by Robert Rasmussen
Recently, I showed a Kenyan missions leader a copy of a magazine which focused on the AD2000 and Beyond Movement and asked his opinion.
Recently, I showed a Kenyan missions leader a copy of a magazine which focused on the AD2000 and Beyond Movement and asked his opinion. First, he said it was not realistic; that it just can’t be done in such a short time. Second, that there was no way we could train enough workers from Africa to make a contribution.
Then he pulled a crisp copy of the same magazine out of his drawer, saying that when he received it, he leafed through it, checked the statistics, and tossed it aside. “I’ve decided not to participate in these big global plans,” he said.
I report this not to criticize the movement or those who speak for it. Neither do I wish to argue about the feasibility of the goals. Nor are the issues I raise unique to the AD2000 and Beyond Movement. Hosts of us are seeking to mobilize large-scale regional or national movements.
Unfortunately, many of our brothers are responding to our campaigns by “checking out.” Those brothers and sisters who are crucial to helping fulfill the Great Commission are not responding to strategies from “outside.” To be sure, the AD2000 thrust is designed to be a grassroots movement, but ideas perceived to be “Western” can appear so out of touch with the emerging missionary force that they run the risk of self-marginalization.
The reason may be as simple as a failure to analyze a major portion of our intended audience.
Despite all the ink we have used discussing contextualization, we have not contextualized our message. The global thrust for completing the missionary task is so ambitious and hurried that it is causing many of our non-Western coworkers to plug their ears.
BEYOND A.D. 2000
Unless our Lord returns within the next decade, there will be a next phase of mission. Can we do anything beyond 2000 to increase the effectiveness of the whole body of Christ? I propose the following.
1. Encourage local vision. The zeal and creativity of global mission planners are admirable. Their desire to gather the efforts of all the world’s missionaries is logical, even timely. Yet there is an inherent danger: Vision from outside (even if it is merely perceived as coming from outside), no matter how well-planned, is nevertheless not indigenous, and therefore, not easily owned.
The even greater danger is that a steady diet of unowned vision can take away the appetites of Third World missionary thinkers to generate their own vision. Is it possible that for every national agenda that has been drawn up for the 2000 challenge that a local agenda (whether actual or potential) has been set aside?
If the church of Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, and Oceania is to be the missionary force of the 21st century, it will need to examine the possibilities from its various points of view. Non-Western nations are tired of being asked to subscribe to the big schemes of the United States and the United Kingdom. They have earned the right to catch their collective breath and dream their own dreams—some of them, initially, in isolation from the West.
At least in this part of the globe, people have for so long been told what to do and how to think, that one of the best gifts of the Western church would be to respect their ability to discuss what they would like to do about reaching the unreached, and how they would like to do it, using their own timetables, presuppositions, and vocabularies.
I’ll never forget a meeting I had with 20 or so Kenyan pastors. When I broached the subject of what their visions for ministry were, I was met with a deafening silence.
Their concerns focused on ministry survival: paying rent on the church building; getting Bibles for their services, and so on. As important as indigenous vision is, it must be nurtured, not assumed.
One South African pastor recently told one of my colleagues, “Under apartheid, it has been so long since we had the freedom to think that now we need to learn how to think for ourselves.” Is it any wonder that a five-year plan for world evangelization might strike him as a bit overwhelming?
2. Listen more.The vast majority of participants at GCOWE ‘95 in Seoul were from the grassroots level of field ministry. Opportunities were provided for national delegations to confer about their own plans for their own countries. These genuine efforts to facilitate dialogue are laudable. Yet the sheer size of the consultation, and others like it, along with the relative brevity of time, could have hindered further defining and owning national plans for evangelism and mission.
One is prone to ask, Given the time required to develop strategies and the diversity of peoples involved, are coordinated global plans and quality interaction mutually exclusive? As I have talked with many church leaders, I fear that many of our brothers and sisters truly want to belong to, and feel integrally related to, what God is doing, but believe that the immensity of the program leaves little opportunity to speak and be heard. Naive promises of easy solutions are not in order.
As we already know, international cooperation produces tension between finding quality time to hear one another and accomplishing large-scale advances. Recognizing this, let us strengthen our determination to hear one another’s frustrations and aspirations.
3. Slow down. Our belief in the immanency of Christ’s return (and the urgency it suggests) must somehow find a balance in God’s sovereignty in fulfilling Revelation 7:9. The rapture of the church isn’t going to misfire and leave God short of time to populate heaven the way he wants to. Yet our efforts to bring across a sense of urgency to mission can suggest otherwise.
There is more than an eschatological point here. Culturally, the many calls to “Hurry up!” only motivate a minority of societies. If the burgeoning missions force of Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans is truly needed to help fulfill the Missio Dei, then we need to quit trying to motivate them as if they were “hurry up” cultures. Most of these brethren have a world view that says there is plenty of time to do whatever is really important.
Additionally, progress normally takes longer than we like. My tendency is to go too swiftly and assume I’m training effectively. One of our ministries is a one-year training program for church planters. During that year, each participant must try to plant a church. After our first year, we kept one of the brightest students to help us train the second class. I’m a bit chagrined to report that midway through that second year, our brother said, “I’m starting to see what you guys have been talking about.”
When we remember that many of our sisters and brothers are going through a paradigm shift from missionary-as-comer to missionary-as-goer, we would be wise to grant them time. Cannot the new century take on a less hectic feel, where we band together in confident participation under the strong sovereignty of the God who cannot fail to fulfill his evangelistic intentions?
4. Take time to train quality missionaries.As much as Western agencies emphasize training before sending, it is incredible that we push for Third World mobilization without sufficiently preparing these people. Sending a team from a local church (from any part of the world) into a city in the 10-40 Window, with no more than one or two weeks of training, makes no sense. Given the spiritual strongholds in Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and traditional areas, what sanity is there in sending inexperienced intercessors to demon-charged cultures? Yet we overlook their inadequacies in the name of the shortness of time.
Many people understand our message to be, “Just get out there and do it, ready or not.” But if we want our brothers and sisters to have a fair chance of succeeding, let’s not encourage them to go if they are not trained. Failure is a heady demotivator. Noble ends—including “a church for every people and the gospel for every person”—must not justify the means of coaxing willing but unprepared candidates into service.
5. Focus goal-setting on process as well as product. The desire to participate in missions is rampant in theevangelized portions of the world, but the steps to helping an individual actually reach his target culture are just coming into view. The infrastructure of building sending congregations, recruiting, training, sponsoring, and deploying missionaries has not been constructed in many places.
To its credit, the AD2000 and Beyond Movement has established resource groups to brainstorm on these issues. I advocate that more emphasis be placed on the process of missions.
Setting goals that seem to focus only on the product while overlooking this process is akin to fraud, in that it builds an expectation that cannot be realistically fulfilled.
If we want our mission ventures to grow from the grassroots, even where the mission enterprise is just beginning, we must set measurable objectives that build from the ground level. (Where they exist, such goals must be primary, and not to be mentioned without careful thought.)
We should set (and continually emphasize) goals for establishing and multiplying programs that build mission awareness in local churches. We should teach how to give financially to the Lord’s work, including missions. We must include the crucial issue of handling church finances with honesty and accountability, since this is one of the most debilitating obstacles in the African church’s path to missions involvement. Then local training programs and sending agencies must increase. I minister in a country with one of the highest expatriate missionary populations in Africa, but I could count on one hand the indigenous sending agencies (and have fingers left over).
While these issues sound rudimentary to those who cut their teeth on annual missions conferences, they are the necessary next steps for most African churches. The same can likely be said for the Southern Hemisphere.
Just as a nation doesn’t learn how to implement democracy in a year or two, neither does a national church discover how to deploy effective missionaries quickly. Let’s set goals to build the steps that lead gradually to the high calling of placing a missionary.
6. Ground our words in faith plus reality. Generally, lofty goals produce heightened performance. But there is a point at which loftiness turns counterproductive. That point arrives when goals are no longer rooted in perceived reality. 2 Corinthians 2:9 is not license for spiritual presumption.
Understandably, AD2000 and Beyond goals are sizable. The Joshua Project 2000 (as expressed in Mission Frontiers, vol.17:11-1) includes the following goals by participating groups:
- “a bold initiative to reach 1,000,000,000 (one billion) previously unevangelized people with the gospel, systematically, where they live . . . by the year 2000.”
- “to encourage all involved in a country toward an active Bible translation program for all groups of 100,000 speakers by December, 1997, and some Scripture produced in written and audio form by December 2000.”
- “to provide everyone in the world at least one opportunity to see the ‘Jesus’ film through cooperative efforts worldwide.”
One cannot help but wonder if such ambitious goal-setting creates a credibility problem for many readers. Do we really mean such goals to be taken seriously, or are we speaking hyperbolically to build motivation? If the latter, do readers understand our exaggeration? Do we mean what we say?
Truth-telling is a two-way street, of course. We all know that in many non-Western cultures, accuracy is often compromised in order to preserve a relationship. Some of our would-be partners might respond affirmatively to requests for participation in global goals, not because they anticipate success in reaching them, but to avoid disappointing us.
Similarly, their progress reports may be designed more to maintain their relationship with their missions-minded brethren from across the globe than to reveal what is happening.
We can be sure that God is going to advance his kingdom through this end-of-century push to reach the most needy peoples. We can also be sure that God is going to teachhis church some valuable lessons through the experience.
May we enter the new millennium with a teachable attitude, having learned critical lessons that will serve us well in the next chapter in the story of mission.
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