“Wait a second, God is doing something here…Ohhhhh.” – Mission as Participation
We pick back up with our series on Missional Engagement. I realize that our blogging schedule might make your head-spin. Apologies. I’ve been delayed in finishing this series because I just returned from a Short-Term Mission experience. I led a group of college students to Haiti and I’m freshly reminded of so many of the things I’ve been posting here. I’ve also kicked off another semester of college ministry AND I have an infant son and a beautiful wife who have needed me at each time I’ve tried to post this.
Again, the idea behind this series is to explore the ways in which we tend to think of “mission.” From there, I hope to offer thoughts on a path by which we can push those we lead toward a healthier engagement with the mission of God.
In my experience, there seems to be an observable path in which Christians involve themselves and fairly consistent frameworks of thinking brought to the table.
1) People begin with an awakening of compassion (I noted that here),
2) Then, proceed to travel on a trip as somewhat of a Christian adventure (and wrote about this here), and move to a new tier in their Christian discipleship.
(Both paradigms have serious weaknesses, short-comings and dangerous assumptions. However, these thought-processes are often necessary steps. As pastors/leaders, we need to be aware of these frameworks and push further.)
3) After going on a Christian mission trip adventure, a strange thing happens. God legitimately burdens hearts with the pressing needs of the world. However, we then tend to think we should take-over and fix everything (thoughts on this are here).
Usually after many attempts to take-over and conquer, mixed with a fair share of helping when helping hurts (can you tell I’m writing from experience here?), discouragement sets in.
Another shift needs to happen, and this shift goes something like this: “Wait a second. God is doing something here. He’s been at it for a really long time. He’s good at this role. He’s building a church from every tongue and tribe and nation. He probably invites me into this process, but could do this with or without me. It’s his thing. I can participate.”
I’m calling this a “theo-centric” vision of mission. God is a God of mission (yes, missio dei language here). As Christians, we exist to join this mission. He has set the terms. He has done, is doing, and will do the work. Our role is subordinate.
I know that it sounds elementary, but the way we engage the mission of God so often runs completely contrary to this idea.
I’m so encouraged when I read about the ways in which the Christian movement is becoming an increasingly non-Western, non-North American thing. Instead, the Church seems to be strongest in the “Global South” (Latin/South America, Africa, South Asia, etc.) They say today that the “average” Christian in the world is non-white.
(Random sidenote: It always amazes me to think that in 50 years, seminary students will very likely be reading theology and biblical scholarship from African or Asian thinkers that we’ve never heard of. This will necessarily affect the shape Christian theology takes….)
Ironically, Christianity is strongest is the places where we typically send “missionary teams.” I think this is okay, but wouldn’t it fundamentally alter our posture when we travel to these cultures? Shouldn’t we be going primarily as learners, not teachers?
Wouldn’t this change the way we approach Short-term trips? Longer-term partnerships? Wouldn’t this temper our enthusiasm to pull a North American takeover? Wouldn’t this lean against the “go first, ask questions later” ethos of current mission trends?
Some thoughts on how to lead the people you lead through this paradigm shift.
1. Incorporate heavy doses of theology (missio dei) into short-term trip training.
2. Have your people learn about Global Christianity. Philip Jenkins’ The Next Christendom is a tremendous start.
3. Always, always, always carefully research and attempt to learn the ways God is already at work in a place.
4. Let local Christians lead and set the terms of missional engagement.