Let me state for the record that every time we at Radius International are asked, “When is Radius going to become its own sending agency?”, our answer is, “We’re not.” From the beginning, we had no intention of doing so because we are convinced there are enough sending agencies in existence. We believe the primary need in carrying out the Great Commission is sending out properly trained gospel workers to labor faithfully for the years and decades it takes to plant healthy churches among every last language group.
As a former missions pastor myself, I saw both the strengths and weaknesses of sending agencies. Here are several of the positive aspects of sending agencies:
- I preferred that missionaries from my church head overseas with a larger agency. Why? Generally that meant that our rookie missionaries were not put in a position to be totally on their own. Remember, this is not Paul going to Galatia or Asia! Paul could communicate extremely well from the day he arrived there.
- Missionaries who head out with sending agencies (instead of going “independent,” which is a tenuous idea on its own) have a greater likelihood of accountability in their language and culture acquisition (CLA), in their marriages, and in the general work of the ministry. Be it gospel presentation, discipleship of new believers, quality of Bible translation, or actual growth of churches—it’s always beneficial to have seasoned missionaries evaluating your work.
- When I (as the missions pastor) had questions about how missionaries from my church were doing overseas, it was extremely handy to be able to communicate with the individual who had direct field oversight of them.
- Sending agencies generally had a point person responsible for evaluating security issues in the country and making more informed decisions about such matters as evacuation. The missionary serving by himself, without access to all the pertinent facts, can easily overreact or underreact. Having seasoned field or area leaders lessens this likelihood.
- It was the case “back in the day” that getting regular financial support to our missionaries was historically made easier by sending agency capabilities. Today this is no longer true.
We must also touch on some of the negative aspects of current sending agencies:
- Some seem to have lost their way. While most sending agencies came into existence to work toward accomplishing the Great Commission (I’m not writing here of those agencies that were initiated to make clean water available, alleviate human trafficking, or a number of other noble causes) it does seem that “keeping the machine running” now dominates some agencies. Mostly this is evidenced by a lowered level of candidate vetting, and a near non-existence of serious training. Some sending agencies have quietly conceded that the days of decades-long service are in the past.
- Many agencies, due to the realization that most folks aren’t staying on the front lines more than three to four years, have been quick to adopt methods tailored to faster “results.” Quantifying the quality of those results is difficult. I read another paper of such encouraging results this week but was left wondering, What message was embraced? What message was being propagated? The gospel was nowhere in that paper.
- Methods such as DMM and CPM have become the sole training of many agencies. This is in contrast to historic methods of gospel propagation by biblically competent teachers and evangelists. Enough has been written in previous Radius Reports on this topic, but it is the case that once DMM/CPM thinking takes root in an agency it’s hard to get it out. As the CEO of one historically excellent agency told some of us recently, “It came into my agency like a lamb; I didn’t think my biblically trained folks would buy it. But it goes out like a lion; it’s taken over my agency.” Exciting stories generate hope, excitement, and funding. Who wants to be the one to look too carefully into those stories?
- In the press to keep numbers up, an increasing number of “missionaries” are being sent to “diaspora situations” in the USA. Instead of local believers from local churches reaching out to ethnic groups in their city, some sending agencies are now positioning full-time, financially supported missionaries in larger cities to do this. There have always been campus-specific groups working on college campuses—but that was the reason they came into existence. Now we see overseas sending agencies getting into this. It is one way to keep numbers up, but that it accelerates mission drift cannot be doubted. Some agencies have adopted the term and mentality, “We are a big tent.” Yet in doing so, the focus that brought them into existence quietly becomes a debatable topic.
Having been with an excellent sending agency for over 30 years myself, I saw some of these realities firsthand. As the years went by, more missionaries came to our field with a mentality that bespoke, “It’s all the same.” They were the first to find greener pastures when times got tough on the front lines. Agencies who don’t prepare folks for the rigors ahead are really only treading water. Missionaries who lack the FOCUS it takes to go beyond where the gospel exists, who have a plan B, C, or D, will rarely attain to such focus once on the field. That too is part of training.
These are unfortunate realities today, but they don’t need to persist. Agencies are redeemable, and that is our fervent hope and prayer…and another reason we have not wanted to get into the sending side of missions. Thankfully it is the case that the American auto industry came back to the business of building quality cars, not just lots of them. Samson came back to his senses (Judges 16:28-30) although it was a costly reawakening. To its credit, the Southern Baptist Convention came back to biblical inerrancy.
God’s people—and no one doubts the quality of people inside these agencies—led by godly courageous leaders can turn these agencies around. It is painful, but it can be done by God’s grace.
Founder of Radius International
Brad and his wife Beth planted a church among the