But Is It Ethical? | thebereancall.org

TBC Staff

Four of us had been talking for over 90 minutes about some current ideas and methods commonly used by missionaries today. The discussion had been enlightening and definitely not a one-sided ‘pile-on session’. “Do Muslims need to identify with Jesus and His people (the Church) or are they free to continue to self-identify as ‘Muslims’ and continue to stay within the mosque?” “Is self-correction taught and modeled in scripture?” “Are those who believe that Bible studies should be taught by believers showing a lack of faith in the Holy Spirit by not entrusting the leading of a Bible study to a non-believer?” For many of God’s people when first hearing of such methods and other practices being employed in foreign missions today, this question that that pastor posed is a common response: “Is it ethical that missionaries take support from local churches when employing methods that those churches would have qualms with?” The question is valid and the short answer is “no”. But the reality is more complicated than that as I don’t believe intentional deception is being done. Lack of awareness of, and submission to, biblical methods are much more the cause of this.

Do new missionaries intend to hide such methods from supporting churches? I’m sure that is rarely the case, but the upheaval of moving overseas into a ministry world they’ve never occupied causes them to be very open to ‘new methods’ that trainers assure them are having wonderful results.

Recently a method called ‘Disciple Making Movements’ (DMM) has been adopted by more and more by missionaries. It is currently the most common form of church planting (CP) training being given, and within some agencies, it is the only CP training being given. The stated goal of DMM is to see many people encounter the gospel, come to faith and multitudes of churches come into existence. This will hopefully lead to a church planting movement (CPM)….

The concern isn’t regarding the goal. The concern is over the methods employed to see such rapidness happen. Lack of gospel clarity in such ‘gospel presentations’ commonly causes something other than the gospel of grace to be embraced. Clarity of communication is a value that DMM is extremely quiet on. In DMM new believers or even non-believers substitute Paul’s method of preaching or teaching with ‘facilitation’. DMM states that passive ‘exposure’ to scripture is all that is needed. DMM leaders assure us that “When people are simply exposed to the Scriptures, God will reveal the truth to them.” Even in the face of Jesus’, Peter’s, Stephen’s and Paul’s examples in scripture, DMM advocates commonly see teaching, preaching and proclamation as outdated or ‘western’. When Philip, in Acts 8, asks the god-fearing eunuch if he understands what he was reading, the eunuch’s statement, “How can I unless someone explains this to me?” is perplexing. For the DMM worker, the eunuch should not have needed to ask that question.
The DMM/CPM model is not shy about the need to find ‘new kinds of workers’ that are not bogged down by the incarnational model of Jesus and Paul. Such approaches that caused missionaries for generations to learn the language and culture of the people at a deeply fluent level are seen as getting in the way of the quick spread of the gospel. Today the DMM/CPM workers are to be ‘catalytic’ facilitators finding ‘key people’…. The missionary then works behind the scenes through these untrained or non-believing ‘leaders’….New missionaries, due to their DMM training, are convinced that their presence as ‘outsiders’ is detrimental and that they MUST work through ‘insiders’ even if they can’t follow the conversation.
DMM/CPM proponents realize that the ‘churches’ that are started via CPM methods tend not to last, whereas Proclamational type (NT model) churches which have strong biblical foundations, do tend to last. “Clearly, the CPM form of church is easier to start while the Proclamational form tends to stick around.”…Birthing more and more ‘doomed-to-fail-groups’ faster and hoping that some will last seems the rationale. In the natural realm if any country in the world had an 80% infant mortality rate it would be mandatory to look at the health care system that is in place. The DMM model though seems to endorse a ‘have more babies faster’ mode.

“Is it ethical?” is a valid question, but truly there are no malicious intentions in any DMM/CPM practitioner I’ve ever met. The more pertinent question may be, “How did cross-cultural missions’ methods get so far off track?” “How is it that so few churches know the realities of the methods that some of their missionaries are using?”…. History tells us that even godly people can unintentionally promote a false gospel. Speed is good, but clarity is mandatory. An unclear gospel begets confusion at best but, more commonly, begets ‘another gospel’. Apostles, prophets, pastors, and teachers are gifts to the church. Facilitators are not. 

Methods that knowingly short-circuit healthy, maturing, biblically-grounded churches that will model and proclaim the life and message of Jesus to a watching community need to face the necessary critiques from sending churches.

(Buser, “But Is It Ethical?”, The Radius Report, 11/9/17).