With an Eye on the Future

by Gary Corwin

At the Missio Nexus-sponsored North American Mission Leaders Conference last September, a reception took place honoring the 50th anniversary of EMQ. As part of the program, I was asked to make some comments on what I thought EMQ might be keeping its eye on in the future. It occurred to me that my list might be of interest to all of our readers. For the anniversary, I came up with three items. Another has come to mind since, so I’ll offer it here as well.

At the Missio Nexus-sponsored North American Mission Leaders Conference last September, a reception took place honoring the 50th anniversary of EMQ. As part of the program, I was asked to make some comments on what I thought EMQ might be keeping its eye on in the future. It occurred to me that my list might be of interest to all of our readers.

For the anniversary, I came up with three items. Another has come to mind since, so I’ll offer it here as well. I must warn you, however, that I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet. My only basis for prognosticating is that there are trends we are seeing that would seem to have a high probability of continuing and enlarging in the years ahead. Those that I believe could be significant for the mission community are as follows:

#1: The shift in Christian and mission leadership from the West to the Global South, following now on the heels of the numerical strength shift that has already taken place. We are still in an early stage, but anyone who attended Cape Town 2010, or has kept an eye on leadership developments among international missions and networks, has seen the signs. The big question that remains is how gracefully those of us from the West will continue to make a significant contribution to the great cause when we are no longer setting the agenda, and how patient those from the Global South will be with our likely awkward efforts. EMQ will certainly be keeping an eye on this one, and as our October 2014 issue shows, we are likely to have an increasing level of excellent input on this and many other issues from all corners of the globe.

#2: The waning of the Pax Americana as the dominant factor in global geo-politics. Politics are fickle, but as any Brit in his or her senior years can testify, the trappings of global influence and power can shift rapidly. The impact for missions will be most startling for those of us from North America who have come to take certain advantages related to travel, currency, security, acceptance, etc. pretty much for granted.

Again, the signs of autumn change are already observable for those with eyes to see. For the cause of missions more generally, however, this change may very well bring signs of spring and new life, even if tempered by the seasonal storms that accompany such transitions. Yes, there may even be greater turmoil unleashed than most of us have seen in our entire lifetime, but God has a way of using turmoil to accomplish his purposes in ways that would not otherwise be possible. So hang on to your hat, but keep your eyes fixed for signs of the Spirit’s moving. EMQ will be.

#3: The simultaneous and counter-intuitive growth and significance to the global landscape of both Islamic militancy and movements to Christ of Muslim peoples. As I sat at my computer writing this, the world was reflecting on the latest escalation of conflict with the forces of Islamic militancy in Iraq and Syria. I don’t believe this latest episode in a 1500-year clash of civilizations will be over any time soon.

Yet, as David Garrison has so wonderfully documented in A Wind in the House of Islam, God has chosen to use such a time as this to bring more Muslims to Christ by far than had ever taken place before. Only two movements to Christ of Muslim peoples (defined as one thousand believers or one hundred churches planted) occurred in the whole period before 1980. Another thirteen occurred between 1981 and 2000. And an astounding sixty-nine more between 2001and 2012! God is doing something truly remarkable (which helps explain why there is controversy over what is happening). EMQ will be continuing to monitor the progress and the debates, so stay tuned.

#4: The changing landscape of North American cultural attitudes and actions toward churches, and the resulting impact on church life, including commitment to and resourcing of missions. I believe it is not too early to be thinking seriously about how mission agencies would respond under various unwelcome scenarios. The changes that come could be as simple as removing tax deductions for charitable giving to churches, or currency exchange controls. Or they could be as heavy-handed as requiring licensure and approval through the State Department for citizens doing any kind of business overseas, or licensure and approval for any public gathering over a certain number of people.

The point is that the trajectory for full religious freedom, let alone public appreciation for religious institutions, has long been moving in the wrong direction.

Our pastor, Dr. Mike Ross, spoke recently of being asked by a younger pastor, “Does the gospel have a shelf life?” The younger man, of course, was reflecting on the long history of decline and even extinction of Christian influence in many parts of the world where it once flourished. Pastor Ross’ response was that it is neither the gospel nor the Christian religion that has a shelf life, but that the church in a town, region, or nation can and often does. We ignore such possibilities to our peril.

….

Gary Corwin is staff missiologist with the international office of SIM.

EMQ, Vol. 51, No. 2 pp. 132-132. Copyright  © 2015 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism.  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.

 

 

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