Our theology and practice will need to change if our mission is to be relevant in tomorrow’s world.
Our world today is undergoing tremendous changes. What is the shape of future mission from Britain? I want to reflect on four crucial issues that will determine the quality of Christian mission into the next century.
- An appropriate theology of mission.
Christian mission is rooted in the unchanging character and purposes of God for the world to know Jesus Christ and for the church to be a community who participates in the life and mission of God.
In past centuries, the goal of mission was to send out Western mission workers to convert people groups to Christianity.
Today, there is a growing recognition that the whole gospel must be shared through both word as well as deeds.
Mission is no longer the calling of a few sent out into the world but is a privilege of participation for every believer, from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.
Therefore, the church’s comprehensive mission will include evangelism, church planting, challenging injustices, caring for creation as well as showing what it means to be a reconciling community.
- A changing Christian demography.
Even as Christianity has grown rapidly in the global south, it is declining in her traditional centers of Europe, North America and Oceania.
Instead of sending Western mission workers as our model, we can train, support and catalyze local discipleship movements for national and cross-regional missions.
Because Europe is now a post-Christian continent, there is a need to educate and challenge Western Christians to welcome learnings and leadership from the global church for the re-evangelization of Europe. Migration has brought a new context for mission vocation for every church.
The future of Christian mission will be determined by the quality of meaningful and mutual partnership between non-Western Christianity and the post-Christian West.
- A deeper engagement between religions.
Generally, less than 3 to 5 percent of the world’s religionists (Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Jews) have turned to Christianity, despite reports of the shift of Christianity toward non-Western peoples.
Rapid church growths have primarily been seen among tribal communities, secularized individuals and among those marginalized by their majority cultures. But not so with world religions.
Two hundred years of Protestant mission work have not seen Christianity rise above 33 percent of the world population.
The future of mission will need a new approach beyond preaching the gospel and planting churches.
We need new engagements, such as enabled interreligious apologetics, to present the gospel as a whole-life discipleship that transforms nations.
- Is there a role for Christian missions from the West?
Given the decline of Christianity in the West, a danger exists that British churches abdicate our responsibility for global mission.
The reality is that more than 60 percent of Christian resources remain firmly located in the West.
Meanwhile, Christian missions from Africa, Latin America and Asia are still in their infancy and have much to learn from the sending structures of older churches.
In our world today, more than 3.5 billion people still do not know Jesus – of which more than 80 percent of the world’s non-Christians do not even personally know a Christian friend.
The majority of seekers coming from Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam continue to live in communities where the gospel is not accessible because no local churches exist within a 1,000-mile radius and they have never met a Christian friend.
For example, more than 50 percent of the small towns in Japan (with populations of about 200,000) are still without a single church.
The good news is indigenous witnesses exist on all continents of our needy world. Western missions could play a catalytic role as we partner humbly with newer missions from the global south.
Together, we participate in the mission of God for the healing and rebirth of the entire creation. We confess that deep and lasting transformation can only come through the new life of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Mission is no longer the monopoly of a select few but the privilege of every disciple: to share Jesus and see lives transformed among all nations.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in Issue 3 2018 of Mission Catalyst, a publication of BMS World Mission. It is used with permission.
Kang-San Tan is general director of BMS World Mission, former executive director with Asia CMS based in Malaysia and former head of Mission Studies at Redcliffe College, United Kingdom.