by John Bennett
The following response is from John Bennett of COSIM: Coalition for the Support of Indigenous Ministries.
Every three years for more than three decades an important mission gathering has taken place. The theme for the upcoming EFMA/IFMA Triennial Conference is "Working Together to Shape the New Millenium." As a preparation for this event, EMQ has invited the CEOs or their designees of the five currently cosponsoring bodies to share something of their dreams, hopes, fears and concerns regarding this great challenge.
The following response is from John Bennett of COSIM: Coalition for the Support of Indigenous Ministries
In the aftermath of World War II and amidst the rash of national independence movements in the late 1940s, William Temple, then archbishop of Canterbury, observed that a truly global Christian movement was becoming the "great, new fact of our time." According to Patrick Johnstone’s latest research, active Christian communities now exist in all 237 geopolitical countries, and the church’s indigenous expression can be found in more than 10,000 people groups or cultures (90 percent of the world’s total). This is why more than six out of 10 professing Christians are now found in the Two-Thirds World. As Kwame Bediako, Andrew Walls, and others have so clearly articulated, the center of gravity of Christianity has shifted south and east.
The implications of this gravity shift for world evangelization are profound. Despite the growing and global presence of the church, some two-thirds of the world’s people are not yet followers of Jesus. Roughly half of all people groups remain unreached, i.e., without a viable church that has the means to reach that group. The biblical mandate for mission remains unfulfilled and compelling. However, as recent studies by MARC/World Vision have shown, cross-cultural evangelists and church planters from non-Western churches have grown from a few hundred in the 1970s to hundreds of thousands in the 1990s, now comprising the vast majority of the church’s global missionary force. Likewise, hundreds of indigenous ministry and missionary organizations, denominationally rooted and freestanding, have been launched in the Two-Thirds World. Together with the continuing Western mission movement, this represents an unprecedented force for world evangelization. Not only is the Lord building his church on a truly global basis, it is one with a renewed apostolic sense of mission and purpose.
How should the Christian movement in the West relate to these changes in the landscape of church and mission? One response-and a wrong one-would be disengagement, i.e., leaving the task of world evangelization to the churches of the Two-Thirds World. The biblical mandate for mission makes no provision for such withdrawal, but, sadly, this is not an unknown disposition in some Western churches. Another inappropriate response would be to disregard the reality of indigenous ministry and missionary efforts, acting as if the progress of the gospel continues to depend solely oreven primarily on Western initiatives. This attitude, too, can be located in the West. Neither disengaging nor disregarding is acceptable.
The Coalition for the Support of Indigenous Ministries (COSIM) represents a healthy response to the southward and eastward shift in Christianity’s center of gravity. COSIM is a network of Western organizations that partner with indigenous ministries in the Two-Thirds World. Without diminishing for a moment the obedience of Western churches to the biblical mandate of world evangelization, including the sending of cross-cultural workers, COSIM advocates ties between the Christian movement in the West and non-Western churches and ministries with an explicit vision for strengthening their capacities to contribute.
COSIM arose from an initiative by Chuck Bennett of Partners International in 1996, also drawing on the involvement of ministries such as Ambassadors for Christ, the Billy Graham Center, Gospel for Asia, and Overseas Council. An initial consultation in September, 1996, and subsequent meetings in 1997 and 1998, have involved a core group of some 50 organizations. Participants in 1998 agreed to form a coalition that will soon begin to operate as an interest group under the Evangelical Fellowship of Mission Agencies. COSIM has identified-and looks to serve-a wider network of over 225 North American organizations that focus on the support of indigenous church planting, evangelism, leadership training, ministries of mercy, and theological education. These ministries are varied in nature, being independent parachurch organizations, sub-units of traditional missionary organizations, and Western denominational structures that serve related churches and ministries in the Two-Thirds World.
A network of learners
COSIM is a new network, comprised primarily of young organizations and their leaders. Ministries like Partners International (50 years old), Overseas Council (celebrating a 25th anniversary in 1999), and Gospel for Asia (founded in 1979) are some of the exceptions. Many COSIM-related organizations are less than 10 years old, still function in "start-up" mode, are led by "founders," respond intensely to a narrow range of needs arising from personal relationships, and have organizational incomes well under $500,000 a year. As such, we are very much learners.
But we are adult learners. We are learning by doing (read: via successes and failures). A good deal of our three consultations has been spent talking about what’s working, and what’s not, in our ministries. We have also asked for constructive criticism of the COSIM movement from the so-called traditional mission (sending) organizations, the missiological guild, and Christian stewards with particular interest in world evangelization. Not everyone involved in the support of indigenous ministry has been ready for this kind of self-criticism, and some have come and gone. Out of this process COSIM has made a series of af-firmations, which reflect our hopes for working together in the coming years.
- "We believe the world has changed in ways that make partnership more important, if not essential, to world evangelization." This position reflects our recognition of the shift in the center of gravity that has changed the landscape of the global church.
- "We believe Christians of different cultures, nations, and social-economic conditions can work together productively for the advancement of the gospel." Is it possible for the Good News of Jesus Christ, in the form of a proclaimed message and the witness of transformed lives, to be communicated from one culture to another? Of course! The global church is proof of it! Finding ways for collaborative, cross-cultural ministry is also feasible. The biblical principal of koinonia encourages this hope.
- "We believe there is compelling biblical precedent for cooperation and mutual support in the ministry of the gospel." Consider Paul’s appeal to the church at Rome (Rom. 15:14-29) to function as a ministry base for his work inthe western Mediterranean in the same way that Antioch had served as a base for his efforts in the eastern Mediterranean. Consider the exhortation to the church at Corinth (2 Cor. 8-9) to join with the Macedonian churches in the relief of the famine in Palestine. New Testament accounts of early Christian mission are replete with models of cooperation.
- "We believe partnership is for something-the advancement of the gospel; the evangelization of the lost; the multiplication of churches; the growth of believers in Christlike-ness." The partnership and cooperation that COSIM encourages are means toward the end of world evangelization.
- "We believe partnership may take many forms, but true partnership is always characterized by mutual respect, trust, interdependence, and commitment to the work of the gospel." The partnership and cooperation that COSIM encourages involve the hard work that always comes with building and maintaining relationships.
- "We believe there is inherent danger in purely financially-oriented partnerships and caution must be taken not to create a relationship of dependency." COSIM encourages developmental partnerships that lead to increased capacity for indigenous ministries to accomplish their missions and purposes. For example, Overseas Council partners with 95 seminaries, Christian universities, and leadership development programs in more than 50 non-Western countries. OC always complements financial assistance (student scholarships, faculty training, campus and library development, etc.) with practical, nonfinancial help in academic or strategic planning, curriculum development, and consultancy on local fund raising and building self-reliance. COSIM encourages this balance in international partnerships.
COSIM is new. We’re young. We’re entrepreneurial. We have much to learn to excel at partnership with churches and ministries in the Two-Thirds World. But we are trying to take seriously our sense of call to support and develop indigenous ministries. If you share our hopes and concerns, please join us!
EMQ, Vol. 35, No. 306-320. Copyright © 2003 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.