The Shift in Global Missions

Jim Ramsey

Jim Ramsey

By Jim Ramsay –

A person would have to be living in a cocoon (and without an internet connection) to not realize the enormous changes the world has experienced in recent decades. Even in the remotest, rural areas of the globe, cell phones give people access to information that just two decades ago required access to major libraries and centers of learning. Population movements, political upheavals, travel availability, and communications have all contributed to this rapidly changing globe. The church has also experienced changes in addition to those above. Much of the West is entering (or has entered) a post-Christian era. The center of gravity of the church globally is no longer in the West.

While God’s mission remains unchanged, the manner in which we go about participating in his mission has to respond to these changing contexts. In my role at The Mission Society, interacting with missions globally in recent years, I have observed several trends reflecting this response.

1. Missions is global. Some Christians still believe that missions is what we from the U.S. do for them. Short-term mission teams from the West unfortunately often reinforce this view, although increasing numbers of people are rethinking that as well. Missions literally can now be seen as being sent from anywhere to everywhere. Nations such as Brazil, Nigeria, South Korea, and The Philippines send tens of thousands of missionaries globally.

2. A focus on least-reached peoples. This also is not a new trend, but one that has gotten increasing traction over the past couple decades. While a disproportionate share of mission work and finances continues to be in parts of the world where the majority of the population would self-identify as Christian, there has been a notable increase in awareness of and activity among the nearly 2 billion people who have yet to hear that Jesus was born. The language of “people groups” is now common in mission discussions, focusing on ethnic and cultural affinities rather than geographic boundaries when considering missions.

3. Recognition of diaspora as a mission opportunity. There are more people living outside their country/culture of origin than in any time of human history. The global church is recognizing how in the Bible and in early church history, natural and forced migrations of people were often means by which people encountered God. For example, in the U.S. alone, one can likely find a community of people from nearly every unreached people group across the globe. Thousands of Filipino believers live and work in the Middle East – an area largely closed to traditional Christian missions. There are local church-based as well as global discussions on how to engage these new realities from the perspective of God’s mission. Many churches can impact unreached people groups simply by growing in awareness of immigrant communities in their region and learning how to be welcoming hosts.

4. Missions is increasingly urban. Much mission work is now taking place and needs to increase in cities across the world. Recently the population living in cities crossed the 50 percent mark globally. This has an impact on how we prepare people to engage in missions and how we go about it in these economically and culturally complex settings. In addition to identifying people groups as a mission strategy, we should identify key global cities that are in need of a gospel witness.

5. Rethinking the definition of “missionary.” In many places, one cannot enter as a missionary with no other role or identification. Increasingly missions will take many forms, with the common element being that people are engaging across cultural boundaries, seeking to make disciples, and living out their lives in whatever context they are in. This might include a Canadian business person living in the Middle East, a Kenyan immigrant to the U.S., a Mexican doing development work in South Sudan, in addition to people serving in the more traditional missionary roles. In many cases, we will see the word “missionary” not used to describe such people, since it can be less than helpful in sensitive environments. For historic and cultural reasons, there are several places where the term “missionary” carries negative connotations that do not accurately describe the person’s activities or intents.

Although we are experiencing unprecedented global change, this is not the only time in history that the church has had to react to changing contexts. It is when God’s people, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, reflect on God’s unchanging purpose in the context of a changing world that the Kingdom of God’s impact on humanity grows.

Jim Ramsay is The Mission Society’s vice president for mission ministries and served as a missionary in Kazakhstan for 10 years.


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