Many global challenges face North American Christians and churches today, and a plethora of helpful books is available on the subject (Guthrie 2000; Pocock et al. 2005; and “works cited” and “other recommended resources” below). The list of issues is extensive and their relationships are multifaceted and complex, causing one to wonder if there is any way to make sense of the big picture. For these reasons, analyzing several key issues could be very helpful, both for believers and churches in North America as well as for Global Christians. A clearer understanding of the following challenges for North American Christians in particular will provide readers with some key perspectives for understanding the contemporary situation and our role as North American Christians in the world today.
Missional Churches in a Global Context
While the term Missional church is a hot buzzword and perhaps represents a passing fad, the call in North America for local churches to be Missional suggests the possibility of a positive and welcomed shift of emphasis. On one hand, in theory this new focus could motivate and enable local churches to reach outward and engage in transformational ministries in their communities and beyond. Many local churches in North America historically have been myopic in their vision and preoccupied with their own affairs. Meanwhile in recent years, denominational and parachurch mission agencies have experienced growing crises on various fronts, causing some to wonder if missions will become outdated (Engel 1996 and 2000; McClaren 2006, 126 ff.). Given these realities, the call for local churches to become Missional could prompt one to hope for the coming of an exciting new missionary movement, bringing a breath of fresh air to North American missions, both domestically and globally.
On the other hand, the proposal to “subsume missions in mission” may not be as helpful as one would envision (McClaren 2006, 138 ff.). The basic idea is that each local church can be Missional in a balanced and effective way, presumably flowing in large measure out of its own local initiatives. However, there are several important reasons to wonder if this picture can actually become a reality as a number of theoreticians currently portray it. The slowness of Western Christianity throughout history to go into all the world for Christ and the difficulties that many contemporary “Missional” churches have in reaching the world for Christ underscore the inadvisability of discarding the historic emphasis on world missions without a comprehensive assessment of the implications of such a transition.
The History of Western Christianity and Global Outreach
Reflecting on the history of Christian missions in Western culture can be very instructive. The explosive expansion of early Christianity after our Lord’s death and resurrection lasted for barely three centuries. It was accelerated by persecution and the Diaspora, and nurtured and guided by missionaries that traveled throughout the Roman Empire, of which Paul was the apostolic model. Nevertheless, once Christianity became the preferred faith of the Western church and Christendom set in, churches and religious leaders became preoccupied with their own internal affairs. As a result, for over a thousand years afterward the Missional outreach of Western Christianity for the most part was limited to the peoples and lands of present day Europe. Neither local churches nor their higher ecclesiastical leaders provided visionary leadership for Missional outreach beyond their own shores.
Roman Catholic missionaries were the first from the West to go to faraway lands around the world. Meanwhile, Protestant missionary outreach to other peoples and lands did not happen in a significant way until the nineteenth century and then only as a trickle for several decades. One would have hoped that the growing religious freedoms afforded by the Reformation would have been accompanied from the beginning by a passionate missionary movement. Instead, Protestant missions abroad during those early years were virtually non-existent. Sadly, nearly four hundred years passed after Martin Luther posted his ninety-five point theses on the door in Wittenberg, Germany, before a broad Missional movement of obedience to the Great Commission took place. Not until the last century did North American believers and churches finally catch a vision and passion for world evangelism, resulting in the Modern Missionary Movement.
In recent years some are suggesting that this great missionary movement should be declared obsolete along with the patterns and structures that it produced and that the new answer is for local churches to become Missional. From a pragmatic perspective, this may seem to be a reasonable suggestion. Admittedly, the current problems that missions agencies are facing seem monumental. However, to presume that local churches on their own will respond today in a very different way, in contrast with twenty centuries of local church patterns to the contrary, is quite a stretch of the imagination. In this fallen world, the past is one of the best predictors of the future. This also applies in a significant way to the dispositions, habits, and practices of local churches. It is true that Christ is very much at work in and through His Body, The Church. Nevertheless, She still has her spots and wrinkles.
Reaching the World at our Doorstep and Beyond
A closer examination of the realities and tendencies of contemporary local churches can also provide some helpful insights. Missional churches are encouraged to see the world around them as a mission field, often with the presumption that they will transition naturally and seamlessly from Missional outreach in their own communities to global ministries. Seeing the world around their local church as a mission field is both biblical and appropriate. Nevertheless, it is presumptuous to think that a transition to broader ministries will be natural and seamless. One only needs to look around at people while worshipping in many churches on Sunday to realize that reaching other cultures and ethnicities generally does not happen without extraordinary planning and initiatives. Far too often local churches and believers allow their values and patterns to be shaped more by the world than by the Scriptures and Kingdom principles.
Many reasons can be cited for these disconnects between popular Missional theory and practice. Taken together they underscore the unlikelihood that a local “Missional” church can minister effectively at home and abroad through her own initiatives and resources alone. The genuine desire to be Missional can easily mutate from a priority focus on the local community to an exclusive one. Often one hears the following myopic and parochial question in many churches that are the most vocal about becoming Missional: “Why send our resources elsewhere and go abroad when there are so many needs in our own local mission field?” These disconnects and tendencies underscore the fallacy that subsuming missions in mission can enable a local church to fulfill her own unique mission and thus obey our Lord’s command to take the Good News to the ends of the earth. Foremost among these reasons are six global challenges for North American Christians, each that merits further exploration:
• Nationalism and Latent Ethnocentrism and Racism
• Intercultural Competencies and Cultural Relevance
• North American Believers as Partners in Ministry
• Balancing Proclamation Evangelism and Holistic Ministries
• Finances and Patron-Client Relationships
• Effective and Appropriate Uses of Technology in Diverse Contexts
Taken together a strong case can be made for the ongoing need of missions as a unique and special focus for all local churches. The reasons for this need and possible options for the future will become clearer in the following discussions.
Engel, James F. 1996. Clouded Future: Advancing North American World Missions. Milwaukee: Christian Stewardship Association.
Engel, James, and William Dyrness. 2000. Changing the mind of missions: Where have we gone wrong? Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.
Guthrie, Stan. 2000. Missions in the third millennium: 21 key trends for the 21st century. Waynesboro, Georgia: Paternoster Press.
McLaren, Brian D. 2006. The church on the other side: Exploring the radical future of the local congregation. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Pocock et al. 2005. The changing face of world missions: Engaging contemporary issues and trends. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.
OTHER RECOMMENDED RESOURCES
Borthwick, Paul. 2003. Stop witnessing and start loving. Colorado Spring: NavPress.
Burney, Bob. 2007. “A shocking confession from Willow Creek Community Church leaders.” Baptist Press: http://www.baptistpress.com/bpnews.asp?id=26768
Carroll R., M. Daniel. 2008. Christians at the border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group.
Carter, Craig A. 2006. Rethinking Christ and culture: A post-Christendom perspective. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press.
Choung, James. 2008. True story: A Christianity worth believing in. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.
Clegg, Tom, and Warren Bird. 2001. Lost in America: How You and Your Church Can Impact the World Next Door. Loveland, Colorado.
Coleman, Robert. 1964. The master plan of evangelism. Old Tappan, New Jersey: F. H. Revell Company.
Coleson, Joseph, Ed. 2007. The Church Jesus builds: Dialogue on the Church in the 21st century. Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House.
Conn, Harvie M., and Manuel Ortiz. 2001. Urban ministry: The Kingdom, the city, and the People of God. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.
Conrad, Chris. 2007. 5 things anyone can do to introduce others to Jesus. Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House.
Cope, Landa L. 2001. “Biblical Reflections: The Old Testament (Part I) and The New Testament (Part II).” Messages presented at Godmission.community, Orlando.
Donaldson, Dave, and Carlson-Thies, Stanley. 2003. A revolution of compassion: Faith-based groups as full partners in fighting America’s social problems. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.
Elmer, Duane. 1993. Cross-cultural conflict: Building relationships for effective ministry. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Elmer, Duane. 2002. Cross-cultural connections: Stepping out and fitting in around the world. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Evangelical Manifesto Steering Committee. 2008. An Evangelical manifesto: A declaration of Evangelical identity and public commitment. Washington, D.C.: http://www.anevangelicalmanifesto.com/
Foster, Richard J. 1998. Celebration of discipline: The path to spiritual growth. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.
Frost, Michael and Hirsch, Alan. 2003. The shaping of things to come: Innovation and mission for the 21st century church. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.
Gailey, Charles R. and Howard Culbertson. 2007. Discovering missions. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press.
Gallagher, Robert L., and Paul Hertig, eds. 2004. Mission in Acts: Ancient narratives in contemporary context. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books.
Garrison, V. David. 1990. The Nonresidential Missionary: A New Strategy and the People it Serves. Monrovia, California: MARC.
________. 1999. Church Planting Movements. Richmond, VA: Office of Overseas Operations, International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Glasser, Arthur F.; Van Engen, Charles E.; and Gilliland, Dean S. 2003. Announcing the kingdom: The story of God’s mission in the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.
Glover, Robert Hall. 1946. The Bible basis of missions. Chicago: Moody Press.
Gornik, Mark R. 2002. To live in peace: Biblical faith and the changing inner city. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Grenz, Stanley J., and John R. Franke. 2001. Beyond foundationalism: Shaping theology in a postmodern context. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.
Guder, Darrell L., Ed. 1998. Missional church: A vision for the sending of the church in North America. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company.
Hall, Steven. 1999. Peter, Paul and Engel—Evangelism as a process not an event. Living Waters Christian Fellowship: http://www.lwcf.org.uk/evangelism.pdf
Harf, James E., and Mark Owen Lombardi, eds. 2009. Taking sides: Clashing views on global issues, 5th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies.
Hesselgrave, David J. 1991. Communicating Christ cross-culturally (2nd Ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House.
________. 2000. Planting churches cross-culturally: North America and beyond. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.
________. 2005. Paradigms in conflict: 10 key questions in Christian missions today. Grand Rapids: Kregal Publications.
Hiebert, Paul G. 1985. Anthropological insights for missionaries. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
Hiebert, Paul G., and Eloise Hiebert Meneses. 1995. Incarnational ministry: Planting churches in band, tribal, peasant, and urban societies. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.
Hull, Bill. 1990. The disciple-making church. Grand Rapids: Baker.
Hunter III, George G. 1996. Church for the unchurched. Nashville: Abingdon Press.
________. 2000. The Celtic way of evangelism: How Christianity can reach the west…again. Nashville: Abingdon Press.
________. 2003. Radical outreach: Recovering apostolic ministry and evangelism. Nashville: Abingdon Press.
Hybels, Bill. 2006. Just walk across the room: Simple steps pointing people to faith. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Hybels, Bill, and Mark Mittelberg. 1994. Becoming a contagious Christian. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Jenkins, Philip. 2002. The next Christendom: The coming of global Christianity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
________. 2007. God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe’s Religious Crisis. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
________. 2006. The new faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the global south. New York: Oxford University Press.
________. 2008. The lost history of Christianity: The thousand-year golden age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia—and how it died. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
Johnstone, Patrick, and Jason Mandryk. 2001. Operation world: 21st century edition. Waynesboro, Georgia: Paternoster Lifestyle.
Kaiser, Walter C. 2000. Mission in the Old Testament: Israel as a light to the nations. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.
Kimball, Dan. 2003. The emerging church: Vintage Christianity for new generations. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
________. 2004. Emerging worship: Creating new worship gatherings for emerging generations. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Klauger, Martin I., and Scott M. Manetsch. 2008. The Great Commission: Evangelicals and the history of world missions. Nashville: B & H Publishing.
Koschorke, Klaus, Frieder Ludwig, and Mariano Delgado, eds. 2007. A history of Christianity in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, 1450-1990: A documentary sourcebook. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Kretzmann, John, and McKnight, John. 1993. Building communities from the inside out: A path toward finding and mobilizing a community’s assets. Chicago: The Asset-Based Community Development Institute.
Lingenfelter, Sherwood G. 1992. Transforming culture: A challenge for Christian mission. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
Lingenfelter, Sherwood G., and Mayers, Marvin K. 1986. Ministering cross-culturally: An incarnational model for personal relationships. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
Lo, Jim. 2002. Intentional diversity: Creating cross-cultural ministry relationships in your church. Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House.
Lo, Jim, and Boyd Johnson, eds. 2006. Intercultural ministry: Readings on a global task. Indianapolis: Precedent Press.
Mandryk, Jason. 2009. “The state of the Gospel.” (Video and PowerPoint Presentations) Operation World. http://harvestmediaministry.com/State_Gospel_Full.htm ; http://www.joshuaproject.net/great-commission-powerpoints.php
Marty, Martin. 2007. The Christian world: A global history. New York: The Modern Library.
Mayers, Marvin K. 1987. Christianity confronts culture: A strategy for cross-cultural evangelism. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House.
McIntosh, Gary L., Ed. 2004. Evaluating the Church growth movement: 5 views. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
McKaughan, Paul, Dellana and William O’Brien. 1998. Choosing a Future for U.S. Missions. Monrovia, California: MARC.
McLaren, Brian D. 2001. A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
________. 2002. More ready than you realize: Evangelism as dance in the postmodern matrix. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
________. 2006. The church on the other side: Exploring the radical future of the local congregation. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Medearis, Carl. 2008. Muslims, Christians, and Jesus: Gaining understanding and building relationships. Minneapolis: Bethany House.
Miller, Darrow L. 2001. Discipling nations: The power of truth to transform cultures (2nd Ed.). Seattle: YWAM Publishing.
Miller, Donald E., and Tetsunao Yamamori. 2007. Global Pentecostalism: The new face of Christian social engagement. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Mittelberg, Mark. 2000. Building a contagious church: Revolutionizing the way we view and do evangelism. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Moreau, A. Scott, Gary R. Corwin, and Gary B. McGee. 2004. Introducing world missions: A biblical, historical and practical survey. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.
Morgenthaler, Sally. 1999. Worship evangelism: Inviting unbelievers into the presence of God. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House.
Myers, Bryant L. 1996. The new context of world mission. Monrovia, California: MARC.
________. 1999. Walking with the poor: Principles and practices of transformational development. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books.
Nees, Thomas G. 1996. Compassion evangelism: Meeting human needs. Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill Press.
Newbigin, Lesslie. 1989. The gospel in a pluralist society. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans.
________. 1995. The open secret: An introduction to the theology of mission. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans.
Nida, Eugene A. 1957. Learning a Foreign Language: A Handbook Prepared Especially for Missionaries. Friendship Press.
Niebuhr, H. Richard. 1951. Christ and culture. New York: Harper & Row.
Noll, Mark A. 1992. A history of Christianity in the United States and Canada. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
________. 2009. The new shape of world Christianity: How American experience reflects global faith. Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press.
Oden, Thomas C. 2007. How Africa shaped the Christian mind: Rediscovering the African seedbed of Western Christianity. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.
O’Donnell, Kelly, Ed. 2002. Doing Member Care Well: Perspectives and Practices from Around the World. Pasadena: William Carey Library.
Olson, David T. 2004. The American Church. (A PowerPoint Presentation).
Perkins, John M. 1993. Beyond charity: The call to Christian community development. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.
________., ed. 1995. Restoring at-risk communities: Doing it together and doing it right. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.
Pillai, Rajendra. 2003. Reaching the world in our own backyard: A guide to building relationships with people of other faiths and cultures. Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press.
Pippert, Rebecca Manley. 2003. How to lead a seeker Bible discussion. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.
Poole, Garry. 2003a. Seeker small groups: Engaging spiritual seekers in life-changing discussions. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
________. 2003b. The three habits of highly contagious Christians: A discussion guide for small groups. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Rainer, Thom S. 2003. The unchurched next door: Understanding faith stages as keys to sharing your faith. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Richardson, Don. 1984. Eternity in their hearts (Rev. Ed.). Ventura, California: Regal Books.
Rogers, Glenn. 2006. Evangelizing immigrants: Outreach and ministry among immigrants and their children. Mission and Ministry Resources.
Roxburgh, Alan J. and Fred Romanuk. 2006. The missional leader: Equipping your church to reach a changing world. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Rusaw, Rick, and Eric Swanson. 2004. The externally focused church. Loveland, Colorado: Group Publishing.
Schwarz, Christian A. 1996. Natural church development: A guide to eight essential qualities of healthy churches. Carol Stream, Illinois: ChurchSmart Resources.
Sider, Ronald J. 1999. Good news and good works: A theology for the whole Gospel. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.
________. 2005. The scandal of the evangelical conscience: Why are Christians living just like the rest of the world? Grand Rapids: Baker Books.
Sider, Ronald J., Olson, Philip N., and Unruh, Heidi Rolland. 2002. Churches that make a difference: Reaching your community with good news and good works. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.
Simpson, Michael L. 2003. Permission evangelism: When to talk—when to walk. Colorado Springs: Cook Communications Ministries.
Smith, James K.A. 2006. Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.
________. 2009. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, worldview, and cultural formation. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.
Snow, Donald B. 2001. English teaching as Christian mission: An applied theology. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press.
Soerens, Matthew, and Jenny Hwang. 2009. Welcoming the stranger: Justice, compassion and truth in the immigration debate. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press.
Stetzer, Ed, and David Putman. 2006. Breaking the Missional code: Your church can become a missionary in your community. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman and Holman Publishers.
Stevenson, Phil. 2004. The ripple church: Multiply your ministry by parenting new churches. Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House.
Stone, Bryan P. 2004. Compassionate ministry: Theological foundations. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books.
________. 2007. Evangelism after Christendom: The theology and practice of Christian witness. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press.
Taylor, William D. 1997. Too Valuable to Lose: Exploring the Causes and Cures of Missionary Attrition. Pasadena: William Carey Library.
Van Engen, Charles. 1991. God’s missionary people: Rethinking the purpose of the local church. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
Van Rheenen, Gailyn. 1996. Missions: Biblical foundations and contemporary strategies. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Vinay, Samuel, and Chris Sugden, eds. 1999. Mission as transformation: A theology of the whole gospel. Oxford: Regnum Books International.
Walls, Andrew F. 1996. The missionary movement in Christian history: Studies in the transmission of faith. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books.
Ward, Ted. 1984. Living Overseas: A Book of Preparations. New York: The Free Press.
Warren, Richard. 1995. The purpose driven church: Growth without compromising your message and mission. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Webber, Robert E. 2002. The younger evangelicals: Facing the challenges of the new world. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.
Whiteman, Darrell, and Gerald Anderson. 2009. World mission in the Wesleyan spirit. Franklin, Tennessee: Providence House Publishers.
Wilson, Norman G. 2005. “Compassionate ministry and evangelism: Their relationship and expression.” Wesleyan Church Web Site: Leadership Development Journey (July). http://globalambassadors.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2008-10-31T10%3A27%3A00-04%3A00&max-results=7
________. 2006. “Good news for the immigration problem.” Wesleyan Life: Winter. http://evangelicals-and-illegal-immigrants.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2008-09-24T10%3A13%3A00-04%3A00&max-results=7 (Posted Wednesday, March 19, 2008)
________. 2009. “Evangelism and social action—revisiting an old debate: Good News for immigrants and Evangelicals too.” Journal of The American Society for Church Growth: Volume 20, Winter, pages 69-83. http://globalambassadors.blogspot.com/2009/06/evangelism-and-social-actionrevisiting.html
Winter, Ralph D., and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds. 1999. Perspectives on the world Christian movement: A reader. Pasadena: William Carey Library.
Wright, Christopher J. H. 2006. The mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s grand narrative. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.
Wright, Nicholas Thomas. 2008. Surprised by hope: Rethinking heaven, the resurrection, and the mission of the Church. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.
Young, William Paul. 2007. The shack. Los Angeles: Windblown Media.
Zacharias, Ravi, and Norman Geisler, eds. 2003. Is your church ready? Motivating leaders to live an apologetic life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.