Missions is a central and permanent fixture of the Church. Robust mission outreach pulsates all over the globe and there is no reason to expect this to change. History has shown that when one regional mission base begins to wane in vitality and momentum, another picks it up. God’s missional program is not confined to the predilections of a particular region, people, country, or culture. Like the wind, his missional Spirit blows on to where he finds new passionate hearts willing to engage the world for him.
Globalization has brought a higher degree of connectedness and interdependence to the universal church than ever achieved in the past. Consequently, the global mission endeavor has become both flat (equally accessible) and an amalgamation (thoroughly blended) at the same time.
In the midst of the mixing of the “from everywhere to anywhere” of missions today, the Majority World Missions movement has emerged as just that – the majority! Our relationship, as North Americans, with that missions sector continues to be dynamic and, as such, in need of continual evaluation and refining. The following are cautions that we dare not neglect as we interface with that mission movement which is now numerically dominating the worldwide missions landscape.
- We dare not be offended when criticized by the leaders who represent this movement. As we sit in forums together, it is not uncommon to hear Majority World mission leaders express their suspicion, distrust, disappointment, and even some anger at North American mission leaders. Injustices, whether real or perceived, different culturally engrained leadership styles, and differing philosophies of ministry enter into this tension. We must recognize that there is a history that brings about this reaction, and many times it is because we North Americans legitimately brought it upon ourselves. We need to be mature enough and humble enough to receive such criticism.
- We dare not be condescending. These leaders are mature, bright, and intelligent, having been trained in some of the world’s finest institutions. Many have deeper mission experience in more difficult ministry locales than many of us. We can learn much from their seasoned perspectives on global ministry. We must come to the table not just as friends and consultants, but also as listeners and learners.
- We dare not put them on a pedestal. On the other hand, we need to recognize that they experience struggles that demoralize. They struggle with tensions within their organizations, within their mission communities, within their countries of service and within themselves. This takes a toll on them and, like us, they too need divine guidance every day from the same sources we draw upon for strength, wisdom, and spiritual vitality. We must exercise patience and be encouragers.
- We dare not misunderstand the new relationship that has been a progression and continues to evolve. We started as senior partners, moved to equal partners, then became junior partners. Now it is best to see ourselves not as partners at all, as if we still have a stake in leveraging influence in their affairs. It is better to see ourselves as participants – global participants – exercising discretion to participate when asked and not participate if not invited to do so.
- We dare not call them by the wrong name. It has been convenient for us in the West (Europe and North America) to paint with a broad-stroke, the label “Majority World Missions” in reference to our counterparts found in the rest of the world. Over time we have improved upon previous offensive nomenclature such as “Developing World,” “Third-World” and “Two-Thirds World,” by employing this current label, or the “Global South.” Ultimately we must ask, “Does the rest of the world want to be so labeled, and be lumped together as if it were one affinity block?” Other than having in common the fact that they are believers, what does an urban Brazilian have in common with a rural Indonesian, or a house-church Chinese with an orthodox Egyptian, or a well-educated Sri Lankan with an uneducated Oku tribesman? Also, it is evident that there are major cultural sub-blocks within the mega-block “Majority World”: East Asians, South Asians, Africans, and Latinos. Are they offended that we lump them all together as such? We need to exercise sensitivity here.
- We dare not be simply a “willing participant,” but rather must be a “worthy participant.” It has been common for Majority World churches to indiscriminately partner with any group from North America that was willing to forge a partnership with them. This is becoming less and less the case. Majority World churches and missions are becoming more selective with whom they partner. Whether it be because of their more conservative theology, their standard of orthodoxy, or their moral code of conduct (that some might call legalism) many are becoming much more discrete and even laying out terms of engagement when it comes to partnering with North American counterparts. Also, the North American penchant to “move on” in relationships is not taken kindly in cultures where long-term commitments are a high value and “the Christian thing to do.” We need to exercise integrity, as they view integrity, when building relationships.
Today, as we work in an increasingly flat and amalgamated mission landscape, we have an advantage not afforded past generations. We have the advantage of participating in multiple countrywide, regional and global mission focused networks that have proliferated in recent years. So that we not overstay our welcome or diminish our value, we from North America must engage with prudence, applying the cautions mentioned above.