Part 4: Missiology

What is OM’s missiology? What is yours?

The global Church spends many millions of dollars and commits many thousands of people every year to mission activity. And yet, for the large majority of us, we would be hard pressed to clarify our missiology in any coherent manner. Is there any other enterprise on such a scale that could get away with such fragmented thinking, disjointed operations and lack of overarching strategy? How can any mission of any size properly function without a well-developed missiology?

Theologian Karl Barth expressed this vital relationship between thinking about mission and doing mission nearly 60 years ago:

"Missiology's task is critically to accompany the missionary enterprise, to scrutinize its foundations, its aims, attitude, message, and methods - not from the safe distance of an onlooker, but in a spirit of co-responsibility and of service to the church of Christ."
(Theology and Mission in the Present Day, 1957)

The 'reflective practitioner' is how this concept is expressed in today's language. And never has it been more vital to operate thus, when every move is observed, scrutinized, recorded, uploaded commented on, blogged about, critiqued, and even submitted to annual performance review.

We do mission before the eyes of the entire world. And so not only must we do our mission wisely, but we must be able to articulate our mission well.

What is our overarching missiological goal, and how are we going about achieving it?

My guess is that a hypothetical space alien observing planet Earth would not draw the conclusion that the billions of people who identify themselves as Christian are making it a priority to reach the whole world with the Gospel message. Far from it.

There are, of course, many challenges to the fulfilment of the Great Commission which seem enormous, even insurmountable. But I'm willing to guess that it would also be apparent to our alien friend that the most significant factor in preventing this message from reaching the entire world is not some external factor, such as terrorism or persecution or atheism. No, my bet is that it would be rather clear that the number one thing that keeps the Church from fulfilling the Great Commission is our own flawed set of priorities and teachings.

The numbers bear this out:
  • Less than one per cent of Christian income is given towards mission activity, and only a tiny proportion of mission activity is directed at the unevangelized world.
  • Fewer than 1 in 10,000 people calling themselves Christian are devoted to full-time missionary endeavours.
You can generally discern priorities by where money and time are spent - and the global Church has made it quite evident that mission is far down the list.

This, of course, is not so within the OM framework. But...

What are the factors that shape why we do what we do, and how we do it?

In a globalized, pluralized, post-modern context, where our options for what we do are virtually endless and where our motives are continually scrutinized, we need to be working from a missiologically solid foundation. If not, we can find ourselves pulled in all kinds of directions and our resources and energy dissipated into a well-meaning but strategically ineffective kind of altruism.

Our mission must be informed by more than just compassion and urgency - although it must include both! Unless you are of the persuasion that the apocalypse is right around the corner, then there must be both an overarching strategy to the human dimension of our activity, as well as a nuanced appreciation of the missio dei (mission of God) for the 21st century.

Yet much of our heritage in OM and in Western evangelical circles has been shaped by the evangelistic fervour of such people as D.L. Moody, a 19th century preacher, who famously said: "‎I look upon this world as a wrecked vessel. God has given me a lifeboat and said, 'Moody, save all you can' ".

Many others who shared Moody's theological persuasion did not share his evangelistic fervour, and chose to withdraw from the world into their quiet circles and await Jesus' return – the world, after all, was an irredeemable ruin in their eyes.

OM does not strike me as being guilty of either of these errors. When I look at the breadth of ministries under the OM umbrella, I see a growing appreciation at how the Great Commandment and the Great Commission work together. And yet, out of its own strongly activist history, OM has not in my mind articulated a clear missiology. Activists get stuff done, and save thinking about the "why" question for later!

So, what is OM's missiological foundation? And what is yours?


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