Editor’s note: The Baptist Union of Great Britain gathered for its annual assembly from April 30 to May 3. Some 1,500 participants were expected. Speakers addressed poverty and the Micah Challenge. Two resolutions were debated: one on violence and human trafficking; the other on nuclear weapons.
Recent events involving volcanic ash and the suspension of flights in Europe have reminded us how different the world once was. Journeys across Europe taking days not hours. One nation unreachable from another. Oceans dividing “our world” from “their world.”
But the planes are flying again, and soon that short-lived reminder of how things once were will fade from our memories and we will quickly grow used to the fact that today’s interconnected world is so different from even a generation ago.
The mission of the church has changed too, and for much the same reason.
Britain was, until recent years, effectively monocultural, and it was largely Christian. But it was different “out there.” Travel presented grave dangers, and many brave missionaries paid with their lives. Those who stayed at home prayed and raised support. They formed groups of “rope-holders,” and they flocked to rallies to hear the stories from returning missionaries.
“Out there” in some far-off foreign land were people we knew as Hindus and Mohammedans, who did not share our faith, our worldview or our understanding of what it means to be born in the image of God. The Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan were unknown narratives. The cross and resurrection made no impact in people’s lives.
That was then and this is now.
Britain, like most countries, is no longer monocultural, monolingual or mono-anything. It’s a vibrant blend of east and west, north and south. It’s a rich mix of languages, ethnicities, colors, customs and cultures. It’s a home to those once far-away communities of Muslims and Hindus, but also Sikhs and Buddhists, Jains and Jews, and a host more besides. Many are immigrants. Many are not; they’re British born and bred.
And along the way, Christian Britain has become non-Christian Britain. Most of our neighbors and friends, whether immigrants or not, do not share our faith, our worldview or our understanding of what it means to be born in the image of God. The Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan are unknown narratives. The cross and resurrection make no impact in people’s lives.
So, no longer, can we speak of different worlds. There is still a missionary task, but it doesn’t start at the English Channel. It starts on the doorstep of our homes and our churches.
And that missionary task, wherever it is needed, bears the hallmark of learning to speak a different language (literally and metaphorically), coming to terms with other faiths and different generations, and understanding someone else’s worldview so we can explain the gospel in meaningful ways.
That is the missionary task in Manchester and Malaysia, Cardiff and Colombia, Glasgow and Guinea.
In this new world of missionary encounters with our own communities, we need to ask afresh what the nature of church needs to be. We still operate largely on a “come and join us” model, but what models are needed to reach those who have answered “no thanks”? What kind of Baptist ministry do we need for the generations to come? What kind of theology is needed? Where can we tap into the missiological skills and insights needed?
The Baptist Assembly gathered in Plymouth with the theme “One World – One Mission.” The seeds of this theme are to be found in the analysis outlined above. The outworking of this for both the Baptist Union of Great Britain and for BMS is what the weekend was about.
We have no idea where this will lead. But we are simultaneously excited and daunted by the adventure that God is setting before us.
David Kerrigan is general director of BMS World Mission. This column first appeared on his blog, Thinking Mission, and is used by permission. BMS World Mission was founded in 1792 in Britain as the Baptist Missionary Society.