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Weaving Together the World’s Diversity (Issue 20)

It’s time for a paradigm shift as we look at worldwide mission partnerships. One could even question whether partnerships, in the truest sense of the word, have really been tried? One area of mission that is bringing fresh breath into the church globally is the aspect of ‘reverse mission’ or ‘mission from the margins.’ Increasingly missionaries from the majority world are being welcomed into nations that have historically been considered the sending nations.

While traditionally power, finances, resources, ideas and missional models have been lopsided towards the West, the global shifts in mission necessitate a radical rethinking about what it means to truly see ourselves as the body of Christ in a global mission field. Partnership can no longer be seen as a business contract but as a relationship defined by mutual obligation, trust and loyalty. Goals, tasks, branding and credit must be subservient to relationship.

We might envision mission partnership in terms of Paul’s body analogy in 1 Corinthians 12. Usually interpreted in individualistic terms, our context allows us to re-read the analogy as a global body where diverse global churches become organs that only function in a healthy manner when in partnership with the other members of the body.  No one organ has a one-way relationship with the rest of the body. Just as the heart given blood to the lungs, while the lungs provide oxygen for the heart, each organ is intentionally ‘incomplete’ and must depend on the other parts. Perhaps Paul would say to us: the New Zealand church should not say, “Because I am no African I do not belong to the body,” or the North American church cannot say to the Latin American church, “I don’t need you!”

Relational partnerships will only come about with an increased attitude of humility and a learner heart. There needs to be a respect for the divine calling of the other and acknowledgement that all parts are vital and necessary. The question is whether the Western church will accept partners from the majority world? Can the prevailing attitude of ‘the West to the Rest’ be replaced? Sadly churches in the Global South often believe they have nothing to offer. The truth is that the South has huge vibrancy, new zeal, music, dance, theologies and paradigms for mission. The challenge for the West is to welcome and celebrate diversity without trying to ‘convert’ others to its own model.

Andrew Walls writes in ‘The Ephesian Moment’ that the Church can only attain the fullness of Christ as different culture entities come together into the one body of Christ – a fuller image of Christ develops when we learn to see him through the cultural lenses of others. He says, “The church must be diverse because humanity is diverse; it must be one because Christ is one. Christ is human, and open to humanity in all its diversity; the fullness of his humanity takes in all its diverse cultural forms.” This need for perspectives beyond our own is part of the rationale behind the 2014 Bicentennial Celebrations initiative to invite evangelists from Africa to come to New Zealand and share, preach, network and encourage New Zealand churches. Repeatedly I return to the counsel of Kenneth Bailey who contends that the gospel is not safe in any culture without a witness from outside that culture. Can we value the stranger in our midst who can gently but firmly point out our blind spots? These guests, while from a non-Western background, will have a strong understanding of Western culture and will bring a fresh prophetic voice to our churches.

Many of these evangelists will be well skilled in speaking into issues of pluralism and bring a confidence in the power of the gospel that has been undermined as our society increasingly pushes God out of the public square. Our hope it that we may gain insights into evangelism and a heightened cultural awareness as we grapple with the changing cultural face of New Zealand. We cannot stop migration. Indeed the movement of people, or diaspora, has been a critical aspect of God’s work among the nations. Our eyes should be open to the wonderful opportunities to embrace the world arriving on our doorstep. There is much work to be done in partnerships between nations and we hope and pray that these bicentennial initiatives will strengthen the legacy we hope to leave for the next 200 years.


Originally published in Intermission (July-August 2014)