Saturday, January 23, 2010

BOOK REVIEW - Apostolic Function in 21st Century Missions by Alan R. Johnson (William Carey Publishers).

Apostolic Function in 21st Century Missions by Alan R. Johnson (William Carey Publishers).

Church historian Stephen Neill once remarked, “When everything is mission, nothing is mission.” Alan R. Johnson heartily agrees. Johnson, a missionary in Thailand, advocates a renewed focus on the “where” question of missions, and a renewed prioritization of frontier missions among the least-reached.

Don’t let the term “apostolic” fool you. Johnson is not advocating the return to the office of Apostle, using the term, instead, in a functional sense. Being “apostolic” means to “function in the manner of the Apostles” in our ever-outward, pioneering compulsion. As God’s “sent out ones,” we drive forward, intent on crossing every ethno-linguistic boundary with the Gospel. While pastoring existing churches might be needed until indigenous leadership can be raised up, the great need in missions consists of going to where the church has not yet been established and planting – for the first time – local manifestations of Christ’s universal Church within unreached “nations” -ethne - mentioned in our Lord’s Commission.

The apostolic role of the missionary is reflected in the very term itself, the Latin missio being derived from the Greek apostello, denoting a “sent-out one.” Missionaries, thus, are not merely those who go. They are those who are sent, emissaries of the Gospel, sent out for a special cause, the outward and propulsive impulse towards the uttermost parts of the earth.

While canned food drives and local crisis pregnancy centers deserve our help, too, these serve as poor replacements for our primary drive towards the ends of the earth and to all the nations. Our task is to find the darkest holes and to stick ourselves in them. All barriers to the Gospel must be crossed and every dark region lit with a Gospel witness.

While many US churches are advocating becoming more “missional” those churches most closely aligning themselves with this newly coined adjective are often the last to send workers overseas to the least-reached, instead, preferring local missions and – in consequence – failing to have anything but a local mindset, enslaved to the winds of culture.

While many opportunities exist for Western pastors to play roles in established Third World Churches, we must be careful not to fall into the trap of viewing missions through the lens of the pastoral ministry, white Anglo pastors pastoring brown Third World Churches. We must strive always to be passing the baton, in the manner of II Timothy 2:2, to faithful local men in a replicational, multiplicational way – making disciples that can make disciples, reaching the lost to reach the lost..

For this reason, We must prioritize frontier missions and we must also value the principle of indigeneity, attempting, in all that we do, to equip local believers, pass the baton, and see the Gospel blossom on native soil.. What we need in missions is not exported pastorates among already “churched” areas, but apostolic pioneers to the very edges of Gospel accessibility.

I love this book, The Apostolic Function, and I give it away to many pastor friends. If you don’t read this book, but merely study the articles mentioned in Johnson’s footnotes, this by itself would be a mini-course in missiology.

From a Papuan tribal ministry context, I highly suggest studying Johnson’s interaction with the people-group concept and the phrase panta ta ethne (all the nations) contained in the Great Commission (pages 121-126). Are we to prioritize reaching merely the maximum number of individuals with the Gospel, or is there also a warrant for reaching the maximum number of peoples (note the plural) with the Gospel, such that we desire to plant a beachhead of Truth across every geographical and ethno-linguistic boundary where Christ is not known? Read the book and decide for yourself.

This is a book well worth its price ($ 14.39 at the William Carey Library,, and well worth the cost of gifting this volume to your key supporting pastors.

Trevor Johnson, World Team Papua

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