Where is world mission going? This is a pertinent question but one that is not easy to answer. Well, actually it is easy to answer just not accurately! The certainties of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have evaporated–maybe they weren’t certainties at all, even then. Europe and then the United States of America dominated world missions back then. The theology, the strategy and the resources originated in those places. Missionaries raised support from their home churches, and set off, through the mediation of a, so-called, mission agency and worked, planting churches, evangelising, making disciples or doing development work in a place or in a church that was dependent upon Western ministries.
Today it is rather more complicated. God does not let missionaries and ministers dominate mission and ministry. The average missionary is not light skinned, Western and rich dark skinned, southern and poor. The nationality of the largest number of Christian missionaries to Saudi Arabia is Philippine. They are mostly maids to rich families and are very vulnerable but they are speaking about Jesus to non-Christians. African, Asian and Latin American in mission and ministry is growing fast. Jehu Hanciles, an American mission thinker, in his book, Mission in the 21st Century said,
‘Western missionary initiatives remain the most visible but are no longer the most dominant or consequential. Through migrant movements, Christian missionary activities are criss-crossing the globe in unprecedented fashion, mainly through trans-national networks. Among the swelling tide of quest workers, students, labour migrants, asylum seekers, political and economic refugees, and family members of previous migrants are innumerable Christians, each one a missionary in some sense.
This is a new mission force, which is not under the supervision or guidance of anyone. They are almost completely untrained and certainly not ordained (maybe by God!). This is messy mission at its messiest. Church Growth theory, unreached people group strategy, people movement methods are all left to do their own thing whilst God, it seems, is going AWOL and using these rather less organised ways to spread the Gospel! I say, most unorthodox!
This sort of thing, of course, has historical precedence. Exile, slavery and emigration have been ways in which God has used to spread the gospel for centuries. The Western mission movement, however, seems to have forgotten this, or it has arrogantly thought that the way mission has been done in the past 220 odd years is the norm and that is the way it will continue. Well, I think I have a disturbing message, IT IS NOT!
Church growth among the poor, the closing of borders to Westerners, the opening of borders to trade have all combined and conspired to a “new” and rather messy way of doing mission. How will the Western mission movement react to this? If this is a move of God, how can we “plug into” what God is doing?