This is the first post in a series of articles on global ministry trends and issues presented by Dr. Greg Burch, Director of the Master of Arts in Global Development and Justice program and Chair of the Global Studies Department. You can read more articles from Dr. Burch on his personal site, The Burch Blog.
Over the next eight weeks, I will be presenting some of the current movements and trends within global mission efforts today. As contexts of mission shift, theory and practice must also keep up the pace. A primary motif within current mission literature seeks to understand current issues and trends in the field. One thing that must not change is the theological basis to global mission. Theology and mission must be closely tied as we re-consider and reconfigure what we mean by global mission in an age of radical change. Too frequently in the past, our theologies have remained dormant and detached from social realities. And likewise, mission has been divorced from a strong theological foundation, manifested, in some cases, more like a social service disconnected from God’s central purpose in building his kingdom. When this all happens, “The result is a theology divorced from human realities and a missiology that lacks theological foundations” (Paul Hiebert 38).
There are a number of shifts taking place in global mission today. Strategies and approaches will need to be assessed to keep up with current events. One example from this past week is the new Russian law that prevents one from sharing his or her faith outside of a church or religious building (including online and in residential buildings). The new law, which was attached to anti-terrorism amendments, goes into effect on Wednesday, July 20. (For more on this law see Forum 18 – a local news source in the region.) How should mission organizations and others deeply concerned about growing God’s kingdom respond? What is the best approach to missional activity in such a restricted context?
Other issues we will consider in the coming weeks are new mission terms. Even historic and traditional ways of describing mission are being debated. The issue of nomenclatures and mission program titles has, as of recent, been included in mission conferences and frequently debated in recent works. Take, for example, the recent American Society of Missiology’s annual meeting (2015) and the Professor of Mission conference as they discussed such topics as Missio-logoi: The Many Languages of Mission and What’s in a Name? Assessing Mission Studies Program Titles. These are current issues that are reflective of the changes taking place in the field. Even our own mission program at Multnomah recently went through some significant changes. See Global Studies for more on MU’s own experience with this topic.
Andrew Kirk writes from a conciliar position on mission as he explores the need to incorporate a broad missiological foundation that includes mission to the poor, creation care, contextualization, social justice, pluralism, violence and peacemaking, and global partnerships. In his proposal, he suggests that mission be inclusive of a broad range of issues (24, 28-29). One of the stronger emphases noted in the writings of Kirk is how many of Jesus’ friends were indeed outsiders. The poor, with whom Jesus associated, were much more than those who did not own property; rather, they were people who had been intentionally disadvantaged and forbidden to enter into the life of civil society. They were forced to become powerless to make any difference in society (48). Given the place of the poor and marginalized in Scripture, they will be a primary motif in the coming weeks as well.
As we discuss trends and movements within global mission today, we must remember that mission knowledge is built upon the past and mission praxis is built upon the present. This review will seek to keep an eye on both.
Hiebert, Paul. “Missiological Education for a Global Era.” In Missiological Education for the 21st Century: The Book, the Circle and the Sandals, edited by Edgar J. Elliston, Charles Van Engen and J. Dudley Woodberry. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996. Print.
Kirk, Andrew. What Is Mission? Theological Explorations. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000.