Issues in Mission: Elements of A New Paradigm

We need to completely rethink our approach to mission and to supporting mission work from the UK. Tinkering at the edges and solving problems are no longer enough.

I wrote these words a few days ago in a blog post which suggested that we need a completely new paradigm or set of wineskins for overseas’ mission today. In this post, I’d like to suggest three elements for this new paradigm.

We Need Structural Change: this is probably the easiest one to describe, but perhaps the hardest one to do. Surveys show that the number of Christians in the UK is falling; conversely the number of mission agencies is increasing. This isn’t sustainable and at some point in the future we are going to see a lot of agencies closing down in a very short time. Assuming that most of these agencies are doing something useful, this would be a huge shame. The only alternative is to manage the drop in numbers by looking to merge and combine mission ministries before it is too late. This means that agency boards and management have to look beyond the narrow interests of their own organisations and to focus on the long term survival of the work they are involved in. My experience shows that this is far harder to do in practice than you might imagine.

We Need Relationship Changes: Western churches and Christians have been accustomed to believe that they are the centre of the Church; the ones who call the shots in leadership and mission; this recent post highlights this. The comparative rates of growth of the Church in the West and in the Global South give the lie to this assumption. Those of us who are Westerners need to get used to the idea that we have a huge amount to learn from the church in the wider world. This means that mission agencies need to give serious attention to blessing the Church in the traditional sending countries through the things that God is doing in the erstwhile mission fields.

On the other side of the coin, we need to realise that the West still has something to contribute. Many writers from the Global South and many missionaries who have compared the growth of the Church worldwide with their home situations have written off the contribution of the Western church. They see it as needy and moribund, with little to offer. This is as much of a mistake as seeing the West as the Centre of things: in truth the body of Christ worldwide is interdependent and needs to learn how to function in this way.

Mission agencies have a huge amount to contribute in helping to develop this interdependency. However, agencies often have a vested interest in promoting the old paradigm where Westerners are sent out in large numbers to the wider world. This was highlighted in the original post which prompted me to write this series of articles.

The mission agency is struggling in its home office to fund the operation, and its leaders are glad to get new recruits who will have to pay 13% operational funds.  There may be other benefits to the agency or its key members as new recruits contribute some of their support to the overall work of the mission.  The mission agency needs to keep accepting missionaries to fund its operations and replace missionaries who have left the mission.

We Need To Learn to Think Theologically: mission agencies are great absorbers of management and leadership literature. Effectiveness, impact and speed are terms that crop up all over missionary literature. However, effectiveness and impact are often achieved at the cost of relationships, service and sacrifice. The Biblical model of taking up our cross and following Christ is less attractive than changing the world. We need a radical refocus of planning and consultation processes to be more theologically thought through and focussed. Some might call this missiology, but I have become rather allergic to the term.

There is a lot more could be said, but this will do for a start.