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A conversation with Dan Bouchelle

MISSIONS RESOURCE NETWORK  director discusses the changing roles of the global church.

Churches of Christ do a lot of things well in global missions.
Dan Bouchelle wants to make sure that they benefit from each other’s wisdom — and stay focused on Christ’s commission to “go and make disciples of every nation.”
For the past two years, he has served as executive director of Missions Resource Network, established in 1998 “to discover how the mission efforts of Churches of Christ could be improved without violating the autonomy of the local church,” according to the Texas-based ministry’s website.
Bouchelle, who started preaching in his early teens, seemed an unusual choice for MRN, known mostly for its foreign mission work. He didn’t spend years “on the field” in Tanzania or Brazil. Instead, he served for nine years as senior minister for the Central Church of Christ in Amarillo, Texas. Before that, he ministered for churches in Norman, Okla., and Abilene, Texas.
But Bouchelle doesn’t see a divide between foreign and domestic work. Through his role with MRN, he hopes to help churches obtain a global view of their mission — whether they’re working around the corner or across the ocean.
“There just isn’t as much difference between Lubbock, Los Angeles, Lagos and Luxembourg as there used to be,” Bouchelle says.
Bouchelle has authored three books — “The Gospel Unleashed” and “The Gospel Unhindered” by College Press and “When God Seems Absent” by Hillcrest Press. He and his wife, Amy, have three children.
What time is it now in the development of global missions? What is the proper role for the American church in global work?
There are four stages in taking the Gospel to any culture or country:
1. Sending workers (pioneer missionaries).
2. Training workers (schools for national church leaders).
3. Equipping local designers of mission (turn the responsibility over to nationals to make it better fit their culture).
4. Network and resource mature national churches with the global church (share learning and resources).
In most parts of the world, the first two stages are completed or are well underway. The challenge today is moving to the last two stages. This is difficult because it means releasing control and trusting national leaders to do things in their cultural context instead of in an American way.  
Too often, Americans think of the U.S. church as the “adult church.” The explosion of the Christian movement in the Global South illustrates the potential of mature, indigenous-led evangelistic efforts to produce movements of churches that plant churches.
Rather than trying to teach the international church to be like us, we need to learn from them.
How does Missions Resource Network help churches in missions?
We help church leaders develop a common understanding of who they are in God’s mission and how they can more effectively advance the Kingdom.
We help connect them to partner churches and ministries with whom they can jointly accomplish God’s mission. We help them screen their potential missionaries, equip them to be excellent sending churches, and train them in how to disengage from a mission effort well.
We offer practical resources on our website, provide missionary care services and have become a one-stop-shop for missions in Churches of Christ.

What is MRN doing to promote more active evangelistic efforts at home and missions efforts abroad?
The key is to encourage churches to think and act like missionaries instead of just supporting missionaries.
We have church-equipping workshops we do on location. Some will soon be online to help churches rediscover the God of mission, the mission of God, God’s process of making disciples and then set a course to live on mission.
We help churches think through how to make everything they do grow out of their God-shaped mission — so that what they do locally is a fit with what they do globally.

Globally, what are the most exciting projects or congregational efforts you’ve witnessed in missions?
I have witnessed outward-thinking churches on several continents. These churches are obsessed with getting the message of Jesus out and planting new churches in every community.
In other countries, the focus does not seem to be on being successful as an institution but rather on the expansion of the Kingdom through investment in new churches. I’ve seen churches that don’t complete their own buildings because so much of their money and energy is going into gospel planting. They are not burdened with the need to validate themselves as much as make sure everyone has an opportunity to learn the freeing truth about Jesus. 

Are there any domestic mission efforts that you find exciting?
What thrills me is when I see churches selflessly pouring themselves into their community. I love to see churches continuing what Jesus “did and taught” (Acts 1:1).
The growth of ministries of compassion, investment in the poor, speaking up for those with no voice, loving the hard-to-love, speaking against injustice, etc., is very exciting and long needed. However, it must be done in the name of Jesus and as a demonstration of God’s heart. We need to be thinking of planting churches among those in need as well as inviting them to join the churches we have.

Since U.S. churches often are inwardly focused, how can they be encouraged to evangelize?
I don’t have the answers. Perhaps some of the problem is a matter of confusing membership recruitment and disciple making. In an age of great distrust of all institutions, the church is viewed with suspicion. Christians may value the role the church plays in their life, but we should not expect people far from God to find it as attractive. 
We need to encourage our people to develop relationships with people who are far from God. We need to free up our people from so many church activities so they have more time to invest in relationships with non-believers and equip them to serve people far from God.
If we are making disciples, the church will emerge on its own in a variety of forms. But if we are only investing in church growth or membership recruitment, we will have a hard time getting people to follow us in this era when many do not trust church. We need to get the focus off of building up our institutions and focus on making disciples. 

Filed under: Dialogue

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