10 Reasons for British Church’s current ambivalence about global mission
Excellent recent blog posts by Steve Holmes (http://steverholmes.org.uk/blog/?p=7261) and Eddie Arthur (http://www.kouya.net/?p=6031) have reflected on the loss of [global] missionary vision in the UK Church.
Steve says, “And so we live in this place where UK evangelicalism has lost its missionary vision, and cannot, yet, embrace a new one. Mission weekends are now an oddity amongst our churches; interest in global mission is perceived as a strange and specialist concern. This is a far-reaching, and (I believe) potentially disastrous shift in our evangelical identity; I am convinced that we are at our best, and we are truest to ourselves, when we boldly and unashamedly commit to and celebrate the work of bringing knowledge of the gospel, and signs of the kingdom, to all in the world who do not yet know to name Jesus as Lord.”
Steve mentions three factors leading to ambivalence about global mission as loss of confidence in the concept of conversion, the success of the missionary enterprise and the growth of the worldwide church, and Post-colonial guilt. Eddie adds a fourth – ‘benign neglect’ due to the business of clergies’ lives. Interestingly, these all feature on my list below – a list compiled over the last couple of years of mission-watching.
So here’s my own list for what it’s worth – and I’ve ordered it in what I think may be the least to greatest influence:
10. The 1972/73 call for a ‘moratorium’ on Western involvement in world mission
In an influential WCC conference in the early 70s one delegate called for a moratorium or delay/suspension of Western missionary activity. This was because of perhaps quite legitimate concerns about paternalism in some quarters. One influential WCC speaker said the effects of that call are still with us today. Some it seems did suspend their missionary activity and lost their vision for global mission.
9. Secularism’s discouraging but mistaken belief in the end of Christianity/religion
There is a popular myth that Christianity/religion is on the way out and it”s only a matter of time before secularisation runs its full course and religion is no more. Myths like this can be very discouraging and put us on the back foot with regard to nurturing a vision for global mission.
8. The reality of shrinking numbers of churchgoers in large segments of the church
This results in a change of emphasis and the realisation that there is a need for mission ‘over here’ – but can also result in a false dichotomy opening up that our mission is no longer ‘over there’.
7. The move from being a productive to a consuming society
Today in the West we have become consumers of Church/Christianity, rather than ‘producers’ (if we can say that) of it.
6. Postmodernism’s focus on the local and hatred of meta-narratives
Postmoderns don’t like anything much that proclaims itself to be a truth for all. Historical Christianity proclaims faith in Christ as a truth for all. The Western Church is affected by this.
5. Postcolonial Embarrassment
This is the feeling that somehow mission is colonialism in disguise. There has always been some truth in that, but not as much as is commonly supposed. But it stops some of us from being interested in global mission.
4. Success of mission
The last few decades have seen amazing growth of the worldwide Church. It is now well documented that the Church is predominantly non-Western and is located in the Global South. This is great but it can sometimes give way to a false optimism, a sense that the mission baton can now somehow be handed over now to Africa, Asia and Latin America to carry on the task.
3. Over-busy Church leaders
Ministers who have their hands so full with keeping up with the immediate needs of their congregations let alone thinking about local mission…. Let alone thinking about global mission…
2. Religious pluralism with its implicit challenge to the uniqueness of the Christian faith
There is consequently a crisis of confidence in the Church and in the uniqueness and value of Christian faith.
1. A weak missional ecclesiology
This is major. A huge misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of the Church. I.e. That the Church is primarily caught up in God’s mission and called to be his co-worker in it.
In what order would you place the above? Would you mention any other factors?