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May 4, 2014

What Does Healthy, Cross-Cultural Missions Look Like?


Asking the hard questions

Are we living in the day when the US church no longer has a place in mission, other than to send money? Should we just support nationals who can do the work better anyway? Or is the US church “the hope of the world” in mission? Are we the ones who know best what needs to be done, and how? What is our role in God’s mission in the world today?

Has your church been thinking through any of these kinds of questions lately? Or are you just muddling along like you’ve always done, without really thinking about it? Or, perhaps you don’t really have any kind of cross-cultural mission and ministry and don’t know where to start.

Suppose your church were to get into a relationship with an international student who was studying at a nearby university or seminary. And suppose you found out that his home village had many needs far below your own level of living. Perhaps their village wants to reach out to other villages, but they lack the resources to do so. Would you know how to get involved in a healthy way? In a way that fostered their development as people rather than fostering a dependent relationship?

I have seen situations where Christians, with good intentions, end up creating unhealthy power dynamics in another culture by sending more money into one village church than the rest of the Presbytery all together could muster. Could this be avoided? Would you even know it was an issue? These are the kinds of questions we all need to learn to ask. Because if God is really doing some incredibly exciting things in the world today, (and God is—see my previous blog!) we all need to be seeking our place in what God is already doing.

A few resources to get started

One of the best resources I know of is a recent book by Paul Borthwick titled Western Christians in Global Mission: What’s the Role of the North American Church. Borthwick writes from his experience as a youth pastor, global mission pastor, and cross-cultural worker. He builds on the work of people like Lamin Sanneh, Andrew Walls, Miriam Adeney, Samuel Escobar, Phillip Jenkins, Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert, and Todd Johnson, among many others. If you don’t know these names, you especially need to read this! And if you do, you will find this an especially great compilation and synthesis of their work.

One thing I especially appreciate about Borthwick’s book is the balance between his understanding that our role must change, and that we do still have a role to play—albeit with different, Biblical attitudes like an openness to learn from our brothers and sisters around the world. While recognizing we need to change how we operate, Borthwick does not go to the extreme of saying we should just send others and stay away ourselves.

All of this highlights a major issue facing ECO congregations as we seek to move into a future of healthy, cross-cultural mission based in congregations, not a denomination. We must learn how to develop ways of encouraging each other and learning from each other, while being faithful to God’s call to tell all peoples of the earth of the glories of Jesus and calling them to follow Him. How can we do this in a “bottom-up” fashion instead of a “top-down” way?

Let me encourage you to consider attending or having mission leaders in your congregation attend a conference this fall to help you wrestle with these and similar issues. ECO partners Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship, The Outreach Foundation, and The Antioch Partners are sponsoring the second annual Connecting Mission Leaders conference in San Antonio October 16-18.


The speaker for the conference is, of all people, Paul Borthwick! Besides his messages, there will be a lot of emphasis on enabling people to network together around shared areas of interest, whether parts of the world or types of ministry. And the conference is aimed at mission leaders from congregations in ECO, the EPC, and the PCUSA. Last year’s initial conference was a resounding success, and we are tweaking the format based on feedback of those who came.

May God bless you and your congregation as you seek to faithfully serve and minister alongside fellow believers from many places, in a world who needs to know Jesus!

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