by Howard W Norton
THE IMPACT OF THE DISCIPLING
MOVEMENT ON MISSION WORK DONE
BY THE CHURCHES OF CHRIST
p88 ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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
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 SEARCH OF THE
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
NOTES FOR CHAPTER 6
1. This statement appears at the bottom of a poster-photograph collection
of pre-World War II missionaries. The poster is entitled "Churches
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