by Samuel E. Chiang
I believe we can look at certain trends and surmise what God might be up to in the next ten years. Historians have suggested that the agendas set within the first two decades of a new century generally carry the gravitas for the remainder of that century.
Global Missions Today
Editor’s note: As we celebrate fifty years as a publication committed to equipping and encouraging those in mission, we continue to take seriously the issues we face today. We asked top mission leaders around the world to reflect on missions from their respective vantage points. We pray that God will use their thoughts to challenge, inspire, instruct, and correct us all.
This article was contributed by Samuel E. Chiang.
AS WE LOOK TO THE FUTURE, it is extremely difficult to predict what lay before us. However, I believe we can look at certain trends and surmise what God might be up to in the next ten years. Historians have suggested that the agendas set within the first two decades of a new century generally carry the gravitas for the remainder of that century.
There are five trends which have achieved “critical mass” as we write: (1) multiplicative development of screens and devices impacting worldview and contextualization; (2) Business as Mission providing “wholeness” in discipleship going forward; (3) orality speaking into matters of stewardship of our resources, learning, and communications; (4) online education as distribution of theological knowledge; and (5) the incarnate Church taking responsibility to translate scripture.
Could this quintet drive the agenda of missions for the next decade? What magnitude of factors will they enact on planting churches and making disciples? What are some things the Church must address and align in order to work to minister globally? Let me address each trend in turn.
Trend 1: Technology. Technology continues to provide information access for users everywhere. The multiplication of “screens” on devices is changing our context for missions, evangelism, and discipleship. In fact, the very notion of worldview is changing rapidly.
Many societies which are more prone to rule-based upbringing with a pair/single parent are now faced with multiple screens on devices that move the dynamic to the community bringing up the child—and it is the value of the community which is shared, followed, and honored. The guilt-innocence model which has undergirded the West for the last five centuries is fast turning into an honor-shame worldview. This is good news for missions as the Majority Church actually operates predominately in an honor-shame worldview, in which the Bible was given in both oral and written form.
Question: Might the possibilities for harvest be even more in this century as a result of rediscovering the honor-shame worldview?
Trend 2: Business as mission. The sacred-secular divide is redressed in the global movement of Business As Mission. A new generation of entrepreneurs are living out vocation and calling as a single fabric. Demonstratively using actual business and not business-as platforms, so as to get into restrictive
access countries, this movement is able to work in hostile environments, combat issues such as sex trafficking, speak into sustainability, and work among the least reached people groups.
Question: Has the time come for the Church to think through how to send newly-called missionaries, especially in countries where there is a lack of tax incentivizing, and altruism or obedience to Christ in generous giving has yet to be practiced?
The new generation are “artists,” as they are both content creators and providers.
Trend 3: Orality. Approximately eighty percent of the world’s population cannot or will not hear our message when we communicate it to them in literate ways and means. In fact, with cyberization, our communication patterns are once again mimicking speech patterns that are naturally verbalized and less so as grammatically correct sentence structure.
The world of orality—how we receive, process, remember, and pass on information—is rapidly changing. Aside from a dynamic worldview change (from guilt-innocence to honor-shame), we are once again cajoled into examining how to frame the content in light of culture, language, literacies, memory, networks, arts, and media. The new generation are “artists,” as they are both content creators and providers.
Questions: Might God be using this younger generation to hear and interpret scripture, with child-like faith, so as to provide a fresh message for the rest of the world? Would the Church be ever so bold and patient as to receive freshness from scripture from children and youth, and also see them as agents of missions? With an extremely high percentage of the materials produced in literate and textual format, yet knowing that an extremely high percentage of the world’s population processes the messages differently, isn’t this a stewardship issue that the Church should be addressing?
Trend 4: Online education. Online education has gained such momentum that theological institutions are stroking their long beards, assessing how to get into that space. Distribution and transmission of knowledge through online modality has gained such momentum that seminaries seem to think that they will die without such a tool. All the while, the courses going online are “broadcast” style. It would appear that the academy has forgotten peer-to-peer learning, discussions, and collaboration.
Moreover, it would appear that the potential “revenue” per person is so appealing, and the potential for survival so appetizing, that the simple idea of spiritual formation is discarded as a relic from the last century. This is actually good news for the Church It is high time that spiritual formation became the domain of the Church once again. The shepherding of the flock, the forming of the individual and community, and the caring for the soul have been relegated to the dustbin. The Church can now actually take back what it has unwittingly outsourced—spiritual formation.
Question: Will the Church in the West once again take on this responsibility? Will the Majority Church resist the temptations of outsourcing spiritual formation?
Trend 5: Scripture translation. Finally, there is the notable trend of translating the word of God into the heart language of the unengaged and unreached people groups. It is conceivable that within the next decade, there will be zero unengaged, unreached people groups. It is conceivable that all of the remaining 1,900 languages will have some appropriate forms of the word of God in their own heart language.
Question: With the 500th-year celebration of the Reformation and the 500th-year celebrations of various editions of the Bible over the next two decades, might it be that the Church will use these celebratory events to pray for the word of God to be received everywhere?
This quintet of issues, which has content that is co-created and collaborated with a new generation, should dominate our thinking, action, and strategizing for the next decade in mission. Are we willing to prayerfully embrace, engage, align, and steward the challenges before us?
Rev. Samuel E. Chiang is executive director of the International Orality Network, which has over two thousand member organizations and denominations. The network is passionate about influencing the Body of Christ to make disciples of all oral preference learners. Samuel can be reached at: Oralityresources@gmail.com.
EMQ, Vol. 50, No. 4, pp. 395-397. Copyright © 2014 Billy Graham Center. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.