There is a global shift when it comes to world missions. It is evident in current missiological literature, and it is evident in conversations taking place daily around the world. The place that the Western church has traditionally held in missions, namely being on the front lines, is quickly becoming a thing of the past. The Third World church has its own leaders and is raising up and sending out missionaries to minister to its own people. The role of the Western church is becoming one of encouraging and equipping, but not necessarily of being on the front-lines of ministry.
At the same moment, there has been a shift of thinking in the younger generation just now entering the mission field. The incoming generation, my generation, is deeply aware of the world’s need of justice and mercy as well as eternal security, and we are convinced that Great Commission encompasses both. We are also savvier about our limitations and petrified of paternalism. Our worldview holds a much broader world than that of older generations, and our lives are, in many ways, transient.
These things impact how we approach a career on the mission field. There is so much to be done, so many people with need, that we can scarcely see ourselves picking a spot on the map and spending the rest our lives in that place. No, we go with a defined mission for a defined time, and then it is time to move on.
While some bemoan this change in perspective and label it as a fear of commitment or an unhealthy sense of “easy come, easy go,” I believe it is a beautiful and timely shift just perfect for the nature of current global missions. While the Third World is pushing Western leadership out of their spheres, they will find more and more of those coming to them not only amenable to a backseat role, but thrilled to be there. Incoming missionaries no longer see missions as life; we see it as a goal. We aren’t interested in leading; we want to make leaders. In many ways, we are more interested in going, but far less interested in staying. We insist on partnership in place of paternalism. We want to serve, equip, train, and develop the national church, but we no longer want to do their job for them.
The Western church is in the position of re-defining what it means to be a career missionary. The positions that we once held are quickly being filled by others more suited to the task. Let us not insist on the same old skins for these new wines flowing to every corner of the globe, but instead celebrate this new era in missions as a sign that our Commission is another step closer to fulfillment.