Looking Back… Looking Forward
Input from evangelical mission leaders on the recent past and near future of the mission movement.
As the wheels of production started turning for this State of the World issue of Mission Frontiers, we asked a number of mission leaders for their perspective on where we are and where we are heading. Not intended to be an exhaustive (or exhausting) interview, these excerpts from our correspondence provide some catalyst for thought and prayerand ample justification for praise.
International Director, Interdev
Mission Consultant, Pioneers
Author, Operation World, WEC International
C. Douglas McConnell
International Director, Pioneers
Executive Director, Pioneers
C. Peter Wagner
Author and Chancellor, Wagner Leadership Intstitute
What have been the most significant advancements in the global mission movement over the past 10 years?
Richardson: The concept of "unreached peoples" is now understood and embraced by church leaders worldwide, giving driving thoughtful and strategically-focused cross-cultural ministry at the local level.
Secondly, God's people are emphasizing prayer, recognizing that sheer ingenuity and hard work alone will not accomplish the task. There is a growing rediscovery and celebration of the spiritual nature of the missionary task.
Frizen: Partnership arrangements mainly overseas between mission and churches for reaching specific groups of peoples has been greatly enhanced in the past decade. The unreached people group focus has come to the center of denominational and non-denominational agencies as has working in teams.
Wagner: The evangelistic momentum now attained in the 10/40 Window. This can be largely attributed to the AD2000 Movement and the leadership of Luis Bush.
Johnstone: The collapse of Communism as a viable ideological challenge to the Gospel.
For the first time in history we have published people lists that are reasonably complete that delineate the size of the task of discipling the nations! Hallelujah!
McConnell: A growing level of partnership between missions involved in work among unreached people groups.
Butler: The convergence of "God-orchestrated" trends that have powerfully influenced the context for world evangelization. Among them are the watershed developments in communications (internet, satellite-based cellular technology, etc.) producing sharply-reduced costs, access to "closed" countries, and options in distance education and interactive communications previously considered unthinkable.
The return on 200 years of investment by the modern missionary movement as demonstrated in the rapidly-emerging, large-scale non-Western missionary force now evident globally.
The emergence of a completely new missions/evangelism infrastructure has empowered frontier missions. These language, people, city, or country-specific partnerships have demonstrated that God's people can work together over extended periods of time and with extraordinary results.
How valuable have goal-setting (e.g. "A church for every people by the year 2000") and partnership been in serving to advance the modern mission movement?
Wagner: Goal setting is essential to accomplish any task with the highest possible degree of efficiency and effectiveness. God designed humans to set goals, and the urgency is reflected in the Biblical phrase, "faith is the substance of things hoped for." All things hoped for are future, and putting substance on the futurefaithis a Biblical definition of goal setting. If we don't set goals we don't please God, because "without faith it is impossible to please Him."
McConnell: The emphasis on the year 2000 has primarily been a wake up call for mission societies. The actual effects are not as clear. However, as in the first question, the increased emphasis on partnership has clearly been an advance. Goal-setting efforts should continue with a stronger emphasis on the need for individuals to set and measure their progress in the light of the wider movement.
Butler: Goal setting speaks of outcomes. Partnership speaks of processes to realize the outcomes. While many have questioned the theological/eschatological validity of such goal-setting, on balance I believe the emphasis has been very healthy. It has been part of the reason for an unprecedented look at the "unfinished task" by hundreds of agencies. Concern about the lost has been escalated in the hearts of many who, previously, might have carried on with business as usual.
Johnstone: The AD2000 and Beyond Movement has been the largest synergistic global effort ever launched (even with the mistakes and criticisms) to focus on and mobilize for the discipling of every people.
What are the greatest challenges facing the global, evangelical mission movement today?
Richardson: The challenge of mobilizing a new generation of Christians for world missions; the challenge of pursuing substance and not just image; the challenge of building synergistic models of partnership between West and non-Western mission movements.
Frizen: The greatest challenge facing the evangelical movement today is the apathy of a great percentage of evangelicals, particularly in the West.
Johnstone: Theological fluffiness concerning the eternity of Hell and eternal lostness of the lost. A loss of the vision of the uniqueness of Christ and of a Trinitarian basis for missions. Theological weakness cannot be a by-product of methodological strength.
McConnell: The challenge of including the local church in the partnership and not loosing a clear focus on leadership from the field. There is a critical need for frontier missionary types to develop an ecclesiology. We are church planters but in some cases do not understand what a church is, either theologically and even to a lesser extent in practice.
Wagner: The greatest challenge facing the global mission movement in the coming decade is to evangelize the 40/70 Window, the only major region of the world, with the exception of the Arab Muslim bloc, where the movement of God is virtually at a standstill. The two major segments of the 40/70 Window are post-Christian Europe and the Silk Road/Turkic Belt. As examples, there are proportionately fewer born-again Christians in Poland than in Nepal. There are proportionately fewer born-again Christians in Spain than in Japan. And I believe that the significant breakthrough that we have been praying for in the entire Muslim world, including the Middle East, will begin among non-Arab Muslims from Turkey to the Xinjiang Province of China.
Butler: Humility on the part of the newly-assertive Western local churches to understand that their typically considerable local resource base, while having great ministry potential, must be linked with people/agencies with the field experience to turn short-term vision into long-term outcomes.
The effective transfer and utilization of resources from the first to the Third World through new forms of partnerships and strategic alliances that do not create dependency yet do strengthen long-term non-Western church/mission capacity.
What are the most exciting, emerging developments in the global mission movement today?
Johnstone: The fact that it is global and the initiative is shared geographically. The small but significant rise in numbers of Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist-Background believers.
Richardson: The progress of the Gospel in vast "new" areas of Eastern Europe and the CIS, Central Asia, China,; creative thinking and imminent breakthroughs (hopefully) in the Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu worlds; a growing recognition of the global nature of Christianity, tie. This is not synonymous with the West; the proliferation of prayer movements and indigenous missions.
Frizen: Among the most exciting developments in global mission is the enthusiasm of many younger, relatively new Christians for obedience to our Lord's missionary command. This has produced a host of training thrusts which will help to keep outreach centered in Christ and His Word.
Butler: The high correlation between those places previously thought "impossible," where people are coming to Christ in the thousands and the places where the global Church is working together in the new paradigms of strategic partnership.