Deeply Relational is Essential for Mission

Apr 6, 2022 | News

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By Mike Robb, NZCMS Personnel Manager


“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” – Philippians 2: 5-8

It is not all about me, me, me. My entitlements. My enjoyment. My ego. This is what I call the “Three little eee’s” of relationship and partnership. They are essential to address when it comes to global mission.

For many western individuals and agencies who have been quite used to ‘calling the shots’, a recognition (and admission) that the church is global and diverse reminds us to address how the outworked practice of mission needs to happen. And it is something that we are constantly and prayerfully reflecting on. One of the key questions attached to this is “How can we make sure indigenous people are taking the lead and coming up with their own theological and cultural initiatives?”

This requires us to think deeply about how the relationships in a global partnership take place, especially when it comes to organisations like NZCMS whose focus is on sending people overseas to partner and be accountable to the indigenous people of each location. Such relationship includes much listening and learning and occasionally contributing. Certainly, in that order. We are not to “…consider equality with others as something to be grasped”.

It seems to me that God has designed us for His mission, wherever that is, not just for certain experts to have control of the ideas and visions, but as a creative means for good relationships between His people, working on different ideas and in various locations to accomplish His purposes together. The Bible lists many forms of such relationships that became mission partnerships in the lives of His servants. Joshua’s relationship with Moses, Aaron, and Hur when they waged war against the Amalekites (Exodus 17:8-15). Nehemiah built good relationships with fellow Jews and King Xerxes, to lead the rebuilding of the broken walls of Jerusalem(Neh. 2:8; 4:15, 16). Paul, no doubt had to work hard to build trusted relationships with other Christian leaders whom he had previously persecuted, or he would never have accomplished the mission to the Gentiles.

I want to be clear, international missionaries are still desperately needed. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few! However, the need is for the quiet listening to and encouragement of indigenous Christian leadership, in either working side by side with local people or becoming subordinate to them. Growing good relationships are usually characterised by humbleness, purposefulness, mutual trust, confidence, and some forfeiture of individualism.

“I did it my way”, needs to become, “We do it our way”! The way of deeply relational partnership.

  1. Jairus Robb

    Great piece.

  2. Susan Maiava

    Powerful message thank you Rob! We need to hear (and experience) this message over and over again until we finally get it and it changes us completely – because it is so easy to slip back into our old biases and “we know best” thinking. Instead, let’s learn to listen to and learn from our global and indigenous brothers and sisters with humility.

  3. Craig Jessop

    Bang on Mike, really appreciate your wisdom and insight.

  4. Teresa

    Tēnā koe,
    I’ve been so concerned about so many pākehā missionaries I’ve met in the Anglican Church who have been sent out to do mission work both here and overseas with Indigenous cultures. I see them relishing power and control over Māori peoples here in Aotearoa-NZ, and it seems they are even worse overseas, from the evidence I’ve seen. It’s like they have a “God complex”, or as you say they mistakenly believe they have done it “their way” in their distorted individualistic thinking.
    Your post is the first time I have felt that there may yet be Hope, and non-Indigenous peoples may one day work out how to humble themselves and have right relationships with the Indigenous communities they are sent to SERVE in the Holy Name of Jesus Christ Our Lord and Saviour. Ake, ake, Amene!

    • Mike Robb

      Tena koe, Teresa. Thanks for your comments. There have been situations like this that are saddening, however, I think (thankfully) there is less and less of this deliberately happening.

      Unconsciously, we all still have our own cultural lenses and filters which need to be constantly examined and sometimes rejected or replaced for a more gracious model.

      No question in my mind that missional thinking about equality and servanthood is much further down the track than it was when I first lived cross culturally 40 years ago.

      The fascinating challenge, that is starting to show up now is (as indigenous people rediscover their own unique place in the world), that some of their peoples are starting to show the same traits of “God complex” or superiority that Westerners may have traditionally modelled! The pendulum swings from the left to the right extremes but as the “pushing” becomes less, I trust God that it will eventually rest somewhere near the centre!

      Nga mihi nui, Mike

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