Spirit and Mission: From Everywhere to Everywhere

Spirit and Mission: From Everywhere to Everywhere

The Holy Spirit is a missionary. The Spirit is calling and empowering Christians throughout the world to participate in God’s mission. Some are called to become missionaries in the classical sense, leaving their homes and responding to the call of Christians in other places. After Christendom, no longer was this movement primarily from the dominant Christian West to the rest of the world, as it once was, but from “everywhere to everywhere.” Now, as Lesslie Newbigin predicted more than 30 years ago, mission movements are flowing from the Global South to the West—and all parts of the world. Today the movement of God’s mission is truly from “everywhere to everywhere.”

Some are called to become missionaries, yet all Christians are called to become missional—that is, to invest their lives in the mission of God. This means at least two basic things. First, it means that wherever we are, we bear witness to the forgiving, healing, freeing, and justice-bringing power of the gospel. Second, it means that all Christians are called into a worldwide vision of the people of God. It’s a call to move beyond a Christian faith bounded by the loyalties and blinders of culture, tribe, and territory, and to participate in God’s new people drawn from all tongues, tribes, and nations.

In the New Testament—and still today—the Spirit prompts a worldwide and cross-cultural vision of the kingdom of God. In first-century Antioch, Paul and Barnabas were called by the Spirit through the church leaders into a far-flung gospel mission: to make the formation of a cross-cultural people their life work (Acts 13:1-3). Paul wrote of how Christ had broken down the walls that divided people—Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free people, insiders and outsiders—and was bringing a “new humanity” into being (Eph. 2:14-16). They were all baptized into one body through the one Spirit and were “all given the one Spirit to drink.” With their many parts and vast differences, they were one body (1 Cor. 12:13, 19). Paul’s great longing was to see everybody and all things gathered up through Christ into God’s “new creation” (Eph. 1:10; Gal. 6:15).

Today the Spirit is leading us beyond the paternalism of the “wealthy” Western churches toward the “poor” churches of the Global South. The deep disparities between Western Christians as “donors”—of money, education, leadership, and other resources—and Christians of the Global South as “recipients” of all those gifts is giving way to a new sense of interdependence and mutuality. In all places the church is both gifted and needy. The churches of the Global South have deep needs and possess great gifts, while the churches of the West also have deep needs and possess great gifts.

And it may be that the needs of the Western churches are greater than those in the South. In the (post)modern West, Christians are beset by rationalism, deep skepticism toward the Spirit of God, the snares of affluence and consumerism, their own version of cultural syncretism (the deep blending of the faith with secular ideologies), and the heritage of cultural dominance that is the legacy of Christendom. So the churches of each region need the strengths, gifts, and correctives of the other. [1]

In his many travels to study churches in South America and Africa, Donald Miller, a Christian sociologist, commented that after every trip, “I have come back humbled by my lack of faith, my own failure of imagination, and my resistance to commit myself to the high standard of being a servant of Christ.” He added that “[w]e in North America live in a bubble of affluence and convenience, and this [deeply] affects our theology.” [2] In these extensive travels, Miller received a powerful gift from the churches of the Global South.

Another gift is a more missional theology. The churches of the Christendom centuries were not fundamentally churches on mission. And their theologies, understandably, were not missional theologies. Missions may have been one department in the seminary curriculum, one chapter in a book of theology, or one ministry of a congregation—but mission did not animate, infuse, and shape the whole enterprise. In the Global South the situation has changed. With the dynamic renewal of the missional Spirit, new missional theologies have emerged as well. “Third World theologies are missionary theologies, whereas First World theologies are not,” said David Bosch more than 20 years ago; for this reason, “Third World theologies may become a force of renewal in the West.” [3] That has been happening. This renewal is one of the Global South’s gifts to the church in the West.

With the recent and growing sense of North America as mission field, a strong movement toward a dynamic missional theology has emerged. Newbigin helped pioneer this focus, and it has been furthered by a growing body of literature since the 1990s. [4] A missional theology has been emerging alongside the traditional western theology.

A dynamic focus on the Spirit goes hand in hand with a dynamic mission. So a missional theology will necessarily have a strong focus on the missional Spirit of God. And vice versa: a strong focus on the Spirit of God leads necessarily to the church engaged dynamically in the mission of God.

[1] Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), chapter 9, and “Can the West Be Converted?” Princeton Seminary Bulletin 6 (1985): 25–36.

[2] Donald E. Miller, “Emergent Patterns of Congregational Life and Leadership in the Developing World: Personal Reflections from a Research Odyssey,” Pulpit and Pew Research Reports, No. 3 (Winter 2003), 9.

[3] David Bosch, Believing in the Future: Toward a Missiology of Western Culture (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity International, 1995), 36.

[4] Two key works were Between Gospel and Culture: The Emerging Mission in North America, ed. George R. Hunsberger and Craig Van Gelder (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), and Darryl Guder, ed., Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1998).

Leonard Allen is co-leading the Spirit Shake-Up pathway at ACU Summit 2019. Visit acusummit.org to explore this pathway and many others.

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