The 21st Century – A ‘Game Changer’ Era for World Mission
Down through the ages, certain people have had an uncanny ability to discern the time for change. They grasped the moment and seized the opportunity that an approaching era affords and have pioneered something new. Often they became a catalyst for a new generation to experience opportunities they otherwise would not have experienced. And some have even advantaged generations that followed! They became ‘game changers’ in world history!
The only thing constant in this world is change – it has been observed! Nothing stays as it is or once was. Nostalgia, no matter how powerful, will not keep things as they are or return us to a preferred past! Empires, countries, communities, industries and companies have either declined or thrived throughout the ‘constant of change’ based on their ability or inability to discern, refocus, change and adapt to new realities.
Mission History and World History Exist as Parallel Movements
The history of Christian mission likewise highlights the Church’s ability, or otherwise, to capture the potential of its unique moment; change, refocus, adapt to a new reality and move the world Christian movement forward.
Mission history and world history have always existed as parallel movements. The changing landscape of world history has always created new and different opportunities to advance the world Christian movement.
William Carey, Hudson Taylor, Townsend and McGavran and those of the modern missionary movement era, for example, carried forward world Christian mission in the context of the Colonial era of world history. This era enabled mission to be carried from ‘the west to the rest’. The continents of Africa, Asia and the Americas that were targeted by Europeans for expansion also represented the continents where the evangelical message was so desperately needed. The Colonial era provided western missionaries with access, opportunity, influence and resources in order to do mission effectively in that global context.
This is not the Church, ‘following the world’, so to speak. Theologians have always believed that world history is His-Story! God does not program history but He does guide it. As a result, God provides His people, in each and every generation, with the opportunities to be on mission with God, moving God’s mission agenda ever so closer to the ends of the earth and the end of the age (Ac 1:8, Mt 28:20).
New eras often provide new realities, most of which had slowly been evolving through previous eras. For example, the technological realities enjoyed in today’s world were not created in a vacuum. They developed from the innovative daring of previous generations.
Today’s digital age is enjoyed because of the previous analogue age (remember VHS video players) and a mechanical age before that (remember the mechanical buzz of the movie projector in your local cinema – for those old enough to have experienced that pleasurable sound)!
In similar fashion today’s mission realities exist only because of the mission progress made through the obedience, commitment and sacrifice of God’s people doing mission in previous eras. As a result we are now at the final frontiers. We are like harvesters staring up at the top of the mango tree wondering how we can harvest those, difficult to reach, remaining mangoes. The good news is, that, unlike previous generations, there now exists high tech digitally operated mango pickers!
I’m not referring to digital ways of reaching people. This is only an allegory. God’s method of reaching people has always been through people – His people! But mission progress means that God’s people now exist on every inhabitable continent on earth and in every country of the world. Mission is no longer from the west to the rest! Near-neighbor mission is the new reality of the 21st Century.
Near-neighbor Mission – The New Reality of the 21st Century
In fact there has never been a generation of the Church quite like this generation. The Church today exists on every inhabitable continent on earth and in every country of the world – and often in sizable numbers. The Church is not only geographically close to the world’s remaining unreached but, and arguably even more importantly, close culturally and linguistically! In fact, we speak more languages today then ever before and we are more culturally diverse and geographically dispersed than in our entire history.
In addition, through God’s involvement in globalization (Ac 17:26,27), people representing unreached peoples now reside in countries we have traditionally referred to as missionary sending countries! Countries such as the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Germany and other western European countries all now have large numbers of people representing unreached peoples residing in their cities and communities!
To say that God participates in world mission is a huge understatement. He has been the dominant, lead player all through history. In more recent times He has been strategically ensuring that the world’s remaining unreached are now positioned in the closest proximity to His people. He has in fact positioned them on the very door step of the Church!
The Great Commission, the term we are most familiar with that describes describes our God assigned task, is in fact a ‘finishable task’. It can reach ‘closure’ in this era of world history and in fact in this generation but only if we can change, refocus and adapt to this new and exciting context of world history in which we must now do mission.
Sadly, the very people who ought to be at the forefront of change (God’s people) are so often straggling far behind! Agents of change are needed. Mobilizers are called upon to be one such catalyst for change, in this season for change!
A Fresh Perspective
Interestingly, as we move closer to ‘closure’ of world Christian mission, God’s agenda becomes clearer and His full purpose comes into sharper focus.
Some of the more critical areas of change and/or in need of a fresh perspective are the following:
1. All God’s People Engaged in Mission with God
The New Testament is not only the age of the Holy Spirit. It is also the age of ‘the ministry of all believers’. The Holy Spirit has been sent to empower all God’s people to be on mission with God (Ac 1:8). Plain and simple! No exceptions- no excuse!
It should be noted here, that mission is more than reaching unreached peoples, it also involves saving unsaved people in reached people groups and bearing witness to Christ’s coming new world (Mt 24:14). Mission, however, is not less than reaching unreached peoples. This aspect of world mission still remains a priority and for many reasons, not least of which, is that it remains the only ‘finishable’ task of world mission and the catalyst to accomplishing the full complement of God’s agenda for this age! (add link)
2. Local Churches must Facilitate God’s People on Mission with God
Local churches are not eternal but God’s people are! Local churches will pass away (1 Pe 5:2-4) but God’s people are destined to live and reign with Christ for all eternity, in God’s new world (2 Pe 3:13). This age is all about God taking out of the world a people for His name (Ac 15). Not just rescuing us from sin but preparing us for God’s new world (1Co 3:9, 2 Co 11:2). The local church is from where this process is overseen!
3. Agencies Must Provide Leadership in Helping Facilitate Cross-cultural Mission in Today’s World
We can and should expect God to continue His ‘modus operandi’ of raising up structures that serve God’s people in mission. Especially among the newer churches of the majority world. Older mission structures birthed in ‘yester-years’ realities must change to reflect the new realities of the 21st century! It is worrisome to observe some mission agencies lagging behind in this regards and continuing to do mission with a Colonial era mindset! This is reflective in, for example: of the idea of missionary sending and receiving countries (some mission agencies still don’t see the benefit of missionaries serving cross-culturally in their home country where they, very possibly, could be more fruitful); of encouraging E 3 cross-cultural mission as opposed to promoting E2 (near-neighbor) and; with some still stuck in the belief that cross-cultural mission is the sole responsibility of highly trained missionary professionals who serve abroad. Mission agencies could and should, in addition to continuing many of their traditional approaches to mission, repackage their missiological expertise for use in local churches, whose members often interact with unreached peoples on a daily basis in their work and community.
With more followers of Jesus alive on planet earth today than ever before. The potential exists for the greatest harvest of all time! But this will only happen if we can change, refocus and adapt to the new realities of this new era in world history.
This just could be the last generation prior to Christ’s return. In laboring together with God (1 Co 3:9), we have the elevated privilege of hastening Christ’s return (2 Pe 3:12). We cannot exaggerate the need for a whole hearted response by all God’s people and from all expression of the Body of Christ in obedience to Christ’s last command-it mus be our highest priority!
Max W. Chismon