Tamie and I work with CMS Australia, a network of people who care about crossing cultures with the message of Jesus. Worldwide, CMS is one of the oldest world mission groups — for other groups in the CMS family, check out NZCMS, CMS Ireland, CMS UK and Crosslinks.
CMS Australia recently launched a new vision for the coming years. Below are some of the highlights for me. I’m particularly excited by the ways in which the vision helps us to use more missiologically astute language.
What stands out to you? Let us know in the comments below.
One distinctive: long-term investment
There are actually two parts to the new language: vision and values. It’s one of these values that I want to highlight first, because it’s a real live ethos for CMS Australia, and its main distinctive as a world mission agency: long-term investment. Here’s how it’s stated in the new vision:
Setting apart appropriately gifted and well-trained people for long-term mission service is a key strategy in God’s mission. We are therefore committed to careful and thorough selection, in-depth training, excellence in language, deep cultural insight and high-quality pastoral care.
We’ve drawn attention to this before. The gist of it is that, because change can take generations, ‘long-term’ is about decades, not years. If you’ve spent 5 years in one location, you’re just getting started! This long-term perspective calls for a very high level of preparedness. One example of how this plays out for CMS Australia is the selection process.
Now, to the vision statement itself (PDF here). I think it reflects welcome developments in our missiology, as well as providing us with language to flesh this out.
- To reach gospel-poor peoples for Christ
- To equip Christian leaders for church and society
- To engage churches in cross-cultural mission
As CMS workers, we give our full-throated approval to what world evangelicals have been reaffirming over the last 40 years: that the way of Jesus is a way of life, so the task of the church encompasses both discipleship and all manner of good works. The CMS vision and values reflects this. Here’s how I read the shifts…
1. The question of gospel poverty
If you speak as if the gospel hasn’t quite made it to Africa or Asia, you’re a century out of date! Meanwhile, places like Germany were once brimming with vital Christian communities but are now home to widespread indifference. It’s not enough that the gospel has been there in the past: what counts is the presence of the gospel in this generation. Gospel-poor peoples is a phrase that helps us widen our focus beyond the destinations of yesteryear.
Of course, Australia has its own gospel-poor peoples, and at some point we could probably use some outside input! So this terminology also helps to move us beyond the redundant language of ‘the mission field’, beyond ‘the West to the Rest’ towards from everywhere to everywhere. The value of partnership is important here:
We work as co-labourers with churches and Christian organisations around the world wherever there is common vision. We work under local leadership, at their invitation, in local ministries wherever possible.
2. The question of Christian leadership
There’s an old-school tendency for us to equate ‘mission work’ with Bible translation for a remote jungle tribe. Of course, there are still plenty of people without access to the Bible in their own language. But it’s not enough to ‘take’ the gospel or ‘reach’ people with the gospel. Instead, we’re looking for the gospel to work its way into everything over the course of generations.
The aim to equip Christian leaders for church and society moves us beyond first contact to further transformation. It moves us beyond talking about ‘church work’ or ‘full time ministry’ towards Christians serving others in all walks of life. One of the relevant values for this is wholeness:
We are committed to wholeness in mission that unites the proclamation of the word and the demonstration of Christ’s love in the witness of the community of God’s people. As we live in long term relationship with those we serve, we are compelled to speak of the Lord Jesus and demonstrate his love in practical action as we meet human need.
Wholeness means treating people as whole people, seeking the renovation of church and society, and promoting human flourishing at every level, as only the gospel can. As CMS workers, we take it for granted that word and deed cannot be divorced, and we don’t play the two off against each other.
3. The question of cross-culturally engaged churches
Although most CMS workers move outside Australia, CMS aims to equip Australian Christians with cross-cultural awareness no matter where they are. On the one hand, this is about Aussies learning to care more about the world beyond their shores. On the other hand, this is about Aussies interacting with their own neighbourhoods, which are increasingly diverse, and many new Australians share our identity in Christ. Australian church planting, for example, might not make much sense without cross-cultural awareness.
It’s still common to equate ‘mission’ with going overseas. For example, The Gospel Coalition provides a great list of missiology books, but it’s hidden away in the international outreach section of their site. However, by asking how all of us can be cross-culturally engaged, CMS is helping Australian Christians to identify themselves as a missionary church, which puts meat on the old emphasis on individual ‘missionaries’. The point is not that ‘we’re all missionaries’, but that we belong to a mission-shaped people.
If you’re curious about the issues in this post, stay tuned for more as the year goes on, as we continue to explore missiology and ‘mission as transformation’.
What do you think? To explore the vision, head to the CMS website.
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.