Hugh D. Brown Lectures 2024
by Debbie Colvin
This years’ Hugh D. Brown Lecture was taken by Ryan Robertson, President of Reaching and Teaching Ministries International. Ryan has visited the College on a couple of occasions to teach part of the MA in Missions’ module, making him familiar with the context of his listeners.
The title of the lecture was Global Missions and the Local Church.
From the start of the online lecture, Ryan’s commitment to both the local church and mission was evident. He is an engaging communicator, approaching the subject with a firm grasp of biblical principles and historical trends in mission.
In his first lecture, Ryan focused on the history of mission which is necessary to give perspective and help us avoid repeating mistakes made in the past. For example, he discussed the strengths and weaknesses of William Carey’s and Amy Carmichael’s approach to their pioneering missionary work. While commending their significant contributions to the task of mission, he highlighted the fact that engagement with their local churches was not a priority in their missionary service. While this is undoubtedly the case, we need to remember that the missionaries and their local churches were products of their time. Neither valued the role of the other in that era. However, in hindsight, we are now aware that lack of engagement with the local church is not good for mission or for the local church.
Ryan also critiqued the Volunteer Movement of the 19th and 20th centuries which reinforced the trend of individuals joining agencies or founding new ones thereby expanding mission with minimum reference to the involvement of the local church. He went on to highlight missionary trends in the 20th Century such as the focus on unreached people groups which resulted in prioritizing evangelism over other ministries of the church and led to disputes over the definitions of ‘unreached’ and ‘people-group’.
In the second lecture, the statement that stood out was that ‘to be biblical is to be church-centred in our mission’. Ryan went on to unpack the implications of this by affirming that the local church is the gospel made visible and is the engine for mission. It is the local church which baptises and disciples the believer and sends them into God’s mission (Matt. 28:18–20). We must not ‘hijack’ God’s intended methodology for mission by circumventing the local church. The local church must be intentional in identifying those who have the desire to be involved in mission. Their gifting and suitability for mission must be affirmed by their local church. Ryan cited the example of Paul in Acts 13 as a model. God used the ten years between his conversion and being sent by the church in Antioch to prepare him for the task. Paul and Barnabas were two of the five named elders therefore the church should feel the loss when they leave. This, however, gives others the opportunity to step up and fill the gaps.
There was an acknowledgement that the expertise of mission agencies is still vital because they can do some things the local church is not equipped to do. Ryan understood the need for their skills in supporting missionaries in areas such as language-learning, cultural orientation, security, visa-processing, housing on the ‘field’ and children’s education. Ryan’s focus on the value of the local church was also evident in his belief that the missionary should be a member of the local church in their country of service.
Ryan’s lectures helped us focus on the responsibilities and value of the local church in mission. Ryan has a high view of the church’s role as the source and sponsor of God’s mission, helping to correct our over-emphasis on the role of individuals and agencies in the task of mission.