Many churches have drawn up polices to guide their involvement in word mission. In my experience, they tend to focus on how the church will send and support missionaries, but they are rarely, in my view, adequate for the world we are now living in.
In our current situation, I believe that churches need to have policies which cover three key areas; theology, generosity and openness.
Theology: very often, church mission policies say something like ‘in the light of Matthew 28:19-20 we will…’ and that is the extent with their engagement with the Bible’s teaching on mission. The problem, as we’ve mentioned numerous times on Kouyanet is that Matthew 28 occurs in the context of the whole of Matthew’s Gospel, which itself is embedded in the narrative of the Scriptures. Our view of mission needs to be derived from the whole of the Bible, not from a few key verses taken out of their context. I believe that churches need to commit themselves to continually reflect on the theme of mission as it runs through the Bible and to examine and re-examine their practice in the light of this. There is an excellent (albeit fictional) illustration of this in Changing the Mind of Missions by Engel and Dyrness.
Generosity: churches should be generous with both their people and their money. Long term engagement with people overseas is better than lots of disconnected short-term involvement, but apart from that the rest is detail.
Openness: the church in the UK is in a period of extended decline. There are fewer and fewer people attending church and what growth there is tends to happen in African and Asian churches in our large cities. At the same time, the church in Africa, Asia and Latin America is growing faster than ever before. Meanwhile, we believe we should be sending missionaries around the world to teach other Christians. Do you see a problem here? The thing is, we need to learn from the experiences of the growing churches around the world as much as they need to learn from us – perhaps even more so. Some churches in Asia have learned to live with governments that are opposed to the Christian faith. Others have existed for generations in situations where Christians are in a minority compared to other religions. They have done this and thrived. These are realities that we are starting to face in the UK today, but with less success than others around the world. It can be difficult to learn from other Christians. They may not have the polish and theological sophistication of their Western counterparts. We have also learned to be suspicious of the excesses of some developing world prosperity preachers – but we have to see beyond the lunatic fringe.
To me, the biggest challenge in our interaction with the world church is finding a way to learn from Christians who have very different backgrounds, approaches and experiences to our own. The practical problems are huge, but the biggest issues are our attitudes and willingness.
Just a last thought; should churches stop creating ‘world mission policies’ and start creating ‘world church policies’?