by Howard W Norton



Howard W. Norton is the chairman of the division of Bible at Oklahoma Christian College and editor of the Christian Chronicle, an international newspaper of the churches of Christ. He worked from 1961 to 1977 as a missionary in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Norton was the associate editor of the Bible correspondence course entitled What the Bible Says, which circulates today in several different languages. He co edited the book entitled Steps into the Mission Field: Group Evangelism, from First Concepts to First Converts (1978), which was written by the Sao Paulo Mission Team. He wrote The Eldership and the Missionary: A Manual for Independent Missions, the second edition of which was published in 1980.

He is one of three directors of the Pan American Lectureship. He takes a campaign group to Brazil and conducted meetings there each summer. Recently he served as the pulpit minister of the College Church of Christ in Oklahoma City;

Norton graduated from Abilene Christian University with his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1957, from the University of Houston with the Master of Arts degree in 1964, and from the Universidade de Sao Paulo with the Doctor of Human Sciences degree in 1981.





Mission work in churches of Christ has passed through at least four phases during the twentieth century. In each phase, churches of Christ have searched for the perfect solution for evangelizing the world.

Phase 1: Pre-World War II

First, there was the pre-World War II mission work that focused its attention on nations of the Far East and Africa. During that period evangelistic men and women searched for the solution to the problem of apathy toward world evangelism within the church. Names such as these deserve our grateful praise for their pioneering efforts to spread the word of God in the Orient and for their desire to stir interest at home: the J. M. McCalebs, Clara Elliott Bishop, Sarah Shepherd Andrews, the Barney D. Moreheads, the Orville Bixlers, Hettie Lee Ewing, the families of Harry R. and Herman J. Fox, and the George S. Bensons.

As pioneer missionary families worked to evangelize the Far East, other courageous families braved the mysteries of Africa in order to preach the gospel there. We remember people like the John Sherriffs, the W. N. Shorts, the Ray Lawyers, the John Dow Merritts, and

the George M. Scotts, whose names became synonymous with African evangelism.

Their great spirit can be seen in a statement by George
S. Benson: "I had rather be here in China teaching these poor people the way of life and enduring hardships for Jesus than to be anywhere else in the world. "1

God, no doubt, knows other people whom we have not mentioned here but who lived and worked at great sacrifice in order to obey the Great Commission and seek the lost in strange and distant cultures. Whatever has been accomplished since those pre-World War II days is due in large part to the inspiration given to churches of Christ by those heroes of the faith whose task was difficult in a world where travel and communication were quite primitive compared to what we enjoy today.

Besides the isolation and loneliness felt by those brothers and sisters, who were separated by thousands of miles from families and friends, their greatest frustration probably centered in the lack of widespread interest among Christians in the United States for what they were trying to accomplish. A lack of financial and moral support here at home, coupled with a general lack of concern for evangelizing the world, stood in the way of fulfilling Christ's command to go and preach to the nations. They searched for a solution to these problems.

Phase II: Post World War II

World War II was a turning point in the history of Christian mission work in churches of Christ. It

appeared that this hated war would provide the very solution to the lack of missionary concern and become the means for stirring interest in world missions. In many ways, it did just that. Because of the war effort and the accompanying orders to travel as soldiers and sailors of the Allied Forces, young Americans from churches of Christ discovered parts of the world they never knew existed. Christian boys and men from Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, California, Alabama, and other stateside regions found themselves in foreign lands full of cities and towns with strange sounding names. To their astonishment, they could not find a single congregation of the churches of Christ in most of the places they visited.

Amazed that the gospel as they knew it had never reached those parts of the world, they vowed that when the bloody battles of World War II were over, they would see to it that the "enemy" they had seen during the fight for world peace would have the opportunity to hear and obey the good news about Jesus Christ. They promised themselves that they would do everything in their power to establish local congregations of the New Testament church among the people whose lostness had stirred such deep compassion in their hearts. For some of these soldiers, it meant that they would return to those foreign countries as evangelists with hearts on fire. Others would be responsible for supporting those who went to preach.

Meanwhile, Olan Hicks began the Christian Chronicle, a mission-minded newspaper, in 1943. In spite of a world with its attention focused on some of the greatest battles in the history of the world, Olan Hicks turned his attention to the unbelievable opportunities for evangelism and church growth that his visionary instincts predicted for churches of Christ in America, once World War II was over. He began to raise the consciousness of local churches in the United States, urging them to prepare to send missionaries all over the

world just as soon as the war-torn nations opened their doors for the victorious Allies to come in and help them. Hicks and others like him realized that if the churches had performed their evangelistic task throughout the world in a more committed way prior to World War II, the destruction that swept large portions of the earth might never have happened.

Otis Gatewood was the first foreign evangelist of any religious group to enter Germany after World War II ended in Europe. One of the great Christian motivators of this century, his inspirational example and emotional appeals to the brotherhood for additional manpower sparked a missionary movement whose effects are still being felt today.

Unfortunately, many who responded to the call and went abroad to preach the gospel were unprepared for what they encountered. Individuals and married couples would often go alone to some mission point or else join a group of workers whom they had not really known prior to their arrival on the field. Those who did the latter were emotionally alone. Short tenures, broken spirits, dashed dreams, and even broken lives and families sometimes resulted from the sincere but frustrating experiences of those who had hoped to evangelize the world. The most common explanation for missionary failure was "loneliness," and the generally accepted perfect solution for this major occupational problem of foreign missions was "team evangelism." With the problem of apathy solved by World War II, it appeared that "team evangelism" was all that was needed to be successful.


Phase III: Team Evangelism

I was at Abilene Christian College in 1953-1957, and I heard rousing speeches by returning missionaries about the need to go to the mission field with a team. The rhetoric made it sound like a team would be the panacea that would solve nearly all problems on the field and finally enable the church to carry out its mission to preach the gospel to the whole world. Our own missionary team formed on the Abilene campus in the spring of 1957 and left for Sao Paulo, Brazil, in South America on June 1, 1961. Earlier, a team from Abilene Christian College had moved to Austria with the hope of doing a work in Europe that would be dynamic and lasting.

Not only did groups form foreign mission work but also for the evangelization of the United States. We began to hear about exodus movements such as Exodus Bayshore, Exodus Rochester, and Exodus Burlington. Exodus movements took the idea of group or team evangelism and added to that concept the idea of vocational missionaries who would be self-supporting. Under this plan, one or more full-time workers would move into some city of the United States where the church was numerically small or nonexistent. A much larger contingency of members would move with the full-time workers and seek employment in schools, commerce, or industry and support themselves in the work of evangelizing the lost. Putting together the idea of team evangelism and self-supporting missionaries seemed to offer the perfect solution for two perplexing missionary problems: loneliness and lack of financial support.

Unfortunately, just going to the foreign field with the gospel did not resolve the problem of an unevangelized world, and team evangelism was not a perfect solution either. Going in a group was better than going alone, but the wise men among us had underestimated the difficult human relationships that would inevitably

arise when men and women worked closely together under stressful conditions.

Satan is surely not going to fold his hands when a group of eager and committed young people move to town. He will simply work through the difficulties involved in interpersonal relationships and try to destroy the team from within. In every team I have ever known, getting along with fellow team members was the biggest single problem the group of missionaries faced. While team evangelism does to a great extent eliminate loneliness, it intensifies human relations problems.

Exodus groups that moved to the northeastern part of the United States not only experienced human relations problems but also the difficulty of planting in the Northeast a church whose membership was largely Southern in customs, personality, and religious tradition. It was not uncommon to find dashed hopes and dreams within the exodus movements as sincere people awoke to the fact that internal strife among the members and external rejection by the community had produced few visible results after years and years of sacrificial effort. Team evangelism--the idea that had appeared to be the perfect solution for world evangelism--was not so perfect after all.

At some point during these years of searching for the perfect solution, certain educators with missionary backgrounds came to realize that besides team evangelism, missionaries needed special formal training in order to carry out their tasks. These brethren dedicated

themselves, through additional training and private study, to the task of learning all they could from various denominations and our own experiences about successful missionary endeavors. The idea was that if we could learn the causes of failure and success in foreign mission efforts carried on by churches of Christ and other groups, we could teach proper methods in our courses and eliminate most of the problems faced by missionaries on the field.

Without doubt, the idea had merit. The truth is, however, that better education of missionaries has not enabled the church to arrive at a perfect solution for the difficulties that missionaries face. As one university administrator told me, "Although we have better missions education than we have ever had before, we have fewer people on the field now than before we started educating them. Further, some of those who went through our training program are not effective missionaries. Something is wrong."

One of the things wrong was that too much of the missionary methodology taught in the courses came from rural Third World settings and paid little attention to the urban environment to which so many of the church's missionaries go. What works in the African bush will not necessarily succeed in Sao Paulo, Brazil, a city of over 15 million inhabitants. It has taken a lot of us a long time to learn this lesson. When we should have focused our attention on missionary principles, some missions educators and missionaries were advocating a narrow set of methods that were supposed to work equally well all over the world. The trouble is, they didn't.

We can imagine, then, the frustration of well- educated missionary teams who followed the example of pioneer missionaries and went abroad to preach. They followed the examples of people like the Sao Paulo Missionary Team of 1961 and organized their own

evangelistic teams to overcome loneliness and carry out an effective foreign missions effort. They sacrificed to get the best available missionary education from good schools. They went to the mission field and worked hard. Now, years later, they have very little to show for their efforts. What a frustration! They went in faith, overcame loneliness through team work, overcame ignorance through education, and church growth is still woefully slow.

It is only when we comprehend their frustration that we can understand why the Boston/Crossroads Movement has so much appeal to missionaries on the field.

Phase IV: The Discipling Movement

Discipling churches such as the Boston Church of Christ are also in search of the perfect solution for world missions. Some of the accomplishments of the Boston Church of Christ are impressive.

First, the church knows how to reach and teach the lost and their record of baptisms proves that they are evangelistic.

Second, the Boston church has a plan for evangelizing the world in this generation.2

Third, the Boston church is generous in its giving for world evangelism. In a special contribution at the Boston's World Mission Seminar in 1986, the church gave a total of over $1.8 million for missions. In 1987 at the same annual event, the church gave more than $3 million for world evangelism. The church's regular Sunday budget calls for a weekly contribution of $55,000.

Fourth, the Boston church has solved, for now at least, the problem of spending huge sums of money on real estate by renting the Boston Gardens for its weekly worship service. Weekday meetings are scattered

throughout the Boston area in "house churches." Money that goes to pay mortgage installments in many churches can thus be directed into the church's main thrust, which is evangelism.

Fifth, the Boston church has shown remarkable success in producing leaders who are able to duplicate what is happening in Boston.

Sixth, the Boston church has been very effective in reaching and evangelizing highly capable young people and adults. They have learned to talk to the hearts and minds of hundreds of talented people who once were cold to the Christian faith and even today will pay no attention to mainline churches.


For those frustrated missionary men and women on distant fields around the world who have worked their hearts out and have few numerical results to show for the effort, news of the apparent success of discipling churches ignites again their dream that there may be a perfect solution for foreign missionary work.

Indeed, the six impressive accomplishments of the Boston church as listed above would make any missionary heart beat faster.

Unfortunately, there is a down side to the Boston church story. Discipling churches have not found the perfect missionary solution either. The next chapter will explain the inadequacies of the Boston/Crossroads approach to world missions.


1. This statement appears at the bottom of a poster-photograph collection of pre-World War II missionaries. The poster is entitled "Churches of Christ

Missionary Portraiture" and was published December 30, 1926, by Don Carlos Janes of Louisville, Kentucky. It Was in the Restoration Library Collection of Oklahoma Christian College.

2. In the last section of this book, Gene Vinzant outlines what the Boston church and other discipling churches have done and plan to do in world evangelism.

End of Chapter 6