I’ve previously talked about a divide I’ve seen in Australia between local mission and global mission, with the result that global mission either gets left off the agenda, or makes an attempted revival in traditional terms. That’s the reason why I was critical of Tim Chester’s new introduction to world mission. The term we’ve been using in our organisation is old paradigm mission.
However, I’m conscious that the issues with this ‘old paradigm’ are not always obvious to us. Neither is it obvious what a ‘new paradigm’ would mean. The latter is a question I hope to open up in coming months, but in this post I want to tease out the old paradigm.
The first example is this video:
This presentation depends on a couple of key ideas. ‘Go and make disciples’ means taking the gospel to ‘the least-reached people’, the 2 billion people with no gospel access. How? The emphasis is squarely on missionaries coming from the established churches of ‘World C’. Although the video divides the world into three categories, two of them get all the attention: one group has the needs, the other group has the goods. You could fairly call it ‘the West to the Rest’.
The second example is John Piper’s 30th and final missions address to his church in 2012. Again you can see the double focus on ‘unreached peoples’ and Western missionaries as their lifeline. Not everyone is a ‘goer’, but all goers are said to be ‘frontier missionaries’, which goes along with the language of outreach and sending. ‘The nations’ are depicted as recipients overseas, and when the term ‘global partners’ is used, it applies only to Bethlehem Baptist Church and its own missionaries. Crossing cultures or cross-cultural ministry are by implication a one-time transfer of the gospel from one culture to another.
This line from Tim Tennent sums it up pretty well:
The call for Western churches to prioritize the sending of missionaries to the peoples of the 10/40 window still perceives Western agents as the world’s missionaries.
Questions about the old paradigm
The old paradigm is not without its strengths. It offers a laser focus, a desperate urgency, and an insistence that we are the right people to act, to send, and to go. There is no doubt something compelling about all these motivations.
However, these motivations burn brightest if we’re inclined to see ourselves as the only church on the planet (or at least the strongest), and the existence of non-Western churches calls all of this into question. What if those other churches are also ready to act, send, and go? More to the point, what if those other churches are actually better candidates for pioneering the gospel, among other things? This question suggests we see ourselves not as the sole, unilateral agents — as if the task is all up to us — but as partners with others. It prompts us to ask what part they might play, and to rethink the role we have adopted for ourselves.
This is probably unsettling for those of us whose mission diet has been all frontiers and pioneers, because it could mean taking unreached peoples off centre stage — at least as far as our own activity is concerned. Yet this should not disturb us if we are ready to stop seeing ourselves as the only viable solution. The worldwide body of Christ has many parts, so how will others take their part in reaching the unreached? How can we encourage other churches who will often be better placed to see those cross-cultural moves become fruit that will last?
I’m sure that’s a difficult question for all of us, but it is the question before us. Consider a country like Tanzania, where the church is well-established alongside various unreached groups. At a national level, Tanzania doesn’t seem ‘gospel-poor’ — far from it. However, many Tanzanian churches are yet to take up the burden of outreach within their own backyard. What can be done? An immediate old paradigm response would be, ‘How do we reach the unreached?’ and our simplest answer may well be to put more Western evangelists and church planters on planes to Tanzania. It’s an answer which can easily skip over the local church. A different approach might ask instead, ‘How will the Tanzanian church grow to a point at which they consider the unreached a pressing question?’
I’ll tease these things out more in the next post.
Photo credit: Matthew Wiebe
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.