Missions is changing. Not in terms of the ultimate goal of bringing the Good News to every corner of the globe - but in many of the paradigms about how it is happening. Here are some of the poitive trends that are taking place today.
An emphasis on healthy personnel
Many mission agencies have historically measured their success by how many mission personnel they have. Because numbers was the measuring stick, the spiritual, relational, emotional and skill health of it's personnel was not always a high priority. This is changing dramatically today as agencies realize that "numbers" is not the measurement but "health." Only healthy personnel can train healthy national leaders and result in healthy churches.
While mission agencies have a long ways to go in shedding paternalistic attitudes and practices, significant progress has been made in many places. Paternalism is the attitude that "we are the experts, we have the money, we have the education and thus we have the upper hand in the relationship with those we come to serve." While unspoken, this attitude has often been the reality and it is complicated by the fact that those who have the money have the power.
There is a growing sensitivity to this issue and its negative implications - and the necessity of a servant leadership model that "partners" with indigenous movements - where both parties come to the ministry table as equals and both have something to bring to the ministry effort. The truth is that missionaries should be there to develop, empower and release healthy national leaders. While an ongoing challenge, the development of healthy partnerships between missionaries and nationals is a growing and God honoring trend.
Multiplication rather than addition.
The move toward doing everything we can to do multiplication rather than addition in missions is directly related to the movement toward non-paternalistic attitudes and relationships. In the paternalistic world, the missionary needs to plant the church and pastor the church. In the non-paternalistic world, the missionary is there to develop, empower and release national workers as quickly as possible and they give ministry away to nationals. This allows mission personnel to multiply themselves and their ministries - an absolute necessity in a world where the world population has grown from 1.9 billion to 6.5 billion in the last 100 years.
Development of international mission movements
Missions today is all people reaching all people and one of the most encouraging trends is the growing commitment of those who have traditionally been on the receiving end of mission ministry becoming sending movements.
Strategic mission agencies encourage those they work with to become sending movements as quickly as possible. Not only does this plant a misssion's DNA from the start but no church movement is mature until it too is taking part in the great commission. This allows the mission agency and the indigenous movement they work with to partner together in the missions endeavor and to raise up large numbers of indigenous missionaries to impact that region of the world. This is huge leverage for missions.
A related development is the development of cross cultural missions teams working together to do cross cultural ministry.
This is a natural outcome of developing non-paternalistic attitudes and encouraging indigenous mission movements. Not only does our organization (ReachGlobal) partner with other western agencies but we partner with non-western mission movements from both the developed and the developing world.
This is resulting in cross cultural mission teams working together to do cross cultural ministry. I am convinced that this is the future picture of missions. While there are challenges for everyone in the process it is a beautiful thing to see people from different cultures working together to accomplish the great commission.
Increasingly, evangelical missions is seeing the need of not only sharing the Good News and planting churches but in showing the love of Christ through holistic ministry - especially in the developing world and among the marginalized in the developed world. This trend is accelerated when we partner with partners in the "majority world" which is a poor world.
Believers in the majority world have always seen the necessity and understood the theology of holistic ministry. Remember that 54% of our world lives on $3.00 or less per day. Holistic ministry not only demonstrates the love of Christ but it opens amazing ministry doors to people who are desperately looking for hope in life.
Missions has become accessible to people with a wide variety of skills. No longer is missions reserved for those who have a theological degree, or are a doctor or teacher. With an emphasis on holistic ministry cutting edge mission agencies are building ministry teams of qualified individuals from many walks of life and with many skill sets. Ministry platforms include compassion, business, micro-development, formal theological training, informal theological training, education, community health, medical, and a variety of other platforms that can all contribute to church planting efforts and the raising up of healthy national leaders.
Informal theological training.
One of the most strategic leverage points in missions today is the training of either lay bi-vocational or full time ministry personnel with non-formal theological training. It does not take formal seminary training to plant or pastor a church. It does take training but it can be delivered through on going education. It is amazing for westerners to watch national workers who do not have the education we have do effective ministry with few resources and see far more spiritual fruit than we typically see in the developed world.
Local church involvement
The local church, around the world is reclaiming its role in the Great Commission. The vision and responsibility for missions was, after all, given to the local church, not to mission agencies. In fact, it is my conviction that the mission agencies that will thrive and survive in the coming years are those who will serve the global vision of the local church and those that do not will not. The globalization of our world has made it much easier for local churches to be involved in global ministry. It will take the involvement of the global church to fulfill the Great Commission.
All of these are positive developments in the changing face of world missions.