I typically post a “top trends” article as the year begins to flip. This year I offer this list of stories I think we will be reading about next year.
1. Continued debate over the definition of missions
Under the surface of Great Commission theology is the understanding of what “mission,” “missions,” and “missionary” means. For the past century or so, Mission Dei has been the favorite flavor of missiologists, particularly those from theological institutions. Missio Dei fits well with a modern / post-modern missiology and influential authors such as Leslie Newbiggen embraced it and made their mark on missiological thinking. I think much of this philosophy of missions culminated with Chris Wright’s book The Mission of God as taught at Lausanne a years back.
However, the Evangelical missionary movement globally has grown fastest and deepest when its proponents have not embraced a broad definition of mission. Particularly among Pentecostals and Baptists an alternative view of missions challenges the Mission Dei definition. This alternate view is conversionistic, focused on church planting, sees social action valid only when accompanied by proclamation of the gospel, and is quite theologically conservative. it is closer to fundamentalism than Western missiologists might like.
In 2015 I expect we will begin to see theologians (particularly from the non-Western world) begin to challenge the dominant Missio Dei definition of mission. The fall out will be felt in the North American missions movement as more narrow definitions of mission begin to take hold. This will not happen quickly, but it is ripe to start.
2. Consolidation, mergers and “acquisitions”
It sounds so Wall Street to talk like this so forgive me. However, the “missions industry” is not immune to the process of growing and aging like any other “industry.” I would commend the book, How Industries Evolve for more information on this. The basic thesis is that mature industries end up with a handful of dominant players. Smaller, niche players will appear in the areas where the larger organizations aren’t interested in focusing. I see no reason why the missions agency sector would be immune from this and, in fact, see why it needs to happen. This has been going on for some years already but will probably accelerate in the next decade.
In 2015 I expect we will see at least a few missionary agencies “merge” into other agencies, increase cooperation substantially for some services, or altogether shut down. This will be encouraged in part by local churches who are not excited about support structures in missions and who are asking for greater efficiencies in the back room operations of organizations.
3. Security Issues
The world is an increasingly dangerous place for missionaries. Despite the growing danger there is a sustained focus on the part of missionaries to work in the Islamic world where much of the danger exists.
While we have always had stories of missionary sacrifice and martyrdom, I expect that in 2015 there will be a new round of high profile cases that will get our attention.
4. Growing Local Church Involvement in Missions
There have been a number of starts and stops when it comes to integrating the local church in missions. The exception to this would be in regard to the short-term missionary movement. When I talk with church leaders, they often characterize the short-term trip as necessary but disappointing. At the same time, most missionary agency executives long for deeper involvement by the local church.
I believe the maturing mega-church movement will, in 2015, begin to demand and exercise greater missiological sophistication. Another way to say this is that after decades of asking the question, “Who owns the Great Commission, the church or agency?” (which has setup a false and antagonistic dichotomy). This question is being replaced with, “How do we get this job done?” A good part of this is due to the emphasis on church planting that has taken place in the North American church. In 2015 this will be an encouraging and growing story.
5. Church Planting Movement (CPM) Controversy
Within missionary agency circles the concepts surrounding CPM have taken a strong hold. I recently read an unpublished research paper in which over 30 agencies were questioned about their use of CPM strategies. All but one had made strategic shifts to embrace a CPM oriented ministry philosophy.
Within the US there are few churches which embrace the CPM concepts (house churches, decentralization, lack of didactic preaching, etc.). There are also some church structures that are overtly hostile to the leadership paradigms being used globally. I anticipate that we will see a debate emerge over the theological underpinnings of CPM strategies. At the same time, the CPM outcomes are hard to argue with: they form a challenge to our traditional ecclesiology. In 2015 I would expect we see these issues debated and discussed in a healthy and necessary way.
So, there you have it: 5 stories I think you will read about in 2015. I would welcome any thoughts you might have about these items.