Churches challenged to radical re-think of mission strategies

By Ecumenical News International
15 Jun 2007

Churches need to examine their old mission strategies and reshape them for the 21st century, according to the Rev Setri Nyomi, general secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches - writes ENI (www.eni.ch).

"Addressing this problem is at the heart of strengthening the relationships we have with one another as we engage in mission," Nyomi told mission groups linked to the Christian Reformed Church in North America, at a meeting on 8 June 2007 in Grand Rapids, in the US state of Michigan.

The WARC leader said the idea that mission revolves around missionaries or agencies from North America or Europe working in Africa, Asia, Latin America or the Caribbean is a thing of the past.

The priority for Christian mission is in the area where a church is located, said Nyomi, a Presbyterian from Ghana.

"When it comes to mission abroad, we have the opportunity now to welcome missionaries from other parts of the world to North America and Europe, just as missionaries from here go to other parts," said Nyomi.

He added, however, that while churches talk of partnership in mission, many efforts continue to reflect an old style where the rich churches give and the poor receive.

The Grand Rapids meeting coincided with the 150th anniversary of the Christian Reformed Church, which is a member of WARC.

WARC groups 214 churches in 107 countries. It has roots in the 16th century Reformation led by Jean Calvin and others.

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Ekklesia adds: The call for a global partnership in mission, rather than a one-way traffic from the West to the rest and from rich to poor, has been a common part of the ecumenical and mainstream churches' agenda since the 1970s.

In practice, such a global interachange has been growing enormously in recent years - not just among traditional 'senders', but in South-South initiatives such as Korea.

The roots of Christian mission in colonial enterprise have also been radically critiqued from within the churches, and evangelism has been remodelled as sharing faith rather than imposing it. The WCC and other bodies have invested much effort in "the theological ethics of mission".

Indeed some conservative evangelicals have become concerned that Christian mission has been too much restyled around social action.

That said, the 1974 evangelical Lausanne Covenant proposed a commonality-in-difference between the Gospel as proclamation and as social engagement.

In the 1980s, the World Council of Churches called for all mission to be done "in the way of Christ" - rather than in domineering ways which obstruct a clear vision of God's purposes enfleshed in Jesus.

The nature and purpose of Christian mission remains one of the most hotly disputed questions in modern Christianity, not least in plural and multi-religious or secular societies.

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