A New Mission Role for a New Era
Isaiah reminds us that we serve an innovative God. "See, I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert, and streams in the wasteland" (Isaiah 43:19). Change can come hard for many of us, but what excitement there is in holding our expectations loosely, allowing God to turn our paths in unexpected ways.
As the landmark date of AD 2000 rapidly approaches, it continues to be valuable to consider how God would have us do new things in missions. The Church has been inspired by the Great Commission since the first century; what is most needed now is to respond to the task? Certainly the need for more laborers is (and always has been) part of the answer. But what are the new models for how we can work more effectively in missions?
We in the West have often propagated the mythsometimes unknowinglyof the missionary role as a kind of Horatio Alger: a "lone ranger," attempting to reach impossible dreams all by themselves. Even when non-Westerners come here for seminary or other training, they can take back this American individualistic attitude.
However, over the last decade a new paradigm emerged, which is proving its value: the evangelism/church planting partnership movement. Collaboration and partnership have been identified as one of the main reasons for the tremendous success we have seen in beginning to reach the great unreached peoples of the world for Christ.
Mongolia is a case in point. In 1989 there were but a handful of national believers in the country and no church. Just 10 short years later there are now thousands of believers and over 50 Bible-believing churches! Most Mongolian church leaders give much of the credit to the effective witness by expatriate missionaries and emerging national leaders who have been working together in partnership. The breakthrough in Mongolia is not unique. Algeria, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, and other regions are experiencing the powerful witness and blessing that comes when God's people work together. We know that relationships are at the heart of the Gospel, and that unity among believers was Christ's prayer for His church in John 17. Partnerships offer the best model for relational cultures and can more effectively equip indigenous leadership. If we thus believe that partnership is a Biblical, effective new model for missions, what can we do to begin to live out its power and blessing?
As we seek to make evangelism partnerships even more a reality, the greatest need is for missions-minded individuals to step forward to serve as facilitators of emerging or developing partnerships. What do these partnership facilitators do? As networkers, they become the communications hub among the different agencies. As prophets, they hold onto and make known the vision of reaching the people group or area to which they have been called. As servant leaders, they are the glue that hold things together in between annual partnership planning meetings, facilitating the process of collaboration. They understand the process and principles that effective partnerships need to have.
Where are the greatest needs for partnership facilitators among unreached peoples? Most are among people groups in restricted access countries that can't be shared here, but a few we can name include: the Fulani people of West Africa; the Somali in the Horn of Africa, and the Bihari of India. Explaining to mission-sending agencies the criticaland essentialnature of the facilitator role has not always been easy. This is a classical "paradigm shift," a new definition of a missionary role and function. It is time for us not just to deploy workers for the harvest, but to develop new structures so that these workers will truly partner together with more impact for the Kingdom. A new missionary task for the new millennium.