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Stories & Blog

The Challenge of the Global Church

The Challenge of the Global Church

Read the series: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

The Western church no longer dominates the global missional scene. What does this mean for North American cross-cultural workers today? Crossworld Vice President John Berger speaks to this crucial issue for the 21
st century.

The Challenge of the Global Church

by John Berger, Crossworld Vice President for Global Operations and Strategy

After Haiti’s earthquake in 2010, the North American church — understandably and admirably — jumped to action. “We want to help,” was the refrain Crossworld heard from caller after caller. My good friend Dr. Jean Dorlus, who had succeeded me as president of the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Port-au-Prince, was interviewed by Christianity Today for an insider’s view of the quake’s impact and outsiders’ frenzied scramble to help.
“Oh, Americans,“ Dr. Dorlus said. “They would be almost perfect people except for one thing: If they would listen!”*
We Americans are used to running the show and setting the agenda of global ministry, and with good reason. For many years, together with the church in other parts of the industrialized West, we were the show!
No more. The center of gravity has shifted. The evangelical church is distinctly non-Western in flavor, and by some estimates, non-Western, cross-cultural Great Commission workers outnumber Westerners 3 to 1. (Compare that to 99 to 1 just 100 years ago!)
We in the West should continue to say, “We want to help,” but our challenge now is to learn to help appropriately. At a recent conference for North American mission leaders, I heard a Malaysian panelist sum it up nicely: “I believe the role of Western missionaries as pioneering leaders in unreached areas is past; instead, the Western church must seek to empower local and near-local brothers to reach the unreached” (my paraphrase).
We may find empowerment to be a greater challenge than pioneering! Stereotypically, we’re wired to fix things. We see a problem, and we devise a plan to fix it. We find answers; we have solutions. Even in the desire to empower global partners, my tendency is to march in and say, “I want to serve you in the best way possible, and here’s how!”
Local churches and mission agencies must work together to find our empowering sweet spot. May I offer three simple suggestions?

  1. Listen, listen and listen some more. Avoid jumping to solutions and plans before really hearing our non-Western brothers. Most non-Western cultures value relationship over productivity, and (sadly?) that may not satisfy our American hearts ... at least not naturally.

  2. Work hard at understanding our own worldview, gaining a sober self-awareness of our knee-jerk tendencies. Effective communication is hard, but cross-cultural understanding is exponentially more difficult. If you have never spent years in a culture not your own, ask for experienced help. I believe that’s one area where agencies like Crossworld may serve churches well.

  3. Practice collaboration as a default setting. When becoming aware of a need, avoid starting with, “How can we (church, agency, etc.) meet that need?” Instead, start with, “How might that situation be most effectively addressed?” Then, only after listening (listening, listening) and understanding, ask, “What strategic contribution might we bring to that scenario?”

Appropriate empowerment is a Body issue. The One who arranges the Body parts will surely guide listening, learning participants in the coordinated effort to serve His global purposes.

*Christianity TodayMarch 2010, Vol. 54, No. 3, p. 17.

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