A decade ago, the idea of being a missionary was so problematic for me that I almost didn’t sign up to serve with NZCMS. The label of missionary is value-laden - there’s a whole lot of assumptions underlying how we understand what it is to be a missionary. Is it someone who’s sent out by a missions agency? Is it only people who serve overseas? Is it only front-line evangelists? Is it a dirty word tied up with colonialism?
Last week on Happy Hour, a new weekly zoom gathering featuring a panel of Mission Partners, we grappled with the question “Should we still be sending missionaries in 2020?” It’s a bold question to ask for a mission society, but one we ask seriously. God and His mission do not change, but the world does. As NZCMS, we seek to respond to the needs of the world, and we continue to ask ourselves what is our role to play. So what does it mean to be an NZCMS family participating in God’s mission at this time?
The world has changed
We don’t ask this question from a blank slate but instead lean into our story and identity. NZCMS is founded on the passionate call of CMS in 1799 to 'evangelise the unreached world,’ a mission movement which brought the Gospel to Aotearoa in the first place. It’s built on the global vision of NZCMS, founded in 1892 to send missionaries from New Zealand to the rest of the world.
But since then our world has changed. When CMS first sent out missionaries, over 90% of the Church lived in the West: now 75% of Christians live outside of the West. New Zealand itself is also a mission field. NZCMS’ recent initiatives around Reverse Mission - bringing missionaries from overseas to New Zealand - and Intercultural Communities - reaching out to different cultures within New Zealand - have challenged the Church here to see these mission opportunities in our backyard.
In the light of changes in the global Church, we must ask: what is the role of missionaries sent out from New Zealand now?
The distinction that is sometimes made between mission and missions is helpful. “Mission is the whole life of the church witnessing to the whole world” (Michael Goheen in Introducing Christian Mission Today).
Mission is what we are all called to do, wherever we are. It is showing God’s love in our words and in our actions; bringing our world closer to the reality of God’s Kingdom and proclaiming Jesus Christ as King.
Missions is used more specifically: “Missions is one part of mission, establishing a gospel witness where there is none or where it is weak”.
Reason #1: Reaching the Unreached
We continue to train and send people to participate in missions in other parts of the world. Even with the growth in the number of followers of Jesus in the Global South, there is still a need to establish and strengthen a Gospel witness to unreached peoples. We are called to the places where there is no indigenous community of believing Christians who can share Jesus with people in their own context. Several NZCMS Mission Partners are front-line evangelists in these contexts, sharing the good news of Jesus in other languages and within different cultures.
Reason #2: Partnering with the Global Church
We also send people to support the mission of local churches around the world. The global Church is the body of Christ, diverse in how we worship and live out God’s missional call, but united in the Holy Spirit. Churches around the world have different gifts and resources to give and receive from each other. For example, the New Zealand Church can learn a lot from the confidence our East African brothers and sisters have in sharing the Gospel.
Our Mission Partners offer specific skills or gifts to build up the local Church. They are involved in setting up medical centres, supporting community development initiatives, creating social enterprises, training pharmacists, coaching future leaders, and training theological educators, to name a few.
Should we still send out missionaries in 2020?
Absolutely! The NZ Church has gifts and resources that we can offer to the global Church. We can extend what we have to directly reach out to those who have never heard the Gospel, and to strengthen the mission of local churches through cross-cultural partnerships.
We can also learn from the global Church in ways that challenge our own cultural blindspots. We can receive the gifts of churches around the world and grow our global perspective
Partnering in these ways demonstrates that the Church transcends national barriers. As we serve together in mission, we learn to more fully be God’s hands and feet in a world of need. We start to live into the Kingdom vision of every nation, tribe, people and language worshipping before the throne of God.
NZCMS uses the term “Mission Partner” rather than missionaries. This reflects our model of partnership - we never send out individuals to go and do their own thing. We send people to work in partnership with a local church, NGO or network ensuring that there is both care and accountability.
What’s my role?
Even as we send people globally, we know that New Zealand needs missionaries. If to be a missionary is to be sent out to make known the reign of God through our words and in our actions, then this is a call for all of us wherever we may live and with whomever we may interact. It’s simply evidence of the life of God in us; an overflow of having the living God take up residence within us as individuals and communities.
From that baseline, we’ve each been created by God to do particular tasks, in keeping with the ‘vessel’ God has crafted us each to be - our particular gifts, skills, history and abilities, combined with the presence and power of Holy Spirit. This gives each of us a call from God particular to us. And for some, this is about serving the global Church – learning another language, living within another culture, and serving God from a place of otherness and across cultures.
PRAY. GIVE. GO.
NZCMS describes our calling to global mission as pray, give, and go. We each have a part to play – whether it's praying, giving, or going yourself. That going may be to your local school where kids need to know that they have a hope and future, to living out your faith in a business network in downtown Wellington, or indeed to the people living in a rural community in Africa or a slum in Asia. Simply, we’re all called to serve as missionaries in our own places and in the way God has formed us to. So, what has God called you to do and be for the sake of the Kingdom? And if you have a stirring towards cross-cultural mission service, get in contact and let’s talk!
Every blessing as you pray, give and go!
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