The Dimensions of Global Mission
January 12, 2010
Updated November 30, 2017
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The Gospel, the commands (and the example) of Jesus Christ have compelled the Church toward mission for nearly 2000 years. Although the task is not nearly complete, its dimensions, methods and intermediate goals have changed dramatically in recent years. This article aims to give you a thumbnail sketch of the state of global mission and provide links to other resources that will enable you to dig deeper into those areas that are most interesting to you.
Unlike some Christians who believe that the Gospel of the Kingdom is limited to some future age, Reformed Christians believe that the Gospel, which we are called to proclaim and live out, is comprehensive Good News. It speaks of individuals whose sins are forgiven and societies whose way of life is transformed. It has to do with abundant life, meaning loving familial relationships as well as justice for the oppressed and food for the hungry. Many millions of people have come to faith in Christ around the world in recent years, but the blessed life that God intended is experienced only in part. The vision has not yet been realized. Until it is, until Christ returns, the mission will remain for His Church. Each local congregation and every believer is called to take up their role in this expansion of the Kingdom of God, globally as well as locally.
One key aspect of a Kingdom is its subjects. In 1900 there were only 9 million Christians in Africa. Today that figure is at least 350 million and still rising fast. Many nations that were predominantly followers of African Traditional Religions now have a majority of the population professing faith in Christ. However, there are still thousands of people groups around the world with a total population of more than one billion people where there are few or no Christians. Bringing the Gospel to these Unreached Peoples is one of the key remaining tasks of missions. If the people living in these groups are going to hear the Good News in a culturally relevant and linguistically appropriate way, someone will have to cross cultural and linguistic boundaries to tell them about Jesus.
The Kingdom of God is characterized by compassion. Many people around the world experience natural and manmade disasters. Flood and drought, war and disease, hurricane and tsunami result in urgent need for the basic necessities. Disaster Relief work provides food, shelter and medical care in situations where suffering is intense and death on a large scale may be on-going. This kind of provision must be provided genuinely, without ‘strings attached.’ An understanding that each person is made in the image of God, whether or not they acknowledge the God and Father of Jesus Christ, moves us to respond, not out of pity but out of justice. Of course, the care and love expressed by Christian agencies beyond the normal bounds of concern inevitably raises the question, “Why?” Love expressed in actions provides an opportunity to speak of the source of that love.
Christian concern for those who live without the dignity that they deserve as image-bearers moves us to do more than heal wounds. We must also seek to prevent the wounds and rebuild communities because the Kingdom is about life abundant. Christian community development recognizes not only the needs, but also the resources that God has placed in the community. Instead of a patronizing attitude, it seeks to work in partnership across many human boundaries. Confronting issues of societal injustice, including the often degraded status of women is often central to this task.
Entrepreneurship and structures that support it have helped give God’s image-bearers the dignity and economic security that have helped them to live out their calling as viceroys of God’s Kingdom. This applies not just to economics but to the development of a society in which God’s vision is increasingly realized. Micro-enterprise efforts require modest amounts of capital, but significant amounts of time and dedication on the part of Christians who love those who have unrealized potential.
Even in areas where many are Christian believers, there are many who have not yet come to a living faith. Reaching those people with the Gospel requires many kinds of outreach by a variety of people. Radio broadcasts and listener response ministries, internet resources and study groups, have an important place. All of these resources can help build the maturity of Kingdom citizens. North American Christians, working in partnership with local believers, have both responsibility and opportunity to contribute their portion to the overall work.
As people become believers and come together in small groups, a fundamental issue in their mature development is leadership training. North American Christians who are surrounded by Gospel witness and Christian resources can hardly imagine the shortage of leadership development resources in many parts of the world. Training and developing leaders doesn’t just happen in the kind of formal education that happens in colleges and seminaries. Often, non-formal education through seminars, workshops and the like is most needed. In many parts of the world, training leaders is the best contribution that North American Christians can make to the ministry of church planting and development which is carried out by national churches in their own country.
When Christian believers become mature and churches are flourishing there should be an impact on the whole society. Transformation Networks (or Centers) aim at this in a deliberate way. They seek to connect people from various Christian churches who are concerned to see Christ’s reign come to fuller expression in their society. This language and vision, which has its roots in what has been called the Reformed world and life view, is increasingly inspiring to Christians of many traditions. Until He comes, the mission of the Church will continue in growing Christ’s Kingdom, living out Kingdom values and seeking nothing less than the transformation of life for individuals, families, and whole societies. Participating in this process of global mission is a high calling and a high privilege.
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