I have been revisiting Ralph Winter’s old but influential article on “The Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Mission”. In it he observes how, down through the ages, there have often been two distinct structures operative within the Christian movement. An observation that has missional implications.
The first structure is what we typically call a church. Whether it takes the form of a diocese under a bishop or an independent congregation the function is pretty much the same. It is a structure that tends to be localised and open to everyone, irrespective of age, gender, education, etc.
The second structure is what we might call a parachurch ministry. Whether it takes the form of an apostolic team, a monastic or mendicant order, a charity or a missionary society, again the function is pretty much the same. It does what churches can’t do. It tends to require a higher commitment and is often less localised.
And it is interesting to observe the relationship between the two. In many parts of the world its the missionary societies, not churches, that take primary responsibility for sowing the seeds of the gospel in new contexts and planting new churches. For some reason however this model has not been followed in the west, nor been recovered as west has become more of a mission field. We leave church planting to existing churches and their regional denominational structures. Is this healthy? Is it time we consider the need for missionary societies that focus on the unreached people groups of the west?