Yesterday afternoon I joined a few hundred church and mission leaders at All Souls in central London for Global Connections, Passion for Mission conference.
There were two key elements to this year’s event. The afternoon session hinged on the theme: God’s Mission in a Time of Transition. What is the role of the UK in mission today in a world that has changed so much and continues to change? Before an evening session where we celebrated the contribution of outgoing director Martin Lee and welcomed incoming director, Anna Bishop.
The following write-up is compiled from my sometimes sketchy notes.
Martin Lee opened the conference by emphasising that the UK still has a vital role to play in world mission, but that role is, today, very different from what it has been in the past. He reminded mission leaders that they needed to listen to other voices, including the voices from the margins.
We then had three short presentations from leaders representing different parts of the world. Peter Rowan of OMF, who is from the west; Louisa Evans of All Nations Christian College, who is Malaysian; and Israel Oluwole Olofinjana of Woolwich Central Baptist Church, who is Nigerian.
Peter Rowan – OMF International
Imperatives for missional connectiveness
Peter began by reflecting on the imperative of listening. Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it like this, ‘The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them.’ So, the first service we owe to mission is to listen to others.
Revelation opens with prophetic messages – the instruction at the end of each message is to all the churches, ‘Whoever has ears let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches’. No single church/mission organisation has a monopoly on the Spirit or the word.
We should make sure that we don’t concentrate so much on what we are doing that we miss what God is doing in the world. We need to listen to voices on the margins. Those places where we used to serve are where God is at work.
The deep spiritual sickness afflicting the rich north might actually be healed when the voices from the other world are heard and understood – David W Smith.
The imperative of unity
‘Jesus calls the church to missional effectiveness by working for unity’ – Ross Hastings
Reconciliation is at the heart of the Gospel – see Ephesians. So what are the social implications of the Gospel of reconciliation? What does this mean for our evangelism and our mission?
Paul wrote to the Romans, wanting to involve those congregations in his mission to Spain. They had to cooperate with each other before they could cooperate with Paul on his mission. They had to love Christians beyond one small circle.
Our churches need to address our attitudes to each other, and our patronising attitudes to the churches in the majority world.
Seeking to maintain Gospel integrity and the unity of the church are not mutually exclusive goals.
The imperative of radical acts of service
Sometimes it takes a radical act for people to start listening to each other.
On July 1st 1997. Hong Kong was returned to Chinese sovereignty. In contrast to the pomp and ceremony, the pastors of six congregations held a foot washing service at St Andrews church.
‘Rev. John Aldis, senior pastor of St. Andrew’s Anglican Church – the largest English-speaking congregation in Hong Kong – wept as he read a statement of repentance to Chinese pastor Jonathan Chan. Speaking as a representative of Britain to the Hong Kong Chinese people, Aldis asked for forgiven ess for “our injustice, our pride and our isolation.”’ – Read the full story on OMF’s website
Followers of Jesus are called to take courageous steps to embody the gospel. This needs to start with mission leaders, between churches and between agencies. Are there missional connections of a peacemaking kind that need to begin, even here, today?
Louisa Evans – All Nations
In an Asian culture, there is…
A holistic view of Christianity
This applies to the whole family – Family orientation in the global south means that once saved, the saved person will not stop praying for the family. Acts 16:31
The whole nation
The whole person
The spirit man – we live in a context where spiritual encounters are commonplace. Yet some of Louisa’s most common spiritual encounters were in London. The devil is alive and well in the UK but few Christians in the UK believe in the work of him and know what to do.
Louisa had to go to church secretly for two years because of parents (non-religious Buddhists). When she did tell them she had become a Christian she only went to church when they allowed her to.
The freedom to worship is not appreciated here in the UK.
One M man’s father tried to kill him in his sleep. In Malaysia, Allah is claimed for Muslims only. Christians cannot read the Bible in their own language because of this.
One Christian pastor was kidnapped in broad daylight – and the police said that they had no information about what happened.
What should be our response?
We need to pray – but our assumption is that persecution is out there and not here. Can we continue to assume that?
The opposition that we see is a reminder that this world is not our home and suffering for our faith is a reminder that we live in the end times.
She also reflected on the fact that often, when we pray for persecuted Christians, we pray for ‘them’. Shouldn’t we think about the language we use when we pray for our brothers and sisters?
Friendship as a way forward
Friendship in mission is the only way forward. It’s true that Global South Christians were looked down upon. But now, some global south Christians have built up their own superiority.
We need to acknowledge our mutual need of each other.
Move from a posture of learning from to learning with. This is only possible if we are friends, so we need to ask how can we build true cross-cultural friendships.
We need to be intentional in the building of cross-cultural friendships.
Frequently, coffee breaks and meal tables at Christian events in the UK are segregated. To build cross-cultural friendships we need to do the uncomfortable thing of reaching out to those who are different to us, this that are from different cultures. Not just nationalities, but those of different statuses.
- As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, all will know that you are my disciples if you love one another. – John 13:35
Israel Oluwole Olofinjana – Woolwich Central Baptist Church
Learning from the Global South, he would prefer the term ‘Majority world’.
We need to learn from people in other continents, but we can also learn from those that have come to the UK. And this doesn’t mean that people from the global south have it sorted.
Building bridges and tunnels in our relationship
Relationship is very, very important. We have to be intentional in our networking. Who are your closest friends? Are they people like you?
We need to build both bridges and tunnels. Bridges are obvious, tunnels aren’t. The tunnels are the times behind the scenes. Can we eat together? Can we sit and relax together? It is when we relax together that we work things out. Our friendships should not be reduced to activities.
Turning our ideas into reality
There’s been talk about the centre of gravity of Christianity having shifted, this talk can remain as lip service. How has that informed and shaped our practices? How does it inform and shape how we do things?
Be intentional in our organisations to reflect the Global Church
We need to look at how our structures can change to reflect the reality.
Having one or two people from the global south in our structures is good, but we shouldn’t stop there.
We also need to read books by global south practitioners. We need to listen to their ideas.
Martin Lee – Global Connections
The world is a different place – even our maps were down by people from the north and west.
The old power blocks are changing. We are seeing the rise of nationalism and the rise of religious fanaticism.
The global church is still in a time of transition. Europe and North America is no longer the place of power.
If you are Pentecostal – you are probably young, female, poor and from either Africa, Asia or South America, and you are the real face of world Christianity today.
We look at our falling church attendance and see churches that have abandoned global mission, and usually operate from a come and see point-of-view.
There is a vital role for global mission in the UK church – it’s just a different role to what it used to be. God hasn’t asked us to abandon his call. The issue is that it needs to be different.
What could it look like:
Even in a globalised world there are many places where Christ is not known or not heard
There are a large number of Christians in Asia compared to 100 years ago, but as a percentage of population it is very small at just 8%
There are still vast numbers of people in the Middle East, Asia and Central Asia who have not heard of Christ. There aren’t Christians in Saudi because you are killed.
Yet 85% of Christian mission is aimed at other Christians. We are still trying to sustain the growth of churches in Africa, Asia and South America. Many Hindus and Buddhists still don’t know a Christian.
What abmiddle-classlass Buddhists in Japan? It’s still difficult to raise support for those working in business communities.
In an urbanised world people are everywhere, and we need to be going and telling them.
Places where Christ is not known
There are more people alive today that do not know of Christ or who have ever met a Christian. We cannot ignore this and something needs to change
Is ensuring we serve the hard places a key part of the UK Church’s strategy?
How can we genuinely partner with the church in the global south?
‘We need to tackle our inherent national pride. We need to shift that we need more from the global south.’
‘British Christians prayed for revival and when it came they did not recognise it because it was black.’
It’s hard for a westerner – we are used to power and money. Our response is that we’ve got all the resource. So maybe we try to assimilate others into our structures. And that makes us look like we are doing well. Yet it’s often the structures that get in the way of us reaching the hard to reach places.
‘Much of the Muslim world is hostile to Christian witness; the forms of mission that we have been used to for generations won’t work in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait – we need creative approaches to have access in these situations.
Not only that, but much of the Muslim world is hostile to people from Western countries; let’s face it, we’ve not done much to win their friendship over the last few decades. However, the church is no longer mainly Western; perhaps it is a generation of Chinese, Philippine, African and Latin believers who will take the Gospel to the Muslim world.
Lastly in the heightened antagonistic atmosphere of the early 21 century, witnessing to Jesus in the Muslim world can be a dangerous enterprise. People have died taking the Gospel into the Muslim world and in all likelihood it will cost the lives of many more believers before we see large numbers of Muslims coming to Christ. We need a generation of Christians who believe in something bigger than their own lives, who are willing to live and work in hostile situations, perhaps seeing very little tangible fruit for their work and who are willing ultimately to lay down their lives. In a risk averse, litigious society it is hard to find people and organisations willing to put lives on the line in this way, but it must be done.’ – kouya.net
Global south missionaries are not using our structures and systems but they are taking the gospel with them. They tend to come from less affluent countries and understand poverty and suffering, and don’t come from a background of global dominance.
So how do we partner with them?
Mutual respect and collaboration
We need to be flexible and bent out of shape. There’s no magic formula for partnership.
What place does the western church and mission movements have as part of the new worldwide church?
Can the church engage in the mission of God in new ways?
‘Together we can be a new community – 100 places learning from each other, with no one single centre or single type of mission activity’ – Andrew Walls
What does a learning relationship look like?
God is interested in character as we transition leadership
It comes down to our character and how god has changed us.
In the majority world we often see more prayer, depth in relationships, etc. Yes, there are issues even here. The church in the global south is sinful, just as we are in the west.
However, there’s a huge contrast in the spiritual poverty of the churches in the west to those in the majority world. The western church could be described as ‘one inch wide and not even an inch deep’.
Where’s the power of god in my life and my dependency on him?
The UK church needs to have more commitment to prayer. a discovery of a deeper spirituality. We can learn much of this from global south churches. Prayer and fasting is a normal part of a church congregation.
We need a dose of radical discipleship and service ourselves. We need to learn.
Whatever we do, God is ultimately interested in the character of us. Integrity is key. Whatever plans, strategies, meetings… God is interested in our integrity and faithfulness.
John the Baptist ‘I must decrease that he may increase’
Nothing is more important than God’s mission.
As the power base in the church transitions, the west no longer has power, only influence. Let’s influence through character, not misuse of power.
Can the UK church become a christlike in it’s attitudes, thinking or others more than ourselves.