The missional impact of COVID-19 is already being felt. In the West churches and agencies are under pressure to sustain a model of missionary sending, while in the Majority World the poorest communities suffer the most from the impact of the virus and the accompanying government policies. These and other factors are pointing to a future of mission that will be both indigenous and integral. Both are deeply connected.
The landscape of mission has already changed
In the last few decades, the balance has shifted in the Christian world with the phenomenal growth of the Church in the Global South. The shift away from Western-led mission and the reduction in the number of missionaries sent from Western churches will accelerate as the impact of COVID-19 is felt economically, politically, and socially.
In Global Transmission – Global Mission, Jason Mandryk reminds us that
“as we have seen in the past… Indigenous ministries and mission movements are able to find ways of doing Kingdom work that are effective, appropriate, and sustainable.” 1
Recognising the value of the local
The challenges that now face the sustainability of the Western missions industry will ultimately help reset the balance in favour of indigenous mission and ministry. For Jay Matenga, “the future of mission will be indigenous.”2
For many years OMF has recognised the crucial importance of encouraging indigenous – meaning locally birthed – initiatives that enable Christians to cross boundaries to share the gospel. We have talked about this in terms of indigenous mission movements.
Such movements take a variety of forms in order to facilitate a range of ministries. Some concentrate on crossing boundaries within their own geographical area, others cross borders and send workers into distant places and cultures.
Broadly speaking, OMF sees three types of mission movements:
- East Asians reaching out
to East Asians
- East Asians reaching out to non-East Asians
- Non-East Asians reaching out to East Asians
Some of these movements have connected with OMF, others have not. Some are older and well established, others are just emerging. OMF has the joy of journeying with them and, at various stages, appropriately sharing insights, expertise and resources.
It’s also important that we listen to and learn from such movements. They are often quite different from OMF organisationally, culturally, and theologically. However, if we invest time in building relationships and come alongside with an attitude of servanthood, God can use all of us to co-create ways to see the gospel spread in a changing world.
Thinking beyond the professionalised world of global mission
A ‘mission movement’ isn’t necessarily a ‘mission organisation’. While there are experiences to be passed on from agencies such as OMF, we need to remember that mission agencies have only been around for a relatively brief period. The vast majority of gospel sharing has actually been done by ‘ordinary’ men and women, not ‘professional’ missionaries.
One impact of COVID-19 has already been to remind us of this. As many missionaries have had to return to their home countries, local Christians have stepped in with fresh initiative and continued the work. This is a time to recognise they are the key agents who must shape what integral witness to the gospel looks like in their community. Our efforts must be increasingly focused on serving and learning from such communities. The question asked by a scholar of the African Church is relevant to many of our East Asian contexts:
“Does the professional world of global mission with all its lofty plans, conferences, conventions, think tanks, and earnest endeavours, detract and distract from the work of indigenous mission?”3
Despite the huge disruption of our plans from COVID-19, the Holy Spirit continues to empower followers of Jesus all over East Asia. Whether through virtual Bible studies, or serving local communities struggling under restrictions and a lack of resources, the good news of the kingdom is being seen and heard.
OMF’s task is not to promote a one-size-fits-all type of indigenous mission movement but to encourage authentic expressions of indigenous kingdom witness that take many different forms and are shaped by local Christians. Mission agencies will continue to play a part. Yet in a world full of disruption and uncertainty, we will want to remember God often chooses to work in new ways and the need to equip all God’s people for the sort of whole-life discipleship that enables us to cross all sorts of boundaries to share the Lord Jesus.
- Jason Mandryk, Global Transmission – Global Mission: the impact and implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic, Operation World Free E-Book, 2020, p.38.
- Jay Matenga quoted in Jason Mandryk, Global Transmission – Global Mission, p. 35. In a blog post Matenga writes: “Our world today can be dissected in many ways. I prefer to identify two major blocs: the Industrial (individualistic, usually West/Global North/First World) and the Indigenous (collectivist, typically East/Global South/Majority or Developing World)”. Accessed 1st June, 2020.
- David Killingray, “Passing on the Gospel: Indigenous Mission in Africa”. Transformation 28:2 (2011), 100.