Many mission agencies are still living in the old, pre-globalized world paradigms. The world has changed around them, but they have not changed. I believe that there are nine critical shifts that mission agencies and churches engaged in missions need to make in order to minister effectively in today's world context. They are also the nine shifts that ReachGlobal has been making over the past eight years.
Shift One: Moving from being primarily doers to being primarily equippers of national workers. It is no longer about what we, as missionaries, can do ourselves but what we can help others do in their context. Increasingly we must stand behind and alongside national workers as equippers, coaches, and encouragers rather than in front of them.
This is reflective of what Jesus intended for the church. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:11-12 that “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” Often, we hire pastors to do the work of ministry for us when in reality, their job is primarily to equip all of God’s people to be involved in ministry in line with their gifting and wiring.
The application of this in missions is that missionaries are often trainers and equippers of others to help them do what they can do better than us in their context. Thus, in many cases, missionaries are no longer primarily church planters and evangelists, but they are equippers and trainers of nationals in theology, church planting, holistic ministries, and those ministries that contribute to the growth of the church.
This leads naturally to Shift Two: Moving from being in charge to equal partnerships with nationals where neither party is subsumed under the other and where each retains their autonomy. The day of colonial and paternalistic missions is over. It is a remnant of the black-and-white world. Equal partnerships are the coinage of the color world where each party, missions, and nationals bring different skills and abilities to the table for mutual cooperation.
It is in partnership with national movements that are orthodox in their theology and missional in their activity that brings the greatest leverage and synergy. This is a natural outcome of the first shift: We are present to help the church grow, and that is done in equal partnerships where each party brings something of value to the ministry table.
Shift three is a natural outcome of the first two. Moving from owning and controlling to a philosophy of “we own nothing, control nothing and count nothing as ours.” This is a servant mentality that says we are here to serve you in helping you plant churches, develop holistic ministries, and evangelize your people. We will serve you, not control you. Those agencies that serve with an open hand are magnets for indigenous believers to partner with.
Living out a non-controlling ministry philosophy is a prerequisite for partnerships in today’s world. It also models the ministry model of Christ and the Apostle Paul and the spirit of humility that Paul speaks of in Philippians 2:5-11. This is sometimes a challenge for Western missions who are used to being “in control” rather than at a table of equal partners.
Shift four. Embracing the reality that missions are moving from Western Missionaries to Global missionaries. The future is all people reaching all people. Increasingly missionaries will be coming from the majority world, and our willingness to invite them to the table on our teams and within our structures, or to partner with them becomes a test of a servant philosophy.
This also means that we must work to encourage and equip our national partners to become sending entities rather than simply receiving entities. When national movements become engaged in the Great Commission, amazing things happen, and they participate in the joy of seeing new areas reached for Christ.
Shift Five, Moving from dependencies to self-sufficiency wherever possible. Helping indigenous partners grow out of their dependencies on the West by realizing what they bring to the table and by helping them fund their efforts from their context wherever possible lifts them up, gives them dignity, and allows us to partner as equals rather than as dependents. Dependent partners cannot be equal partners.
This often means helping national partners find ways to finance their ministries more independently and then partner together in places where that is not fully possible.
Shift Six, Moving from addition to multiplication. This is consistent with shift one, from doers to equippers. It is not about what we can do but about what we can help others do. While we must often start with addition, basic evangelism, and discipleship, our mindset should always be to move as quickly as we can toward multiplication strategies that allow us to leverage our efforts for the gospel.
Shift seven, Moving from competition to cooperation, gets more personal for many of us. We are used to doing our thing. We have taught our national partners to do their thing. In the process, we have created ministry silos and denominational entities that work alone in relative weakness rather than figuring out how we can work together for the propagation of the gospel. We are better together than alone.
This is a time in history when we have a unique opportunity to work together rather than separately for the sake of the Gospel. The needs of the world are too high to tackle them alone, and we need one another. It is possible if we will look at what we have in common with each other instead of concentrating on those things we don't.
This leads me to Shift eight. Moving from an emphasis on my brand to His brand. Jesus did not die for my brand of the church, the EFCA. He died for His bride, the church. That is why we no longer plant EFC churches but seek to plant healthy, indigenous, self-supporting, reproducing, and interdependent churches. The brand is not as important as the spread of the gospel. At the end of the day, Jesus is not concerned about brand names. He is, however, concerned about His Bride and the spread of the Gospel.
Shift nine. Moving from agency-based missions to church/agency synergy. The vision for missions belongs first to the local church, not to mission agencies. Missions that thrive in the future will be those that serve the mission vision of the local church, domestically and internationally. We are servant organizations. In the globalized world, we no longer have a monopoly on the great commission, and local churches will increasingly go their own way if we do not serve them well.
Let me illustrate these shifts with a real-life example. Six years ago, I met a young couple in Manila from a closed country in South East Asia.. They had just finished their degrees and were heading back to work in the difficult context of a brutal regime in a deeply Buddhist context. I knew this individual had leadership stuff in him, and over the next several years, we developed a relationship.
Sometime later, a cyclone hit this fragile country. I received an email saying that he had spent all his money providing rice and water to those affected who were without food and homes. He asked if there was any way we could help.
Over the next several years, we helped my friend develop a ministry team that has rebuilt bamboo homes and lives, done evangelism and church planting where there are few believers, trained pastors, and developed leaders. He is one of the few leaders in this country that works across denominational lines. To fund his efforts, we helped him develop three businesses that are providing funds for his team. On a regular basis, we coach, mentor, and train him and his team. They have formed their own ministry to train leaders and plant churches throughout the country regardless of their brand.
This country is a classic example of the result of propagating our brands over the years. I have been up to the northern mountain village where missionaries in years past liked to live. I won’t forget that town. We landed on an airstrip with animals wandering on it. The only hotel we could stay in as foreigners charged us twenty dollars a night for bad food, no mosquito netting, and about one hour of electricity a day. I was particularly enamored by the airport security when we left. There was no electricity in the airport, but we still had to walk through the non-functioning security machine.
Here is the wild thing. You will find every denomination known to mankind in this town, and many denominations not yet known to mankind as the original denominations split and formed new groups. It is a hoot to drive through this town in this Buddhist country. All the streets have biblical names, and you pass building after building of different denominations. Here in a country that desperately needs the gospel, you find an amazing number of small, weak denominations that don’t work together. We trained them well, and they followed our example.
But think about this: In equipping my friend, we have lived out shift one, moving from being primarily doers to primarily equippers. In partnering with him, we live out shift two, from being in charge to equal partnerships. In helping him develop his own ministry, we live out shift three that we own nothing control nothing, or count nothing as ours. In helping him build his own team, we live out shift four of raising up indigenous missionaries.
By helping him become self-sufficient rather than dependent, we live out shift five. In empowering his team, we live out shift six of multiplication. In mentoring him to work with multiple Bible-based denominations, we live out shift seven of cooperation rather than competition and shift eight that it is not about our brand but about the gospel.
In connecting my friend to churches in the States and in Asia interested in reaching this nation, we live out shift nine of agency/church synergy. In every way, it is a win for him, for us, for the gospel, and for his nation. Start multiplying that one example across the globe, and you see the amazing potential for the gospel.