Four Trends that Leave No Place for Going it Alone

By John Becker

No Place Left in an Era of Global Collaboration: 4 Trends that Leave No Place for Going it Alone

By John Becker

Jesus was a no-nonsense leader who pulled no punches when dealing with the Pharisees of his day. On one occasion he said, “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times” (Matthew 16:3 ESV). Jesus was calling out these leaders’ hypocrisy and inability to lead for failure to recognize the Messiah and his inaugurating the new Kingdom reign. A threat to their loss of power and authority blinded them from welcoming the hope that their own scriptures prophesied. They missed out on real power and authority the Messiah gives to his followers.[1] They relished their autonomy and left no room for co-laboring—even with God himself.  All of this blinded them from anticipating and recalibrating so that they could participate in the changing nature of the mission they were commissioned to lead as shepherds of Israel.

Reading Jesus’ interaction with the religious leaders of his day are great reminders for us to stay close to Jesus so we don’t lose our way as shepherds co-missioned to lead the Church in her mission. What are the signs of times we need to be discerning of?  There are many! I am sure most of you reading this have a good list you could write about. But as it relates to networking and partnership, here are four I offer for consideration in discerning the times so we can anticipate, recalibrate, and increase collaboration towards collective participation in making disciples of all nations.

I do not have space to go into any detail on these trends but instead offer implications and suggested responses. To go deeper I recommend Patrick Johnstone’s The Future of the Global Church which speaks into these in detail.[2]

Trend #1: Globalization of the Mission Force

A change in the center of gravity of the church has also meant a change in the mission force. Even though this trend is dated it still needs to be stated. Many of us continue to hear the patient long-suffering of our majority world colleagues in the lack of equitable partnership when it comes to strategic planning, communication, relationship building, deployment of resources, and ground-level partnership.

Are Western agencies and churches willing to change their organizational structures, leadership styles, and ways of making decisions to be more united in mission as the universal body of Christ?

Key Points—Implications

  • North American and European mission organizations and traditional mission structures are not the leading edge of mission progress in the world.
  • Leadership and expertise are to be found among our Majority World/Global South mission counterparts.
  • Knowledge of the issues, needs, and solutions are most likely going to be found closer to the source.
  • Local churches and mission organizations are increasing participation in cross-cultural mission and able to send, receive, and sustain workers.

Our Response—Action

  • Those of us in the North, need to appreciate this dynamic change and re-orient our structures and strategies to better enable partnership.
  • Those of us in the North need to follow the lead of the leaders from the continents/countries we are serving in. Consultation, strategy development, and strategic partnership.
  • We need to invest more in exploring who might be best situated to accomplish our ends among a people or project at the beginning rather than end of our endeavors.

Trend #2: Conflict and Collision

The world appears to be increasingly divided by race, gender, sexuality, religion, and political stances. In many ways the twenty-first century has reverted to earlier patterns where religion and xenophobia fuelled war and violence.  The news is rife with religion’s prominence in geo-political affairs. The militancy of radical Islam, the brutality of religious reaction, and the persecution that so often follows, all testify to a world awash in religious conflict. There is little to suggest that the severity of religious conflict will diminish any time soon.

Nationalism is on the rise as a direct response the rise in global migration.  Border walls and fences rise in response to floods of people leave their traditional homeland in search of greener pastures.

As the church seeks to model the one true model of unity in diversity, it attempts to confront this enormously painful division in a variety of ways. In many cases, the church finds itself besieged, often suffering suppression and open persecution. How can our mission mandate be the driving force in this struggle? The church dwelling on the fault line of conflict must have a sound theology to provide answers and hope.

Key Points—Implications

  • Control over dwindling resources will fuel tension and give birth to regional conflict.
  • Missionaries will be living in increasingly hostile and violent places.
  • The devastating impact of war on nations will be immense and increase the flow of refugees.
  • Broken economies, violence, and loss will demand more from the local church in the form of humanitarian aid, as well as moral and spiritual help.
  • Disillusionment will come to many as they experience the ramifications of violent ideologies.

Our Response—Action

  • The local church needs to continue to wage a war of peace.
  • Mission needs to be prepared to develop its theology of suffering and persecution.
  • Organizations need to consider the cost and be willing to place people in increasingly vulnerable places.
  • Many escaping broken nations are entering an increasingly secular Europe and North America, the church has an opportunity to rescue the disillusioned while protecting them from un-belief.

Trend #3: Global Diaspora

Pronounced di·as·po·ra /dīˈaspərə/, is a Greek word meaning “dispersion or scattering.” It describes ethnic communities and social groups that are dislocated from their home cultures, are on the move, or are in a transitional process of being scattered.

People are on the move as never before and this is one of the global realities of our era. It is estimated that over 200 million people are living outside their countries of origin both voluntarily and involuntarily. There are push and pull factors causing this, such as: environmental disasters caused by war, famine and climate change, political and economic instability, religious and ethnic discrimination, population surge, education and labor opportunities, to name a few. Diaspora peoples are a global phenomenon with local implications.

In many cases the diaspora phenomenon creates massive population shifts—such as when 1.6 million Syrian refugees enter Jordan, whose total population is just 9 million. Or consider the 8 million African migrants who now call Europe home. Cities such as Catania, Sicily, took in 180,000 new arrivals in 2016!  In 2018 Spain is now leading Europe in new arrivals.

Key Points—Implications

  • These mass movements of people create immense challenges described as megacities, diverse ethnic communities, and religious and ideological pluralism.
  • The Church now has access to people groups from hostile environments where access to the good news of Jesus is lacking—e.g. Muslims from the Middle East and North and West Africa.
  • Believers from Gospel rich regions of the world such as Sub-Sahara Africa and South America are now living amongst those needing new expressions of witness such as in secular Europe.
  • Africa’s population continues to surge. By 2050 one in four people will be African. The continued migration of Africans Northward and Eastward will increase for better economic and educational opportunities.

Our Response—Action

  • Believers need to be at the forefront as compassionate advocates for immigrants’ dignity while demonstrating Christ-like hospitality and practical assistance.
  • Missional organizations and churches need to train masses of believers in cross-cultural ministry to share Jesus with their new neighbors in meaningful ways.
  • The Church needs to create space for diversity as large groups of people from different cultures and faith backgrounds respond to the Gospel.
  • Partnership with immigrant churches is essential to break down segregation and reach our cities in creative new ways.
  • Investing in African churches both in Africa and among the diaspora must be a priority as it will bring a huge return throughout the world.

Trend #4: Movements Within and Out of Major Religious Blocks

For the first time there are significant movements to Christ within and out of Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. When we talk of movements, we are defining these as at least 1,000 baptized believers or churches reaching to fourth generation multiplication. What is accounting for this trend?

The prayer focus of the past two decades is bearing fruit. The movement of people and resources has enabled greater access to the Gospel. Religious sectarianism and militancy has divided nations and caused disillusionment. Digital media, technology, and social networking have enabled millions to discover the good news of Jesus and realize they have an alternative to the religion of their birth.

These movements are driving new contextual approaches and resources which have generated much controversy.

Key Points—Implications

  • The incredible move of God in these blocks has not been matched by re-allocation of resources. The unreached, un-evangelized, un-engaged, still receive less than 2% of mission resources.
  • The explosive growth of Evangelicals of the last four decades of the twentieth century in all but the North is likely to slow as the number of unevangelized non-Christians decreases. The significant growth is likely to be in the Muslim world—already markedly evident in rapidly multiplying congregations in such countries as Algeria, Indonesia, and Iran.
  • Many movements are outside of traditional “Christianity” and will struggle to identify with the global historical Church and will experience push back from both sides (religious majority and traditional church).

Our Response—Action

  • The need to reprioritize the allocation of resources to meet this open door and move of the Spirit.
  • The church needs to be mobilized and equipped to be relevant and expectant witnesses to its Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist neighbours.
  • For Evangelicals to provide a prophetic and integral ministry that address the social and moral ills of society.
  • For missions to break out of traditional molds of “church” in-order to respond to and welcome large numbers of people entering the Kingdom from these major religions.
  • The need to be “bridges” between new movements and the traditional, historical church. Encouraging dialogue, fellowship, and shared mission.

Discerning the Times Together: The New Era of Mission Collaboration

There are some of us who would agree that networks and regional partnerships are more significant than individual organizations when it comes to discerning the times and responding to these trends. More leaders than ever before are prioritizing the collaborative space networks provide.

Why? We believe the appropriate and achievable responses are only accessible through kingdom collaboration. When we work in isolation of each other we miss countless opportunities for spontaneity, creativity, and Holy Spirit power that results from the unity of God’s people. Rallying around a compelling vision, developing a comprehensive strategy and pooling precious resources so clearly demonstrates the unity of the body of Christ.  We must lay aside organizational importance, placing “bride before brand”[3] and enter into divine partnerships. Rick Wood writes, “the global mission community is increasingly coming together in networks and partnerships. There is the growing realization that the task is too big for any one organization to tackle and so much more can be accomplished by working together than can be done separately.”[4]

The global trends mentioned above are best discerned and addressed in the collaborative space. The Abide Bear Fruit Global Consultation on Ministry to Muslims (October 2017)[5] beautifully demonstrated this. God met the nine hundred fifty attendees who gathered in South Asia in October. Representing more than three hundred organizations and one hundred nations, they came mainly as practitioners and leaders to abide in Jesus and seek new ways forward in ministry to Muslims.  Connections played a key part of the consultation. With more than twenty meals and fourteen breaks, the rooms were buzzing with face-to-face interactions. Many of these were connections, even from the same region or country. The body of Christ is stronger together than in silos. It was astounding that thirty-five networks and partnerships were represented opening new avenues for global collaboration across regions and specific issues such as orality, prayer, and emerging mission structures.

Additionally, more than forty topic-specific workshops provided tangible help. As an accelerator to all this, we provided an Abide Bear Fruit App (iPhone/Android) which more than eight hundred participants used to connect or interact with during the event. Thousands of interactions with the app brought a whole new level of collaboration to the event.

Many leaders of emerging mission sending nations expressed their appreciation for being invited to the global conversation. Those from Central Asia, East and West Africa, and others came bearing gifts and ceremoniously presenting them to the conference leadership. One leader from Ethiopia wrote, “thank you for your invitation and all the things you have done for me and my friends. Please such kind of meeting encourages all the workers on the field don’t hesitate to do according to your plan. I and my friends are ready to work with you all the time in all what you ask. God bless you bounteously!”

Imagine being a Muslim background believer (MBB) and attending this gathering of the global church. Many of these brothers and sisters experienced their first international gathering with the wider body of Christ. One evening all MBBs gathered for fellowship.  Continent-by-continent and country-by-country, they stood, announced their nation and how many Muslims live there. It was like a delegation of the global MBB population. The feel of the room was overwhelming joy! They have a shared story. Together they shape the next part of their story. In many cases, they shed some of their feelings of being alone in identity and effort to see the good news among their own Muslim people group. These believers were meeting others from many different nations and contexts, but were finding common experiences and struggles reaching their focus area of the Muslim world. One older and seasoned Muslim background brother, said with bright eyes  “For all these years, I thought I was the only hammer chipping away at a giant mountain.  Now I know there are a multitude of other hammers helping me.”

There is a growth of global networks. We have entered a new era where not only are organizations networking together, but networks are networking together. Global networks are now collaborating for engagement of every people group and region. Global Alliance for Church Multiplication (GACX), Global Church Planters Network (GCPN), Finishing the Task (FTT), and the 24:14 Network are working together to develop strategies, conduct assessments, create tools, mobilize resources and most importantly prayer together weekly.

Kärin Butler Primuth expresses this well:

 “Through these networks, ministries around the world are meeting, sharing information and resources, and collectively working together to respond to some of the greatest challenges and opportunities of our day.… At the heart of every effective mission network is a vision to address a critical or strategic challenge that is beyond the scope of any single individual or organization. Networks create shared value through the intersection of ideas and expertise than can foster innovation, collaboration, and ultimately, Great Commission breakthroughs.

At a deeper level, these multicultural networks are one of the most visible and functional demonstrations of unity in the Body of Christ. In a world that is increasingly divided by race, culture, and religious identity, networks create a means for the global Church to demonstrate a powerful witness through unity, love, and partnership.”[6]

Strategies for UPGs, regional networks, funding the great commission, and accelerating church planting, are all examples of the growing spirit of collaboration.

I am thrilled to be serving in a new role in GACX (Global Alliance for Church Multiplication)[7] which focusses on global networking and partnership development. The vision of GACX is a priority for me because the presence of the Church of Jesus Christ, expressed by a local community of disciples readily available to every person on the planet, surely must be God’s will and design. He has provided through his Word and the Holy Spirit, everything we need to accomplish this in our generation. Let’s collaborate in a spirit of unity and in the power of the Holy Spirit himself so that we discern the signs of times and now how to shepherd well.

Key Points—Implications

  • The traditional agency was birthed during the “from the West to the rest” paradigm of doing missions.  The transition to the new paradigm is requiring that traditional agencies reexamine how they relate to other stake holders, two of which are new.
  • Problems are increasingly complex and need solutions outside of the reach of individual organizations.
  • The reach and diversity of the global church provides a broad base for which solutions to mission problems can be found.

Our Response—Action

  • We need to begin with collaboration in developing our vision and strategies—asking who are the key or potential stake holders?
  • Leaders need to be equipped with networking and partnership development skills to fulfill their mandate.
  • We need to be catalysts for regional partnerships, national initiatives, and networks focused on specific issues.

John Becker is Vice President for Global Networking and Partnerships at GACX and the Global Strategy Director at AIM International

Notes

 

[1] The power and authority given to Jesus is transferred to his Church as reference in Matthew 28, Luke 10, John 14, Acts 1, etc.

[2] Patrick Johnstone, The Future of the Global Church: History, Trends and Possibilities, IVP. 2011

[3] A term expressed by Thomas Hieber, DPE Consultation, Amsterdam, 2014

[4] Rick Wood, Mission Frontiers: Networks “Coming Together Around a Common Biblical Vision” (March-April 2017).

[5] Abide Bear Fruit Global Consultation on Ministry to Muslims was held in October 2017 in Thailand. It was organized by a leadership team commission by the Vision 5:9 network. For more information about outcomes read http://www.ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/35_1_PDFs/IJFM_35_1-DanielsandBecker.pdf

[6] Kärin Butler Primuth, Mission Frontiers: Networks “How Networks Are Shaping the Future of World Mission” (March-April 2017).

[7] www.gacx.io

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