Exceptional Europe

No, I'm not going to argue that the UK should remain in the EU, although I would hold that position. Let's not get diverted with those arguments. I am referring to an excellent book by the British sociologist, Grace Davie, Europe: The Exceptional Case where she argues, rather convincingly, that the only continent that is rejecting religion wholesale is Europe.

In light light of last week's posts, what is the role of the mission agency in this context. In the light of the fact that European churches seem incapable of reaching the non-Christian, especially secular, atheistic, liberal non-believers with the gospel, is there a role for mission agencies? This is the area where I think the agency comes into its own; with its experience facilitating mission elsewhere in the world, the role of the agency is to show the local church how to do mission here.

Lesslie Newbigin was a great example of a missionary bringing his experience from India back to Birmingham and sharing this experience with the UK for its benefit. (If you have never read Gospel in a Pluralist Society for do so without delay.)

There are missionaries from all over the world coming to the UK. They need people who have worked with the church in their home nations to come along side them to help orientate them to become more effective cross-cultural christian workers here.

See here for a Latin Perspective



Do Mission Agencies want to be First?

We were talking yesterday of the sometimes over inflated self-image of mission societies. Reflecting on this, Mark 10:44 came to mind. If anyone wants to be first then they must be slave (δοῦλος·) of all. If mission agencies wish to remain important to the world mission enterprise, service is the way.

So how does a mission agency serve the world church? It is all very well for a theologian to pontificate from the luxury of his or her study but, if mission agencies can only prove their validity by serviing the world church rather than simply facilitate mission from the West to the rest, or even from one continent to another, how is this done in practice?

The worldwide church is a fact that Christians have been slow to recognise. The  myth that the Western church is at the centre of what God is doing in the world is frustratingly persistent. We are, in a real sense a victim of the success of world mission. Not our success but God's.

The Modern Missionary Movement was brought to birth by the so-called Father of Modern Mission, William Carey (BTW who was the mother?). By 1910 the world mission movement saw itself as being within reach of the goal, "the evangelisation of the world in our generation". Archbishop William Temple said in the early twentieth century that the "great new fact of our time" is that there was a church in every nation. Henry Venn, the former director of CMS pointed out that the "goal" of 19th Century missions was the "euthanasia of mission structures".

So returning to the question, how do mission agencies serve that worldwide church. If we assume that the role of the local church in the world to reach out to that world, then the agency must be serving those local churches in their mission. What do those agencies bring to the local church? I guess it could be any number of things, mobilisation, resources (personel and practical), experience, expertise or encouragement.

For agencies who work with a regional emphasis this may mean transferring the main office, or at least the office that directs strategy to the place where they work. This would give the executives leading these agencies far more knowledge, information and feel for the church that the agenciy is aiming to serve. Great examples are OMF, SIM and WEC.

What do we think?


Let's get rid of mission agencies!

I've got an idea. Let's get rid of mission agencies! Where did this idea that mission agencies were essential for mission come from? Mission agencies, i suspect. Are mission agencies needed today. Sorry to be blunt but as a missional theologian, that's my job. I hope this will make us think.

We may have got rid of the titles such as The Particular Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Amongst the Heathen and The Regions Beyond Missionary Union and replaced them with pithy names such as BMS and Latin Link but have we actually changed our way of working? If not then, frankly are mission agencies redundant?

My answer to this is question is yes...and no. Traditionally mission agencies facilitated Western Christians to preach the gospel in 'foreign climes'; mostly where the gospel had never been preached and where there was no church. Today, where there is a church in every nation, what is the agencies' role? If agencies are still working in the traditional way, sending mission partners from a shrinking European Church then, I would say, "mene, mene, tekel, parsin". The agencies' days are numbered, we have been weighed and found wanting, and our role will be divided between those who can do a more useful job.

The answer to the question as to whether mission agencies are redundant must also be a resounding "no" but they need to be reformed or even re-formed. Traditionally they have served the Western church and its members, but today, to be at all useful or valid, the mission agency must serve the world church. In my own agency, we must be serving the Latin American church as much as, if not more than, the European church. Or we serve the European church by sending non-Western missionaries to serve in it.

This will mean structural changes need to take place. Can a mission agency that serves the growing world church, be based in a continent where the church is shrinking and is possibly sick unto dealth? These are few random thoughts that i hope will promote reflection.


Contemporary religion

I am rereading a fascinating book by the philosopher, John Gray (not the one who wrote Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus). He is a atheist--are real atheist--he calls Richard Dawkins "too Christian"! Here is a quote that I hope you find interesting. It is from a book called Heresies: Against Progress and other Illusions Granta Publications, 2004.

Of all modern delusions, the idea that we live in a secular age is the furthest from reality. Throughout much of the world, religion is thriving with undiminished vitality. Where believers are in the majority, as they are in Britain today, traditional faiths are being replaced by liberal humanism, which is now established as the  unthinking creed of thinking people. Yet liberal humanism its self very obviously a religion – but a shoddy replica of Christian faith markedly more irrational than the original article, and in recent times more harmful. If this is not recognised, it is because religion has been repressed from consciousness in the way that sexuality was repressed in Victorian times. Now as then, the result is not that the need disappears, but rather that it. returns in Bazaar and perverse forms. (pg 41).

Salus e mundo or Salus mundi?

I was giving a class to the All Nations MA students yesterday on salvation and mission. We had some interesting discussions. David Bosch said,

“The scope of salvation—however we define salvation—determines the scope of the missionary enterprise.” (Bosch, Transforming Mission, 1991: 393)

This is so true. If salvation is simply going to heaven when we die, then mission will be confined to evangelism. However, if we see salvation as incorporating the physical, social and political, mission becomes far wider. It is not so much Salus e mundo (salvation from the world) as Salus mundi (salvation of the world). This creates a certain number tensions is salvation horizontal or vertical; is it future or present and is it individual or social

In my dissertation I describe Miguez Bonino's view;

Christ’s death and resurrection are not viewed as the salvation of individuals from individual sin for an a-historical future but rather the re-launching of the original divine project for humanity. (Paul Davies, Faith Seeking Effectiveness (Zoetemeer: Boekencentrum, 2006) p. 139.)


What is the Church?

Yesterday, the MA group were treating the issue of "ecclesiology": the doctrine of the church. We noted that the church is sometimes seen as a hospital, a family and even a country club! In one sense it can act in these ways for good or ill, but it is not any of these things in itself. Theologically we could say it is the main instrument in the hands of the Holy Spirit to witness to, embody and work towards the establishment of the kingdom of God.  That would be more accurate but a bit theoretical.

Yes it is there to heal broken lives but that's not its main role, yes it is there to "contain" people like a family [contener is wonderful Spanish word meaning to contain as in a jar but also people within communities] and it is also a place for people to meet but it has a role beyond itself: God's just rule upon this earth.

In all it is and does the church [local and universal] should be to see God's rule announced; given a concrete form and worked towards. The church is God's revolutionary group.



Hoarding is idolatry!

I was amused more than annoyed when the Church of England's film was turned down for showing at UK cinemas. People asked what was so offensive. This got me thinking. That God's name is honoured rather than blasphemed, that his kingdom should come on earth and his will be done could two good starters for ten.

Then the next line hit me, "give us today our daily bread". Not bread for the week, or month or year but today and daily. Reflecting upon what Bonhoeffer says about this verse from Matthew is truly shocking and would most certainly be offensive our consumerist society.

Earthly goods are given to be used, not to be collected. In the wilderness God gave Israel the manna every day, and they had no need to worry about food and drink. Indeed, if they kept any of the manna over until the next day, it went bad. In the same way, the disciple must receive his portion from God every day. If he stores it up as a permanent possession, he spoils not only the gift, but himself as well, for he sets his heart on accumulated wealth, and makes it a barrier between himself and God. Where our treasure is, there is our trust, our security, our consolation and our God. Hoarding is idolatry.

George Osbourne would not approve!


The Cost of Being a Missionary

Yesterday I blogged about the need for missionaries to "work their way out of a job". I think this quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer sums up the internal attitude we need for that task.

"costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." "


Where did the idea that the role of a missionary was "to work your way out of a job" disappear to? Agh!!!!

I know I have blogged on this subject before but this issue keeps popping up. This post was prompted by a prayer request on one of our many prayer diaries that we follow. It basically asked that we pray for a certain missionary to settle in and be able to evangelize and disciple young people.

Now, I may be over-reacting but my first thought was, "it is the job of the local church, not the missionary or the agency, to evangelize and disciple".  Clearly the missionary should be a member of the local church and thereby be part of a group who do evangelism, however, the missionary should at least be attempting to train others to do the job.

One of the first slogans of mission I ever heard [and as the son of a mission trainer of 50 years that was a long time ago!] was the role of the missionary was to "work your way out of a job". Good old Roland Allen in his Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours said this 104 years ago! You would have thought, even in this dull-witted age, that we may have caught on by now.

What's the answer? Is it a moratorium on foreign missions? The answer is certainly not me whining on my blog! Answers on a postcard.


The future of mission agencies?

This past Wednesday at All Nations we had our annual missions fair. Almost 30 mission agencies were present. The students were able to get a lot of information from the literature and by asking questions of the representatives. This is always an interesting time for them although they often feel overwhelmed.

It always interests me how mission reps view the role of their agency and agencies in general. I also, in conversation try and provoke discussion on the role of agencies in mission today.

An interesting piece of data I picked up is that agencies are getting smaller. They have fewer missionaries and some are attempting merge with other agencies. The reasons given were also interesting. Most blamed both fewer people going into mission, more short-term mission and direct sending from churches. We will come back to this.

Because was representing Latin Link a few people mentioned that they had seen fast growth in Latin Americans in mission. Somebody told me that in a missionary kids classroom over half the kids were Brazilian.

O what is the future of the mission agency? Since the end of the eighteenth century and the beginnings of the so-called "Modern Mission Movement" with the BMS, CMS and LMS, et, it was assumed that sending through an missio agency, as a middle-man between the church and the missionary overseas was the best way forward. This has been questioned in the past twenty to thirty years.

Large churches send their missionaries directly. Other models are being tried such as the Latin American mission agency that is a receiving body rather than a sending one. They receive, orientate and care for the "field" side of things and the church deals with sending of money and home-leave issues. This is not perfect but s questioning whether the traditional mission agency should be changing.