New Majority World mission coalition seeks partnership with global Church in poly-centric mission

Majority World mission leaders met in Bangkok, Thailand from May 1-3, 2024, and issued recommendations for missions practice with a new paradigm of partnership and unity. |(Photo: COALA)

In recognition of a new era in global missions with greater participation by the Global South, a recently formed group of mission, church and market-place leaders from Asia and Latin America issued a communiqué with recommendations for mission practice for the Majority World.

Meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, from May 1-3, 2024, the group called COALA – which stands for "Christ over Africa, Latin America and Asia" – emphasizes the importance of unity and partnership in missions and hopes the recommendations would start off conversations in the global Church.

The Bangkok meeting that brought together 38 missionaries, mission leaders and pastors from 30 nations was a follow-up to an earlier gathering in June 2023 under the auspices of the Korea World Mission Association. Participants from Latin America included leaders from COMIBAM (Cooperación Misionera Iberoamericana), a movement that brings together national mission groups or networks in twenty-five Latin American countries, as well as Spain, Portugal and Hispanics from the United States and Canada.

"Discussions focused on the changing shape of global mission from a Christendom model to a truly poly-centric mission," the group said, pointing to the "recommendations towards some principles for healthy majority world mission engagement in a poly-centric era of missions" as one of the key results of the meeting.

With the heading "Greetings to the Global Church of our Lord Jesus Christ, all mission movements & networks," the communique on COALA 2 begins by outlining the geographic shift in global Christianity towards the Global South, highlighting the role of Majority World missionaries, and then calls for unity and authentic partnership in missions within the global Church as a whole.

"The 20th century has witnessed a major shift in the shape of the global church. For the first time in the modern period, the center of gravity of the church has moved from the West into the non-Western or Majority World (MW: Africa, Asia, Latin America & MENA [Middle East and North America]). Today, two-thirds or more of global Christians reside in the latter," the preamble states.

"Side by side with this shift, we have also seen a relative numerical decline of cross-cultural missionaries being sent out from the West, with the gap increasingly being filled by those sent out from the MW. The overall result of the above is that some countries that were mission fields in the past are now increasingly being recognized as missionary sending nations. Further, some that used to be sending nations are now receiving missionaries back from formerly receiving nations."

"Given the above, many in the global church today recognize that we are now living in a new era of polycentric missions, wherein missions today is from everywhere to everywhere. The above have important missiological consequences for the global church, both the Western and the MW churches."

"As a group of missions workers from the MW, we have some real concerns over the involvement of MW churches in cross-cultural missions. We would like to propose some recommendations for further reflection and discussion by the wider church," the preamble concludes.

Recommendations emphasize relationship with locals, address concerns about money in missions

The recommendations begin by stating the centrality of the Holy Spirit, emphasizing, "The primacy of the leading and power of the Holy Spirit in mission: In accordance with the Lord Jesus' instruction (e.g. Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-5, 8) and the example of the Apostles in the New Testament, especially in Acts, we affirm that missionaries sent out must go under the leading of the Holy Spirit and in His power. It is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit which makes mission possible and fruitful."

Among the primary concerns, the recommendations then go on to highlight the relationship of the missionary and the local church, the role of finances, and the general spirit of unity and partnership.

"Missionaries and related cross-cultural workers should always go with a servant heart and attitude, and with humility and respect towards the leaders of the local church and their indigenous co-workers. Their reliance should always be on God and not on their superior educational background or the resources that they bring from outside," one of the recommendations says.

The following then continues along the same lines, saying, "The goal of missions is to build the local indigenous church which is marked by self-government, self-support, self-propagation and self-theologizing. Therefore, missionaries should never build churches centered around themselves or their sending bodies, which remain dependent on them and the resources they bring."

Regarding the relationship with existing local churches, the recommendations state, "As far as possible, a missionary should work with local churches with a Kingdom mindset which is concerned to build the whole church of God in a particular region or nation. Churches should never be planted and built in isolation."

Where possible, missionaries and church planters should become part of existing denominations or church networks, the recommendations say.

They add that "missionaries should always hold themselves accountable to the local church or body where they are working. Thus, missionaries sent out should know how to network with local believers and, and as far as possible, be willing to serve under local leadership."

Emphasizing that locals are more effective in sharing the gospel because of their understanding of the context, the recommendations say that "Missionaries should see themselves as midwives, and not mothers. They must therefore respect the local churches and allow them to make all important decisions in a contextual and culturally-sensitive manner, albeit based on scriptural teaching."

"The most effective witnesses of the gospel are indigenous believers and the local church. To this end, missionaries should encourage all indigenous believers and available local church-related institutions to take responsibility and initiative for the growth of the church. The missionary's major tasks are to train and work alongside local believers and institutions," they continue.

Speaking about the critical issue of financial support, the recommendations acknowledge that "money is a matter of crucial concern in missions. It can bring great blessings; it can also cause much damage in the long term."

"We therefore urge missionaries and their sending bodies to exercise extreme care in this matter. We need to avoid models which lead to a standard of living for the local Christian worker which is higher than the local average or to initiate expensive projects which the local church will find difficult to sustain long-term," the recommendations emphasize.

Finally, the recommendations call for unity and partnership, saying "we are called to unity in Christ (John 17:11,21), which should be expressed as genuine partnership in the work of the Kingdom of God."

In order to achieve such partnerships, they call for serious consideration of two recommendations.

Firstly, "God has given us a clear mission mandate in Matthew 16:18 and 28:19-20. Together with this, we believe also that God has given all the resources needed for the advancement of the work of the Christ's mission, be it spiritual, human and financial. Such resources are to be shared as much as practically possible by all involved: between the local church and the missionary; between the mission sending and the receiving churches; and between churches and mission agencies working across the world."

And secondly, the recommendations conclude saying, "In this era of polycentric missions, we affirm that genuine partnerships must be developed between all churches everywhere, between those in the West and the MW, as well as among all churches in the MW. The challenge before us to fuse all our God-given resources together into a powerful synergistic whole for world mission."

Stretching out the hand for partnership between Global South and Global North

In a soon-to-be published in-depth interview with Christian Daily International, Rev. Jonas Kang, Chairman of the Korea World Mission Association, shared how COALA emerged from the World Evangelical Alliance's Mission Commission consultation in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in 2023. Dr. Gina Zurlo's presentation on the shift of global Christianity to the South sparked conversations among a group of mission leaders from Asia and Latin America.

In a follow up meeting in Korea a few months later, the Global South leaders came together to talk about a new paradigm in missions, without participation of mission leaders from the Global North at first.

However, Rev. Kang emphasized that the Global South leaders recognize and are grateful for the centuries of Western missions that brought the gospel to the whole world. Therefore, they desire for collaboration with those in the Global North and wish that the whole Church together engages in missions united in partnership.

As one of the first initiatives in pursuit of this new collaboration, Rev. Kang led a delegation of Korean mission leaders that participated in the European Leadership Forum (ELF) in Wisla, Poland from May 25-30, where they hosted a session titled How Can the European Church and the Korean Church Work Together?, as Christian Daily reported earlier.

Lindsay Brown, who served with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) for many years and formerly led the Lausanne Movement as International Director, facilitated the session at the ELF.

In his own comments to Christian Daily, Brown reflected on the changes in global missions and said "the leaders of one of the largest missionary forces from Korea are saying that they would like to partner with Western churches as equals. Not as subservient cross-cultural workers, but as a body of people who have an equal say and an equal commitment to the advance of the gospel globally."

"They would like to dialogue together about the key theological and missiological issues that need to be addressed, and to be involved in active partnership. They are taking initiative in putting their hands out, offering to serve together," Brown said, and urged Western leaders to take note of that and respond.

"They are stretching out the hand of fellowship and partnership. So, the Western mission leaders and church leaders should say, 'yes, we want to partner!' And they should rejoice in the invitation."

© Christian Daily International