Eddie and Sue Arthur

Books I Have Read: Mission Shaped Church…

There are lots of books about mission and church that I would like to read, but some of the more academic offerings have eyewatering price tags and are simply out of my reach. However, Mission-shaped Church in a Multicultural World by Harvey C Kwiyani will set you back less than two pounds and is full of all sorts of goodness. Go and buy it now.

The book – actually, it’s a booklet – forms part of the excellent Grove Books series and consists of a mere 28 pages. The writing is clear and accessible, pitched at a general audience. There are no footnotes or illustrations, but the page is broken up with highlighted quotations.

In my experience, Grove Books serve two purposes. They provide an excellent introduction to a subject that is new to the reader. Equally, for the reader who is familiar with the subject matter, they package half-forgotten and well known material in a convenient manner which makes it easy to find what you are looking for. Certainly, this book will be of help to those who have never though about mission in the multicultural UK as well as to those who are familiar with the author’s Sent Forth: African Missionary Work in the West and other works on the same theme.

The book consists of six chapters, the longest of which is five pages long. This is a booklet that could conveniently be read in a week of coffee breaks.

Chapter 1: The Future of the Nations considers the basic multi-national, multi-lingual nature of Christianity. A theme that will be familiar to Kouyanet readers.

Chapter 2: Migration and Cultural Diversity does what it says on the tin. In particular it covers three possible responses to migration and cultural diversity; assimilation, cultural pluralism and muticulturalism. The chapter favours multiculturalism, but demonstrates that it takes determined effort to make it work.

Chapter 3: Blessed Reflex considers the flow of missionaries into the UK from countries which once received missionaries.

Chapter 4: Exploring and Releasing the Gifts of Foreign Christians in Britain is the longest chapter and highlights the fact that the global church is meant to be an interdependant body. We Christians in the UK need to receive input from others – but we aren’t very good at receiving it.

Chapter 5: Intercultural Mutuality takes the theme of the previous chapter and develops it further. It also challenges the idea that homogeneity is neccesary for success in mission and church planting.

Chapter 6: Multicultural Christianity and Mission in a Multicultural Word is best summed up by this quote from page 25.

… the best way to engage a multicultural context effectively in mission is through a multicultural missionary community. Otherwise Christianity becomes a dividing force that socializes people into segregated congregations when they live multiculturally at work, at school, and practically everywhere else.

Who should read this booklet? You should! Frankly, I cannot imagine why anyone, especially those involved in church leadership and church plants, would not read this. It is cheap and it is an easy read, but it introduces a lot of important concepts. I know that some of the books that I reccomend are too long, too expensive and take too long to read for anyone but the specialist. The same cannot be said about this excellent little book. Now, click on the link and buy it!

 

Throwback Thursday: Close the Door

I thought it would be good to step back from the broader questions about mission and mission support and to focus back on Bible translation. This post by Sue is from 2015.

What could be simpler than asking someone to close the door you might think? But whenever you try and translate something from one language to another you come across the phenomenon of language and culture being so closely bound together that they are almost impossible to separate. Let me give you an example. Here in Madagascar, someone from one area simply asked a colleague from another area to close the door; a reasonable request, since it was early evening and the mosquitoes were coming inside! However, the request didn’t produce the desired result.

What was happening? The first man had made the request according to his language and culture which was, literally: ‘Please wall the road!’ The second, however, hadn’t reacted because in his own culture and language the way to make that request is to say: ‘Please make-closed the door’ and hadn’t associated the talk of ‘blocking the road’, as he had understood it, with the idea of closing the door! But for the first man, this is just the normal expression used in his language for closing the door: you ‘wall-up the entrance/path’ or as we might say in Yorkshire: ‘Put wood in t’hole!’

What has this got to do with Bible Translation you might ask? Well, if a simple request to close the door was met with such confusion here, among related languages in the same country, imagine how the scope for misunderstanding is magnified when we come to translate ideas written down a couple of thousand years ago in the Middle East into a language with a very different culture and context in the 21st century! Whenever we communicate, the words we use embody the culture of that language – whether we are talking about doors, cricket, Pancake Tuesday or olive branches or in the Biblical context: vineyards, priests or Samaritans – because they are part of the culture and always have the connotations of that particular culture. Therefore when we translate ideas like these from one language to another, we have to find a way of communicating them accurately and clearly in the translated text, whilst avoiding undesirable connotations in that culture.

Following our discussions about cultural differences in closing doors in different Malagasy languages here at our translation workshop in Antananarivo, we then asked the translation teams to look at how they might go about translating Revelation Chapter 3 verse 20 in which Jesus says: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” What if there is no word for door? And do people knock or do they call out to those in the house when they want to enter? Is Jesus a stranger that he needs to knock? Or in some contexts would Jesus knocking at the door make him a thief, since the custom is for everyone to call out – only a thief would knock to check that the house is empty! There are no easy answers because words cannot help but bring their culture with them! What’s more there are also theological implications from many of these questions which influence the way we translate, but I’ll leave those discussions for another day……

Questions 5: Church Mission Strategy

What should a church world mission strategy look like?

Of course, this begs the question as to why a church should have a mission strategy in the first place, so let me deal with that before I get to the main question.

The world is big; really big and there are lots of different things happening. It is impossible for even the largest congregation to be involved in everything, so churches have to choose what sort of ministries they will support. It is better to make this choice in a prayerful considered manner rather than on a whim or in response to a random visiting missionary. My own observations (call me cynical, if you like) is that many churches make their mission decisions on the basis of which mission agencies have the biggest advertising budget and I’m far from convinced that this is a good thing for anyone (including for the mission agencies). The bottom line is that all churches will have some way of determining how they support (or not) world mission, but it’s better that this is done in a thought-through way, rather than by default.

A mission strategy also allows church members to learn and get involved in supporting work in one place, rather than being faced with a constant churn of information that they can never get a hold of.

A church mission strategy should shape the following:

  • Who or what should be the focus of the Church’s missionary prayer slots. For many smaller congregations, this might be all that they can reasonably do, but having a focussed prayer time for mission can help to create engagement and enthusiasm.
  • Which visiting speakers are invited to the church. Missionaries and agencies are forever looking for opportunities to visit churches and to build there support bases. The sheer volume of requests can put pressure on church leaders who feel that they should allow someone to come and speak. It is also true that it is useful to invite a missionary speaker to come when the pastor is on holiday – someone needs to do the preaching. Having a mission support strategy means that the church is in a place to actually invite people to come and address the issues that the congregation is involved in supporting and random requests for speaking slots can be legitimately refused.
  • The Church’s policy for supporting short-term mission trips. They should, in some way, fit the church’s broader strategy.
  • The Church’s policy for supporting long-term missionaries. Again, this should fit in with the broader strategy of work that the church supports.

Or to put it another way, don’t do stuff which isn’t in your strategy (but leave a little wiggle room for special cases).

The strategy itself should be relatively brief and easily grasped by the whole congregation, It doesn’t need to go into details of how missionary candidates will be selected and levels of financial support. There may be a need for supporting documents to cover this, but keep your main strategy simple. Basically, it should cover no more than two things; geography and ministry types (and you may want to forget geography).

Geography

Some churches like to focus their efforts on a particular country or part of the world. My only caveat would be that this often means that people focus on places that they know, rather than on lesser known places of equal or greater need. For instance, many British churches take a deep interest in East Africa, but very few ever consider the Central African Republic.

Ministry Type

I would suggest that this, rather than geography, should be the driving force behind the church’s strategy.

  • The Unreached: all churches which call themselves evangelical should have some sort of focus (regular prayer, supporting mission partners, …) on those parts of the world where there are no Christians and only limited gospel witness. We can and should, support other sorts of work, but we cannot ignore this one.
All churches which call themselves evangelical should have some sort of focus on those parts of the world where there are no Christians and only limited gospel witness. Click To Tweet
  • Bible Ministry: this should also be a priority, whether it is supporting Bible translation and distribution (which I would strongly encourage) or training Christians around the world to handle and teach the Bible so that they can reach out to others.
  • Social Action: It is right and proper that Christians should support social action – relief of poverty, medical work, advocacy etc… – but ideally, this should take place within a holistic framework which includes evangelism, Bible ministry and so on. I believe that churches need to think long and hard before supporting social action which is disconnected from a holistic approach to mission.

There are lots of other types of ministry that a church might want to get involved in such as support for persecuted Christians, student ministry worldwide and so on. However, I would suggest that it is wise not to spread yourself too thinly. Two or three areas of focus are probably enough for most congregations and the unreached should always be in there. Of course, it is possible to combine some areas; Bible translation and the unreached are an obvious one, or student ministry and Bible ministry go well together.

Developing a Strategy

If one of the aims is to involve and enthuse the congregation, then they should be involved in helping to develop the strategy. Build on existing commitments and enthusiasms, seeing how they overlap and eventually focus on a limited number of ministries and perhaps a limited number of regions. Developing a mission strategy is not simply a management task, you need to build in times for prayer and listening to what the Spirit is saying to you. By all means use a flipchart and the tools for strategy development that you find in business, but don’t be limited by them. Depending on the size of the church, it may be necessary to delegate the development and implementation of the strategy to a small group – but the minister should always take a public lead in supporting the mission.

There is a lot more that could and should be said, but I want to keep this post to a manageable length. In closing, if any church would like help to develop a mission strategy, or would like someone to review and comment on their current documentation regarding mission support, I would be more than happy to chat to them. I promise not to push any particular mission agency (not even my own) or initiative.

Other Posts in This Series:

  1. What Is Mission?
  2. Why Bother With World Mission When the Needs in the UK are So Great?
  3. So You Want To Be A Missionary?
  4. What About Short Term Mission Trips?

Questions 4: Short-Term Mission

What should a church leader do when a member of their congregation says that they want to go on a short term mission trip?

I had been planning to address this question later on in this series, but a comment on yesterday’s post pushed it up the agenda.

Short-term mission trips are something of a rite of passage for many Christian young people, today. They form an alternative to a gap-year of backpacking through Asia for evangelicals. Over the years, I’ve written a lot about short-term mission and if you want to dig through the archives, you can find them here (oh, and I give my definition of short-term mission here).

Getting practical, what should a church leader do if they are approached by someone who wants to go on a short-term trip and is looking to the church for support? I think there are three areas that need to be looked at.

The Person

Church leaders know more about this than I do. Would you genuinely recommend that this person gets involved in some sort of Christian work? Do they have something to contribute? Do they have the maturity needed? Are they committed to church? etc. etc…

If you aren’t very positive about the person, then don’t support them in going on the trip. However, you should explain to them why you aren’t supporting them and you should give them advice on how they can grow and develop.

The Trip

Is the organisation running the trip signed up to the Global Connections code of conduct for short-term mission? If not, then suggest that the person find something that is.

Putting it bluntly, is the trip more of a sanctified holiday than actual involvement in mission work? Any visit to an exotic location will have some element of adventure and sight-seeing, but if that appears to be the primary purpose, then I’d suggest that you don’t support the person. If they want to go on holiday to Thailand (and who wouldn’t?), they should pay for it themselves. Sorry if that sounds uncharitable, but most churches don’t have a lot of money spare and what there is needs to be used wisely.

Is it a mission trip or a holiday? If they want to go on holiday to Thailand (and who wouldn't?), they should pay for it themselves. Click To Tweet

Is the trip doing something harmful? The idea of sending a group of young people to build a classroom in Africa might sound fantastic, but why would you spend thousands of pounds to send a bunch of unqualified kids out to do a job when there are local craftsmen finding it hard to make a living? Exporting unemployment to underdeveloped countries is not a good idea. Similarly, avoid anything that smacks of orphanage tourism like the plague.

Is it really a mission trip? The thing is, there is no such thing as short-term mission. Mission, by definition, involves a long-term engagement. There is however, a place for short-term teams or individuals getting involved in long-term projects, as I wrote three years ago:

However, just because mission itself is long term, this doesn’t mean that there is no place for short term mission workers. What it does mean is that short-term mission work must take place within a long-term framework. Short-term missionaries can bring valuable skills and manpower to bear at critical points in a long project. The key is designing short-term mission projects that support ongoing mission work.

Make sure that if you are sending people on a short-term mission trip that it integrates into a long term strategy.

Your Church?

What is your church’s strategy and involvement in world mission? (If you’ve not thought that through, watch this space.) I would argue that any support for short-term mission work should align with what the church is already involved in. Unless you are looking to expand your concern into new regions, you should only support short-term workers who are going to be involved in a country, or a type of work that you are already supporting.

Are you being proactive? Rather than waiting for people to put themselves forward for short-term mission trips, why not identify people that you think could make a real contribution and learn a lot from visiting a mission partner, or supporting some work and actively send them out?

You might think that my approach here has been negative and you would be right. I think that short-term mission trips have the capacity to do enormous good. We really profited from the support of a couple of short-termer when we lived out in the African bush. I also believe that people can learn a huge amount from an involvement in mission work and that supporting short-termers can be a real blessing to a church. However, for short-term mission work to be a success it needs to be carefully thought through and implemented. It isn’t a rite of passage or something that every Christian young person should do once in their life and the evidence that it helps develop a life-long interest in mission (as is often argued) is tenuous at best. Good short-term mission is a fantastic blessing for the individual and the church, but that means we need to ensure that the trips are good.

Questions 3: So You Want To Be A Missionary?

So you want to be a missionary; what should you do?

This question has one easy answer; talk to your church leaders and tell them about it.

There are two basic reasons for this, the first is theological and the second is practical.

Theologically, it is churches who send out missionaries, not mission agencies. The agencies exist to help churches with the technicalities of the sending, but the church’s role is primary. So talk to your pastor/vicar/elder before you talk to an agency rep.

Practically, if you do become a missionary, you will be looking to your church to pray for you and provide a slice of your funding for years to come (our home church has been supporting us financially for over thirty years). If you are going to expect your church to get behind you like this, it would be wise to talk to them before you make any decisions.

The thing is, church leaders love to hear about people who feel called to serve the Lord, but they feel less positive about people who have decided to go off to somewhere exotic and, without warning, expect the church to stump up a share of the costs.

As well as talking to your church leader, you should get stuck into the life of the church, serving in some way. This gives good experience in Christian service which is a useful discipline but also builds up contacts and friendships which can serve as a support structure if you do end up going abroad. Again, being practical, why would a church leader agree to support you to do Christian work thousands of miles away, if you never did anything in your local congregation?

A word about mission agencies; social media is full of adverts for agencies who want you to talk to them about your future and at every Christian conference, there are stalls with ernest reps trying to entice you in to talk to them. If you haven’t talked to your church leader, ignore the siren calls of the agencies. If you don’t want to take my advice, talk to lots of agencies and learn lots of things, but don’t focus till you know your church is supporting you. Also, if any agency talks to you about serving with them (short, or long-term) and doesn’t mention talking to your pastor, run a mile.

If your pastor agrees that you are called to mission work, the complicated bit of working out where, how and when starts. I may look at this in a later question. However, if they don’t agree, then things are even more complicated, but the next steps are always the same.

It could be that your church leadership feel that you don’t have the gifts or temperament required for mission work. As someone who has led a mission’s field operation in two countries, I wish more people had been told this. One of the biggest hardships in mission leadership is dealing with people who should not have been there in the first place. I realise it can be hard to accept this sort of verdict, but the answer is to get stuck into the life of the church, to be discipled and to serve. That’s the primary calling we all have – and who knows, as you get stuck in and start to grow, your minister may change their assessment of you.

It could also be that the church leadership agree that you might have a call, but don’t think you are quite ready for mission work. So, get stuck into the life of the church to be discipled and serve…

Another possibility is that the church feels it is right for you to serve as a missionary, but they don’t have the wherewithal to support you. This one is complex, but can the church help you to make contacts elsewhere who can help with finance? Meanwhile, get stuck into the life…

It is possible, but unlikely, that your church leadership simply have no vision for world mission and refuse to countenance the idea of sending you as a missionary. In this case you have two options, the first is to switch churches, but I find the whole idea of going to a church so that it can serve you rather odd, secondly you can get stuck into the church and serve others to such an extent that the church simply can’t ignore you call to mission.

One last thought; it can be good to get together with a small group to pray about your sense of call to mission. A group that you can be open with about your hopes and frustrations. It is even better if others in the group have big questions about their futures, too. An hour’s prayerful sharing over a coffee every week or ten days can help to sharpen your thoughts and, if your friends are honest with you, to show you the strengths and weaknesses that you have.

Other Posts in This Series:

  1. What Is Mission?
  2. Why Bother With World Mission When the Needs in the UK are So Great?
  3. So You Want To Be A Missionary?
  4. What About Short Term Mission Trips?
  5. What About Church Mission Strategy?

In Praise of Monarchy (Sort Of)

Apologies to those who prefer me to stick to writing about world mission. Today, I’m going to go off-piste and think a little about big-picture politics.

In British terms, I am a republican; I don’t believe in the principle of hereditary monarchy. This is no reflection on our current queen, whom I regard as a remarkable and thoroughly admirable person. My problem is that I have no control and no say about her successor. Perhaps Charles will be a good king, perhaps not; only time will tell. But there is nothing that I can do to influence this one way or another.

There are two quotes which sum up my underlying view of monarchy, one is from Tony Benn

If I meet a powerful man, I ask five questions: What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And, how can I get rid of you?

And the other from Terry Pratchett

Royalty pollutes people’s minds, boy. honest men start bowing and bobbing just because someone’s granddad was a bigger murdering bastard than theirs was.

I realise that many (most?) readers won’t agree with me on this, but I’m not trying to convince you of my position, I’m just setting out where I’m coming from because I’ve had an epiphany. Only a very small epiphany, but an epiphany all the same.

Both in the UK and the US, the two countries whose politics I follow most closely, things seem to be hopelessly divided. In the US, things break more or less along party lines between Republicans and Democrats, while in the UK, things are more complex with party allegiance and Brexit fracturing things in a variety of directions. What is common to both countries (and I’m not taking sides) is an apparent unwillingness to to listen to one another, a visceral condemnation of things that the other side does (even when they are tactics originally employed by one’s own group) and a slow, but steady eroding of a sense of common nationhood and vision. If our countries are to thrive (or even survive) into the future, we will need to find some commonality and there will need to be some sort of reconcilliation between parties who are reluctant even to speak to one another.

Enter the monarch! There is no figure in today’s British politics who can serve as a uniting force, a person who can give a sense of national identity around whom we could rally. However, the monarchy does, perhaps, occupy that sort of space – a space which might permit some sort of reconcilliation around our common Britishness. The monarcy is an ancient tradition which predates our modern party system and which certainly predates the Brexit kerfuffle. We are rightly appalled when politicians appear to use the monarch for their own party political ends; the Queen is above all this. Perhaps, just perhaps, the monarchy can provide an opening, at some point in the future, for the sort of national dialogue and reconcilliation that is needed. I don’t see how it might happen, but the presence of a non-political head of state seems to be a very positive thing at the moment. We have an opportunity which is not available in those countries where the office of the head of state is heavily politicised.

I’m still not one hundred percent convinced about the concept of the monarchy, but for once in my life I can actually see a value (beyond the oft-cited, they bring in tourists) in the whole concept.

But there is a limit. If there is one thing that the Hebrew Bible teaches us, it is that kings will eventually let you down.  A good king who sorts things out is likely to be followed by a bad king who will mess them up again. All human institutions, including monarchies and nation states, are ultimately fallible. If we want true reconcilliation across the barriers which seperate us, we need to look elsewhere for our King.

All human institutions, including monarchies and nation states, are ultimately fallible. If we want true reconcilliation across the barriers which seperate us, we need to look elsewhere for our King. Click To Tweet

Why We’ve Got The Bible We’ve Got

Have you ever wondered why the Bible is the way it is? Why did God inspire a long narrative with lots of wandering and digression, rather than give us an easy-to-digest book of wise theological insights? The answer is that God does not want us only to know about Him.  If He did, He would have given us a systematic theology. He wants us to know Him, and so He tells us His story. Yes, the Bible does contain the odd list of facts about God, but for the most part, it is quite simply God’s story. It’s as if God was holding His photo album out to us and saying, ‘look this is what me and my friend Abraham did when he left his home in Ur’, ‘this is the time when Pharaoh thought he’d got the better of my friend Moses – but I showed him!’ And so it goes on, episode after episode, as God shows us His character through the way in which He interacts with people – good and bad. And then the story reaches a climax when God Himself takes on human form and walks on the earth – showing us what He is like in the most profound way possible.

God does not want us only to know about Him. If He did, He would have given us a systematic theology. He wants us to know Him, and so He tells us His story. Click To Tweet

This post first appeared in May 2019.

Books I Have Read: Seeking Reconciliation

Peter Rowan‘s book Seeking Reconciliation: The Peacemaking Witness of the Church in Malaysia clearly focuses on the situation in one country, but it is short enough (and cheap enough) that those whose interest lies elsewhere should not be put off. This isn’t a long book, but it is stimulating and should be of interest to Christians well beyond its target audience.

The book is a rather strangely formatted paperback (it is more or less square) and consists of 80 pages. Although it is an abridgement of Peter’s earlier book Proclaiming the Peacemaker: The Malaysian Church as an Agent of Reconciliation in a Multicultural Society, which was in turn developed from his PhD thesis, this is not an academic book. It has been produced in a style and at a price that makes it accesible to Malaysian Christians, which is an excellent innovation.

The book consists of five chapters (by the way, the absence of a table of contents is very frustrating), the first of which gives an excellent introduction to the place of reconcilliation in theology and particularly in the theology of mission. I’ve made it sound more complex than it is.

The following chapters look at the situation in Malaysia, starting with an historical overview of the issues which have led to the evolution of a nation with many inbuit ethnic tensions, The book then goes on to look at the way in which the Malaysian church responds to the challenges that it faces before suggesting some ways in which positive steps forward could be developed.

Who should read this book? Obviously, Christians in Malaysia who are wrestling with the issues it deals with are the main audience. However, I’d suggest that Christians and church leaders who are dealing with questions of reconcilliation between different groups (brexit anyone?) would benefit from a brief overview of issues and methodologies such as this. Peter’s full thesis is very much worth a read, too, but it is harder work.

As always, here are a selection of quotes to give you an idea of what the book says:

Evangelical theologians have historically emphasised the centrality of the cross in Christian faith and life. However, evangelicals have not always thorught deeply enough about the how the cross should shape a more holistic and comprehensive theology of mission.

Christianity is the only religion in history to have both a universal message and a multicultural expression and membership. The gospel is a message for all kinds and races of people. The Christian faith is not ‘colour-blind’, and although all Christians are one in Christ Jesus, cultural diversity and the multicultural nature of the body of Christ should be allowed to flourish. The Bible recognises the rich diversity of cultures in God’s creation, and Christians can celebrate this within the church.

Christianity is the only religion in history to have both a universal message and a multicultural expression and membership. Click To Tweet

The Apostle Paul was deeply concerned to show that ethnic exclusivity has no place in the church. While the Christian’s primary identity must be found in his or her membership of the global body of Christ, this must be affirmed without the renunciation of racial characteristics or ethnic distinctions, and a stronger self-identity, rooted in the gospel and in the people of God will be necessary if Malaysian churches are to have a reconciling ministry.

The author genorously provided me with a copy of this book, but I have not allowed this kindness to affect my review.

The Great Commission is For Churches, Too

I’ve quoted this passage before and no doubt I’ll quote it again:

‘…Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Mat 28:19,20)

This, of course, is the famous “great commission” passage from the end of Matthew’s Gospel. What isn’t always clear in English translations is that in the original Greek, the central command is to “make disciples”; the going, baptising and teaching are all part of that key issue.

It has to be said that mission agencies and missionaries haven’t always got to grips with this and have often fallen into one of two equal and opposite errors. A focus on evangelism and counting converts has meant that some mission efforts have not put sufficient effort into training and equipping the new converts, leaving a church which is weak, dependant on the ongoing presence of missionaries and unable to self-reproduce. At the other end of the spectrum, missions which have focussed entirely on social action of one form or another have tended not to see churches planted at all. Of course, these caricatures don’t describe all missionaries or all mission work by any means.

Recently, there has been a renewed focus on making disciples in mission circles. It has been realised that it is not sufficient to plant a church among a new people group, but that churches need to be able to grow and to reproduce. In the jargon, churches need to be full of disciples who make disciples. Some mission strategists say that the focus should not be on planting churches, but on promoting disciple-making movements or DMMs.

I am aware that there are some criticisms of the DMM strategy (there are criticisms of every mission strategy on the planet). However, those criticisms notwithstanding, I believe that a focus on DMMs is getting us back to the sort of approach to mission which Jesus called us to in the great commission. The focus should be on making disciples and people who are genuine disciples of Jesus will go on to make more disciples.

One of the tragedies of the way that we have tended to envisage mission is that we have seen it as something which happens “out there” (wherever “there” is). We have church and we have mission. Church tends to be rather routine; it’s where we have things like Sunday services and such like, whereas mission is a bit edgy and it’s where we have DMMs and things like that. OK, I’m caricaturing somewhat, I know that.

The great commission - the command to make disciples - is aimed at our church fellowships, where they are today, not just at missionaries around the globe. Click To Tweet

However, the thing is that Jesus’ teaching does not envisage this sort of dichotomy between church and mission. The focus of Jesus’ teaching is on the church, but crucially, the church is on a mission. There is no dichotomy between church and mission because the church that Jesus points to is a missionary church. In other words, the great commission – the command to make disciples – is aimed at our church fellowships, where they are today, not just at missionaries around the globe. Our churches are to be communities where disciples (who make other disciples) are nurtured. In other words, our churches are to be disciple-making movements.

There is no dichotomy between church and mission because the church that Jesus points to is a missionary church. Click To Tweet

If the great commission is to be played out in the everyday life of the church fellowship, how well are we doing? Are the structures we have in place, the things we do week by week helping people to grow as disciples or are we missing something? Obviously, there are as many different answers to these questions as there are church fellowships in the country. However, given the trajectory of the faith in the UK, I feel that we can’t afford to take things like this for granted. Do we need a rethink of how we go about making disciples? I would say yes.

If the great commission is to be played out in the everyday life of the church fellowship, how well are we doing? Are the things we do week by week helping people to grow as disciples or are we missing something? Click To Tweet

 

Questions 2: Why Bother?

There are many variations on the same question, but essentially they boil down to one central idea; why should we bother with global mission, when the needs here in the UK are so great? Everyone who is involved in promoting world mission in Britain will have run up against this question in one form or another.

There is no single killer answer that will satisfy everyone who asks this question, but there are many ways in which the question itself is flawed.

Firstly, the presumption of the question is that we should use our resources to meet our own immediate needs rather than serving others around the world; in other words, we should put our own concerns first. The topsy-turvy world of the Kingdom of God is one in which we are called to put the needs of others before our own. This applies to mission as much as to any other sphere of life.

Secondly, it is true that their is a huge need for mission and evangelism in the UK, but despite this we are still far, far better off than many parts of the world. Despite the rapid growth of the church in some parts of the world, there are still many people groups with no discernable Christian witness at all.

A third way in which the question is badly thought through is that it seems to imply that we have to make a choice between work in the UK and work worldwide because resources are limited. Now, I realise that individual churches face real constraints on their income, but this is not a zero-sum game. Ultimately, God is the one who provides the resources and we need to be prepared to trust him. Just a couple of thoughts; when a church gets a real vision for supporting God’s work around the world, people tend to be motivated to give to support the work, freeing up more resources. Then again, even if it is true that a church honestly can’t give money or send people, it costs nothing to regularly pray for an unreached people group. Supporting world mission doesn’t have to be a costly business.

The bottom line is that I don’t actually think that this is a very good question, even though it is one that is often asked. To be blunt, I don’t really think that it is a genuine question, it is more by way of an excuse. The reason I say this is that I have rarely, if ever, encountered a church with no interest in global mission who had a thriving programme of local evangelism in place. In fact, churches with a strong commitment to world mission are the ones who are most active at reaching their local communities.

Churches with a strong commitment to world mission are the ones who are most active at reaching their local communities. Click To Tweet

Let me quickly say that a commitment to world mission doesn’t have to mean sending missionaries, for smaller churches, it may simply involve regular, fervent, informed prayer for different situations around the world. The thing is, if we are concerned for the salvation of people in our locality, we will also be concerned about people at the ends of the earth and vice-versa. This is the implication of the great commission passages in Matthew and Acts. You can’t do one without the other.

If we are concerned for the salvation of people in our locality, we will also be concerned about people at the ends of the earth and vice-versa. Click To Tweet

One last thought. If we are really concerned about the needs in our locality, then we should be interested in learning from and being helped by Christians in parts of the world where the church is growing. Uncomfortable though it may be to admit it, we need help. The church is and always was an interdependant body; we need support from others and we have a responsibility to help our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. If we turn our back on world mission, we are turning our back on God’s people around the world and ultimately, turning our back on God.

If we turn our back on world mission, we are turning our back on God's people around the world and ultimately, turning our back on God. Click To Tweet

 

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