The British Church and the Challenges for Wycliffe

EddieThis is a piece I wrote for my colleagues in Wycliffe Bible Translators this month:

It’s a long way from High Wycombe to Minehead, especially when you drive the return journey three times in ten days. Still, it was a real privilege to be able to go over to Spring Harvest and to share about what God is doing ‘Reaching the Unreached’. Over the three sessions, almost a hundred people came along, listened, asked questions and shared their experiences; it was a good time. But, and here is the challenge for Wycliffe in the years to come, 100 people is less than 1% of those who were at Minehead during that time.

OK, there were reasons why people didn’t come to the seminar. Let’s face it, I’m hardly a household name (even in my own house!) and my charisma was never going to draw in the punters. On one of the days it was sunny and there were other seminars by better known speakers running at the same time. I can understand why numbers weren’t high… but less than 1%?

Reaching the Unreached is an essential topic for today’s church. The future of the church in the UK depends on us reaching outside of the ever-shrinking boundaries of the church into a scary world where people don’t understand our language and traditions, and there is an amazing amount of encouragement in hearing about what God is doing in other parts of the world. But less than 1% of people at Spring Harvest saw it as important.

At this point, Wycliffe members normally tell me that their church is really motivated for mission. Well, yes, that’s why they support you and perhaps they were among the 1% who came to my seminar. But that’s not the point. The vast majority of churches in the UK have a shrinking interest in overseas mission and very often such interest as there is is restricted to social aid projects.

Partner organisations around the world are asking for Wycliffe UK to send more workers and to fund more projects. We can only do this as more churches get on board with what we are doing, but the reality is that we are swimming against the ecclesiastic tide in the UK. This is the biggest challenge that my successor will face. All of the internal discussions in Wycliffe and SIL are interesting and important, but they are not the main issue.

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1 reply on “The British Church and the Challenges for Wycliffe”

I don’t have a solution though I’m not sure the situation is as bleak as you suggest. My experience is that mission is a priority but churches struggle to translate mission as a concept into being missional; and you are right it is a key challenge for the UK church.

Maybe the challenge is that individuals and churches find it easier to give to projects because they have deliverable outcomes and achievable short term goals, or to join campaigns which have impact and create the sense that ‘we are changing something’. I suspect that both fit into our activist culture and desire for the new thing.

We live in a time where emotional connection is more important than ever and it is hard to have that with an organisation, no matter how good they are at telling stories.

Are there ways forward? Perhaps a change of language: from giving to mission to investing in the kingdom. Perhaps a change of approach: from mission agency as the funnel through which giving is channelled to the consultant who helps network giver and receiver.

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