Mission is a two-way street

The day is past when it can he assumed that missionaries sent from Europe and America have much to teach and nothing to learn. The Western church has gained much from interaction with those who were considered mere receptors.

Borge Schantz is lecturer in missiology at Newbold College, Bracknell, Berkshire, England. The material in this article was originally presented at the Loma Linda Annual Mission Lecture, May 3, 1985.

Missionaries, in the traditional view, are supposed to arrive in the field with all the answers. We tend to take it for granted that the Western way of understanding the gospel is superior and that Western culture is closer to the Biblical ideal than the culture to which the missionary is sent. Such a viewpoint often leads to an attitude of spiritual arrogance on the part of the missionary who believes that the receptor people have all to gain and the missionary nothing to learn.

But missiologists now realize that open-minded missionaries can gain as much enlightenment as they impart. Cross-cultural Christian mission is not one-way traffic in which the receptor people do all the receiving and the expatriate worker the contributing; mission is a reciprocal flow of important but diverse goods. Home fields and mission fields are dependent on each other in ways we have not fully realized. Recognizing this interdependence is vitally important and can in some cases be a condition for survival on both fronts.

The mission field as receivers

Let us briefly sum up the benefits the mission field has gained from missionaries. Primarily, the gospel of Jesus Christ has brought faith, peace, salvation, and hope to many people living in despair and fear. As a further result, human relationships have been improved and family life strengthened. In some cases the preaching of the gospel has meant an end to tribal wars and slavery. In some cultures the advent of Christianity helped to liberate women and introduce social progress.

Education came along with gospel proclamation in most cases. Belief in the importance of understanding the Word of God demanded a literacy program; thus elementary and secondary schools were established. Later the missionaries added higher schools of learning in theology, agriculture, technology, industry, and medicine. These not only educated mission personnel, but produced a supply of skilled workers from which governments, industries, and commerce benefited.

Health-care services were also provided in some parts of the world. Missions have introduced modern Western medicine, hospitals, clinics, leprosariums, orphanages, and centers for training of medical personnel.

The transmission of the above-mentioned benefits did not come about without some damaging side effects. In some instances, missions became an extension of Western civilization. Western education had a secularizing influence. Christian doctrines in a European-American dress were not always meaningful to the people. The missionary complex of self-sufficiency led to a minimal regard for indigenous thought, culture, customs, and theology. And the same feeling of superiority resulted in a failure to utilize and train nationals for positions of leadership. In general, however, the receptor people benefited considerably, and many were won for the kingdom of God.

Lessons from the mission field

The good returns mission involvement brought to the sending church 'nave often been overlooked. But they are of vital significance and demand our attention.

Church growth theories and principles developed in the mission field have now been adapted and applied with considerable success in the often barren and unyielding home fields. These principles have drawn attention to social, cultural, and even racial barriers that, with some skill and tact, can be turned from hindrances into means for soul winning. They have also taught us to concentrate on the winnable sections of the population.

In modern Western society the influence and seducing power of Satan as a person is underrated and explained away. In the mission field the devil and the fallen angels on occasion reveal themselves as the ones who directly oppose the government of God. They actually enter into people and bring upon them diseases that Westerners associate with mental afflictions. These New Testament-type experiences occurring in modern days in the mission field have helped us to realize that we are facing a real, personal, and powerful enemy. Victories gained through prayer remind us that God is still active on behalf of His people.

Cross-cultural engagement teaches respect for other cultures. This sensitivity to and acceptance of cultural diversity creates appreciation for the many different ways of using theology and understanding the gospel, which can, in turn, lead to discovery of new and more meaningful ways to proclaim the gospel to other ethnic groups.

Overseas engagement in proclaiming the gospel also produces a rediscovery of the spiritual gifts and their importance in all aspects of Christian outreach. With the passage of time, any church or religious movement stands in danger of institutionalizing the charismatic manifestations of the Holy Spirit. The gift of healing comes to be equated with hospitals. The gift of teaching becomes educational work, the gift of mercy becomes welfare work, the gift of tongues is equated with facility for foreign languages, and so on. In this way a Christian movement easily loses its flexibility and spontaneity. In many parts of the world where there is a scarcity of the commodities we in the West take for granted, believers turn to God for help. When medical help is needed but is beyond financial means and far away, Christians depend on prayer and the laying on of hands. Uneducated Christian leaders plead with God for wisdom to guide His people. This brings the original purpose of the spiritual gifts back into focus.

In the mission field the laity's role receives a strong emphasis. Many souls are being won in areas where the proportion of professional ministers to laypeople is one to 500. The mission field teaches us that the future of God's work lies with a trained and motivated laity.

Related to this is an important lesson about mission finance. The number of souls won is not always proportional to the amount of money invested. As a matter of fact, some of the areas of the world experiencing the greatest growth are areas where minimal funds are spent on evangelism.

Respect for other viewpoints

Left alone in the midst of an ocean of paganism or unbelief, anyone trying to make Jesus Christ known, loved, and served is a fellow Christian to be taken seriously, even if you do not agree on all doctrinal points. Thus missionaries often develop positive attitudes toward other Christian denominations and even non-Christian religions.

The study of non-Christian religions in order to find the right approaches to their adherents brings an appreciation of the truths they teach. Missionaries often discover that some aspects of non-Christian religions are not to be rejected completely but can be developed to reveal the full light as encountered in Jesus Christ.

Personal benefits

In addition to the benefits the church has received, individual missionaries also have much to gain from their experiences. Service in areas of the world where culture and customs are more akin to that of Bible times yields better understanding of Scripture and its narratives. When pagans accept Christ and thereby experience a drastic and sudden turnabout, the real meaning of conversion comes into focus. The mission field also teaches us a more sensible and sensitive attitude toward women. When they were refused their rightful place on the home front by male-dominated clergy and boards, women proved in cross-cultural service that they had gifts for leadership, soul winning, pastoral care, policy making, teaching, and healing.

The missionary's leadership and teaching abilities are often developed in mission service. The difference between Paul and Peter lies not alone in the fact that Paul was better educated. Paul's exposure to different cultures helped him grasp the universal meaning 'of the gospel. His Gentile converts taught him important lessons as he sought to put the plan of salvation into terms they could understand. Was Paul's ability to unwrap Christianity from Judaism a product of his own theological insights, or a result of his interaction with Gentile Christians? He grew as much as they did.


We need true mutuality between our Western and our mission churches. It is only obtained in partnership, when we share with each other on the basis of our diverse strengths. This sharing is essential for the survival of the church universal. Where the mission church is weak, the Western church is strong. In the areas of education, health-care, technology, social progress, and finance, the home front has something to offer. And where the Western church is weak, the mission church is strong. It can contribute spirituality, cultural understanding, and respect. It can teach church growth, expanded roles for women, and the importance of the laity. It can give us an understanding of spiritual gifts and the dynamics of encounters with Satan.

We need each other to build up the body of Christ. We must recognize that we are one in the "body of Christ" (1 Cor. 12:26, 27). And then we must discover that only in the body of Christ His church worldwide is the whole range of gifts present (see Eph. 4:16).


Bosch, David J., "Toward True Mutuality: Exchanging the
Same Commodities or Supplementing Each Other's Needs?"
Missiology, Vol. VI, No. 3 (July, 1978).

Burrows, William R., S.V.D., "Tension in the
Catholic Magisterium About Mission and Other
Religions," International Bulletin of Missionary
Research, vol. 9, No. 1 (January, 1985).

Glasser, Arthur F., "A Review and a Revision.
Lessons From the Protestant Mission to China,"
Theology, News and Notes, Vol. XXXI, No. 4
(December, 1984).

Kane, J. Herbert, Understanding Christian Mission
(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House,

Shenk, Wilbert R., "The Great Century
Reconsidered," Missiology, Vol. XII, No. 2 (April,

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Borge Schantz is lecturer in missiology at Newbold College, Bracknell, Berkshire, England. The material in this article was originally presented at the Loma Linda Annual Mission Lecture, May 3, 1985.

February 1986

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