by Gary Corwin
In May 2010 a small but important conference took place under the moniker of “Becoming Globally Friendly.”
In May 2010 a small but important conference took place under the moniker of “Becoming Globally Friendly.” It was sponsored by the mission association CrossGlobal Link, and its purpose was to help predominantly Western agencies become more effective in coping with the new paradigm in mission in which the largest percentage of new harvest workers are now coming from the Majority World. Conference participants heard from Majority World mission leaders as well as from each other, and many left the conference expressing gratitude for the insights and models they had gained.
The conference left me reflecting on an earlier day and on just how far the mission enterprise has come. Some of you, like me, are old enough to remember the early 1970s from a ministry point of view. The cry of the time was for moratorium—that missions from the West to the rest had had its day, and that the churches of what was then called the “Third World” were ready to run their own affairs. They didn’t need paternalistic Western missions telling them what to do.
Urbana 1973 featured a young man from Zimbabwe then attending Wheaton College. Pius Wakatama very eloquently addressed many of the relationship issues that provided the rich garden soil out of which the call for moratorium had grown. He later published an expanded version of his thoughts in the aptly named book, Independence for the Third World Church (1976).
The feeling at the time in evangelical mission circles was that while a strong case against a too paternalistic approach was appropriately being made (by people like Wakatama), and that changes must come, the push for moratorium was a Trojan horse of the mainline liberal modernists. The mandate for mission outlined in the scriptures had not been erased, and it still included those of us from the West. The more farsighted among us also realized that it included everyone else, too.
From a broader perspective, the nationalistic stirrings that had reached a high crescendo at the time created an electric atmosphere in much of the Global Church. It might be compared to the tensions that exist in every home in one form or another when teenagers are entering into young adulthood and parents aren’t quite sure they are ready for all that means. Harold Fuller, writing in 1975 in a book called Mission-Church Dynamics, diagnosed well the particulars of the situation and helpfully pointed out that a “nationalist” period of church independence (not unlike the national independence into which many nations of the Global South had entered in the 1960s) was necessary before the interdependence of church and mission could come into anything approaching full bloom.
In the meantime, it was argued, all should remember that mission (the church itinerant) and the church local are different, symbiotically related to be sure, but different—and that each must perform its God-given role to his glory.
In God’s good providence, 1974 brought forth the historic first Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, which among its several great accomplishments provided a strong and biblical-evangelical response to the cries for moratorium, but also set in motion in a new and dynamic way the major corrective to the paternalistic overhang in mission-church relations that birthed those cries.
The antidote, which has guided and united mission endeavor to a remarkable degree for almost half a century now, was the recognition that “hidden peoples,” “unreached peoples,” or “least reached peoples” constituted the primary and unfinished task of mission, and that paying proper attention to that half of the world with least access to the gospel was at the heart of mission.
Rather than hovering over their “teenagers” in less than welcome excess, missions now had a corrective that would carry them forward for decades. The churches of the Global South meanwhile would find their own footing and strengths, and make their own strategic and missional impact in the world; which they have done.
What we experienced in Chicago during those days in May was in many ways a reflection of this virtuous cycle. Independence for the churches of the Global South has matured into churches multiplying mission, and mission from anywhere to everywhere has become the glorious order of the day.
The task of our time now is to pour fuel on the fire to accelerate the achievement of genuine interdependence in mission between the old and the new, the South and the North, the East and the West, and the black, the brown, and the white. May it multiply and grow from vision to action to glorious reality.
If the post-1974 clarion call was to a refined focus on the task of “a church for every people,” perhaps the addition of a post-2010 clarion call will be to a refined focus on the task force: “Mission from every nation to every people—together.”
Gary Corwin is associate editor of EMQ and staff missiologist with the international office of Serving in Mission (SIM).
EMQ, Vol. 47, No. 1, pp. 8-9. Copyright © 2011 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.