Humility is required when speaking about the future, and its probably best to take John Naisbitt’s advice, he said, ‘The most reliable way to anticipate the future is by understanding the present.’ Whatever the future holds it seems that a number of things will characterise the content of our missional engagement, as well as the context of that engagement.
What does the future hold for Christian mission?
- A future that needs the joy and hope of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
The world will keep on changing, as will OMF, but our core reason for existing must continue to be the proclamation of the unique, saving message of the cross and resurrection.
- A future that recognises the importance of partnership.
This is not simply a useful idea – it is part of the essence of what the church is. Hwa Yung writes that, despite the fact that, ‘the centres of Christian growth are now largely found in the non-Western world… the centres of power remain largely in the North… This imbalance can grossly distort our perceptions of global church realities… Consequently, we remain blinded to changing global realities and locked into outmoded courses of action.’
- A future where multi-directional mission will be a reality.
The missionary structures that characterise organisations such as OMF will change. Structures that were set up for one-way traffic – for sending and giving, will need to change to facilitate two-way traffic. Mission from everywhere to everywhere.
- A future that will insist on more-than-Western expressions of theology and practices of mission.
Until the latter half of the twentieth century, Western expressions of theology and mission dominated the global Christian landscape. But now, with the growth of the global church, there are many more diverse communities reading the Bible, theologising and engaging in mission – OMF must play a part in joining their voices to those from the West.
- A future in which East Asian Christians will need to be salt and light across all the dimensions of life and society.
In OMF we are committed to seeing churches birthed, but as Melba Maggay points out, ‘experience shows that having more Christians does not necessarily ensure a just society.’ A key reason is that, ‘people may experience saving faith, but may not necessarily move towards the far-reaching social implications of that faith’ Changed hearts do not necessarily change societies. We must aim for deeper discipleship that is faithful to the whole-counsel of God, bringing the gospel to bear, not just on the individual heart but also on the structures and patterns of human interaction.
- A future for agents of reconciliation.
The future of mission will be one where Christian witness continues to be carried out in a troubled and violent world. In many places across East Asia we will need missionaries gifted in building bridges between communities where ethnic tensions exist, or where there is inter-religious violence; mission partners who can see beyond the planting of churches for just one ethnic group at a time, but recognise the biblical imperative to establish multicultural communities of reconciled people who model the gospel of peace.
- A future for tent-makers.
One of the best ways for East Asians to see and hear the gospel, and to observe whole-life discipleship, is for Christians to be rubbing shoulders with non-Christians in the workplace. This isn’t about using a skill or profession as a “platform” in order to do real ministry. This is about valuing the work itself, doing a good job for the glory of God.
- A future that is urban.
David Smith has observed that, ‘theologians have been strangely indifferent to the issues and challenges posed by the growth of an urban world.’ The East Asia Millions in 1991, included an article by Harvie Conn who wrote how, ‘The cities, in fact, were part of Taylor’s strategy from the moment that the first team of CIM missionaries arrived in 1866.’ Together with the churches in Asia we have work to do in developing a theology for urban mission.
- A future that looks for authentic messengers who are transformed by the message and who are prepared for sacrificial, costly service.
An extract from our Principles and Practices 1891, section six reads: ‘They must count the cost, and be prepared to live lives of privation, of toil, of loneliness, of danger – to be looked down upon by their own countrymen, and to be despised by the Chinese’ Christian witness in the future, as in the past, will go hand-in-hand with suffering. It is through our weakness and vulnerability that the authenticity of our message is seen and heard.
- A future that recognises the crucial place of prayer.
In 1925, at a CIM Diamond Jubilee meeting in Brighton, Samuel Zwemer gave his listeners this challenge: ‘that the China Inland Mission must not lean on its laurels but must advance on its knees to complete victory throughout China.’ The same applies in 2015. Whatever the future holds, we move forward on our knees.