Trends in Missions Today
Course: Essentials of World Missions
Lecture: Trends in Missions Today
At this point we want to talk about the trends in missions today. In the larger notes I profile modern missionaries today—what they look like, and how missionaries are sent today. But I want to also point out some of the trends that we’re seeing in missions today.
A deeper appreciation for the challenges we face
I’ve already emphasized the important role of unreached people groups and of the indigenous witness missionary that is going out from the non-Western church. But I think today we see a much deeper appreciation for the challenges that we’re facing not only linguistically, but culturally in communicating the gospel. We have seen great growth in the ability and in the willingness of the church to reflect on the nature of the task, the challenge of the task, and how we might be more effective in doing this for the sake of the gospel.
Growth in partnerships
We’re seeing another trend which I think is wonderful, and that’s the growth in partnerships between national churches and the home church. This whole conception of “mission to mission”—mission boards working with mission agencies in the non-Western world—is to me a wonderful development. No longer is missions just someone from the West traveling to the East—we’re now seeing a much more cooperative kind of missionary endeavor which I think is essential to biblical Christianity.
Shift from partially supporting several missionaries to fully supporting a few missionaries
Another trend which has been quite remarkable in its scope in the recent years has been the shift from supporting a lot of missionaries with a little money, to supporting a few missionaries with most, if not all, of their full support. We have seen a dramatic growth in the number of churches which say, we want to be involved with our missionaries more intimately. We want to have a relationship with our missionaries. We can’t have a relationship with 50-60 people that we support $50 a month, or $100 a month. That’s not supporting a missionary. That is causing tremendous difficulties for that missionary, who has to come back on their furlough and visit a thousand different churches in order to say thank you for each of their checks for $100. We can’t do that.
We have to actually think more strategically about how the church can be more effective in helping support our missionaries, and one of these has been to commit themselves to a much larger percentage of support, which may indeed mean supporting less missionaries, but supporting them more as extended staff people who are working for the church beyond the walls of the church. And it’s a very effective trend and it’s been used by a number of churches in recent years of various sizes.
There are some smaller churches especially that have not been happy with this trend, and have said, “Listen, the Great Commission has been funded and fueled largely by young people from small, rural churches. It would be a terrible shame if the larger church were to take over the missions-sending enterprise and leave out the smaller churches just because they weren’t able to fully support a single missionary.”
So, what has happened, rather than compromising the basic advantage of a few churches supporting one missionary or one church supporting one missionary and keeping that missionary focused on one area, so that when they come back on furlough, their children can stay in one place, not be constantly living out of a suitcase as they travel to churches from East coast to West coast.
In order to prevent this kind of thing, some small churches have been joining together in consortiums, where six or eight churches may come together—smaller churches—and agree to support a certain number of missionaries, and this is done as a part of a commitment they have one to another, and to the missionary. And so these are all churches that are maybe in one relatively small area.
That way, when the missionary comes back home, he or she can do deputation and fundraising and so forth in a way that is separate from the larger work of what’s been happening in the past where missionaries had to travel all over the country to report to their churches. They can stay in one area.
The growth of technology
Another big trend has been the growth of technology. This very medium that we’re using now, where I’m able to share with you some of the thoughts from a class that I taught in this summary course shows you the great power of technology. Technology is very much a growing factor in missions. It’s influencing many, many aspects of missions, not only how we communicate with missionary candidates, how we communicate with Christians in diverse places on the mission field where we cannot have a missionary present there all the time—there are many other ways that technology is being used effectively to help bridge the distance between peoples and to provide good follow-up and accountability.
A decline of moral courage about the message
We’re also seeing a decline of moral courage about the biblical message, which has led to a crisis in world-wide missions today. The world is not prepared to accept the challenge of a crucified Christ who calls us to repent and believe. So, because of that lack of moral courage to stand up for the gospel, we have a growing situation where governments can be very hostile to the Christian message, not just in foreign lands but right where we are. Those are some trends which I think are significant for us as the missionary community to know about and talk about and be aware of in the coming days.
Modern Missions and World Religions
The next lecture has to do with modern missions and world religions. World religions is a fact of our time. We live in a world that is largely a religious world. It is always amazing to me how someone can go through a seminary and learn more about how to respond to a German Protestant liberal, who they’ll probably never in their life actually meet, than to respond to the billions of Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists who are living in various parts of the world, who have objections to the Christian gospel, and who need—desperately need—the Christian gospel.
We need to develop a good reply to those who ask us for the reason for the hope that’s within us who come from the Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim communities. We must develop a good, strategic response to all this.
In the full, extended course, we actually go through each of the major world religions. We look at Islam; we look at Hinduism; we look at Buddhism; and we look at two Chinese and Japanese religions, especially Confucianism, Daoism, and Shintoism.
Now these religions are the living context for most of the people living in the 10/40 Window who do not have access—appropriate access—to the Christian gospel. Therefore, we must be able to respond to these different religions. So I give a basic survey of each of the religions—what’s the essence of what they teach, it’s a very, very brief survey—and then, what are the key stumbling blocks which this person encounters in coming to faith in Christ? When we talk about each of those stumbling blocks, we identify one major stumbling block—one or two—for each of the world religions.
So, that is an important aspect of this course and I believe that every Christian should be aware of the importance of world religions and the necessity of Christians to develop a biblical response to world religions.