Before Jesus ascended to heaven, he proclaimed the Great Commission. This was not a command to the super talented and gifted, but rather to the Church, his bride, and he intended for all to see themselves as being a part of it. God has always been on mission and he continues his work through the Church. Churches generally try to engage their congregations with missions and traditionally this takes the form of asking all to participate either by going or sending. This has inadvertently created a gap between those sent out and those providing prayer and financial support. While the work it takes to send is encouraged and praised, it often seems like the “real” work happens overseas, creating a dichotomy between those who go and the rest of the church.
As missionaries have raised support, spoken in churches, and headlined conferences throughout the past century, an inadvertent consequence has been the professionalization of missions. Congregants watch as people take great steps of faith to go to the uttermost parts of the world preparing to evangelize, disciple, and train leaders, and what often occurs is either feelings of inadequacy for not having the gifts to go or feelings of satisfaction in knowing that someone else is taking up the call. The majority of people believe themselves to be responsible only for writing checks, rather than seeing themselves as called to be active participants.
The world is very different today. Global travel to remote places can happen in 24 hours. Global communication can happen with the press of a button. The global church is more established today that it has ever been before. Because of these realities, the focus of the western church needs to shift from simply going to the rest of the world to a focus on how we can come alongside and partner with our worldwide brothers and sisters as they reach their communities and enter countries closed to Americans.
According to research highlighted by J.D. Payne in his book Strangers Next Door: Immigration, Migration, and Mission, the result of changing global realities is that America now has the third highest number of unreached people groups living within its borders. Immigrants continue arriving in the United States each year, both documented and undocumented, and therefore churches should be looking to their cities and neighborhoods to find out which ethic groups are present. It isn’t immediately obvious to every American churchgoer that not all Latinos are Mexican or all Asians Korean. We need to find out who lives in our cities.
A global-local missions strategy encourages churches to make global connections that also make sense locally. Churches now have the opportunity to look to their local environment to help determine how to do missions when choosing global regions and countries to partner with. Let’s imagine a church has found there to be pockets of Mexican, Honduran, Iraqi, Pakistani, Ukrainian, Chinese, and Filipino people in their city. With a global-local missions strategy, this church now has a paradigm for reaching those people groups both in their local neighborhoods and internationally in their home countries.
At the China Partnership, we want churches to be the best partners possible with the Chinese church globally, but to do so requires more than just yearly short-term missions trips. It requires churches that genuinely love Chinese people locally and therefore are ready to love them globally as well. If a church is going to fully engage in missions, it needs to help each congregant see how he or she is part of the grand narrative. Christians need to see how their careers, social networks, and where they live, work, and play fit in with the Great Commission. A global-local missions strategy helps each congregant connect with the Great Commission as people are encouraged to reach their community’s ethnically diverse neighbors, coworkers, business owners, and students.
If a church learns how to dialogue with and befriend different people groups locally, they will be much better partners globally. Missions trips that happen out of global-local connections will be more informed and effective as they involve people who already have some understanding of the people they engage. For example, American Christians traveling to China will not need to ask if the Chinese can buy Bibles or if they face persecution. Americans traveling to China will be better able to engage on matters relating more directly to the experiences of the Chinese and will be more equipped to partner with their church.
This paradigm change in missions needs to occur. The church needs to move beyond the single focus of sending globally to a multidimensional global-local perspective. The statistics demand this change. For example, Caucasian births were no longer a clear majority in 2012 and the Latino and Asian populations in the US will double in the next twenty years. The United States is becoming an increasingly global country; therefore, our churches must embrace the diversity around us by learning to engage, interact, and develop friendships with our neighbors.
Global-local missions will prepare the American church for the closing chapter of the narrative we become a part of when we claim Christ as our Savior. In the end, Revelation 7:9 tells us that all nations, tribes, peoples, and languages will be standing before the throne of God. If we believe the Bible is God’s Word to us, then this final chapter in the grand narrative should encourage and push us out into the world as active participants of God’s mission among the nations – globally and locally.
Join us in reshaping the vocabulary, strategies, and paradigms for missions currently used in the United States so that they accurately reflect the grand narrative of the gospel and the current demographic opportunities in America today. The call of the Great Commission is no longer simply to travel across the ocean. The world has come to us.
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Jeff Kyle first went to China in the summer of 2004 and has been working with the China Partnership since graduating from Covenant College in 2006. He is passionate about US churches developing a global-local missions strategy. Jeff and his wife, Mary Elizabeth, live in New York City.