Global Missions as a Scaffold | Classics Series
The following blog is an installment in our Classics Series, where we look back at literature from days gone by. This blog was originally written as a Bulletin Reflection for a Sunday Worship Experience in November 2013.
‘Mission’ talk isn’t just a thing of the church. Military units are deployed on a mission or an operation. Corporations small and large often are guided by a mission statement. A ‘mission’ according to my dictionary is “an important assignment carried out for [certain] purposes.” In other words, a mission isn’t an end to itself but the means—the vehicle—to accomplishing an end purpose. If a Christian “signs up” to become a career missionary, their goal is to work themselves out of a job. How crazy is that statement? Isn’t a career a lifelong pursuit? Let me explain.
Henry Venn, an 18th-century English churchman and missionary advocate, has notably compared the missionary enterprise to the scaffolding around new architecture:
“The master builder is the chief actor, and all the poles and platforms which he creates are the chief objects; but as the building rises the builders occupy less and less attention—the scaffolding becomes unsightly and when the building is completed it is taken to pieces.”
The assumption of Jesus’ evangelism mandate is to make disciples who eventually in turn make other disciples. This self-propagating idea was built into Jesus’ original plan, and it hasn’t changed. In other words, once a missionary has evangelized, discipled new believers to maturity, and established a church with national leadership in place, his work there is done. He either looks for a new job or a new location to repeat the same process. I know of a couple career missionaries who have done just that. They have been models of what a truly mission-minded missionary ought to be like. Their goal was not to impose American Christianity onto a Majority World mission field. Instead, they went with the mission to see Jesus worshipers made who could eventually lead themselves, sustain their new, indigenous church and start new ones. When we send out a missionary family, the church is sending out a Gospel scaffolding team. We don’t build structures here in America only to finish them and leave the construction equipment laying around for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. The same thing can be said for our philosophy of missions. Missions have an hourglass set, and the end is just glorious.