Tuesday, November 14, 2006

the end of the "missionary" as we know it

I have had some great conversations with my friend Chad the last few days. They were about what it means for an emergent-type missional church to go global.

The Traditional Model:
This model was created in the days of the "missionary." The idea was that the western church would gather their resources and form "societies" that sent missionaries around the world to spread the gospel. Many of these mission societies became "conventions" or denominational affiliations. It was enough for the local church in America to give a percentage to these huge organization. Those mission organizations would then collect all that money in order to train and equip missionaries to be sent around the world.

Problem: The local western church became disconnected with the global church.

The Mega-model:
This model takes a similar principle from the traditional model and makes it localized. The pulling of resources is the core value here. If a church can get enough people in one place, then all those resources can be enough do great things. One of those great things is to send one's own missionaries straight from the local church to distant parts of the globe to reach people for Christ.

It seems that as this model was being developed, the old dichotomy between "preaching the gospel" and "social justice" was being torn down. It no longer made sense to send western missionaries to preach a gospel that has been westernized. Missionaries began to address social concerns of the new culture in which they lived. They also began to allow the gospel to be manifested in a culturally relevant way. Rather than trying to be "Paul the apostle", these missionaries began to see the local people as the new "Paul's" and they tended to be more of a "Barnabas" or "Ananias."

Problem: This limits cooperation with other local churches and can only be done with a large, 1000+ person church. It also, like the traditional model, still views only the "sent ones" as the missionaries.

The emergent-model:
I am not sure there is one yet. If we are viewing ourselves as missionaries, then we are trying to reach our own culture through culturally relevant ways. This often includes planting churches. Church planting often involves the continual use of resources every few years to start a new church. It also involves keeping churches small so that community can be authentic and relational. So we have become the "missionaries." What then is our relationship to other "missionaries/church planters" around the globe? Also, with mass global communication and the development of the global economics, does it make sense to "send" anyone anywhere anymore?

Problems: Too numerous to count. The primary one being the need for a new paradigm to understanding global ministry from a western perspective.

Some proposals:
The relationship of the western church to the rest of the world should no longer be "sender/receiver" of what we used to call "missionaries." It seems that egalitarian partnerships should be forming instead. The thinking being, "We are planting churches here, you are planting churches there, how do we help each other do this?" Many of the house churches in Africa and Asia don't have many monetary resources. But maybe they are rich in community. Our people here in the west are isolated and individualistic yet they have money. What if "Fair Trade" applied to church partnerships and not just the import and export of goods. Maybe the global church can teach us about community while we help them dig wells and build schools. I don't know.

I know that it no longer makes sense for us to send people to Africa when we are sending them to the next town over to reach the lost there. It no longer makes sense to send a westernized Christian to a different culture when there are plenty in our own culture who don't know Christ. And if it makes sense to send people from America to go around the globe, then it should make sense for churches around the globe to send church planters here to America to reach people here. And I think some places, like Korea, already are.

I need some help thinking about the global church these days. The old paradigms don't fit the church that I am a part of. Maybe someone can dream with me about a new way for the western church to relate to the global church. All of the models currently have seem lacking.


At 12:01 PM, Anonymous Jason said...

Maybe the problem is in the attempt to create and disect "global mission" formulas. Maybe theory and formula should be shelved for a while and e-churches, any church, should just do something. Figure it out as you go.

I heard a pastor friend once say, from the stage, "when all hell breaks loose somewhere in the world, I think that's where we, as a church should be."

There is great need all over. The church, its people, its resources, especially in America, may be imperfect, its "ways" of doing mission may fall short of the ideal (whatever that is), but falling short should never be an excuse for doing nothing.

I think you start doing something, with the best intentions of impact for the kingdom of God and the good of his people (humanity), you pray for fruit and wisdom, and you figure out the theory that works best for your community as you go.

Much like life, often.

At 11:54 AM, Blogger Mark said...

Jason wrote:
"I think you start doing something, with the best intentions of impact for the kingdom of God and the good of his people (humanity), you pray for fruit and wisdom, and you figure out the theory that works best for your community as you go."

You might be right here. And this goes against everything seminaries and missionaries on the field tell the Western church.

You took enough "missions" classes to know that most missionaries would tell you something like, "If you don't do it right, then we would rather you not come over here and do anything at all." This is a reaction to the colonial/emperial spirit of the Western church.

I think many people in the church got the memo. And so we have decided that we don't know how to "do it right" and so we better listen to those missionaries and "not do anything at all."

I like the idea of starting, maybe from a concerned heart or a pull from God, and then seeing where it goes. The danger here is undermining years of work from people on the field. The benefit I think is the freedom of experimentation.

I like the quote of your pastor friend, but I wonder if it assumes that the church isn't there already. I fear our mentality in the west to swoop in and "fix it." As if we have the answers and the church is not in that place already. Maybe the church is already there, being Christ in the midst of the hell. And so maybe we as a church shouldn't be there. But maybe we as a church should help those who are.

I don't know. I have lots of questions.

At 12:10 AM, Blogger CM said...

We had to face this when I was in Africa. We kept talking theory and wanting to do everything right. Finally the decision had to be made that we had to do something. Right or wrong didn't matter. It might crash and burn and we changed it up all along the way. But we had to try something.

At 12:31 AM, Blogger Alexis =^) said...

...I spent about 4 months in Africa this summer, trying to learn how to be a "missionary." God has put it on my heart to go there, and indeed I do want to "do it right." During my time there, I learned to think about things a little differently. I came back having seen a lot of missionaries doing things I personally didn't agree with. I saw lots of things that made me say I wouldn't do it that way. But the Lord taught me about grace through this experience. Our responsibility is to be faithful to his leading and in his grace he takes our imperfections and builds his church, here and elsewhere. I think this is the biblical model of missions, from Moses to Peter, to Paul. God sends falible, messy people to do his work and brings something miraculous out of weak vessels. And I think that means all of us. Should we send "missionaries?" Heck yeah. Should we seek to learn from the people God sends to us from across the world? Heck yeah. Should we start to see ourselves as people on mission for God whereever he has sent or set us. Heck yeah. We need to let God handle the perfection/detail part and just be willing. Willing is hard enough for us...

At 12:32 AM, Blogger Alexis =^) said...

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