Foundations for Accomplishing World Mission in the 21st Century
I left Korea in late-July to go to Kazakhstan through Turkey. Since August, I have been in Kyrgyzstan and am writing this essay here. I had the chance to meet with some of the workers who are serving in the mission fields and in local churches. Moreover, I also had the chance to think about the foundations that are needed for accomplishment of world mission in the 21st century. I hope my writing will be the opportunity to think and plan for the accomplishment of the Great Commission. I have divided and organized my thoughts into seven different parts.
Theological Foundations for Missions
Why do we do missions and why do we need to do missions? Mobilization usually happens when we emphasize the justification and vision for missions. There are many approaches in sharing the vision for missions in order to mobilize. The most effective method is to have missionaries share their vivid testimony. Members of the church can see if the person is living what they preach. Someone who has never committed to missions could teach others about missions, but wouldn’t have as much of an impact on people. This may be because it is the post-modern era, but in general people react to things that are more approachable and real rather than virtual concepts. Hence, it seems more reasonable for a person who has thrown their life for the mission field to speak in a mission mobilization conference rather than a renowned mission scholar from America. Being a speaker for a large group could lead to an individual realizing one’s existance and hinder him, but people who understand the Kingdom of God would not pursue popularity, but would rather serve in order to raise up more workers. Korean churches are still planning many programs and conferences for mission revival, but speakers shouldn’t be chosen just because they are a well-known foreign scholar, or for political reasons. When someone who has laid their life down for mission and has experienced God’s work on the field speaks, the vision flows to the audience. Churches and mission organizations could work together for this matter.
However, missionaries sharing the mission vision cannot be the theological foundation of mission. It may be effective for missionaries to share their visions to their corresponding generations, but this cannot be the Biblical foundation for mission. Moreover, the idea of serving the mission field while leaving and neglecting everything back home because the end is near does clash with Apostle Paul’s letters to the Thessalonian churches. The books that focused on the end times and Judgment Day were revealed in the form of prophesies. The Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation are representative prophesies in the bible. However, these prophetic writings are not books that tell us exactly when the end times will happen. In the Jewish Canon, the Book of Daniel is not categorized as a prophetic writing but more of a writing of wisdom. The ultimate goal of these writings is to let people know about and emphasize the imminent coming of Christ, teaching them to live a holy life as the people of God overcoming all persecution and suffering.
Then what is the theological foundation for missions? It is the Bible, the word of God. However, the Bible’s primary audience was not the people in the 21st century. For example, the Book of Matthews is Matthew’s testimony about Jesus. The Book of Matthew is not a biography of Jesus, but it is a testimonial about Jesus written by his first disciples. The authors of the Four Gospels were the ones that were with Jesus and experienced Jesus’ character and ministry first-hand. These disciples who experienced Jesus carefully studied how the covenants from the Old Testament were fulfilled in their times. The disciples interpreted the coming of Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the second Exodus. As the first Exodus in the Old Testament was from Egypt à Desert à Canaan, the authors of the Four Gospels highlighted Jesus Christ’s ministry in the flow of Galilee à Path à Jerusalem. These disciples saw the end of Jerusalem was heading towards Galilee yet again. These authors realized that reconstruction of the Temple of Jerusalem was fulfilled through Jesus’ body (as the Temple) and that there would be a new era of our Lord’s presence. Moreover, they also realized that the Gospel will go to the ends of the earth, to the Gentiles, to all nations. Abraham and David were both looking towards the coming of Jesus. The end times is the era when missions towards all nations is unfolded through Jesus Christ who came through David’s lineage and as God promised with Abraham that He would bless all nations. The foundation for mission is the Bible and the Bible emcompasses this larger theological picture. However, the reason there are various Gospels and a good number of letters is because the historical and social conditions that the early Christian community was facing were different.
When we try to understand the Bible we cannot use individual verses out of context in order to rationalize already made decisions. When we read the Bible we at least have to read the whole chapter and look at the verse within the context. It is extremely dangerous to meditate upon just a few words or sentences from the Bible. First of all we need to throw ourselves into the time and place of when it was written to understand the author’s intents and confessions. After this we have to apply the Bible into the current times. We have to shake-off the temptation to interpret the whole Bible with a missional perspective just because the justification for missions is correct. A basic value of the Protestant church is ‘by Scripture alone’. Thus, we must not approach missions by interpreting the Bible arbitrarily out of context. Mission without a strong Biblical foundation may lead to negative results, so it is crucial to follow the basic fundamentals of understanding and interpreting the Bible.
The theological justification for missions is in the Gospel and the Kingdom of God. In the Book of Isaiah chapter 40 it shows God’s vision of coming down to this earth leading his sheep as a good shepherd. Thus, the Four Gospels all start off with the voice in the wilderness that was recorded in Isaiah. Furthermore, there are many places in the Old Testament that mention the promise of the Kingdom of God; Jesus Christ declared that the rule of God, or the Kingdom of God, has arrived on this earth. Christ is the Greek word for ‘the annointed’. In between the Old and New Testament, ‘Christ’ is confessed as the one that will be the one who fulfills the apocalyptic promise of Kingdom of God in the end times. This Christ is Jesus Christ.
We can experience the advent of the Kingdom of God in the church. According to Matthew chapter 5, the church is the salt and light of the world. God did not tell us to become the salt and light of the world, but tells us that the people who accept the sovereignty of God are salt and light themselves and this will show on the outside. Sin was the attempt of humans trying to become like God, as the first human destroyed God’s covenant of not eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge. Because of God’s grace, human civilization that declared independence from God did have some good, although very limited. But this peace could not be maintained. The Jews have been waiting for God’s rule and Judgment Day through these apocalyptic revelations, and the situation is not much different for the people living in the 21st century. Therefore, the theological foundation for missions is the Kingdom of God. People who received forgiveness through Jesus Christ obey and bear the cross by spreading the gospel.
Trends of the Current Environment
The crash of the financial market in 2007 was something that was signaling the end of civilization. This event itself was not an apocalyptic sign, but was something that showed the failure of humanity attempting to rule the world by themselves. After modernization, the Enlightenement strived through experimentation, evidence, reason, and rationalization, awakening and breaking free from ignorance and religion. As the USSR collapsed in 1990, the large-scale socialist experiment finally came to an end. The ideologies of neoliberalism overcame this crisis and longed to complete the age of enlightenment, but the 2007 financial crisis heavily shook this firm belief.
After World War II, a plan to globalize the world through the US dollar was laid out. In the Bretton Woods Conference of 1994, a new global monetary system was released in which the US dollar would become the foundational currency with a fixed rate of $35 per ounce of gold. However, the amount of gold the Federal Reserve had gradually decreased and the US started to print out US dollars with rates of $70, $150 per ounce. The Fed went to the extent of announcing in 1971 that they would print US dollars without a gold standard. Despite it only being pieces of paper, the world had to accept the status quo of the US dollar. In response to this, the European nations started to build their own common currency. Nevertheless, as we have seen in the economic crises in Greece and Spain, the Euro system also had its internal defects. German capital dominated Greece’s commodity market and accordingly, Greece was not able to build its own manufacturing facilities and ended up as one of Germany’s consumer markets.
After 9/11, the US has been printing massive amounts of US dollars in order to stimulate the world economy. The US lowered their interest rates to stimulate the real estate market and led the world in consumerism. As a result of this new monetary policy, Chinese manufacturers experienced a new boom and the world’s oil consumption increased. Due to this new economic boom and increased number of wealthier Chinese, meat consumption increased, and this lead to an increase in the usage of crops for livestock feeding. Hence, agriculture prices jumped and pollution became a new global issue. The large-scale injection of money into the world economy led to unprecedented inflation. However, if this cycle of running factories, jobs being provided, and people borrowing money to consume is not maintained, the world economy will certainly collapse. Because of this the Fed adjusted the benchmark interest rate to 4~5% and unfortunately, this adjustment actually disrupted the flow of the world economy. The US increased the amount of US dollars in the market to revive the banks after 2008 real estate crash of the US and the trend of inflation continued even more. The market started to sense this economic crisis and started decreasing investment and consumption. This led to economic recession and high unemployment rates.
The Arab Democratization Movement happened because people did not have a high enough income to be able to consume sufficiently in an inflated economy. Countries that did not have sufficient oil reserves did not have the economic capabilities to calm down this social revolution nor a democratic system to resolve the problem politically. On the other hand, countries like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain offered a portion of the monopolized income to its citizens to appease their anger.
On the other hand, the Islamic State (IS) that arose in mid-2014 dominated eastern Syria and central Iraq and have successfully established a micronation. The definition of a micronation is a state with stable governmental power but not recognized as a nation by the world. IS has built schools and hospitals, implemented public order and security and has established a state-like system. Moreover, IS is financially sustainable and strong militarily because they were able to dominate Syria’s and Iraq’s oil fields and military facilities. The greatest problem is that the Syrian and Iraqi government cannot counter the IS forces and the international community can currently only partially stop the spread of IS. Armed Islamic groups who were previously associated with Al-Qaeda are now under IS’ rule. This underground Jihadist organization is networking to defend and spread their Islamic community. In the midst of this financial crisis in which the limitations of capitalism are exposed, IS is saying that Islam is the solution and is mobilizing many followers.
The world is moving at a global scale, and we need a global approach for world missions. As people have beomce more mobile, large cities have been formed and many cities experience changes in their demographics. Even in Kyrgyzstan, the amount of Chinese investment has been evidently increasing. In the past, China re-invested their US dollars that it made through exports to the US in US bonds. China thought that this would lead to less printing of the US dollar and stabilization of the US dollar value. However, as the US Government’s debt started becoming uncontrollable, the Chinese started to fear that they might not be able to retrieve the money they invested in US bonds. As a result of this, China has widened its scope of investment to Central Asia, Iran, Turkey, Arabic nations, African nations, etc. Not only is the Chinese capital charging into the Islamic nations, but also the era in which the Chinese churches jump into missions is imminent. Korean missionaries probably will have no choice but to plant and serve all-nations churches. Students in Central Asia desire to learn Chinese as much as they want to learn English. Because the US is far and China is close, students learn Chinese because it is easier to find a job when they have Chinese language skills. Currently, Korean-centered academies might have to open Chinese classes soon because of this new trend. The Korean-Chinese joint ministry with Chinese language as the connecting bridge is inevitable.
In this era, our approach in missions needs to be specialized for each people group while overcoming nationalism at the same time. People groups that are divided by language are the result of God’s actions, but many experts view nationalism as a result of modernization and capitalism. We need to carry out missions to nations and people groups as the basic units of ministry, but we must also look at the area as a whole. We must consider this all-nations trend when we carry out missions. For example, when we adopt Kyrgyzstan, we must also adopt the whole Central Asia area; when we adopt Uygur, China, we must also embrace the whole Middle East with our hearts. The Middle Eastern nations must also embrace Central Asia and China. Insight comes from looking at the nations as a whole. We can only have wisdom and insight when we are able to look at everything in various aspects and as a whole. We gain insight in missions when we are able to consider these current changes in the modern times.
Cooperation of Short and Long-term Missions
Not everyone has to leave his or her homes because of this globalization trend. An increase in mobility leads to an increase in short-term missions. This trend is not only in Korea, but in also countries that are considered to be ‘poor’. Many people from these ‘less-fortunate’ countries are spreading out into various areas of the world. There is nothing wrong about sharing the vision for missions with people that are going to be moving around. It is not that we should criticize and stop short-term mission, but there should be a large-scale restructuring of short-term mission. How will we restructure? Short-term missions need to be focused on church planting rather than on traveling and training. In other words, the short-term mission teams need to contribute to the long-term missionaries’ church planting ministry.
As the world’s floating population increases, foreigners roaming around in other countries will be considered more natural. It will become a common scene to see foreigners in various parts of the world for business, religious or travel-related reasons. People who have experienced living abroad or wish to live abroad will primarily react to the appearance of foreigners. Short-term mission needs to be reconstructed in a way that the people they meet will be served and discipled by the long-term missionaries. One of the problems many long-term missionaries have is that they serve an increasing number of short-term teams in June and July, then have a period of rest in September, again serve the short-term teams in December and January and rest in February again. This vicious cycle can lead to the fall of Korean missions. A radical reconstruction in short-term missions is needed in order for the short-term missionaries to strategically aid the church-planting ministry of long-term missionaries.
Concentric Zone Model of Frontier Missions
As I visited the field, I realized there have been many movements in the mission field to penetrate the country’s remote areas. There has been a clear shift in missions where people are now spreading out to remote areas rather than staying put in larger cities. Nevertheless, areas close to the borders are very sensitive zones that create tension in the country’s security. The most fundamental aspects that a state strives for is the security of the state. Since countries are like living body, they are the most sensitive to its living space. The act of foreigners entering a country’s border area could be threatening the most vulnerable part of a country’s security. However, a local Christian entering such sensitive areas will cause less tension. Hence, missionaries should not scatter within various areas of the country, but should plant and revive churches within a central city through team ministry. Then, the missionaries should dispatch teams to smaller cities and border areas of the country. We should not confuse frontier missions with border missions. A church-planting model should be implemented within a large city, and from this model the Gospel must spread with the concentric zone model.
Philosophy of Team Ministry
Team ministry is an organic role distribution between the team and individual ministers. There are areas in ministry that an individual can manage, but there are also areas where the team is better. Depending on the team’s capabilities, the distribution methods should be different. If the team decides to handle a ministry that an individual could do, one member will become the leader and others will not have a role. Moreover, church members will favor members with a more significant role. This kind of inappropriate distribution of ministry will lead to a situation where there is one body but two heads. However, if there is no area in ministry that the church as a whole has to carry, the church will not be able to maintain its vitality and health. Each minister has different gifts: one member may lead Bible study well, one may lead worship well, while another has a pastoral gift. It is great to have one person who leads worship well in a church because the church can send this person to a worship school to be trained. If this person with the gift of worship can carry out the training for worship leaders in the whole area, wouldn’t this be great support for the body? This is parachurch missions. If churches and mission organizations interactively work together, along with the missionaries’ church planting and parachurch movement coming together on the field, there undoubtedly will be more dynamic church planting. Individual churches can also receive much support if businessmen operate mission and business seminars or schools in a city.
In order for this to happen, individual ministers need to paint out their team ministry together on the basis of mutual trust and share information through discussions. Insight comes from looking at the big picture, as there can be many models to ministry. One clue that a person is of the ‘older generation’ is that they talk too much. These people of the ‘older generation’ want to teach more than to just learn. Senior members most likely would have experimented within the area to see what works and doesn’t work during their ten years of ministry, and these senior members try to teach the newer members about their experience. However, the environment constantly changes. If a newer member approaches something that didn’t work before in a new light, the newer member could actually be successful. The worst leader is the one who oppresses younger ministers for trying out things senior members failed to do. The role of the senior members is to help and encourage the ministry of the younger ministers. It is better to leave the younger ministers to experiment unless an obvious mistake is forseen. Through this, the younger ministers will respect the senior ministers’ experience and senior ministers will become more dynamic in ministry through new challenges and experimentation of the younger members. Teams that are suffering from relationship and information-sharing problems must go through rebuilding. Teams must minimize certain things that has to be done with the whole body, and must be divided into smaller teams of people so that they can work with one another.
Global Spiritual Alliance
Individual church planting is a must. However, if there is a global spiritual alliance that transcends individual churches, the individual churches will gain enormous support. For example, groups like KOSTA were crucial in raising up the Korean International church back in the day. Spiritual alliances like this are great strategies for local churches in this global era. In KUIS (Korea University of International Studies), which where I am teaching, we are focused on educating local church leaders. In the end, the actual key to the Christianization of a country is with the local leaders and pastors. The fate of a nation’s church is dependent on the local leader, so there is a great need for theology education and mission training with a biblical, pastoral and global missional perspective. The global churches need to humbly come together with each member’s spiritual gifts and form an alliance.
I have analyzed and suggested a foundation for missions in the 21st century. This is my personal opinion about the matter, and I want to make it clear that this is not the overall direction or policy of the organization. Mission movement focused on rooting the gospel is more important. Mission exists because people react to the grace of the Gospel, not because of the ideology of missions. The church is about relationships with people. Although a person might be beautiful from 100 meters away, when you actually get to meet them, the person can be the worst human being you’ve ever meet. Church ministry is a close range ministry. People whose personality changed through meeting Jesus Christ must have influence like salt and light. The changes in the global environment make many thirsty for a true nation. The world model that the humans have led has already past the critical point. In areas that were ruled by an Islamic nation, souls who were disappointed by this Islamic rule are coming to the Gospel. Some of these countries are Iran and Egypt. The expansion of China is unprecedented. The world is entering the era of urbanization and multiculturalization. The increase in population mobility will lead to the increase in global short-term ministry. Short-term ministers have to interactively support long-term ministers’ church planting. The importance of team ministry will be underscored more and more; concentric zone model in frontier missions with cities as the center is needed; and many attempts to find and actualize methods to revitalize nation-wide and local missions through the alliance of global churches will need to be made.
Written by Professor Dong Chan Seo (Korea University of International Studies)