Thinking about World Missions Today

I was invited to participate, along with three others, in a panel discussion on November 9, 2011, at Messiah College on the subject of world missions. This was part of the college’s Missions Awareness Week.

Messiah College is located in south-central PA, at the village of Grantham, and is closely connected with its founding denomination, the Brethren in Christ Church. I was invited to be on the panel because of my role with Brethren in Christ World Missions.

We were given five questions ahead of time. Below are the notes I jotted down about each area. In the one-hour discussion I was not able to share every comment you see here, but I did share the top two or three.

In the perspective of your mission organization, what is the single most significant change in world missions in the past the years?
• The mistaken impression that global evangelization is finished and long-term, evangelism-oriented missionaries are no longer needed.
• Missionaries are going out not just from the West to the South and East, but are going out from everywhere to everywhere.
• We are asking our missionaries to raise a large portion of their financial support whereas in the past our organization provided full support fro every missionary we sent out.
• The rise of radical Islam and the advances of Islam in the UK and other European nations.
• Local churches tend to bypass missions agencies and do missions on their own.
• The increase of short term missions.
• From the West, the increase of ministries of compassion and the relative neglect of evangelism and church planting.
• The increase of liberal theology in the West while the church in the global South remains conservative in theology.

Are North Americans well equipped culturally for cross-cultural missions in the current global contest? Why or why not?
Are well equipped.
• We have a certain level of global awareness.
• We have a long history of Christian missionaries who have modeled Christlike service and sacrifice.
• The younger generation adapts quickly to new technologies, new ways of thinking, and new ways of relating to other people locally and around the world.
Are not well equipped.
• We have a cultural pride and blindness that trips us up time after time.
• We create dependency everywhere we go and rob the people of the privilege of seeing God work through local resources.
• The Y generation assumes that everyone loves them and will welcome all their ways, and that other generations must adapt to them but they do not have to adapt to the other generations.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of short-term missions?
• Short-term service can lead to long-term change in those who go on the trip.
• We learn by doing, not just by hearing reports of what others are doing.
• Some short-term people return as long-term workers.
• General comment: We are aware that the short-term service phenomenon is a result of the affluence of North America. The teens from the villages of Zambia and Thailand are not coming here on short-term service trips.
• High school students act out their insecurities and frustration and come home to life as usual without a passion for the work-wide work of Christ.
• On our trips we talk too much, oversimplify complex issues, minimize the role of presence (in contrast to talking and doing), and minimize the role of prayer.
• We see every problem as a financial one and see our money as the answer.

What is your organization’s policy on applicants with student debt?
Our organization accepts such applicants. Of the loan balance at the time of entering long-term service, we will pay a given percent of the loan per year, with a lifetime stated maximum amount.

What one piece of advice would you offer for students seeking a vocation in cross-cultural ministries?
• Get experience now in sharing your faith, discipling new believers, and starting small groups that multiply – because that is what you will be asked to do in your field of service.
• Learn to think biblically and theologically, not on the basis of your personal comfort and success.
• Develop biblical, Christlike understandings of success and failure.
• Ask God where you can do the most good. You will encounter many organizations (not all of them Christian) that help the poor. Ask what is the greatest poverty, and ask God what role he wants you to have in relieving that poverty.
• Be convinced that a healthy Christian is either a goer or sender for world missions, and talk about this to others wherever you go.
• When you go to another culture, go as a learner.
• Learn well the characteristics of the various generations here, and prepare to affirm the good in all generations and to adapt yourself appropriately to other generations.

* * * *

As you can see, some of my comments were bold and somewhat controversial, but I figured that college students are well able to deal with frankness and controversy.

Do you have anything you want to add to this conversation?

One Response

  1. Happened to bump into this today…

    Loved your thought here, John “Get experience now in sharing your faith, discipling new believers, and starting small groups that multiply – because that is what you will be asked to do in your field of service.”

    You might consider adding, “Fall in love with Jesus” Without heartfelt, ongoing intimacy and the power of the Holy Spirit the rest really is just a job.

    Eh, you know that 🙂


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