This blog aims to encourage churches to have a balanced perspective about serving at home whilst not overlooking the overseas mission field.
What influences a church’s approach to supporting mission and the priority it gets? Unsurprisingly, that will be largely determined by the senior minister’s views, but who influences them? Rather like the church sound technician adjusting the mixing desk sliders on a Sunday morning, to get the right balance of piano, guitar and voice etc., mission priorities tend to be a mix of five external channels of noise competing for the minister’s attention.
Channel 1 – The Need at Home. The church in the UK is seen to be in numerical decline and the need to reach people at home has never been greater. The church’s teaching is being challenged by society at large and is increasingly at odds with new legislation. Sexuality and gender issues are challenging the church and spending energy responding to these is seen as vital at this time.
Channel 2 – The World Is Coming to Us. Why go overseas when the world is coming to us? Professionals, students, and migrant workers from all over the world are coming to the UK. Our priority should be to reach those who will be returning to their home country.
Channel 3 – It’s More (Cost) Effective to Support Local Ministry. Local ministers understand the language and culture better than any expatriate worker will ever do. They have the responsibility for leading their churches and reaching their countrymen. It is better value for the mission budget to support a number of local ministries than spend £40k each year to send a British family.
Channel 4 – We Should Be Helping People, Social Justice and Community Development are Vital. How can you preach the gospel to people who are homeless, hungry, oppressed, enslaved and sick, without doing something to help them?
Channel 5 – There Is Still a Need To Go. The Lord told us to go into all the world and make disciples. From the very beginning that is what the church has always done.
It is very likely that Channel 1 (need at home) will be set to maximum volume, especially in our own town or parish. No surprises there.
Large university cities are likely to turn up Channel 2 (world coming to us) to make the most of short to medium term visitors. Of course, many smaller towns are now seeing increased numbers of people settling from other countries, most recently from Hong Kong.
Occasionally Channel 3 (local ministries) and Channel 5 (sending missionaries) tend to be seen in competition with one another, perhaps encouraged in the messaging by some organisations who hold only one of these positions for ideological reasons. There is still a need for both however, foreign money to be used wisely and missionaries being sent to engage in appropriate ministries.
It is hard to argue that the church should neglect any of these messages. As evangelicals we might dial down Channel 4 (social needs), because we share that responsibility with all of humanity, and may not consider it mission, but ought it to be completely silenced?
Every once in a while, it is worth examining how our church’s mission message is tuned. What is turned up to maximum, what have we slowly turned up or down over time without realising? What is our church neglecting because it doesn’t suit our interest or temperament?
John McLernon is Crosslinks Mission Director This blog is based on an earlier article published by the author (Mixing Mission, EN, April 2017 )
Views expressed in blogs published by the Latimer Trust are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Latimer Trust.