Broadening Our Horizons

By its very name, New Horizons (OMF’s venture to partner with churches, Christians and mission agencies in new places for the organisation) invites us to look ahead, discern the future shape of mission and pursue new directions for the sake of the kingdom.

In his bestselling book Megatrends, John Naisbitt says

‘the most reliable way to anticipate the future is by understanding the present.’(1)

As far as the present global Christian movement is concerned, we are living in exciting days as we see the map of global Christianity changing.

The future is Latin American and African

In 2014 Latin America became the continent with the most Christians. In 2018 Africa surpassed Latin America, and by 2050 there will probably be more Christians in Africa (1.25 billion) than in Latin America and Europe combined. As the Church continues to grow in China (current estimates range between 80 and 120 million) projections for 2050 extend to a staggering 220 million (16 per cent of the population).(2)

What does this mean for churches?

Generally speaking, churches and mission agencies in Europe and North America have been slow to recognise the implications of this demographic shift in world Christianity.

Or take on board the big picture that is coming from researchers and practitioners around the world.

For instance:

  • The African Church will increasingly contribute to new forms and initiatives in Christian theology and missional practice;
  • The growth of Pentecostal forms of Christianity will influence the global Church, necessitating a greater engagement with such churches from all who are concerned about world mission, discipleship and the theological health of the Church;
  • The future survival of the Church in the West is connected to its willingness to listen and learn from the majority world Church;
  • Churches in the former heartlands of Christendom are recognising that their contexts are now mission fields into which they must welcome cross-cultural workers sent from the majority world;
  • Mission is now ‘from everywhere to everywhere’, and therefore colonial-type terminology such as ‘home’ and ‘field’ is to be abandoned and replaced with language and structures that embrace a deeper collaboration and a mutuality in mission across the worldwide Body of Christ;
  • The growth of the Church in the 20th century had more to do with the gospel-sharing initiatives of ‘ordinary’ indigenous Christians rather than the strategies of ‘professional’ missionaries and western agencies.
  • Christianity is now more evenly spread across the world and leadership is more often coming from the majority world rather than just Europe or North America.

What does this mean for OMF today?

There remains, however, a need for sharing the good news of Jesus in all its fullness with the peoples of East Asia, and the Western Church continues to have a role to play in that task. But such a role must be pursued in partnership with the wider Church, especially the churches in the majority world.

In OMF we recognise the need for us to be changing and adapting to the shifts taking place in world Christianity.

Fresh thinking and creative space is required if we are to remain fit for purpose. Key to this will be allowing our perspectives and ways of operating to be challenged by the people and groups we encounter in mission. Our organisational horizons must be broadened!

The dictionary definition of ‘horizons’ includes ‘the limit of a person’s knowledge, experience, or interest’. In OMF, we want to find ways to broaden our horizons, to be seeing beyond the limits of our current experience and knowledge. We need others to help us embark on that journey.

At a recent gathering of OMF leaders we agreed to intentionally seek input and advice from church leaders in our various countries to help us explore how OMF should be responding to the changing landscape of mission. So I would like to invite you to contact me with your own reflections.

Remembering where our resources lie

In Brian Stanley’s assessment of the great Edinburgh missionary conference of 1910, he notes the optimism that characterised discussions about how Christianity would make progress in the century ahead.

Stanley’s observation of what actually happened in that century is a great reminder of where our resources ultimately lie as we pursue whatever new horizons may be ahead of us:

‘The Christian faith was indeed to be transfigured over the next century, but not in the way or through the mechanisms that they imagined.’

He continues:

‘The most effective instrument of that transfiguration would not be western mission agencies or institutions of any kind, but rather a great and sometimes unorthodox miscellany of indigenous pastors, prophets, catechists, and evangelists, men and women who had little or no access to the metropolitan mission headquarters and the wealth of dollars and pounds which kept the missionary society machinery turning; they professed instead to rely on the simple transforming power of the Spirit and the Word.’(3)

Dr Peter Rowan

1 Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives, New York: Warner, 1984, p.xvii
2 Statistics taken from International Bulletin of
Mission Research and Gordon Conwell Centre for
Global Christianity
3 Brian Stanley, The World Missionary Conference,
Edinburgh 1910, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2009, p.17.