This plan also means missions sending agencies and churches from various countries must learn to share the cause of global missions and work together to make Christ known.
Does this require a new paradigm? Yes and no. Many significant partnerships with national believers already exist with North American churches and sending agencies, but there are at least two barriers for these relationships to be more fruitful.
First, at times the national believers become dependent on both direction and resources from outside partners. It is encouraging to see and important to highlight that in many places the national church has matured to be fully self-led and self-sustaining, but this is not always the case. Second, although productive ministry is often a result of these meaningful relationships, such ministry is generally within a single culture and not across cultures.
We know that there are many areas of the world closed to traditional missionaries (especially those from North America). How can current partnerships between missionaries and national believers mature to a point where expatriates and nationals share the call to develop new initiatives that will reach people who currently have little or no access to the gospel? What can we learn from those situations where this is already happening?
From Paternalism to Partnership
If we look at the modern missionary era, beginning with William Carey’s departure for India in 1793, much of world missions has been based out of Europe and North America. Much has been written concerning how the gospel was at times mixed with a Western, colonialist mindset. Mistakes in church-planting methodology and lifestyle requirements were made by western missionaries in the past.
However, it is also right to point out that in the past 50 years, much deliberate and thoughtful effort has been made to improve how missions work is approached. Concerted efforts have been made to contextualize the methods of missions without changing the biblical message.
Returning to the question: does our global task require a new paradigm? Yes—and some bright scholars and dedicated leaders, both inside and outside North America, have wrestled with this issue for quite some time. Looking at world Christianity in 2019, we find the “Global South” is now where most Christian believers live—not Europe and North America.
The center of Christianity has shifted geographically, and this creates a new reality for the church in the West.
Learning and Leading
North American churches and mission agencies still have much to offer, but we must learn to be a true partner in both thought and strategy. We still have great contributions to make, particularly in the realm of leadership training and theological education, but are we willing to also learn from our brothers and sisters in the majority world? Are we humble to let others of God’s servants lead? What does this new role in missions look like, and what changes does it require of North American Bible schools, seminaries, churches, and sending agencies? How do we enthusiastically and persuasively communicate a new vision for missions to short-term and long-term workers, churches, and donors?
Pray for Bible scholars, pastors, agency leaders, and missiologists to have wisdom in sharpening a Bible-centered, Christ-exalting theology of missions for such a time as this. Pray for Christian leaders, both in North America and around the world, to dialogue and work together. Pray for those being discipled in faraway places to learn sound doctrine that is biblical and true across cultural boundaries. Pray for Western missionaries to strengthen partnerships with national believers where they serve with the goal of reproducing leaders, churches, and mission movements. Pray that churches in the majority world will hear the call of God to send their own missionaries and develop systems to make that happen.