Churches and mission agencies in the UK are taking an axe to former thinking on world mission strategy. They are saying that our approach must change if the UK is to make its best impact on world evangelisation. This is backed by the evidence of missiologists and has found resonance in local UK churches conscious that their resources and personnel could be better deployed and supported.
The opinion that old world missions thinking needs to be pole-axed, has been triggered by key changes that we looked at last month:
- Western nations such as Britain are no longer the prime movers in world mission: the church is now stronger in parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America, and they are at the spearhead of world evangelisation.
- The daunting task of reaching the two billion people who have no Christian community within their cultural group has switched the focus of many mission workers.
- UK mission agencies are adapting to take account of these changes.
- UK churches are recognising that we are all 'called' to mission as disciples of Jesus.
This demolition of old missions thinking and the transplanting of ideas that are stimulating new growth is gathering pace. However these changes have not taken root everywhere. But as Victor Hugo, the writer of Les Miserables said: "An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come." And we might add, "especially when the idea has the Spirit's backing".
Here are six common signs to identify if this new thinking is influencing your church. How many of these are evident in the missions strategy of you and your church?
1. You take initiative in mission
You know that mission isn't 'what missionaries do' or even 'what we pay the pastor to do', but involves everyone. "We have got hung up over geography," suggests Eddie Arthur who served for 12 years with Wycliffe Bible Translators in the Ivory Coast. "We have emphasised the 'go' in Matthew 28:18 - 'Go and make disciples of all nations… 'when actually the idea is 'as you go' - and the emphasis of the verse is on 'make disciples'." You know that Christ calls all believers to take his message wherever they go: stacking shelves in a High Street Woolworths, or lecturing on theology in West Africa. That said, you and your church are very aware of your role in sending some of members to cross-cultural contexts in the UK and overseas. You make sure that presentations and talks on mission are high quality and integrated into the normal life of the church. You invite mission agency representatives for specific reasons and not to because you think you ought to. Your church leadership looks to see how the Lord of the church wants to utilise his people. They ask: "Are there people God may call from mission work in the UK (through their witness in their day job, or leisure pursuit) to another part of the world?" Just as the church in Antioch set apart Paul and Barnabas to the work of mission, you are asking the Spirit what he wants done.
Questions to consider:
- Does your church value every member's mission potential?
- Which church members could you bring together to brainstorm taking more initiative in mission?
- Who is there who might be equipped to serve in a cross-cultural context if only they were given the push?
2. You actively care about the world on your doorstep
Your church has done its homework and knows the people groups in your neighbourhood. You figure that it makes little sense to send people across the world if you neglect the people God has sent to you. Within the UK there are about 150,000 Arabs, over 12,000 Japanese, 22,000 Vietnamese, around 6,000 Kurds, 200,000 Greeks and Italians. 'South Asia Concern', a Christian mission to Asians, calculates that there are around 1.5 million south Asians in Britain.
One hundred years ago, someone from your church would have said a tearful goodbye to their family and boarded a steam ship to immerse themselves in the culture and language of such peoples to share the Gospel. Some lost family members and some their own lives for the cause. Yet you know it would take just 10 minutes to invite them around for a drink.
John Martin, head of Communications at CMS (Church Mission Society), a UK-based mission agency working in partnership with churches in 26 countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Europe tells Christianity: "We believe that after over 200 years of sending mission partners overseas, it is time to put a healthy proportion of our energy back to the people who live in the UK of this nation, especially as the countries to which we sent workers are now see us as a 'mission field'!"
Sometimes the world is on our doorstep for a shorter time. In 2002/3, there were 275,275 international students in UK Higher Education. Friends International, a Christian mission who work with international students in over 30 locations, suggest that in total there are over one million international students in the UK at any one time. Many come from areas with little chance of encountering Christianity; the highest sending countries include 35,000 from China, 12,500 from India, 11,800 from Malaysia, 6300 from Japan, 5,500 from Taiwan. Top senders from Europe includes Greece, Ireland and Germany, France and Spain.
Your church realises that it makes eminent sense to support work amongst ethnic peoples and students within the UK as part of its mission strategy.
Questions to consider
- Do you know the ethnic make up of your neighbourhood?
- How could you support cross-cultural mission locally with money or personnel?
3. You are not racist in your mission support
You look at the way God is using Christians worldwide and ask how your church's money, personnel and prayers best be used? You are aware that many believers in other countries could do the job better with our financial help. You have seen the figures, which, depending on definitions, suggest that the West has 20%-30% of the Christians, but 70-80% of the wealth. You sympathise with K.P. Yohannan an Indian who founded Gospel for Asia (GFA) believing that reaching the unreached and various cultural sub groups in India was best achieved by indigenous peoples. He writes: 'When Asians share Christ with other Asians in a culturally acceptable way, the results are startling. One native missionary we support in northwest India, Jager, now has evangelised 60 villages and established 30 churches in a difficult area of the Punjab.'
GFA support some 14,000 evangelists, more are ready to serve but are close to the breadline and have to work to survive. Deciding to give to indigenous peoples is not an easy call, churches can find it hard enough to find support for people they do know, and there are real fears that indigenous people can become dependent on outside help. But you realise that with two billion people without a Christian community who can communicate with them, it is something of a luxury to be arguing about dependency! How would we feel if the British church was too poor to employ workers and was flooded by overseas mission workers who didn't speak English well or know the nuances of British culture? Imagine if J John had no financial support, Nicky Gumbel had to operate as a barrister in the city, Jeff Lucas was writing for Penguin books, and Steve Chalke as a presenter for the BBC? Are we being 'racist' if we refuse to support indigenous workers, when we would gladly support a Brit to go and do what they can do better? For example Wycliffe Bible Translators are using an increasing proportion of local people: Geoff Knott, executive director at Wycliffe Bible Translators says: "In the last three years, 40% of all new project starts are led by people indigenous to the country they work in. In addition, our 'members' work with many people from local churches and local community, equipping them to do the work. Given nearly 1,300 languages/projects underway, these would number several thousand local people - I would say well over 10,000.Many of these are already making huge sacrifices, and our mission would undoubtedly be accelerated if we could support more of these talented nationals.
One approach used by Gold Hill Baptist Church, Buckinghamshire, which has around 20 mission partners, is to give £1,000 'parcels' to their missionaries from the UK, to be used to fund indigenous workers. This gives the sending church a lot of confidence and accountability about how that money is used, and also 'builds up' the UK missionary by showing support for their work. The support needed for an indigenous worker can be as little as £500 a year (see www.gfa.org), and in reality such workers with GFA often only need funding for a few years before churches they start are able to fund them. Financial support, appropriately administered, without too many paternalistic 'strings attached', can have a very big impact.
The principle of supporting indigenous work is not just about money, but attitude. Gerard Kelly, part of the Spring Harvest Leadership Team, who heads up Bless Network tells Christianity: "We must abandon imperialistic mind sets. In our work in Europe we aim to see how we can 'bless' what God is doing. Our motto for the 200 or so who work with us in short-term mission is: 'take something with you and bring something back'. We give, but we expect to learn from those we serve." Kelly, who will move to be senior pastor of Crossroads International Church (an English speaking church of 1200 in Amsterdam) in September, believes this philosophy has implications for long-term evangelism. "The attrition rate among church planters in France is the highest of anywhere in the world, primarily because so many are overseas workers, " adds Kelly. "We are too keen to insist on 'our workers'!. At the Bless Network, we aim to talent spot the French people God is calling as apostolic leaders and invest in them. Churches planted by indigenous workers tend to last."
Questions to consider
- Are you too racist to support an indigenous worker?
- What objections would you have to financing a worker you didn't know?
4. You give priority to the needs of particular people groups
With two billion having no chance of hearing a verbal explanation of the Gospel, you recognise that Britons are still needed to go where no missionary has gone before, some in tent making ministries, some using business skills, some in relief and development, some as solely evangelists. Duncan Stott is the elder in charge of 'Members in mission' at Gold Hill Baptist Church. He tells Christianity: "Firstly we prioritise ministries that are focused on needy people groups (i.e. unreached, poorly reached or gateway peoples) or on national churches where a particular western input can be highly effective. Secondly the proposed ministry must be the most effective way of addressing the need with the gifts available. We require both these characteristics to be affirmed, together with a conviction of the Spirit's guidance, for us to go ahead and formally support that work."
You may be praying for particular peoples via the 'adopt a people' programme (www.adoptapeople.com or www.wycliffe.org.uk ) or support a mission agency that ministers to the many 'unreached' peoples. You may be one of the 3,000 who receive GFA's news in the UK, or support a radio ministry that can reach where missionaries cannot easily go; SAT-7 provide programmes for believers in the Middle East and North Africa in the Arab World, but gain potential access to unbelieving homes too; Feba's listeners include Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists in the unreached people groups.
Questions to consider:
- Is it time that your church monitored where people go more closely?
- How can you support those who have a ministry to these people?
5. You maximise any strategic advantages God gives.
You look at the map and realise that whatever your view of the benefits or otherwise of the UK's involvement in the EU, the Gospel opportunities are immense. "The UK is by far the biggest church in Europe, "says Richard Tiplady (ECM (European Christian Mission)'s national director. "One in three of the evangelicals in Europe are based in the UK." Twenty-two countries in Europe have less than 1% of the population as evangelicals; 11 countries have less than 0.2% evangelicals. Although parts of Europe are technically 'reached' the antipathy towards the established church means they are as good as 'unreached'. You realise that the freedom of movement within Europe is a God given opportunity to communicate and that the UK has a particular responsibility to use its strategic location to help churches in Europe meet the particular mission challenges of post Christendom. After all a Londoner is as close to Paris as Newcastle and by train (Eurostar) half an hour quicker at just over two and half hours! Easy Jet and Ryan Air make many places in Europe relatively cheap to get to. ECM has found churches wanting to work in partnership with them to investigate involvement, or develop a link with a church in Europe. Walsall Independent Evangelical Church support Delyth Sutton, a worker in Pozoblanco, Spain who is engaged in church planting and drug rehabilitation work. The ministry inckudes an organic olive tree business which provides activity and income to finance the project and occupy those coming off of drugs. Every January a team from the church help with the olive harvest. Delyth is seen as their worker in Spain, not merely 'ECM's missionary', which suits everyone just fine.
But even if you have no particular interest in Europe you make the most of existing ties with mission partners, visiting, providing practical help, mission teams and making their concerns you own. As Eddie Arthur puts it: "A mission partner represents the church's mission in the area they are sent to, so if a mission partner is in say southern Nigeria, and working out how to reach into muslim-strong northern Nigeria you'd better believe that is your task too!" says Arthur.
Questions to consider:
- How can you strengthen links with existing mission partners?
- How could you use the proximity to Europe to positive advantage? Through business contacts? Holidays?
6. You make the changes you know you need to
By now you will know the extent to which you and your church are infected by the idea, 'our approach to world mission must change'. If you fear you don't match up, remember that most of those who have bought into the idea had to break out of old routines and mindsets once. Remember too that it took the persecution of Acts 8, for the early apostles to actually do what Jesus said they should do in Acts 2! And if you feel overwhelmed by the options remember the words of Tiplady: "Mission is not about you doing everything, but doing what you do well."
But if the time for the new idea really has come, there really is no going back. It was Bryan Knell, director of Church relations at Global Connections who said: "We may well upset some people. We may seem for a while to be going backwards, but if we persist we could, in time, create a new way of relating to the world in our churches which would release resources of people and money from the UK that we have never seen before."
What's stopping you?
To read the Andy peck's first article on this theme published in Christianity, June, go to archives on this website.
- www.adoptapeople.com Pray for and support an unreached people group.
- http://bgc.gospelcom.net/emis/emqpg.htm The Evangelical Missions Quarterly - mostly for mission experts, some articles available to be read online.
- www.christianvocations.org Gives advice and job opportunities.
- www.friendsinternational.org.uk The website of the mission to international students, shows locations of work across the UK and suggests ways you and your church can get involved.
- www.gfa.org For information on supporting indigenous missionaries. The book 'Revolutions in World Missions' is available on request.
- www.globalconnections.co.uk Excellent stats and articles and advice. For resources and book ideas go to the educational link.
- www.gmi.org/ow/ Website of Operation World, the 'must have' book on stats on world mission produced by WEC International.
- www.joshuaproject.net Fascinating site crammed full of stats on unreached peoples that will blow your mind.
- www.missionresources.com Excellent directory leading to fascinating sites
- www.oscar.org.uk The UK information for world mission - stats and links to other sites.
- www.postmission.com website for online discussion for the postmodern mission community.
- www.redcliffe.org Click on 'Encounters' an online mission magazine with thoughtful articles. www.worldchristiandatabase.org/wcd/Basic data, US based site.
- www.wycliffe.org.uk Provides information, resources and details of Bible translation work worldwide, including how you pray for particular people groups
- Connect 2 - Churches going Global - Tim Jeffrey Paternoster Press (available from Global Connections £6 in p&p) Case studies of churches that have taken the plunge into direct involvement in Global Mission.
- Missions in the Third Millennium - Stan Guthrie Paternoster Press 1842270427 £8.99 Charts 21 trends—both positive and negative—with continuing significance for the Great Commission community in the 21st century
- Missions Now - Trevor Gregory Authentic Lifestyle 1850785465 £7.99 An easy-to-read guide for newcomers to mission.
- Postmission: world mission by a postmodern generation - edited by Richard Tiplady Paternoster Press 1842271652 £8.99 Gen-Xers give an openhearted look at world mission and changes that are needed to optimise their continued involvement.
- God's Mission and Ours - The Challenge of Telling the Nationsedited by P.T. O'Brien (CMS/ The Good Book Company).0947316043 £5 Nine brief chapters which outline the basic understanding of mission and our involvement with it.