World mission in the 21st century:
(1) A new generation for modern times
Today's generation is very different from the generations before it. They have been brought up in a time of rapid political, social, cultural and technological change. They are also familiar with modern IT technologies. They have received excellent training, they have travelled widely and come across many cultures. They are open to the world, put strong emphasis on personal relationships, sensible, self-critical, extremely creative, enthusiastic and willing to work under indigenous leadership. But many of them come from broken homes and carry scars on their souls. They are looking for fellowship. Stamina and self discipline are not their strengths. With this background they are best suited to urban ministries and marginalized peoples. But mission structures need to change so that their strengths will flourish. They need different concepts of training, adjusted work assignments carefully chosen tasks for a limited time, a cooperative leadership style, flexible structures, life and ministry in a team, sympathetic personal supervision, simple administration and a lifestyle of continuous learning. They need a new type of mission agency.
(2) Short-term work is important
Short-term work has been available for a long time (such as OM), and it prepares young people for world mission. Former generations would have gone into missionary work even without this exposure - but not so the young generation. They feel so aware of their own limitations that they do not have the courage to commit themselves to long-term work. They need to experience personally that God can brings them through and use their gifts and experiences to do something meaningful and bless people. Young people mainly learn experientially (by doing and personal involvement) and not so much through reasoning and rational insights. Therefore short-term work is very important today. God uses it to boost significant ministries and simultaneously the Lord calls people into long-term mission work.
(3) Sending churches want to be involved directly
Mission flows from God's heart and He has chosen the church as his primary instrument in world mission. The church sends her missionaries to build Christ's church in the country of service and the sending church in return receives lots of blessings. This fundamental truth has not always been recognised by churches and mission agencies. Today churches do not like to be restricted to praying and giving but they want to be directly involved in the life and ministry of their missionaries, use their gifts and experience, be well informed and actively involved in the decision making. By this the church's competence in mission and their involvement is greatly advanced. Their missionary's ministry becomes their own project and the sending church an active partner of the missionary team. This requires close communication between church and mission agency. It requires effective structures, global thinking, simple administration, delegation of tasks and commitment to partnership.
(4) Secularised West: Crisis and opportunity for mission
The "Christian West" is something from the past and was replaced by the post-modern time. Today personal feelings are important, all opinions and lifestyles are equally acceptable which leads to a break-down of consensus in society: everybody has his own truth and life-style, it's like a supermarket of ideology . In the city of Leipzig only 8% of the population belongs to a Christian church. These characteristics of the post-modern time are also present in our churches today. The uniqueness of Jesus is questioned and world mission, God's claim to the whole world, considered as an offence. The piety of Muslims and Buddhists is admired. Many people consider themselves as Christians even if they do not know the Gospel - and it seems unthinkable to question their beliefs. Today we need new, fresh answers to many fundamental questions.
(5) World mission on our doorstep
At the same time, our cities have become very multicultural. In many districts the majority of the population comes from abroad. And even in rural areas there are big homes for asylum seekers with people of many nationalities - the United Nations on our doorstep. Many international neighbours from Romania, Brazil or Ghana for instance are already followers of Christ. How can they feel at home in our churches? Churches have to find new methods of worship, incorporating these people in church life.
Other international residents have never heard the gospel: World mission on our doorstep. How can our churches fulfil the great commission in their neighbourhood effectively? Mission agencies and missionaries with international experience and language skills can help effectively. I am also grateful for African, Korean and Latin-American missionaries (besides many US-Americans) who come to Germany in order to help in church planting and mission. World mission no longer is sending missionaries abroad - it is a network of relationships and ministries: from everywhere to everywhere.
(6) A new type of missionary is required
The rapid social and political change in the world has also reached the countries of service (globalisation). Their big cities hardly differ from Frankfurt and Hamburg. In rural parts of Africa, technology may have stopped, but in the cities even more people carry mobile phones than in Europe. Our computer software is developed in India, radios are assembled in North Africa. The economic boom in South Asia has catapulted these countries and cultures into modern times - regarding economy, social sciences, education, language and culture. Today most of the world's unreached people live in the jungle of big cities and no longer in the real jungle.
If missionaries want to reach these hearts, activities must be geared to the people and their needs and values. They need to address their issues for today. This is relevant for church meetings, literature, bible correspondence courses, radio programmes etc. Successful methods of the past may be outdated today. Missionaries need to constantly reflect their ministries, take over new tasks, continuously re-train, develop an attitude of life-long learning.
(7) Indigenous Christians take over the leadership
In many countries strong churches have grown in the meantime and self-confident leaders have taken over the leadership. Often missionaries work under their leadership or in cooperation with them. Missionaries are no longer pioneers who develop and put into practice projects independently. They are guests workers who fill specific gaps where there are no local experts available - for example in theological teaching, children's ministry and youth work, social work, development projects, training etc. This requires a new type of personality from missionaries: ability to work in a team with good communication and conflict resolution skills, willing to compromise. They need humility, sympathetic understanding and cross-cultural communication. At times church leaders set other priorities than our liking. There might be financial expectations or ethnic prejudices or focus on the support of existing churches - and a mutual solution needs to be found in sensitivity, love and grace. Cooperation is not always easy.
(8) Modern communication offers great opportunities
The new communication technologies have revolutionised our world. News and pictures travel around the world in seconds. One mouse click and the whole world knows - the most remote places of the world are connected - and the same holds true for missionary work.
There are new forms of mission work: the evangelisation via satellite TV, Christian movies on DVD, bibles and theological literature available on the Internet even in "closed" countries, chat rooms provide discreet discussion rounds with people from all countries, evangelistic programmes on an interactive webpage and theological training through email. These are fantastic missionary opportunities but they are no substitute for the living example of an ambassador for Christ.
The life of the missionary has also changed dramatically: solar energy and water purification, satellite phone in remote mountains, satellite navigation in the jungle, language learning via CD, schooling of missionary kids through the Internet, instant access to all of the libraries of the world. Cheap air tickets permit visits from friends or a brief visit at home.
The communication with home churches and supporters has become much easier. Just one email and hundreds of friends can pray specifically. Pictures sent by email illustrate the ministry minutes later at the information board in church, a phone call with a mobile phone during church service provides up-to-date information, a video clip etc.... There are hardly any limits to your imagination and technical possibilities. This results in high expectations from supporters at home in regard to regular news and to the quality of presentations - and the missionary needs to compete with the information overkill. In the end communication is not a matter of technical possibilities but of personality.
(9) Missionaries from the Southern hemisphere
The most impressive characteristic of modern mission is the fantastic growth of the mission movement in many southern countries (traditional missionary receiving countries). With great enthusiasm and sacrifices they send their own missionaries to unreached areas in their own country and to other countries and many support their missionaries financially with great sacrifices. Today half the global mission movement comes from the new sending countries of the South: Korean missionaries in Central Asia, Brazilian missionaries in North Africa, Philippinos in the Far East... The "Evangelical Church in Westafrica" (ECWA) in Nigeria alone has sent 1070 missionaries; the Presbyterian Churches in Mizoram in the north east of India have sent 900 missionaries. The missionaries from the South come mainly from cultures which are very community orientated and thus have other needs than Western missionaries. Their sending churches and mission organisations often do not have the same financial resources as European agencies. They need different forms of mission structures for sending, leadership and care supervision - "new wineskins for new wine".
Missionaries from countries of the South also come to Europe. In Germany alone there are 200 Korean missionaries who proclaim the gospel to "German heathens". Possibly the spirituality and prayer fervour of an Asian missionary or the joyful faith of an African or the courage of a Latin-American missionary is more attractive to our fellow Germans than the rationality of a European. In Germany too we need ambassadors of Christ from other countries in order to reach our younger generation with the gospel.
(10) Mission is more than evangelism
In the past years powerful prayer movements for unreached people have come into being and the Lord has done great things through them. Nevertheless there is a growing awareness that the great commission is more than techniques, operation plans, superficial evangelism and impressive numbers of conversions. The centre piece of the Great Commission according to Matthew 28 is the command: "make disciples". This is more than preaching of the gospel or leading people to a decision for Jesus. All areas of life have to come under the leadership of Christ and each believer has to find a place in a local church. This cannot be achieved through the mass media even though they might be very effective in evangelism. We need living example of what God's grace can do in one's life, discipleship needs to be acted out in life. Our personal life needs to be transparent in order to encourage people to follow Christ.
(11) To preach Jesus in everything
Our time is characterised by great challenges and disasters: flooding, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, drought, Aids, epidemics, ethnic conflicts, refugees, incredible suffering in slums, persecution of Christians, spiritually bound people, closed countries and hearts closed for the gospel in the Western world. Here we need signs of God's love and great creativity in order to open doors for the proclamation of the gospel. Jesus always addressed the whole person. Salvation is to be found only in a personal faith in Jesus Christ. But this message must be communicated through word, deed and personality of the ambassador. It needs to start at the basic needs and interests of the people. The church of Christ is called to be a blessing for her town and country.
(12) Cooperation is of great importance
The challenges of this world are so immense that no church, mission agency or initiative can deal with it alone. Various knowledge, resources, experience and staff are needed. All efforts need to be coordinated. Jesus prayed especially for the unity of his disciples (John 17). This starts where Western missionaries work with colleagues from the South, often in multicultural teams. They can encourage each other, complement each others expertise and gifting, learn and encourage each other - but it also needs careful communication, willingness to compromise and grace so that the cultural and personal differences work out as an enrichment for each other.
To a growing extent this already takes place in regional partnerships. In one ethnic group in the north of India for example 400 mission agencies and churches work together. Each one adds it's part to the whole. This requires a wide horizon so that everybody is able to recognise and value the coworkers who Jesus has placed next to them. Own ideas and priorities may have to be put aside in order to achieve the common goal. Grand coalitions can only be built when everybody is willing to work together and to agree on compromises. This is the key for the future. Only together we can achieve it - and the Lord of mission will do it. God reaches his goal.
Dr. Detlef Blöcher