I suggest that many local congregations have not been of great assistance to world mission. Such advances have not taken place because of, or at the instigation of, the local congregation. The support for world mission has come from individual Christians from within the churches, rather than from the churches themselves.
That’s a direct quote from Changing Global Mission Culture in the UK Church which is published by Global Connections in a collection of papers called Churches and Agencies in Partnership. I can’t seem to find a free copy online so I’m going to do some grovelling and see if I can get a copy to send out with my next newsletter because it really is worth reading.
Since joining Wycliffe Bible Translators I’ve discovered that I now spend a lot more time thinking about mission than I ever did when I was part of a church – but that shouldn’t have been the case! If mission is supposed to be a core activity of a Christian community and a key element in every Christian’s life, regardless of the context they are living in, why did I have to join a mission agency before I had the opportunity to think seriously about many of the issues involved.
Why is a mission agency asking more questions about connecting in the local context than the local church that’s already there?
This paper, Changing Global Mission Culture in the UK Church, should probably be essential reading for all church leaders. Even if they disagree with the conclusions they would, at least, have to think through some of the issues that it throws up.
The paper lists the present situation in many churches as
- World mission is a marginalised interest for most and a fervent commitment for a few. Many church members are glad that their church has a world mission programme, but don’t want to have much to do with it themselves. ‘Missionary’ events are poorly supported.
- The world mission mandate is connected to the Great Commission. The unspoken logic is that ‘We do it as a church because Jesus told us to.’
- World mission involvement is limited to what comes from ‘missionary’ people or societies and is disconnected from what comes via the TV screen, from world news or news documentaries.
- World sport, world music, fair trade concerns, environmental calamities, political issues, international business travel and tourist travel are not promoted in church as issues that interest God or impact on our faith.
- Younger church members take little interest in the church’s world mission culture.
- On a weekly basis, world mission is represented by a world map with a few pins stuck in it and a small pile of ‘missionary’ magazines, untouched and rather out of date.
- Even when young people have been on short-term programmes and their involvement has energised and interested other young people, it often has done little to change the culture of the church as a whole in relation to world mission.
From a mission agency point-of-view, the opinion is,
Agencies know that most of the resources of people, prayer and finance that they need come from committed individuals in churches rather than from the church as a whole.
That’s a statement that’s easy to agree with, because, even if we don’t like it we need to acknowledge that it’s true.
The paper, rather than just criticising the current stage of affairs, does gives a few suggestions as to how our thinking and practices should be adjusted
1. Relate to the world biblically (not just Great Commissionally)
To break the unhelpful church culture, we need to take a step back and stop talking about world mission… Instead, we need to help people relate biblically to the world.
2. Break down the home/field barrier
The church needs to recapture its global characteristics. Mission starts at the end of the pew and extends to the ends of the earth.
3. Restructure the local church
Close down anything that marginalises world mission and gives it a specialist only label.
4. Maximise globalisation
In many churches, the only things that relate personal faith to the world have a ‘missionary’ label. That’s the culture that we must change.
I feel awkward with the notion that people in full time Christian work are somehow more special than anyone else. I also feel pretty uncomfortable with the notion that people working overseas require more special attention than those who go to school, or the office or look after the home. I fully appreciate that there are significant challenges for people working in an alien culture, but their work and the importance of their relationships shouldn’t be any more valuable than those who are doing their best to obey God where they are right now.
I believe that the church in the UK has to do some significant thinking when it comes to their values associated with mission, but then so do many mission agencies – the one I work with included. Maybe this paper would be a good starting point.