According to Rollin Grams of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, ‘most mission agencies have lost the vision of mission.’ After 150 years of engagement in mission, is this true of OMF? Do we have a future? Here is my six-fold answer– which is a ‘yes… but…’ response as to why I believe there is still a role for OMF:
1.OMF is an international community, which facilitates local church participation in God’s worldwide mission.
In the words of the OMF Handbook, ‘We are a church-centred mission. Partnership with sending and receiving churches is vital to the accomplishment of our ministry purpose.’
2. OMF is a catalyst of the mission of God amongst East Asia’s peoples.
With a population of 2.15 billion, there remains a need for the gospel to be seen and heard in many places across East Asia. OMF provides experience and expertise that enables UK Christians to live, work and serve in long-term mission among East Asia’s peoples
3. OMF serves as a bridge between the UK and East Asia.
Facilitating a greater understanding among UK churches about what it means to be a part of the worldwide Body of Christ, and what we can learn from the churches in Asia.
4. There is a role for OMF so long as we model cross-cultural servanthood.
As we move towards greater cooperation and partnership with the churches in East Asia, we need mission partners who serve, learn from and work under national church leadership. Duane Elmer, who asked Christians across the world how they perceived missionaries among them, was surprised by the answers: ‘Many said that they valued the missionary presence and the love they felt for them. But many said, with hesitation but conviction, “Missionaries could more effectively minister the gospel of Christ if they did not think they were so superior us”.’
5. OMF has an increasing role in serving and equipping UK churches to engage in cross-cultural mission in their local communities.
Cross-cultural witness and the insights of missiology are highly relevant and urgently required for many churches across the UK. OMF and other organisations with long histories of cross-cultural mission have much to share with local congregations who are opening their doors and their homes to people from across the world who are now living across the street.
6. OMF still has a role so long as we are prepared to change and adapt towards new paradigms for mission engagement.
Our 150 year anniversary provides an opportunity to reflect on what kind of structures will facilitate effective and humble engagement in world mission today. William Carey’s An Enquiry (1792) contained the phrase ‘the obligation to use means’ – that is, the responsibility of Christians to bring together the right structures in order to carry out the Great Commission.
His ‘use of means’ gave birth to what became known as the ‘voluntary society’ – examples of which would be the Baptist Missionary Society and the London Missionary Society. Hudson Taylor developed this model further with the founding of the China Inland Mission, which became the pioneer and prototype for a new mission society – the ‘faith mission’.
But as Andrew Walls points out, ‘the conditions that produced the (missionary) movement have changed, and they have been changed by the Lord of history. The Church has been changed out of all recognition by the agency of the missionary movement itself.’ We still have good news to share and a biblical mandate for engaging in world mission. In that sense the task has not changed but the means and the mode certainly have. The tremendous growth of the non-Western churches does not mean the end of cross-cultural mission. But the new realities raise questions about who is doing the crossing.
We sometimes joke in OMF that if Hudson Taylor applied to join us today, he wouldn’t be accepted. But a prior question is – would he even consider joining in the first place? Something tells me that he’d be starting something radical and innovative. Walls describes how ‘The original organs of the missionary movement were designed for one-way traffic; for sending, for giving. Perhaps there is now an obligation of Christians to “use means” better fitted for two-way traffic, for sharing and for receiving’ Carey disturbed the existing structures of his day, Taylor did the same, and the changing contexts of today call for the same kind of innovation to be applied to the creation of new mission movements, both here and especially in East Asia. OMF has a role to play as a catalyst for such initiatives.
Returning to Grams’ question and the future of the mission agency. If an organisation is to have a vision of mission that is more than simply placing people overseas, ‘the mission agency’, says Grams, ‘needs to understand how it relates to the mission of God as it is laid out in Scripture and then ask itself how it is accomplishing this mission.’ If we did that, he says, we would probably end up with ‘a leaner, highly qualified, and focused mission.’
Faithful to Scripture, relevant to the context, with the wisdom and creativity to ‘use means’ in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in all its fullness with East Asia’s peoples: so long as that’s what we’re about in OMF, we’ve got a future!