In this age of globalisation, is there still a place for sending people overseas in mission? Church Mission Society's Susann Haehnel (pictured) and Colin Smith explain our approach.
There are big questions in people's minds around mission today:
- Do we continue to send people merely because we’ve always done so?
- Haven’t we learned from the mistakes of the past?
- Surely we don’t need more colonialisation?
- Shouldn’t we just work through local people?
- Surely Britain is now a post-Christian country and needs people to serve here, rather than go overseas?
Questions such as these are good, because they force us to evaluate our practices, to check our motives and to make necessary changes and adjustments.
Two centuries of mission experience have taught us quite a bit. There is much to be grateful for: things done well that we can build on. There are also things to learn from. It is the combination of learning from both success and struggle that equips us as we move forward.
Our reasons for sending people
1. Starting with the Trinity: God is a sending God
The sending of the Son and the Spirit by the Father are the two primary acts of mission in the New Testament. Sending in mission originates in the love of God, and is expressed within the community of the Trinity, which flows out to embrace the world God has created.
The Church’s mandate to send is rooted in the fact that the Father sent the Son who in turn sends his disciples into the world. “As the father sent me so I send you” (John 20:21).
Sending, then, is a reflection of the nature of God and central to the calling of the Church.
2. We are sent to be (not just do)
"The Word became flesh and lived among us," says the Bible. Just like Jesus Christ became one with us, our calling is to be present with others, bearing witness to his redeeming work.
While we do send people with particular skills and experience which are needed in a given context, the motivation for sending is not just giving or transferring skills or resources, but offering ourselves within the wider community of God’s Church and God’s world.
Of course this also means that we should receive people from other places in mission here.
3. A truly global community of mission
Mission thinker Andrew Walls, reflecting on the New Testament letter to the Ephesians, says that our different ethnic and cultural identities and perspectives aren’t to be dividing walls between us, but openings to a fuller understanding of what it means to be in Christ.
The Church in every nation, including our own, is sent into the world. We send people in mission because we are convinced that God’s Church is a community of every tribe and nation and in sending we want to be part of that reality.
Mission always means going
People are sent in mission, not because they can do something that someone else cannot do, but because they bring a difference in perspective that enriches the life and faith of God’s people. Again, this is as much an argument for receiving the gifts of the worldwide Church within the UK as it is for participating in mission elsewhere in the world.
A couple recently interviewed for mission service say: mission always involves going – if that’s going down to the pub to engage with my local neighbourhood or if going across the world – the underlying principles are the same:
- We believe in a God who is at work in this world.
- We believe in a God who invites us to join in this work.
- We believe in a God who is global and a God who is local – both at the same time.
- We believe in a God who is changing the face of this world. By setting people free. By proclaiming good news. By granting sight to the blind. By releasing favour into this world (Luke 4).
Mission means giving and receiving
Real and lasting change starts with Jesus sending us and with us joining in what God is already doing.
Yes, that might be here in Britain in my local community – and it might be the other side of the world: being present in situations of unrest, standing with our sisters and brothers and reminding them of the presence of God among them.
Yes the world has changed over 200 years and we need to adapt and to be humble. What is sending good for? For changing lives, impacting communities – and for our lives, too. We learn as much from those we work alongside as they learn from us – if not more. Mission involves both giving and receiving. It requires all that it is within us – isn’t that what Christ did?
Why not explore our mission opportunities?