From the General Secretary: Missional Shifts

Date Posted: 
Thursday, February 20, 2014

by Tom De Vries

The conversation went like this:

"Where are you engaged in mission?"

"Sudan. We raised $75,000 and built a hospital in South Sudan."

"Awesome. What was the experience like for your congregation?"

"It was great to see the church come together to raise money for building materials and to send a team to Sudan to build the hospital."

"How is it going now?"

"Well, the hospital isn't being used, and the church is pretty frustrated at the money and effort that went into this project."

"How did you get connected with the project?"

"We found out about the opportunity on the Internet. A couple from California had worked in Sudan for a short time. Then they set up a new mission agency to respond to the needs there. We didn't do our homework very well, and now there is great disappointment."

Contrast that experience with one I had last fall in Xiamen, China.

I stood on the steps of Xinjie Church reading a plaque. It said: The first Protestant church in China. The church had been planted by RCA missionaries in 1848. I met Christians on my visit whose spiritual roots go back to the mission that church grew out of, and who are grateful for the legacy of RCA mission. It has contributed significantly to the growth of the church in China, which some now estimate at over 200 million people.

RCA Global Mission is holistic mission: it values partnerships, long-term commitments, mutual mission, and respectful witness. It is why we have 103 missionaries and partner personnel serving in 42 countries around the world.

We want to hold on to the Bible-based principles that guide RCA mission, but we can't ignore important shifts under way in mission. Four of those shifts are in how churches choose to engage in mission today.

From sending to going: churches desire to send mission teams to parts of the world where they have relationship or commitment

From supporting to engaged: churches seek to be involved personally as well as in funding.

From global to local to "glocal": mission is moving toward a balanced commitment to outreach that is both local and global.

From evangelism or justice to a transforming gospel: mission is becoming more holistic, seeking both personal transformation and justice.

Previously, churches supported denominations, which would then do mission on behalf of congregations:

Today, the paradigm is shifting to look like this:

Our commitment to a new missional future through Transformed & Transforming will be lived out through our willingness to equip RCA churches to thrive in this changing missional environment. We bring:

  • a legacy of missional engagement that is local and global,
  • partnerships around the world with tried and trusted agencies that share our convictions and commitments,
  • the capacity to vet new mission organizations and help local churches make the greatest missional impact possible, and
  • education to connect mission teams' passion and compassion with opportunities to live and love like Jesus.

With the shrinking of the world through the Internet, and expanding opportunities for global connectedness and mission through "mom and pop shop" mission agencies, the role of denominations is becoming increasingly important and more vital.

Engaging in Christ's kingdom mission is a partnership that can help congregations expand their missional impact as they engage in mission locally and globally, from their neighborhood to all nations. It will allow congregations to seek God's call to share the love of Christ in New York and Nicaragua, Iowa and India, Ontario and Oman, California and Kenya.

Next generation mission starts today in the RCA.

Tom De Vries is general secretary of the Reformed Church in America.

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