How A New Generation Of Christian Missionaries Is Changing The World
I can't say exactly when it changed, but change it did. Up until about 30 years ago mission was something that was done overseas in other cultures by missionaries. And to be honest because of the way it was sometimes done, unwittingly exporting Western culture along with the gospel, we all got a bit embarrassed about it. Postmodern guilt and post colonial angst kicked in and words like 'mission' and 'missionary' seemed outmoded or to carry too much baggage.
But now something curious has happened. The Church in the West can't seem to stop talking about mission and thinking that we need to recover our missional mojo if we are to head into the future in any sort of decent shape. Partly, this has been fuelled by the decline in church attendance and the realisation that the Church has just got stuck – there's nothing like a bit of pressure to focus the mind! With projections of doom ringing in their ears church leaders have been forced into outreach strategies to engage people who may never enter a church, by being community, sharing Jesus, praying on the streets, being disciples, and working for a better world. These new approaches have been inspired by stories of mission that were good at respecting and crossing cultures and sharing the gospel in ways that were birthed in the soil of local culture, typified by local theologies, leaders and churches.
As a youth worker in London I read the story of a young missionary to the Masai whose approach was revolutionary. Rather than running things at the mission compound as before, he met the Masai in their tribal groups where they lived with the aim of growing expressions of Church tailored specifically for the Masai people. I saw my role as trying to do what he had done with the Masai – ie to view the young people I worked with as coming from a different culture and work with them to grow something that reflected their culture rather than forcing them to conform with my version of church culture .
Today my role with the Church Mission Society is to train pioneers who have a vision to reach people beyond the walls of the Church. They love discovering mission as a way of approaching faith, life and theology. It gives them a wonderful framework in which to pioneer as they do work with young people on the edge, connect with families, plant a church in a new housing area, reach out to spiritual seekers and get involved in creative enterprises to renew their neighbourhoods.
Maybe it's this need for authenticity that has spawned a new generation of 'missionaries' who are not judged by a negative preconception of what the word represents, but rather are judged by their genuine care for others and desire to see lives transformed. Mission agencies are still sending 'people in mission' around the world. We prefer to use the word 'mission' and partners in mission, though writing this article has made we wonder whether we should.
Mission is the overflow of God's love poured out for the world and to take part in mission is an expression of God's love for the world. God's mission is no less than the healing of all things and mission is the Church's response to God's call to demonstrate that love in all areas of life. Everyone I speak to is so aware of how broken life is at the moment, almost to the point of despair. They ache for love rather than hate and division. They long for healing or wholeness in themselves, society and the planet itself. And they are looking for another way to live life, a way of justice and peace.
The mission of God directly speaks into these aches for love, healing and a new way to live. We should definitely get excited about being a missionary Church.
Jonny Baker is director of mission education for the Church Mission Society.