent time planning their strategy and evaluating their efforts. No doubt disagreements and even conflicts arose that would need to be solved. As missionaries they would depend on support and encouragement from each other. A special and powerful bond surely must have formed among them as Christ’s soldiers joined together in battle.
As we have noted, the great missionary and apostle Paul was sent out by the church of Antioch, not alone, but with Barnabas. On their way they were assisted and joined by others committed to the mission and to each other. They formed a little traveling community of missionaries setting the pattern that we see again and again. In his third letter the apostle John wrote to his friend Gaius commending to him and his church “the brothers” who had returned from their travels to report to him about conditions in the church and their ministry there and elsewhere. He gives instructions as to how such teams of traveling workers should be supported for their ministry since they receive “no help from the pagans” (3 John 2-8). Here again we see that these workers went out in groups or teams. They too formed a kind of community of like-minded workers, sharing in their itinerant life and ministry.
Writing to the church in Rome, a church that he had not visited personally, Paul sends his greetings by name to 26 people he knew and, more significantly, had ministered with over the years (Romans 16:1-16). Included in this group were:
“Phoebe … who has been a great help to many including me,”
“Priscilla and Aquilla, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their life for me. Not only I but all the churches of the gentiles are grateful to them,”
“Mary who works very hard for you,”
“Andronicus and Junias, my relatives, who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was,”
“Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ,”
“Apolles, tested and approved in Christ,”
“Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord,”
“my dear friend, Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord”
“Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too,”
These names and Paul’s warm and commending words bear eloquent testimony to the missionary community of men and women, young and old, that had emerged over the years of Paul’s ministry and travels. Now all these fellow-workers of Paul had somehow relocated to Rome and were active in the ministry there. We could also mention many others who shared in that missionary community including Timothy, Titus, Luke, Sopater of Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia, Epaphroditus, etc., etc.
It is clear that the members of this growing community were from many different cities and regions, and served in a variety of ways at different times and places. Some traveled extensively with Paul as fellow evangelists and teachers. Some like Priscilla and Aquilla developed their own fruitful and widely respected local and itinerant ministries, but also worked with Paul from time to time. Some offered administrative support, serving, for example, as messengers, travel managers and scribes. Many knew each other and had labored in the work of the Lord together from time to time. Some lived together in the same town or city. Others knew each other only as their paths crossed over the years. They had at least three important things in common that bound them together. First, they shared a common life in Christ, being members of the same family of God. Second, they shared a passion and commitment to take the gospel to the end of the earth. Third, they more or less enjoyed a special sense of community with each other because of the first two things they shared.
IV. MISSIONARY COMMUNITIES: DIVINE ALIGNMENTS
From the beginning the divinely inspired impulse to reach out with good news has always been energized by the filling of the Holy Spirit, the mandate of God’s word, the experience of transformed life and the burden for the lost. In every age and wherever the redeemed community is found there are those who experience a special burden and call to take the gospel into the streets and marketplaces and across cultural and linguistic frontiers. Those who have been so called and empowered for such a task have often found common cause. This is the essence and heart of what we call a missionary community. Such communities are born when there is alignment of vision, passion, burden, sense of call to ministry and theological confession. This alignment may produce a conviction that God has not just called numerous individuals to a similar ministry, but that God has called a community into being where vision, passion, burden, ministry gifting, experience, spiritual growth and renewal are shared. So it has been with Proclaim! International.
A missionary community is dynamic and changing. Its character and mission are influenced by those who become its members. Its members grow and change because they are part of and influenced by the community. It is more than the sum of its individual members yet it is nothing apart from them. A missionary community, like any other community, cannot exist without organization, administration, and structure, but these do not define its essence. At its heart a missionary community is a visible expression of the ongoing incarnational, redemptive work of Jesus Christ, enabled and empowered by the Holy Spirit. If it is an authentic and truly biblical missionary community it will bear the marks of the ecclesia, the body of Christ in its mission and its common life (koinonia).
If God truly calls communities of missionaries into being, then we believe He expects these communities to act, make decisions, practice true spirituality, maintain moral accountability and discipline, handle resources, appoint and dismiss leaders, exercise servant leadership, and maintain integrity in communications and all other areas in a manner that brings glory to God and is consistent with his character and the truth he has revealed in his word. We do not presume to fully understand everything about the shape and life of such a community, but with genuine humility we are seeking its formation based principally on the models and precepts found in the word of God.
V. THE PROMISE OF JESUS CHRIST TO BUILD HIS CHURCH: THE ‘RAISON D’ETRE’ FOR PROCLAIM! INTERNATIONAL
Jesus Christ declared that He would build his church and that the gates of hell would not overcome it (Matthew 16:18). By this and other scriptural truth, we understand that the principal instrument by which God will transmit his redemptive message to the ends of the earth and manifest his way, truth and life among all the nations is through the authentic and visible life and witness of local Christian communities called churches. It is about such communities that Jesus, the Christ, gave His promise. He will build them and they will not be overcome.
Specific local churches come and go, but visible, local churches will be established and flourish throughout the earth. That is the promise. God calls missionary communities like Proclaim! International into being for the principal purpose of helping fulfill the promise of building and multiplying these churches. God’s plan is that in every culture and community God’s people will be gathered for worship, service, witness and redemptive influence. Missionary communities like Proclaim! International come and go. God calls them into being for a time and purpose.
VI. PROCLAIM! INTERNATIONAL IS AN AGENT OF MISSION, BUT NOT A MISSION AGENCY
The Proclaim! International Missionary Community is not an agency as many contemporary mission organizations are called. The notion of “agency” places the emphasis largely on goal, objective, accomplishment. A missionary may join an agency whose main purpose is to facilitate the accomplishment of the corporate goals of the agency. Such an agency may be highly structured with a strong corporate culture that expects and encourages a high degree of corporate loyalty. Others may join an agency whose main aim is to facilitate the ministry of the individual missionary rather than the accomplishment of corporate objectives. Such an agency may be loosely organized with little corporate culture. A mission agency may be a division of a church denomination. It may be non-denominational. An agency may be church or para-church in its structure and purpose.
Indeed, in its essential raison d’etre the agency shares with the missionary community the importance of mission – people joining together to accomplish a common objective or goal such as church planting or reaching the Muslim world, etc. Beyond that it is the very concept of the common life (koinonia) of a community, the essential element of the church that we have deliberately set out to form and sustain among us. We do not see ourselves essentially as an agency but as a community.
VII. PROCLAIM! INTERNATIONAL IS COMPRISED OF FAMILY MEMBERS, BUT IT IS NOT A FAMILY
Proclaim! International is not a family. It is a special community of family members. All believers, being spiritual orphans adopted into the family of God, are brothers and sisters. The basis of our family identity is not blood or soil; it is our common identity in Christ. Our patrimony is heavenly not earthly. Adoption into the family of God is prerequisite to membership in a missionary community, but not all brothers and sisters in the family of God are called to be missionaries or members of a missionary community. The often repeated cliché that “you are either a missionary or a mission field” has no basis in scripture or reality. All are called to new life in Christ; some are called as missionaries and into community with others of like mind and commitment.
VIII. PROCLAIM! INTERNATIONAL IS A MISSIONARY COMMUNITY, BUT IT IS NOT A CHURCH
The Proclaim! International Community is not a church. All believers are members of the body of Christ. All members of the missionary community are expected to be active participants in a local church. The community life the missionaries experience as members of Proclaim! International cannot replace the local church for two fundamental reasons. First, the missionary community is not local. Typically it is spread throughout many countries and cultures. It is often itinerant. In a truly biblical and Christian local church, the life and mission of the community is concentrated and intense because people live, play, work, worship, pray, witness and serve together on a daily and weekly basis. Such experience in a missionary community is less intense, less frequently experienced, but no less real, authentic and important in its own way. All the spiritual practices and principles of a truly biblical and Christian community are to be reflected in the missionary community but in a more limited and less frequent way because of the lack of proximity of its members.
Second, the missionary community is comprised of members who have experienced a special call to missionary service, whereas the local church is made up of any believers in a local area. There are no restrictions or limitations on who can be a part of a church. All members of the body of Christ are qualified to be part of a local fellowship of believers. Therefore, unlike the local church, the missionary community is scattered, and it is comprised of only those members who are called to missionary service.
IX. THE CONSTITUTION OF PROCLAIM! INTERNATIONAL AS A MISSIONARY COMMUNITY
Everything that we do in our corporate and organizational identity arises from the recognition that we are a missionary community called into being by God to accomplish his purposes. The first article of the Proclaim! International Operational Guidelines summarizes this well and identifies several specific areas that are especially important for our life and ministry together as such a community:
Call: The Proclaim! International Missionary Community has been called into being by its sovereign Lord. It is an extension of the ongoing redemptive work of Jesus Christ and an expression of his body, the church.
Membership: Missionaries and their dependent children, national board members and national staff are included in the community.
Authority: The authority of the community regarding its own life and mission is complete, being derived from its head, the Lord Jesus Christ. The exercise of this authority is legitimate to the extent that its adult members are obedient and faithful to Him and are living under the influence and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Authoritative action: The community acts or decides with authority regarding its life and mission when its adult members act or decide collectively.
At its Gathering near Interlaken, Switzerland, on November 23, 2003, Proclaim! International joyfully and formally constituted itself under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ as a missionary community. Its first authoritative acts as a community were to approve Operational Guidelines for its governing body, the International Council, and affirm the leadership of its International Co-directors.