In Sustainability, Change is the Only Constant

by Jason Mandryk

"Change is the only constant." So stated Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher, over five centuries before Christ. He has never been more right than today. Change is the answer to the question on so many people's lips today. Whether in development, science, education, marketing, creative writing or other industries, the bottom line is, "So what?" With our limited attention and resources, we need a good answer to the question, "Why should anyone care?"

Sustainability in mission, as described in my previous two articles, is a nice concept. But so what? Well, sustainability is vital because of the profound and rapid changes in the world. Sticking with "That's how we've always done it!" is a death sentence for our long-term viability. Let me list a few key changes we must face:

  • Human populations are changing. Asia contains over 60 per cent of humanity; China and India together make up nearly 40 per cent. Around half of all population growth between now and 2050 will happen in Africa. Meanwhile, over 20 European countries have negative or negligible population growth. Can you see where the future lies?
  • Urbanisation. In 2008, humanity crossed the 50 per cent urban-dwelling threshold. Ministering to people in the fast-growing cities of the world differs greatly from the rural mission stations of a century ago.
  • Technological advancement is in some areas happening faster than we can keep pace with. Never mind self-driving electric cars and ubiquitous smart phones; think nanotechnology, genetically customised medicine, green energy, and true artificial intelligence. Such disruptive changes will destroy certain industries and economies while creating others.
  • Accelerating changes mean that it is easier to be left behind, rendered irrelevant or obsolete. We must be intentional in thinking strategically for the future while acting with flexibility amidst constant change.
  • Most donations—for OM and the wider Great Commission effort—have traditionally come from Global North countries where Christianity is stagnant or in decline. A generation that faithfully supported many ministries is literally dying off; mission agencies are feeling the pinch as giving declines.
  • Our future missionaries are increasingly from the Global South. Yet the growing churches in much of Asia, Africa and Latin America need discipleship in the areas of financial stewardship and of mission sending. There is great potential in these regions that remains mostly unrealised. Where the money is coming from and where workers are coming from are mostly two different worlds.
  • The perception of Christianity as a religion—and of evangelicals as a subset—has not fared well in many countries. This negative bias is even more pronounced for missionaries seeking to win others to Jesus. 'Conversion' is a dirty word in many places. Countries are tightening visa restrictions, making it more difficult to go anywhere as a missionary, even to what we regard as Christian countries.
  • Our understanding of mission keeps changing. As the global Church resides increasingly in the Global South, the emphases and priority for theological reflection and action will change. The younger generation cares significantly more about social justice issues, creation care, and the economic empowerment of the poor than about mass evangelism and unreached people groups.
And that's just for starters! But, taking only this handful of change factors together, you can see why we need new approaches to ministry.

We need to find new ways for the next generation of missionaries to be funded. We must learn and then walk in true global partnership. We need to keep developing creative means of legal access to nations that also will help pay the bills. We must engage in ministries that show God's love in action to people and governments who may be hostile to our faith. And all of this must happen in a world that is changing ever more rapidly.

Sustainability is neither a mere trendy buzzword nor a superior theological, ecological or economical theory. It is already, and increasingly for the future, a very real necessity.

Jason Mandryck is with WEC International, currently seconded to OM's Global South Initiative. His ministry background is predominantly with Operation World, although he spent two years aboard MV Doulos. His passions include the use of information and research for mission strategy and prayer.

This blog first appeared on the OM News Site 1 May 2015.


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