Rethinking mission 1: Do we really get it?

Another short series of blog posts before we return to Perú next week (and Nugget gets back to blogging) this time looking at a couple of things I believe we need to grapple with if we are to be effective global witnesses. First up, how much the world is changing.

If you live in the UK and don’t travel outside Europe and North America you may not have noticed how much influence China has. Britain generally likes cheap Chinese manufacturing (my phone is Chinese for example) and likes to sell luxury goods to them but that’s about it. But outside Europe and North America a completely different story is being written.

World mission is changing and for UK agencies at least giving is going down and the number of people volunteering for long term service is declining. Christianity is largely a southern hemisphere religion and increasingly Pentecostal. Mission movements are growing all around the world and Europe is one of the continents which are at the mission frontiers.

Although we may be aware things are changing I think we need to go further if we are to really grapple with our future place in the world.

We get that we need to give more space to majority world voices, but we don’t get how far we have to go in this. Otherwise we are asking them to join with our ways of working, our agendas and strategies whilst failing to listen to their insights, vision, plans and prayers. We need to accept that western churches and agencies are no longer in charge. It is not a matter of simply inviting them to join us at the table; we need to let them choose the menu too.

We get that we need to be Biblical, but we don’t get that our ways of reading the Bible are culturally ingrained. What seems to us as sound exegesis, seems like western scholastics to others and what seems to us to be biblical principles sounds to others as using the bible to defend western cultural values. The slogan ‘culture may change but the Bible does not’ fails to recognise that all reading of the Bible is culturally conditioned (and that’s before you get to questions of translation). We need to learn to read the Bible in global community and grapple with the results.

We get that we need to listen, we even recognise that we need to be challenged by what we hear, but we don’t always get that we need to change and be changed as a result. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have our own cultural distinctives or identity, rather it means that they shouldn’t be privileged over other peoples (and because we are so used to ours been the norm it may feel like we are being put down).

Our culture runs deep inside us, often we don’t notice its effect. But consider for example, how often the latest thing in church life is a program or ‘idea’. We learn new songs on the basis of best selling Christian music albums; we use programs for evangelism that are ‘off the shelf’ and available as DVD packages; we go to conferences to learn about the latest thing. And when it comes to mission we like things that make us feel good about ourselves and the contribution we make. So a large child sponsorship program encourages supporters by saying, “When you sponsor a child, you’ll be personally connected with a boy or girl who will know your name and treasure the thought that you care”, we talk of mission to forgotten people (as if God has a memory problem) and ask for donations because, “They make a difference. And they are made possible by people like you.”

We get that the world is changing. We get that mission is changing, but do we really get how much we need to change? Let’s be agents for truly global mission.