"So that all nations might believe and obey him." -- Romans 16:26
The late missiologist Ralph D. Winter has been quoted as saying that a believer can go or send or mobilize. However, he said, if you have a choice, then choose mobilization because it will be a strategic contribution to missions if you can mobilize ten people to go rather than just you are one person going.
"I feel I'm being led to begin a weekly missions class for the children of our church. Your web site has been so helpful! I'm trying to incorporate different country and cultural information for the kids, but also seeking info on missionaries for the kids to write, to make it personal." --Paula M., West Virginia, USA
In the early 1500s, the Protestant Reformation burst on the European scene. Preaching salvation by grace, Protestants stressed the authority of Scripture.
However, despite the Bible's repeated calls for world evangelism, 200 years would pass before Protestantism geared up for significant foreign missionary activity. Why? How could Protestants remain disengaged from world evangelism for so long? Missiologist Ralph Winter concluded that Protestantism's world mission paralysis stemmed from its lack of sodalities promoting and supporting world evangelism.
That word, "sodality," sounds strange to most Protestants. Indeed, it is seldom used outside of Roman Catholicism. It is simply a label for groups of highly-committed people inside larger organizations such as churches.
Over the years, Roman Catholic sodalities (or monastic orders) have carried on that denomination's world missions ministry. When the Protestant Reformers spurned monasticism, they did not ask, "Now, how do we Protestants reach 'every nation, tribe, people and language'?"
They should have asked that question. In the absence of groups focused on promoting and supporting world evangelism, early Protestants ignored far-away, unevangelized people groups. Reformation leaders assumed individual believers would somehow fulfill the Great Commission on their own. Sadly, as the proverbial saying goes: "What is everybody's business is nobody's business."
Eventually, Protestants like William Carey began organizing missionary societies or bands or unions as some were called to beat the drum for world evangelism. Carey's Baptist Missionary Society was not composed of celibate monks. Still, it performed the same world evangelism functions as monastic orders like the Benedictines and Franciscans. Once Protestants started forming their own missions sodalities (a.k.a. missionary societies), their global outreach mushroomed.
"Okay," you may be saying, "that's interesting. How is it relevant to Nazarene missions today?"
That's a good question. I've never heard NMI (Nazarene Missions International) referred to as a sodality. However, that's what NMI is. NMI activists are Nazarenes passionate about world evangelism who band together to promote, mobilize and support ends-of-the-earth church planting.
Sadly, sometimes NMI groups go dormant. Passion for world evangelism then tends to dissipate. People quit praying for the global harvest. Financial support for missionaries comes to feel like an onerous tax. People begin grumbling that sending people and money to evangelize the ends of the earth hurts local churches. They do not challenge children and youth to get involved in Great Commission fulfillment or to listen for God's call to missionary service.
Some will assert that all the world would be reached if every believer would just evangelize his or her own neighborhood. Sadly, churches employing that strategy usually wind up back where Protestantism was for its first 200 years: unengaged in world evangelism.
To truly obey the Great Commission, every Nazarene church needs an active NMI group (which might begin with just one person!) promoting global outreach, calling the rest of the church to intercessory prayer, and recruiting and supporting global missionaries.
We do not necessarily need to remember that NMI is a sodality. The label does not matter. What does matter is that churches have a passionate group deeply committed to getting other believers involved in world evangelism.
-- Howard Culbertson
This 500-word mini-essay on sodalities is an article in the "Mission briefing" series published in Engage magazine.
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