It’s clear we live in a time of significant change.
Changes in the culture of the Western World: politics, migration, secularism and decline of Christian faith. Changes in the global church: as the centre of gravity moves to the global south with overseas mission now a global effort not the preserve of European or North American churches. Changes in church life in UK; as numbers decline and established church groups become leaner, often reducing resources for world mission and impacting both finances and missionary recruitment. But at the same time larger churches engage more directly in mission and the largest churches become those planted by people from Ghana, Nigeria and other countries moving here.
But what about mission agencies; what does the future hold for them? How might they change? How will they model global partnership in the future? How will they reflect the changing frontiers of mission (to Europe, to cities….)? How will they maintain a commitment to the gospel and the kingdom while complying with Charity legislation and governance?
This begs the question, “what are mission agencies for”? Are they expressions of churches working together to engage in global mission? Are they vehicles for evangelism, church planting and discipleship? Should they focus on development work and building up church structures in the countries they operate in? And the truth is probably a mix of all of these things with different organisations having a particular focus. But let me suggest a couple of general ways mission organisations can enrich the church in mission.
- Enabling service: If mission is to be at the heart of discipleship and church life agencies can have a role in mobilising people and enabling them to find out where they can best serve.
- Encouraging engagement: Promoting global mission in churches and acting as a catalyst to help churches to be involved. Through their relationships in various countries they can help ensure that church engagement serves the needs of the host country and not just the UK. Agencies can also help the voice of the global church to be heard.
- Sharing expertise: Most agencies have a wealth of experience and expertise that they can share with others. By themselves, most local churches do not have the expertise to send people to work effectively in cross cultural situation, whereas agencies help people to serve with competence and humility, providing training, care and support to mission workers. In addition, as agencies change (and maybe reduce in number) they can work co-operatively, seeking joint solutions to common issues.
- Influencing strategy: Agencies are not just servants of the church but also have a role in shaping agendas and nurturing ideas, gathering evidence and catalysing actions. By giving time to reflection and thinking ‘outside the box’ they can be at the forefront of innovation and change.
Nevertheless agencies don’t primarily enrich mission through their strategy and vision, goals and objectives but by hearing and responding to the call of God. It is not enough to have Scriptural foundations; it is not enough to be activist missionaries, to be truly effective they need a passion for seeking the Lord in prayer and seeking the mind of Christ. And the place they need to look to seek the mind of Christ is often the local churches in the countries they operate in.
Which brings me to the heart of the idea of ‘enriching mission’.
Being confident in the gospel, adaptable to changing contexts and flexible to culture movements, agencies can help the global church play a part in the mission of God in its various forms. In particular agencies can help catalyse change so that churches can engage effectively in world mission by sending people, partnering with others globally and by enabling missionaries from overseas to work in the UK.