In any missionary endeavor, whether indigenous or cross-cultural, there are two matters of extreme importance: the selection and the accountability of missionaries. Upon these two things, the mission work will stand or fall. That leads us to two very important questions:
- “How can we know that the missionaries we support are biblically qualified?”
- “How can we hold accountable the missionaries we support on the field?”
The answers to these two questions are the same whether we are working at home or abroad. The primary way to ensure that only qualified missionaries are on the field and that they remain faithful is through the oversight of the local church that has sent them. The HeartCry Missionary Society is based out of Radford, Virginia, and we are a ministry of Christ Church, Radford. Consequently, all of us who labor at HeartCry’s central office are members of this local church; personally known by its elders; and subject to its teaching, counsel, and discipline. This same relationship between the local church and the missionary is what we strive to maintain on the foreign field.
No matter how diligent a missionary society or agency seeks to be, it cannot maintain a qualified missionary force by selecting missionary applicants by mail, through the internet, or even by making periodic visits to the mission field. However, if those missionaries are working under the supervision of biblical and respected local churches and their elders, there can be great confidence that they are serving with scriptural integrity and that the Kingdom of God is advancing in the world.
For this reason, before HeartCry can even consider working in a specific area or with a specific people group, there must be—either within that people group or closely related to it—a biblical church or a fellowship of biblical churches of like faith and practice with which HeartCry may confidently labor. Before a partnership with such a church or churches is formed, the following matters must be considered:
- The Doctrine and Character of the Pastors/Elders. They must agree with our Doctrinal Statement (see pages 9-11); meet the biblical requirements of the office (I Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9); and demonstrate wisdom in the matters of church life, missions, and accountability.
- The Doctrine and Practice of the Church in General. The teaching and example of the elders must be reflected in the doctrine, organization, and ministry of the church that they pastor. In other words, the church must actually practice what it confesses, especially in the following essential areas: expository preaching, biblical theology, the gospel, conversion, evangelism, discipleship, church leadership, church membership, and church discipline.
- The Doctrine and Practice of the Church Regarding Missions. The church and its elders must agree with our Core Convictions About Missions (see pages 12-14). This includes the essentiality of sending to the field only those missionaries who meet the qualifications of an elder (I Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). The sending church must fully recognize the tremendous responsibility of ordaining a missionary and holding him accountable on the field, knowing that God will hold the church accountable for his sins and/or doctrinal error (I Timothy 5:22). The church must also be willing and able to supervise and care for the missionary, to remove him from the field if he proves to be unqualified, and to practice church discipline in matters of unrepentant sin.
- The Reputation of the Church and its Pastors/Elders. In Proverbs 27:2, we read, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.” Most of HeartCry’s expansion on the mission field is now the result of trusted churches and elders recommending others that they have known for many years and with whom they have ample fellowship. Over a period of more than three decades, we have developed a network of trusted pastors and churches throughout the world whose recommendations have proven to be both biblical and beneficial to the expansion of the gospel.
If, after extensive dialogue and exploratory visits, it is clear both to HeartCry and to the indigenous church that we should labor together, then HeartCry works with the elders to map out a strategy for sending missionaries to the field. This includes determining the missionaries’ financial support so that they and their families might live with dignity among their own people. Our partnership with a church will always begin with only a few missionaries and a great deal of caution. If the requirements of doctrinal and ethical faithfulness, accountability, and transparency are met, then we proceed with greater expansion as the Lord raises up qualified laborers.
HeartCry affirms the autonomy of each local church and recognizes that it has no formal biblical authority over the indigenous churches with which it works. However, HeartCry does reserve the right to withdraw fellowship and cease association with any church or missionary who has compromised either theologically or ethically. Thus, the nature of the accountability which exists between HeartCry and the indigenous church does not go beyond the fundamental accountability that all brothers and sisters in Christ have with one another.
It might be argued that this strategy is too restrictive and slow. Nevertheless, we believe that it is the only way to support indigenous missionaries while maintaining biblical accountability. It might also be asked, “What about the areas of the world where there are no strong indigenous churches with which we may partner?” In such a case, we believe that we must send cross-cultural missionaries from churches that are biblically mature—men and women who have proven themselves qualified for the field and whom their elders and churches can hold accountable.