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Fundamentals of Navigator Missions

Summary: This article traces our cross-cultural experience in developing our missions program from the aftermath of our 1972 Global Strategy until the introduction of our Fundamentals of Navigator Missions in 1998. It should be read alongside the other articles listed at the end. Occasional quotations from other sources are sprinkled throughout the article. The process described in this paper culminates with the IET publication, in 2016, of Navigating Cross-Cultural Missions, which is currently being used across our Worldwide Partnership.


Navigator Missions in the 1970s and 1980s
Developments in the 1990s
International Team’s Work on a Philosophy of Missions
Synthesizing a Theology of Missions
Project Completion, 1999

God is a fountain of sending love. This is the deepest source of missions. It is impossible to penetrate deeper; there is missions because God loves people.
David Bosch

Navigator Missions in the 1970s and 1980s

After the setting aside of Waldron Scott’s “Strategy for the 70s” in 1974, we continued with a system of allocating new missionaries but without adequate overarching principles or guidelines on how to prioritize our missions thrust.

The early 1970s had seen very high rates of sending, so much so that we placed a moratorium on entering new countries for three years ending in 1977. As many missionaries returned home prematurely, we were absorbing the painful lesson that sending the ungifted/unprepared will lead to frustration, low morale, and a sense of failure. Many of our staff were not transculturally fluent. Also, we had to come to terms with the fact that the American evangelical culture had unique capabilities and that we could not expect “streams” of missionaries from other countries.

The Fundamentals of Our Ministry (FOM) was taking shape in 1976. It brought clarity on our Aim and Essentials for ministry in general, but gave no special attention to cross-cultural requirements.1 It was distributed in two editions: FOM1 in 1978 and FOM2 in 1982. It was eventually superseded by the Scriptural Roots of our Ministry (SRM) from 1990 onward. (See separate articles on the FOM and the SRM.)

This article explores the more restricted focus of cross-cultural missions, for which we eventually crystalized our practices in the Fundamentals of Navigator Missions (FONM) during 2000.

In 1980, we presented seven strategic global imperatives to our international leadership conference, adding an eighth later in the year. Imperative V states: “We must improve our selection, orientation and placement of missionaries in obedience to our Lord’s command to go to every nation.”

This flowed out of our experience during the 1970s in which 136 Reps were sent but seventy returned, so that our missionary force moved from 39 percent of all Reps in 1969 to 31 percent in 1979.2 Poor selection, as stated above, was the major cause of wastage; the outgoing class of 1972 was the least durable.

1981 began well, with the launch of our “Global Atlas for Prayer” and a consultation on global planning in Penang, Malaysia. We developed some sending and receiving priorities for the twelve ethno-religious blocs3 into which we had recently divided the world. Rising interest in contextualization contributed, in 1982, to our consultation on special groups in Penang.

It became clear during the 1980s that some of our “established” countries were still struggling to send any new missionaries. As a result, Alan Andrews was commissioned to lead our external sending project. He published his report in August 1987. It did not receive adequate attention, partly because of the energy being directed into the development of the Scriptural Roots of Our Ministry, with a launch forum taking place in April 1989 in the USA. The SRM did (and does) contain a section V on “God’s Pursuit of the Nations.” The focus: How does the Gospel spread among the nations and what is required of us if we are to accompany God in His pursuit?

Developments in the 1990s

In 1990, arising from the launch of our Enabling Global Society,4 we experimented with resource exchanges in which senders and receivers from different parts of the world met to exchange needs and contributions. The premise of these exchanges was that, while traditional Western senders had more tangible resources to supply, yet various countries in the global South could bring to the table precious and biblical intangibles such as perseverance, sacrificial living, and passionate prayer.

In 1992, we developed eight strategic international directions of which several addressed aspects of cross-cultural missions. The International Team,5 meeting for the first time, acknowledged “a collective responsibility to make progress in these areas.”

In the early 1990s, the scope and variety of Nav cross-cultural initiatives accelerated. In part, this was because of the freedom created by becoming a Global Society. More and more countries and teams were sending missionaries, yet those already working in “receiving countries” were not always adequately consulted. Another factor was the pioneering energy of some senior missionaries who had completed their original contributions and were scanning the horizon for new opportunities.

Historical Trends Leading to the 1990s

Before we follow the evolution of our thinking on missions from 1993 onwards, through the medium of our International Team and council, it is instructive to see the arc of our progress in missions since the 1950s. Fourteen trends:

  • From Americans toward teams of many nationalities
  • From uniform solutions toward contextualized approaches
  • From individualism toward giftedness in community
  • From the center to the periphery
  • From countries to nations
  • From proclamation only toward truth-in-relationships and a deeper understanding of the Gospel
  • From one toward many delivery vehicles
  • From institutional toward movement orientation
  • From the churched toward the unchurched
  • From hierarchical decision-making linkages towards specialized affinity networks
  • From tentmaking to kingdom or missional enterprises
  • From mainly bounded to mainly centered sets, in missions
  • From isolated proof texts to the narrative arc of the Scriptures
  • From the most responsive to the least reached peoples6
Conference in Malaysia, 1993

In February 1993, the International Team met in Malaysia. How was our Global Society doing, in the five years since we committed to this radically different way of relating internationally? The key word here was “internationally” because it had never been our intent to pressure countries to adopt the principles of our Society in their own national structures.

This was only the second meeting of the new team which had been designed to promote in-depth discussion among our continental leaders and the IET, as a smaller group than the fluid and somewhat unwieldy International Council.

The team looked at six case studies of how our Global Society had been working:

  • Central America: two identities7
  • Cote d’Ivoire: two thrusts
  • Niger: a double launch
  • Eurasia: various initiatives
  • Romania: perpetuating the vision
  • The CoMission: and existing ministries

These studies helped us clarify the need for consultation, sensitivity, and mutual respect.

We were experiencing several concerns:8

  • Indiscriminate recruiting and sending
  • Multiple Nav presences but with differing modes of ministry, such as in Vietnam
  • Emergence of new vehicles that gave us access to places such as Central Europe and Southeast Asia, which embodied new (for us) understandings of ministry

Among these case studies, The CoMission generated the most debate. It was a partnership of many agencies prompted by the extraordinary spiritual openings exposed by the Soviet Union in 1991. The US Navigators joined this partnership in April 1992. (See separate article, “The CoMission.”) The International Team was conscious of the immensity and implications of this American initiative and thus the team took time to listen to a briefing from Terry Taylor. Resultant observations included:

  • We must be sensitive to the unusual leading of the Spirit
  • We must not intrude on one another’s faith
  • Fragile and vulnerable ministries must be protected
  • Conflict comes in the clash of cultures and national values
  • Orientation to the receivers should be primary
  • Our goal is to be partners, not to accommodate one another
  • Consultation is vital, however strong the impulse to move ahead

We realized that for the team to “judge” national initiatives, such as The CoMission, that were already in progress would undermine the principles of our Global Society. Once an initiative had been launched, we should try to act supportively. Terry Taylor added, helpfully, that his vision was not The CoMission itself but the potential that it offered for multiplying laborers, through small groups.

Instructed by these case studies, the team formulated some guidelines for “Launching New Cross-Cultural Initiatives,” from a desire to encourage new initiatives while respecting existing ministries. These guidelines had as their basis the need to strengthen trust and to defer to one another in love. They also recognized that “the way a ministry is birthed and led has long-range implications on how it matures and on its ability to continue influencing a culture redemptively.”9

International Team’s Work on a Philosophy of Missions

When the International Team met a year later, in Denver, they experienced a more difficult discussion10 on our philosophy of missions. In addition to some continuing concerns on The CoMission, there was a perception that too strong a voice was being given to those in the frontiers. Having examined as many as seven models of how Navigators “do” missions,11 we generated some emphases and concerns from surveying our current realities. The concerns included:

  • Dilution of our vision
  • Syncretism
  • Planting ministries/churches instead of the Gospel
  • Doing missions out of “power”
  • Embracing less than the fullness of the Gospel

However, there were still divergent viewpoints, even among the team.12 Clearly, we needed to establish the limits of our diversity around our common aim. The proliferation of sending initiatives continued and, in several countries, contrasting visions of what it meant to have a Navigator ministry were encountering one another.

In Vietnam, for example, there were separate ministries by Koreans, Singaporeans, Filipinos, as well as the long-established initiative by a partner organization (name withheld for security reasons). Each expression had resident staff.13

Aldo Berndt’s comment was that unless we can accept the validity of various initiatives, guidelines will not help. . . . At the Jerusalem Council, guidelines were useful after the gift of unity from the Spirit.

The team met again in May 1995. This time, Jim Petersen led our discussion, working with a cluster group of Rinus Baljeu, Terry Taylor, and Mike Treneer. He prefaced the discussion by observing that emotions ran high on this subject, yet it was “perhaps the single most important issue we face as an international team at this time.” Can we, should we, have a common philosophy of missions?

“All theologies have contexts, interests, relationships of power, special concerns—and to pretend that this is not the case is to be blind” (Robert Schreiter, Constructing Local Theologies).

We proceeded from the purposes of God to the particulars of our recent experience. Though the Global Society had unleashed tremendous energy into the nations, we now had to face up to and manage the fallout.14

Various examples were probed:

  • Niger: Two ministries had begun, one from Ghana among the rural poor, the other from Nigeria among the urban educated and relatively wealthy.
  • In South Africa, our target was young black professionals. Other Navigators wanted very much to launch ministries to other groups. These expressions would collide.
  • Multinational teams had led to tensions in Kazakhstan, Taiwan, Tanzania, Nepal.

We were struggling with a tension between our desire that the Gospel be mobile and the implications of multiple thrusts that might only clash several years after launch.

Jerry White commented that, as in raising a family, setting parameters only contained the problem; but, more deeply, we needed to influence thinking.

Humility would be required. Aldo Berndt spoke of the need to walk by the Spirit and Alan Andrews commented that we could “work it all out” and still be at war with one another.

The SRM process had provided a healthy backdrop for us as leaders.15 There was a new climate. In Gert Doornenbal’s words, “We have exorcized the authoritarian ghosts of the past.” Al Bussard added that all theologies are context-specific. The same would doubtless be true for a philosophy of missions. Therefore, we need to stay broad and we need to stay in touch with our current grassroots questions.

National teams had already developed their own internal sphere statements, through the SRM process. Consequently, we did not want to disturb our grassroots people by expecting them to address the implications of new cross-cultural initiatives. A philosophy of missions would be vitally important but only drawn upon selectively.

There was general agreement that the team, and especially the IET, needed to become more proactive. Our business is developing people. Our asset is a commitment to help people succeed, not the paper definitions that we may carry with us.

Following the team in May 1995, our International Council16 met and endorsed the need for a philosophy of missions. Jim Petersen added to the precipitating factors the surge in both lay and short-term service under the banner of The Navigators. Recognizing that our vision did not prescribe a uniform strategy, we wanted to keep freedom for initiatives as a high value yet to season it with lavish communications and mutual deference. Given that this council had forty-four participants of seventeen nationalities, which was somewhat unwieldy, much of their constructive work was done in groups.

Since none of us can read the Scriptures without cultural blinders of some sort, the great advantage, the crowning excitement which our own era of church history has over all others, is the possibility that we may be able to read them together (Andrew Walls, The Missionary Movement in Christian History).

Those participating in the International Council agreed to send Jim Petersen their personal philosophies of missions with the assumptions and principles that drove their approaches to ministry. He would work with others to distill a Nav philosophy of missions that comprised three elements:

  • Vision/Mission
  • Theology
  • Assumptions and Principles

Philosophies of missions were duly supplied by as many as thirty-two contributors of thirteen nationalities. There was certainly no shortage of enthusiasm. Petersen and McGilchrist grouped the responses into eight sections. Thus:

  • The Character of God
  • The Kingdom of God
  • The Purposes of God
  • The Means that God Uses
  • The People of God
  • Culture and Context
  • The Missionary Task
  • The Navigator Vision and Calling

These naturally revealed the influence of the SRM.17 Although arranged in a coherent framework, with a brief introduction to each section, this was still an unedited compilation of the wisdom of our leaders in missions rather than a finished philosophy. The compilers added nothing that could not be found among the thirty-two contributions and, inevitably, the resulting document was uneven. Unsurprisingly, The “Missionary Task” section attracted the most comments (for Navigators are practical people).

The compilers then invited comments on this outline or synthesis: Twelve leaders responded, and we took all of this to our International Team in May of 1996 in Budapest, producing for critique an abridged philosophy of missions. The team worked extensively on missions and generated18 what was humorously dubbed the “mother of all lists”:

  • Twenty-four things that we already are or do in missions
  • Twenty things that we still want to become or to do in missions
  • Eight things that we do not fully understand in missions

These last were areas in which we recognized our limited understanding. While hardly exhaustive, they revealed some vital concerns:

  1. How “church” is the source of missions
  2. Whether and how we are to be primarily apostolic
  3. Developing Christian communities characterized by biblical discipleship, grace, truth, transparency in relationships and discipline
  4. Implications of operating in separate streams
  5. The nature and priority of the poor and vulnerable, for us
  6. Ourselves as “Church”: Were we laity or clergy or clergy trying to be laity?
  7. How to sow broadly, yet carry the Gospel through relationships
  8. Understanding the powers and systems and principles of this world

Like many such lists, these bald sentences mask considerable variations that are context-dependent. For example, experiencing the “powers and systems” was a daily reality in much of the global South, whereas the nature of “Church” was more of a focus in countries whose heritage included the Reformation or, conversely, Catholic dominance. Our negotiation of “separate streams” was much helped a few years later by the design of the Four Quadrants.19

To provide context to our ongoing exploration, we may note that, in 1996, 30 percent of our staff were engaged in missions. There were 277 in home missions and 826 in foreign missions. Total 1103 out of 3635 staff. This definition understands missions as cross-cultural ministry to a different ethnic people. We recognized that missions could also take place within the same ethnic people, but to a different sociological people group, especially to a different religion or caste or socioeconomic group. However, we did not attempt to keep track of such ministry because the number of people groups is endless.

We then dreamed about our future, as a Great Commission agency, as regards how we wished to develop and grow and increase our obedience to God’s purposes. We agreed that the next stages in our project should lead to:

  • A clarified theology of Nav missions
  • Tasks in pioneering a Nav ministry

Since theology springs out of practical situations, it is therefore occasional and local in character. . . . Theology is about testing your actions by Scripture (Andrew Walls).

We changed the title of the project to Fundamentals of Navigator Missions (FONM). Subsequently, Neil G. was chosen as project engineer.

Four intended outcomes for the FONM project were laid before our International Council in April 1997:

  • With heavy pressures on us from external trends in the world and in missiology,20 deeper biblical convictions regarding our calling to the nations.
  • With increasing diversity of approaches and some blurring of our focus and values, consensus on what it takes to be a cross-cultural Navigator.
  • With 1,100 staff missionaries of forty nationalities, better linkages and more effective partnership.
  • With many new missionaries who are only loosely connected to our history and calling, stronger emphasis upon good practice: How we discharge our missionary task well.

Synthesizing a Theology of Missions

Meanwhile, work continued21 on synthesizing the 1996 contributions and responses into an embryonic but organized theology of missions. The result was submitted to our International Council in April 1997.22 When compared to the contributions as collected above, one could see that additional attention was given to:

  • The Nature of Man
  • Rebellion and Reconciliation
  • The Message of the Gospel
  • Apostolic and Local Expressions

These are themes that were largely assumed by the field contributors, who had addressed the practical aspects arising from our missionary experience. Now, we had a more robust and complete theology. Would it shape our obedience to God’s purposes? Probably not, though it was firmly rooted in the Scriptures. Participants raised two concerns: Is not “theology” too alarming a term23 and will this document not pull us back towards centralized control of how we do missions? In response, the compilers said that the document was intended to provide biblical tracks for grassroots energy, not to determine methods. Guidance more than definition, and guidance that leads explicitly to the Scriptures. On the other hand, they acknowledged that it is not possible to write a transcultural theology. Instead, they had tried to offer a context in which we can frame and understand ourselves. They hoped, through such a theology, to:

  • Stimulate reflection and biblical analysis
  • Offer encouragement and stimulus
  • Create a restraint for those who need it

The final section, “To What End,” was left open.24

Parenthetically, we had not drawn together our thinking on missions since the set of papers produced fifteen years previously for our consultation on special groups.

The council’s attention was given rather to analyzing and endorsing the “four commitments” that were placed before them, accompanying the theology. These commitments, designed to capture the heart of what God had been saying to us through the SRM and to articulate what we believed was our particular role in the Body of Christ, were distilled from the eight common themes that had emerged during the SRM process:

  1. Obedient to Christ the Truth
  2. Gripped by the Gospel
  3. Called by Christ to the Nations
  4. Committed to Generations

In our earlier discussions on our Global Society, we had noted a tendency in working with various countries to be “nice rather than clear.” These commitments would give us a tool for being clear, and for being united as international leaders.

A theologian is born by living . . . not by thinking, reading, or speculating” (Martin Luther, Table Talk).

The Meaning of the Term “Apostle”

Around 1997, some tensions increased around the term “apostle” and the apostolic function: Twenty-eight of the thirty-nine persons at the council attended an optional evening investigation of the New Testament evidence. Was apostleship a gift or a calling or a function? Treneer argued that we were using the term apostolic in a wider sense than the New Testament and that our draft “Theology of Missions” (e.g. page 45) should acknowledge this. Nor was “apostolic team” desirable, because “apostolic” is only used four times in the New Testament. It would be acceptable that it be used locally, but not in our formal theology. Jim Chew added that it would be misleading in Asia. Dialogue on the New Testament terms and evidence continued for several years, influential protagonists often being Petersen and Treneer.

Neil G. also brought before the council a proposed outline of missionary tasks which proved to be very practical in clarifying the division of labor between “senders” and “receivers.”

International Team Meeting in Hungary

When the team met the following year in Hungary,25 it was against a darkening context. On our agenda were plateaus in partnering countries and the difficulties experienced in pursuing community ministry in Western countries. This gave urgency to the FONM project. Neil G. led us into six draft Bible studies which were welcomed and would be edited for wide distribution:

  • The Nations
  • The Mobile Function of the Church
  • Interdependence Between Mobile and Local
  • The Gospel
  • The Place of the Local in Missions
  • The Promises of God and Spiritual Generations

Neil explained that this series focused on how ministries develop and how they should relate to each other as we take the Gospel to the nations. It was understood that the scope of the FONM was limited to the process of missions in contrast to the soul of missions.26

Project Completion, 1999

The FONM project was successfully concluded at the end of 1999 and the outcomes were published in a resource booklet in 2000. After setting out the four SRM themes and our four international commitments, this contained the six studies with an introduction and the parameters for a fruitful discussion on “To What End?” The practical outline of missionary tasks, which Neil had steered to a fruitful conclusion, followed. It was frequently drawn upon during the ensuing years. The booklet ended with a resource compendium of materials found useful by our field missionaries.

What had happened to the “Theology of Navigator Missions”? After the 1997 discussion, resulting in numerous observations, the project team had produced a second draft but explained that they were not planning to give it a general distribution. This was for several reasons:

  • Distributing a global document would give too much force to the theology. Navigators like to avoid such position papers.
  • In a real sense, all theologies are local. That is, they respond to the issues that are uppermost in a particular time or place. Thus, any single statement is limited.
  • The other materials in the resource booklet are sufficient to carry forward and influence the practice of missions within The Navigators, especially when aligned with the teaching and example of our leaders.

Clearly, the Fundamentals of Navigator Missions helped us stay on track and collaborate in advancing the Gospel during a turbulent period in which we had been able to agree on studies and tasks but still lacked the guidance from the Lord that became The Core (our Navigator Calling, Values, and Vision).

This FONM served us well for at least fifteen years. However, it preceded The Core and it became clear that our experience and biblical insights had progressed to the point where a replacement was desired. Our IET therefore sponsored a new treatment titled Navigating Cross-Cultural Missions,27 which was published in 2016.

By Donald McGilchrist
Word Count: 4860

See also articles on:

The Nations
The Scriptural Roots of our Ministry
Cross-cultural Missions
Travel-Training Ministries
The Allocation of Cross-cultural Missionaries
The CoMission
Several Ministries in One Country: Quadrants
Apostolic Pioneering
Approach to The Core


  1. FOM1 distributed in 1978. FOM2 in 1982 paid more attention to the cultural challenge.
  2. Excludes international HQ. Source: Ministry performance analysis of April 14, 1980.
  3. See article on “Global Planning: 1976 – .
  4. See article on “Our Enabling Global Society.”
  5. Meeting 1: February 1992 in Boca Raton. This International Team (IT) met annually, starting in 1992. It was designed to deepen interaction between the four members of the IET and our eight regional directors. Meanwhile, the expanding International Council (twenty-five participants in 1993, forty-four in 1995), began to meet only every second year. The IT purposed to work together as senior leaders within our partnership, whereas the IC was designed to connect, stimulate, increase ownership widely.
  6. This should be interpreted with care. More precisely, our focus moved from “sending countries” to needy areas such as those within the frame of the 10/40 Window, for which see my main article on “Cross-Cultural Missions.” We did not sequence our energies, starting from the least reached, though this was a common evangelical approach in the 1990s.
  7. In El Salvador, we found that evangelical churches had registered The Navigators as purveyors of The 2:7 Series and thus objected when Navigator missionaries from Costa Rica arrived. Having chosen not to register our name internationally, we had to work through influencing attitudes of the heart. See also section 11 of February 1994 IT notes.
  8. See Neil G. summary for the IT, dated March 4, 1998, of the years leading up to the FONM.
  9. These guidelines were in use from 1993 onward. However, they were less observed by those fostering pioneering ministries.
  10. Lengthy conversations on the moral failure of a Nav missionary also put pressure on our agenda.
  11. Our general understanding has been that mission is God’s activity in the world, through his people, and that missions is ministry that crosses cultural boundaries into a different ethnic people or sociological people group.
  12. See extensive notes of these discussions on February 13, 1994, in McGilchrist archive FONM 1.
  13. In the 1990s, a separate Korean initiative in Vietnam was led by Peter Hong as the local director of a large clothing factory (350 staff) with a mainly Nav-trained leadership team. Subsequently, David B. and Charlie Ritchie have brought Navigators from these initiatives together, in an informal network.
  14. There were also strong external pressures upon us. Example: A Church for Every People by the year 2000.
  15. By 1996, seventy SRM forums had taken place in at least thirty-nine countries. McGilchrist distilled eight common themes from these many sphere statements. See article on “The Scriptural Roots of Our Ministry.”
  16. May 11-17, 1995 at Glen Eyrie.
  17. “Philosophies of Missions”: seventy-seven pages identifying who had contributed what. February 21, 1996.
  18. This list was prepared on May 11, 1996 and may be found as appendix C of the May 1996 IT notes.
  19. See article on “The Approach to The Core.”
  20. By now, the AD 2000 movement was very visible, the impression it fostered being that every alert missions agency should be working towards engaging unreached peoples (“finishing the task”) by the motivational target of the year 2000. We did not participate, partly for reasons noted in my article on “The Nations” and partly because we had already worked through our “Strategy for the 70s” that aimed at the year 2000.
  21. Neil G. was assisted by Petersen and McGilchrist.
  22. Because of the productivity of the International Team and because the council was becoming unwieldy, the latter now met every second year:1995, 1997, 1999.
  23. If we retained the term “theology,” we would need a preamble to defuse any resistance. Already, it was suggested that we call it “Perspective on Missions.” In the event, the theology became the least used aspect of the FONM project.
  24. In May 1996, the team noted some thoughts on where we might well be in ten years. A relevant resource could also be Jim Petersen’s September 1995 thoughts on “Long-Term Ministry in a Nation” in McGilchrist archive FONM 1. Almost thirty years earlier, Waldron Scott had produced a paper on “What Will The Navigators be Like 25 Years from Now?”
  25. April 1998, Szentendre, fifteen participants plus five guests for FONM.
  26. The soul of missions would also have included studies on such topics as suffering, incarnating the Gospel, the Holy Spirit, prayer, partnering.
  27. Published by the IET in 2016, with an editorial team of Alan Ch’ng, Eddie Broussard, Neil G., and Glenn McMahan.
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