Change needed in mission and Missions Fest Vancouver
by John Hall
There is a shift away from participation in traditional global mission and involvement in many of the organizations that have brought Jesus’ love to the ends of the earth. What does this mean for the future of mission?
Missions Fest was birthed in 1984, six years after celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee, and two years after the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enacted. Mandela was still in jail in South Africa, the Cold War was still underway and China was slowly shifting its national economic policy towards engagement with the West.
On the technology front, the Macintosh 128K debuted during the Super Bowl on January 22, 1984. While you could still find a phone booth on every street corner, the DynaTAC 8000x mobile phone launched in the spring of 1983 on the first US 1G network. It was also during the 80s that countries in Europe and Asia were building networks that would eventually lead to what we know as the World Wide Web.
Culturally, in 1984, there would be little dispute that Canada was still a predominantly white Christian nation, even as the concept of multiculturalism was beginning to take root. Most immigrants were still from Europe, reinforcing our Christian heritage. Approximately 43 percent of people in Canada still attended religious services on a regular basis.
Changes in the landscape
Thirty-five years later, the social, technological and cultural landscapes are entirely different.
However, it seems little has changed in the Canadian church’s thinking when it comes to mission. Undeniably, we are aware of the effects of globalization and the diversity in our Christian communities. We live in a secular country that has made us the target of mission-sending churches and mission agencies from the global south.
Society at large is concerned with issues of justice, equality, and good stewardship of our resources here and abroad. But when we talk about mission in the church, our highest ideal – the big catch – is still recruitment of a full-time religious worker who will pack their bags and engage poor heathens in a developing country.
If this is true, then what do the remaining 99.8 percent of Canadian Christians do regarding mission?
Time for evaluation
For a number of years now, Missions Fest has been speaking the language of the Missio Dei. We believe each person has a role to play in God’s mission with unique skills, gifts, and talents. We have tried to model unity in the body of Christ and diversity in the means of mission. However and sadly, the old ‘sending’ paradigm has stayed fixed in people’s minds. We have come to understand we have not applied one of the first rules of mission, ‘know your cultural landscape’, to the engagement and activation of our own local Christian community.
A crisis of discipleship
Few would argue that the church in Canada is facing a crisis of discipleship. Statistics Canada, and the EFC report Haemorrhaging Faith support the conclusion that “fewer people in Canadian churches demonstrate characteristics that are consistent with mature Christian discipleship.” At a national level, the goals of many churches have shifted from reaching the ends of the earth to the more immediate concern of how to keep people in the church. Decreasing membership amid cultural oppression leave little room for considering how to participate in mission.
Not all the news is bad, though. Many churches have been revitalized and are growing through outward-looking practices and simple biblical preaching. The missional church movement has inspired communities to have a collective missional ethos. Organizations such as Verge Network provide insight and resources to individuals who want to be incarnational in their own community.
Disciple-making is the heart of mission. We are asking the question, “what more could we be doing to help the church fulfill her mission of growing disciples who make disciples?”
Missions Fest isn’t sure what that would look like. We know that there must be new pathways for participation in Christ’s mission that supersedes the ‘pack your bag’ model of a prior generation. We know that the whole body of Christ should be involved in mission. We also believe that, in addition to elements of moral and spiritual development, discipleship needs mission to be well-rounded.
We need to meditate on what it means to be a mature disciple.
Lifeway Research developed a list of eight factors they offer as signs of maturing discipleship: Bible engagement, obeying God and denying self, seeking God, building relationships, serving God and others, sharing Christ, exercising faith, and being unashamed. lifeway.com
Let’s spur each other on towards a deeper walk in each of these areas as we develop a vision of “the whole church taking the whole Gospel to the whole world “(Lausanne).
Mission Central serves Christians all year long by providing missional resources. Visit www.missioncentral.ca for articles, events and more; or join us at Missions Fest Vancouver our annual mission conference.
John Hall is the Executive Director of Missions Fest Vancouver.
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